Two Forms of Control: Hard and Soft Power

How can one country rule over another? Read this article to discover the most used methods of control by different countries.
Two Forms of Control: Hard and Soft Power

Last update: 06 May, 2021

Every relationship is based on power and ways to use it. When two people, groups, or organizations come together, one will be more powerful than the other. This means there’s a high probability that the weakest element ends up following the one with the most power. In other words, power is a form of control. However, power doesn’t just happen between people. Power can also influence the relations between the countries.

The relations between countries, also known as international relations, are based on power dynamics. The most powerful countries will use their power to make other countries accept their terms. Namely, one of the definitions of power used in international relations is that it’s the skillful way to influence the way others behave and to get the results they want.

People being diplomatic, using soft power.

Two forms of control

Many times, to gain power, you have to be either loved or feared. You’re either powerful because the world accepts you and believes you deserve it or because everybody is afraid of you. Obviously, these are different ways to gain power and each have their own consequences.

In the sense of international relations, these two forms of control are known as soft and hard power. Before we explain each, you need to understand that the main goal of any country is to get and to keep power. This motivation will make them use either of these two forms of control.

A man talking to his son.

Hard power

The hard power is found in economic or military ways. This type of power consists of enforcing your will through fear. This means bending other countries to their will, using military or economical superiority. A good example of this can be found in owning nuclear weapons. Countries, such as Iran and North Korea, are always threatening to produce or own atomic weapons to gain power.

This kind of power can be applied through military moves, creating either wars or alliances. Thus, using force to intimidate and repress. Besides, economic power is also used to enhance hard power. In a way, using economies to help, bribe, or sanction.

Soft power

Soft power is the ability of influencing the actions or interests of other countries, using only cultural or ideological means. This form of control is based on the power of culture and ideas. Thus, this type of power can get you the results you want in an indirect way.

This is a descriptive kind of power. It gives information, not orders. Thus, soft power attracts, based on other people wanting what you want. In a way, many citizens wish for democracies in countries where their rights are suppressed.

The leaders of the G8 use soft power to create diplomacy.

What form of control is best?

The form of control to use, whether soft power or hard power, depends on the possibilities and the goal you have.

In the end, the best form of control is a combination of both soft and hard power, which is defined as intelligent power. This means that a country shouldn’t renounce their diplomatic or military power but also should become a role model for other countries.

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  • Nye, J. (2004). Soft power: The means to success in world politics. New York: Public Affairs.