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Hard and soft power: Made SIMPLE

    Are you interested to learn what hard and soft power are? Are you wondering what is the difference between hard power and soft power? Then you have come to the right place! In this article I will introduce you to these two types of power and explain in simple terms what this means. Are you ready to learn more about hard and soft power? Read on…

    What is power?

    Before we delve into the types of power, lets first take a look at what power is.

    Power is the ability or capacity to do something, to influence or control the behaviour of others or the course of events. It refers to the ability to make decisions, take actions, and achieve goals.

    Power can be held by individuals, groups, or institutions, and it can be exercised in various ways, such as through force, persuasion, or coercion.

    Ultimately, power is about having the ability to make things happen or prevent them from happening.

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    What is hard power?

    Hard power refers to a country’s ability to use military force, economic coercion, or other forms of tangible resources to influence or control other countries.

    Hard power is often characterised by a focus on military strength, economic dominance, and political influence.

    A country with a strong military, large economy, and a dominant position in world affairs is often said to have significant hard power.

    hard and soft power

    Examples of hard power

    Hard power can be exerted in different ways. Here are some examples:

    Military force

    Using a country’s military might to defend its interests, project its influence, or achieve its goals. Examples include deploying troops or using airstrikes to target enemy combatants.

    Economic sanctions

    Imposing economic sanctions on other countries or entities to compel them to change their behaviour. For instance, a country may impose trade restrictions or freeze assets to pressure another country to cease support for a certain political group.

    Diplomatic pressure

    Using diplomatic leverage to gain political advantage. This may include boycotting diplomatic meetings or cutting off diplomatic relations with a particular country.

    Foreign aid

    Providing financial or material assistance to other countries in exchange for certain concessions or to promote a country’s interests. This can be used to support friendly regimes or to counterbalance the influence of other countries.


    Using cyber espionage or other forms of digital warfare to gain access to sensitive information or disrupt the operations of other countries. For instance, a country might launch a cyberattack to disrupt another country’s power grid or steal sensitive military technology.

    Which countries use hard power?

    Many countries around the world use hard power to varying degrees to advance their interests and protect their national security. Here are a few examples:

    United States

    The US is a superpower with significant hard power capabilities, including the world’s most powerful military, a large economy, and political influence around the globe. The US has used its military might to intervene in conflicts around the world, including in Iraq and Afghanistan.


    China has been rapidly expanding its military capabilities and investing heavily in its economy. China is also known for its “debt trap diplomacy,” which involves offering loans to developing countries in exchange for strategic assets or influence.


    Russia has a powerful military, including nuclear weapons, and has been known to use cyberattacks and disinformation campaigns to influence other countries’ political processes. Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and the ongoing Ukraine war are examples of hard power in action.


    Israel is a small country in the Middle East that has developed a strong military and intelligence apparatus to protect its interests in a hostile neighbourhood. Israel has launched airstrikes against targets in Syria and Gaza to eliminate perceived threats to its security.

    North Korea

    North Korea is a heavily militarised country with a nuclear weapons program. The country’s leader, Kim Jong-un, has used saber-rattling and missile tests to intimidate other countries and secure concessions from the international community.

    What is soft power?

    Soft power is the ability to influence others to do what you want without using force or coercion. It’s about getting others to want the same things you want, by appealing to their values, culture, and beliefs.

    For example, a country might use its soft power to persuade other countries to adopt its policies, support its causes, or even admire its way of life. This can be achieved through things like cultural exports (such as music, movies, or literature), diplomacy, and humanitarian aid.

    Soft power is often contrasted with “hard power,” which is the use of military or economic force to achieve a desired outcome. So, in short, soft power is about influencing others through attraction, persuasion, and appeal rather than through coercion or force.

    Examples of soft power

    Soft power comes in different shapes and forms. Here are some examples:

    Cultural exports

    A country can use its cultural exports, such as movies, music, literature, and art to influence and attract people in other countries. For example, American movies and TV shows are popular all around the world and have helped spread American culture and values globally.


    Countries can use diplomacy to build relationships with other countries and promote their interests. This can involve negotiating treaties, attending international conferences, and hosting events that bring people from different countries together.

    Humanitarian aid

    Providing humanitarian aid to other countries can help build goodwill and foster positive relationships. For example, after a natural disaster, a country might send aid and resources to help the affected country recover.


    Education can be a powerful tool for spreading ideas and values. A country can offer scholarships to international students or send teachers and professors to other countries to teach and share knowledge.


    Sporting events can bring people from different countries together and promote goodwill and understanding. For example, the Olympic Games are a global event that can foster international cooperation and understanding.

    These are just a few examples of how soft power can be used to influence and persuade others.

    Which countries use soft power?

    Many countries around the world use soft power to advance their interests and influence others. Here are a few examples of countries that are particularly known for their use of soft power:

    United States

    The United States is a major global power and has a huge influence on the world stage.

    The country uses its soft power to promote American culture and values through movies, music, and TV shows, and also through educational and cultural exchanges.

    The US also has a large diplomatic presence around the world and provides significant amounts of humanitarian aid.


    Japan is known for its cultural exports, such as anime, manga, and video games, which have gained a massive following around the world.

    Japan also uses its soft power to promote its technological advancements and design aesthetic.

    United Kingdom

    The UK is known for its rich cultural heritage, including literature, music, and art.

    The country has also been successful in promoting its language, English, as a global lingua franca.

    Additionally, the UK is home to some of the world’s top universities, which attract international students from around the world.


    France is known for its cultural exports, including fashion, food, and wine, which have helped promote French culture and values around the world.

    The country also has a strong diplomatic presence and provides significant amounts of aid to developing countries.


    China has been using soft power in recent years to promote its culture and values around the world.

    The country has been investing heavily in cultural exchanges, educational exchanges, and infrastructure development in other countries.

    China has also been promoting the Chinese language as a global language, and its Confucius Institutes have been established in many countries around the world.

    The hard and soft power spectrum

    Whilst it may be relatively easy to grasp the concept of hard and soft power, it isn’t actually as it simple as it may seem. In fact, hard and soft power is not black and white, instead of categorising power as being in either category, there is a spectrum.

    At one end of the spectrum is hard power, which is the use of military force, economic sanctions, and other coercive measures to get others to do what you want. The more severe, or ‘hard’ the action, the closer to the end of the spectrum it is. The less ‘hard’ are closer to the middle.

    At the other end of the spectrum is soft power, which is the ability to influence others to do what you want without using force or coercion. Again, some soft types of power are softer than others and will therefore be placed at different points along the spectrum.

    Hard and soft power FAQs

    Now that you understand what hard and soft power is, lets take a look at some common questions that people ask on this topic. Here are 8 frequently asked questions about hard and soft power, along with answers:

    What is hard power, and how does it differ from soft power?

    Hard power is the ability to influence others through the use of military force, economic sanctions, and other coercive measures. Soft power, on the other hand, is the ability to influence others through attraction, persuasion, and appeal.

    What are some examples of hard power?

    Examples of hard power include military force, economic sanctions, and cyberattacks.

    What are some examples of soft power?

    Examples of soft power include cultural exports, diplomacy, and humanitarian aid.

    Can a country have both hard and soft power resources?

    Yes, most countries have a mix of hard and soft power resources. The balance between them can shift depending on a country’s goals, interests, and capabilities.

    Which is more effective, hard power or soft power?

    Both hard and soft power can be effective in achieving a country’s foreign policy goals. The effectiveness of each type of power depends on the situation and the goals the country is trying to achieve.

    Can a country use soft power to compensate for a lack of hard power resources?

    Yes, a country can use soft power to compensate for a lack of hard power resources. For example, a country with a weak military might use cultural exports and diplomacy to increase its influence in the world.

    Can a country use hard and soft power at the same time?

    Yes, a country can use both hard power and soft power resources at the same time. In fact, many countries use a mix of both types of power to achieve their foreign policy goals.

    Can a country use soft power to undermine another country’s hard power?

    Yes, a country can use soft power to undermine another country’s hard power. For example, a country might use diplomacy and cultural exchanges to promote its values and ideas, which could weaken the appeal of a rival country’s military or economic power.

    Hard and soft power: To conclude

    I hope that you can now confidently describe what hard and soft power is and give examples of each. If you found this article about hard and soft power useful, I am sure that you will enjoy these too: