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Combining Hard and Soft Power

Courtesy Reuters

In her confirmation hearings, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, "America cannot solve the most pressing problems on our own, and the world cannot solve them without America. . . . We must use what has been called 'smart power,' the full range of tools at our disposal." Since then, editorial pages and blogs have been full of references to "smart power." But what does it mean?

"Smart power" is a term I developed in 2003 to counter the misperception that soft power alone can produce effective foreign policy. Power is one's ability to affect the behavior of others to get what one wants. There are three basic ways to do this: coercion, payment, and attraction. Hard power is the use of coercion and payment. Soft power is the ability to obtain preferred outcomes through attraction. If a state can set the agenda for others or shape their preferences, it can save a lot on carrots and sticks. But rarely can it totally replace either. Thus the need for smart strategies that combine the tools of both hard and soft power.

In an otherwise estimable new book, Power Rules: How Common Sense Can Rescue American Foreign Policy, Leslie Gelb argues that "soft power now seems to mean almost everything" because both economic and military resources can influence other states. (Gelb's recent article in these pages, "Necessity, Choice, and Common Sense" [May/June 2009], is drawn from the book.) But Gelb confuses the actions of a state seeking to achieve desired outcomes with the resources used to produce those outcomes. Military and economic resources can sometimes be used to attract as well as coerce -- witness the positive effect of the U.S. military's relief efforts in Indonesia following the 2004 tsunami on Indonesians' attitudes toward the United States. This means that many different types of resources can contribute to soft power, not that the term "soft power" can mean any type of behavior.

In his book, Gelb defines power too narrowly, as "getting people

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