Hard power

Hard power is the use of military and economic means to influence the behavior or interests of other political bodies. This form of political power is often aggressive (coercion), and is most effective when imposed by one political body upon another of lesser military and/or economic power.[1] Hard power contrasts with soft power, which comes from diplomacy, culture and history.[2]

According to Joseph Nye, the term is “the ability to use the carrots and sticks of economic and military might to make others follow your will.” [3] Here, “carrots” are inducements such as the reduction of trade barriers, the offer of an alliance or the promise of military protection. On the other hand, “sticks” are threats including the use of coercive diplomacy, the threat of military intervention, or the implementation of economic sanctions. Ernest Wilson describes it as the capacity to coerce “another to act in ways in which that entity would not have acted otherwise.” [4]


While the existence of hard power has a long history, the term itself arose when Joseph Nye coined soft power as a new and different form of power in a sovereign state's foreign policy.[5]

The term hard power describes a nation or political body’s ability to use economic incentives or military strength to influence other actors’ behaviors. It relies on a measure of power propounded by the realist school in international relations theory. In the realist school, power is linked with the possession of certain tangible resources, including population, territory, natural resources, economic and military strength, among others. Hard power is defined by the use of such resources to spur the behavior of other entities.

Hard power lies at the command Hegemon end of the spectrum of behaviors and describes a nation's ability to coerce or induce another nation to perform a course of action. This can be done through military power which consists of coercive diplomacy, war, and alliance using threats and force with the aim of coercion, deterrence, and protection. Alternatively economic power which relies on aid, bribes and economic sanctions can be used in order to induce and coerce.

While the term hard power generally refers to diplomacy, it can also be used to describe forms of negotiation which involve pressure or threats as leverage.


The use of hard power is often tedious. Insurgencies against the external force can be prominent. The United States has demonstrated a 'hard power' policy in regards to the Iraq War, the Afghanistan War and its continued war on the Taliban.[6][7] To be more specific, the United States’ attack on Iraq in 2003 was based on the concerns about Iraq’s possession of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). In part by referring to “War on Terrorism,” George W. Bush administration used hard power measures to uproot Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and to handle subsequent crisis in Iraq. However, many critics mention that the war in Iraq had the United States lose its reputation as an icon for democracy and justice.[8]

Joseph Nye has used the term to define some policy measures in regards to Iran as well.[9] For instance, there are many sanctions against Iran passed by UN Security Council and numerous nations such as the United States and European Union also impose bilateral sanctions against Iran. They impose restrictions on exports of nuclear and missile to Iran, banking and insurance transactions, investment in oil, exports of refined petroleum products, and so on. Such measures are taken by many nations to deter Iran’s possible nuclear weapon program.[10]

See also


  1. Daryl Copeland (Feb 2, 2010). "Hard Power Vs. Soft Power". The Mark. Retrieved 26 April 2012.
  2. Daryl Copeland (Feb 2, 2010). "Hard Power Vs. Soft Power". The Mark. Retrieved 26 April 2012.
  3. Joseph Nye (January 10, 2003). "Propaganda Isn't the Way: Soft Power". International Herald Tribune. Retrieved October 1, 2012.
  4. Ernest J. Wilson (March 2008). "Hard Power, Soft Power, Smart Power" (PDF). The of the American Academy of Political and Social Science. 616 (1): 110–124. doi:10.1177/0002716207312618. Retrieved October 1, 2012.
  5. Kayhan Barzegar (July 10, 2008). "Joseph Nye on Smart Power in Iran-U.S. Relations". Belfer Center. Retrieved 26 April 2012.
  6. Daryl Copeland (Feb 2, 2010). "When it comes to Afghanistan, mixing military might with diplomatic talk is easier said than done.". The Mark. Retrieved 26 April 2012.
  7. Roy Godson (Feb 6, 2012). "Between Hard Power and Soft.". The Weekly Standard. Retrieved 26 April 2012.
  8. Tim Quirk. "Soft Power, Hard Power, and Our Image Abroad" (PDF). Retrieved 2 October 2012.
  9. Kayhan Barzegar (July 10, 2008). "Joseph Nye on Smart Power in Iran-U.S. Relations". Belfer Center. Retrieved 26 April 2012.
  10. Ariel Zirulnick (24 February 2011). "Sanction Qaddafi? How 5 nations have reacted to sanctions: Iran". The Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved 2 October 2012.

Further reading

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