Hard powerÂ is a term used inÂ international relations. Hard power is a theory that describes usingÂ militaryÂ andÂ economicÂ means to influence the behavior or interests of other political bodies. It is used in contrast toÂ soft power, which refers to power that comes fromÂ diplomacy,Â cultureÂ andÂ history. While the existence of hard power has a long history, the term arose whenÂ Joseph NyeÂ coined ‘soft power’ as a new, and different form of power in asovereign state’s foreign policy. Hard power lies at the commandÂ HegemonÂ end of the spectrum of behaviors and describes aÂ nation’s ability to coerce or induce another nation to perform a course of action. This can be done throughÂ military powerÂ which consists ofÂ coercive diplomacy,Â war, andÂ allianceÂ using threats and force with the aim of coercion,Â deterrence, and protection. AlternativelyÂ economic powerÂ which relies onÂ aid,Â bribesÂ andÂ economic sanctionsÂ 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.
Over the weekend I had a twitter conversation (140 char’s at a time, rough) about the meaning of “Soft Power” in the current parlance propounded by Joseph Nye. I have a different opinion of the nomenclature concerning the terms “Soft Power” and “Hard Power” in today’s political and economic environment. While the other party I was speaking to had a more strict version of thinking per Mr. Nye’s (he coined the term soft power) definition. I myself feel that today things are a little more complex for the terms to be so tight given that now economic “hard power” seems to have morphed into a vast array of economic digital espionage that softly, along with other soft power style moves, create a hard power outcome of directing or tricking other countries into actions that the others desire.
The primary mover and shaker of this for me is of course China and one only has to look at the news cycle to see both these types of “power” being wielded by the RPC. I think it is time to take a look at the means and the philosophies that China has been using to effect the changes that they need to become not only the predominant military force in the world, but more so an economic juggernaut that will outweigh and perhaps stealthily creep behind and slit the throats of other countries inÂ subtleÂ and not so subtle ways.
Hard vs. Soft Powers and Nomenclature
As seen above in the quoted text, hard power is seen as economic sanctions as well as military actions. This is all in response to the soft power of politics and the methods of carrot to the hard power stick. All of these allude to direct actions that areÂ perceivedÂ as means to manipulate nations states and other actors into actions desired by the power that is employing them. I would put to you all that there is another form of “soft power” that the Chinese have really created over the last decade that employs a more stealthily nimble approach from the espionage arena (hard power by strict definition?) and economic strategies that, with nationalistic goals of grand scale, have wrought a new type of “power”
Perhaps this power should be called “Covert Soft Power” as it is being employed covertly both in the hacking of companies to steal their economic secrets (IP) as well as by the addition of espionage and common business tactics to buy into, and or subvert companies to facilitate access to economic secrets as well as out maneuver companies and close them out on deals etc. All of this seems logical to me (adding this meaning to the term) but perhaps I am outside the norms on this one. The way I see it though, there is a new vector here that the Chinese are leveraging and I think we could use a little thought on the matter and perhaps how to counteract it all.
China, The Hard and Soft Power via Economic Espionage and Investment
China in particular has been working at a multiply pronged and diligent attack on systems and corporations as well as governments to effect the long game strategies that they want. Instead of attacking things head on, the Chinese prefer the methods of “The Thousand Grains of Sand” where many operations and operators work to effect the larger outcomes from small pieces. The Chinese are patient, and because of the Eastern mind, seem to come at things in a more subtle way than most of us in the West tend to think about. In all, the subversion and outright theft of IP has aÂ multipurpose goal of broadening their technical abilities, their economic abilities, and overall, their dominance in the world as a power.
What the Chinese have realized mostly though, is that the subtle knife is the best way to control the enemy, slowly, and subtly slitting the throat of the opponent without a struggle. Frankly, I admire the approach really. In terms of the argument of “soft power” I place these efforts squarely into it because in tandem with certain “political” maneuvers, they can have huge net effects. By combining the military, the economic, and the political aspects of soft and hard power, and the gray’s in between, China has become a force to be reckoned with.Â So, I put it to you all here, that there is room for a change within the nomenclature of Mr. Nye’s coinage and that I think, in order to better understand the mosaic that is happening, we need to re-tool some of the ideas we have pre-conceived for ourselves.
A New Battlespace, A New Set of BattlesÂ
Finally, I would also put it to you all that the battle space is much different today than it has been in the past. Not only do we have the digital landscape, but said same digital landscape, that makes it easier to steal, also makes everything more interconnected. By interconnected, I mean that it is far easier to effect large changes to companies by the automation that we all have in place today to speed up our transactions. Today it is far easier to quickly make instant trades, and effect the bottom line of a company for the better or worse as well as steal data in minutes that in the past, would have taken days, weeks, or months toÂ ex-filtrateÂ from a company via conventional HUMINT means.
In the scenarios run on trades on the markets, you can see how one alleged “fat finger” incident can have a large scale and rippling effect on the whole economies of states, never mind businesses individually. So, once again, the battle space has changed greatly because of theÂ interconnected-ness of things. It seems that the matters of state now more than before, can be changed through the soft power of the digital attack or manipulation. This is what I mean by “soft power” or perhaps the term I mentioned above “Covert Soft Power”, attacks that we are seeing now, and are having trouble truly attributing to nation-state, corporate, or individual actors are having larger and larger effects on our economy, our policies, and our long term viability as nations, companies, or groups.
At the end of the day though, I suggest that we are being manipulated by masters at the game of “Go” and we need to pay attention to every subtlety and not be so rigidly minded. It is the water that flows around and over the rock, eventually wearing it down to nothing.