According to international relations analysts and political theory, there are two kinds of power: Hard Power and Soft Power. Gunships, nuclear weapons and capable standing military fall squarely under hard power, while Diplomacy lies quietly under the banner of soft Power. We would be remiss not to acknowledge that both kinds of power wield palpable strength in the international world. Soft Power is often that ability to be able to have conversations, convince and/or coerce through intelligent conversation and mechanisms that appeal to the sense and sensibilities of world leaders and their populations. Soft power is under girded by the mass perception of that nation on the international stage. That is why strategic nations are very careful about their image in the world.
“The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.”
However, the balance of these kinds of powers seem to be unequal throughout the world. Many nations, it seemed were only equipped with “soft power” while other had the convenience of both. Diplomacy can me highly useful tool in both international and domestic arenas. The ability to reason with populations and leaders to avoid messy conflict and war is undoubtedly preferable. And for a long time, the world thought that the West engaged quite ably in Diplomacy; helping others on the world scene to manage their economies, internal conflicts and discontent with ease. At least that was the sentiment until the declassification of files that made it clear, it was not merely diplomacy being deployed in these areas; but also men with boots, guns and covert military campaigns that crushed regimes, toppled nations and often left populations in utter despair.
An ambassador is an honest man sent to lie abroad for the good of his country.–Sir Henry Wotton (United Kingdom)
Diplomacy, however is a necessary. Regardless of its usefulness during the Western Hegemony of the past, Diplomacy is an excellent way to discover solutions between landlocked nations, border disputes, historic grievances and other conflicts without resorting to violence. Whether that diplomacy works in today’s changing world depends on the methods used, the authenticity of the actors and the cultural context underlying those societies engaged in diplomatic talks. It is difficult to practice true diplomacy when nations negotiate from a zero-sum (win/lose) paradigm.
Also troublesome in negotiation conversations as we’ve seen in the past decades, that rich nations often levy sanctions against smaller or less developed nations in an attempt to bully or strong-arm them into the desired behavior. According to the Bureau of Industry and Security, U.S. alone has sanctions on nearly 30 small countries and territories, many whose poverty level is staggering and comparatively tiny populations. The UK dwarfs the U.S. trade sanctions in comparison, with nearly 50 states under embargo or sanction, most of which are developing economies. It is important to note that many of these nations are being barred from acquiring arms, and fully taking part in the world market through trade restrictions. Its important to note that while the US boasts of a double digit list of countries under sanctions, the US itself has only four (4) nations levying sanctions against it.
Diplomacy is perceived by an imperial power as a waste of time and prestige and a sign of weakness.–Boutros Ghali, Politician/Diplomat (Egypt)
While the UK’s list of embargoes and sanctions is quite lengthy, over 20 African states are on that list, and this makes open trading and military-building almost impossible for nations on the African Subcontinent. It will be nearly impossible for nations under constant sanctions/embargoes by large wealthy countries to stabilize their populations, economy and protect its natural and human resources by building an able military. It appears the “soft power” of the decadent past has hamstrung countless small and developing nations around the world. We are left wondering if true diplomacy has died. Sanctions against the impoverished, African nation of Zimbabwe recovering from a humanitarian crises are palpable additions to the list of nations who are being bullied into policy and processes that work against the best interests of its people and economic growth.
Perhaps it is time for a new age of diplomacy. One that doesn’t bully small and developing nations into submission and ultimately poverty; but negotiates truly for the good of all parties involved. We cannot predict whether we will have a more just world, so it will be critical for nations to make strong moves to adequately fortify themselves to be able to competently participate in the soft power, diplomatic negotiations of the future.