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In global relations, a states ability to influence others is inextricably hinged upon power. How a given state chooses to exert this power is conditional upon two characteristics: what type of power it may posses, whether it be military, economic, or diplomatic; what their desired outcome may be. Historically, the most visible type of power is hard, or military, power. Without dispute, hard power, as a show of force, certainly plays a role in coercing states actions. Objectively, however, adequate influence relies on not only the stick, but also the carrot.

In the simplest of terms, directing action, whether it is of an animal or a state, is often far more effectual when sought through rewards rather than punishment. If you wish to train a puppy to sit, you will find far more success with treats rather than with punishment. States aren’t much different.

The one principal to bear in mind is the fact that, no matter what, a state will always act in its own interest. This is why the United States arms both the Israeli army as well as the Saudi Arabian army. At its core, a states decision to act in any meaningful way is conditional upon the whims of its leaders. Influencing these leaders is the key to achieving a desired outcome.

In a recent article, I discussed what it meant to be a failed state. While political scientists have yet to develop a concrete definition of a failed state, most agree that falling below the Montevideo criteria indicates an inability to function as a state, resulting in questions of the leaders legitimacy. Of these criteria, the most critical to is the states ability to provide for its population. For a powerful nation such as the United States, aiding in the development and legitimacy of a far off state works wonders in influencing a course of action.

Political scientist Joseph Nye coined this aid, or soft power as “the ability to get what you want through attraction rather than coercion.” While this term may be new for many, the core ideal of which it represents is certainly nothing new. Foreign aid, to name one, is the most powerful form of soft power. In a recent press release, the United States State Department, has justified this aid “The FY2014 budget request of $47.8 billion supports U.S. engagement in over 180 countries, and provides the people and programs necessary to protect U.S. interests, promote peace and ensure America’s leadership in the world.

While this request amounts to less than 1% of the FY2014 budget, the diplomacy leverage it affords us is invaluable. In fact, the first line of diplomatic defense when a state goes rogue, is to sanction, or cut off, this aid.

Over the course of the passed decade, the merits of soft power have proven so effectual that certain aspects have been absorbed into the military. As part of General McChrystals counterinsurgency plan (COIN), along with partnering with Afghan leaders, is to leverage economic initiatives. Through helping build up communities, it is hoped that the United States and allied forces will discourage destruction and extremism. Moreover, through building schools and hospitals, the plan aimed to win the hearts and minds of the populace, effectively dislodging the seeds of extremism.

Through foreign aid and other aspects of soft power, we have seen global development enter an era of increasing promise. Through such programs, previously underdeveloped countries are coming online and, subsequently, poverty rates continue to drop. While military preeminence and the doctrine of second-strike capability played an ominous role in keeping war at bay in the past, it seems that for further development, it must become nothing more than a relic of the past.

 – Thomas van der List
Sources: UCLA International, State.gov