The following is part 2 in the series of posts pulling off of my M.A. thesis, posted here. In this post, I present the second two theoretical contributions: small power. I argued in the previous post that small states do not have hard power options and argue in this post that soft power is an inappropriate tool for understanding small state foreign policy behavior. Rather, small power presents new possibilities.
In the absence of hard power capabilities, we may assume that soft power is the default option. Joseph Nye’s definition is simple enough: “It is the ability to get what you want through attraction rather than coercion or payments. It arises from the attractiveness of a country’s culture, political ideals, and policies.” He goes on to say that the basic logic is to get others to want what you want. A country with a relatively large population, territory, resources, economy, military force, and social stability might be able to coerce other nations into working with it to achieve its own security objectives. However, a state that has managed to cooperate with other states because of shared interests has proven itself adept at exercising soft power. Generally, international soft power is produced through three different spheres: 1) culture; 2) political values; 3) foreign policy. All three are combined to further a given state’s interests and its attractiveness to other states.
The literature on soft power is primarily concerned with the United States of America, and serves as an oppositional voice to the connection between American military power and the country’s foreign policy. The concern of many articles on soft power is to point out alternatives to hard power as a way to achieve U.S. security goals and foreign policy objectives.
Although soft power is a useful analytical concept, it has some notable limitations in its application to small state foreign policy. First, large and small states will approach power projection in very different ways. For example, Nye observed the connection between soft power and democracy, when he pointed out that “soft power is a staple of daily democratic politics.” It may be that democracies are more adept at utilizing their soft power resources, as a result of their familiarity with political concession making at home. It seems likely that larger powers, such as the U.S. or regional actors such as the E.U. may be more familiar with soft power as a PR-campaign. For smaller states, however, it may actually be the reverse: democracy is a source of soft power, not a teacher of it. In other words, small states might be able to use democracy to attract international partners, not as a way to train themselves for other modes of power projection. Second, while larger states might be able to depend on the attractiveness of their culture, smaller less-well-known countries will have to restrict themselves to the later two options (i.e. political values and foreign policy). Third, the concept of soft power assumes that hard power is an available option, as indicated by Nye’s concept of “smart power” as the ideal combination of the two, which any global power must harness to remain on top. When hard power is not available, the projection of softer resources is not necessarily soft power; rather it is the only power available.
By combining what we know about soft power, with the previously presented two-sided definition of small states, we can begin to refer to some small state-specific power, which I will call small power. Small power is an analytical concept for understanding how small states will make themselves appear more attractive for partnerships with larger, often extra-regional powers as part of an effort to discourage threats from other states, often their neighbors. Working within the modes of asymmetry and behaviors that I have previously laid out to identify small states in today’s international system, the concept that small states will almost invariably engage in some sort of specialized balancing behavior has already been established. Small power is thereby defined as the power to affect the international system by attracting the attention of larger, less-threatening powers in an effort to balance against the role of a threatening state. Small power is tailored for states that have limited economic and/or mineral wealth and without clear geo-strategic advantages. Small oil-producing states, for example, can leverage their natural resources in their foreign relations, and strategically located states can leverage their territory for foreign military installations. What can a state leverage to make itself an attractive partner, when it has neither economic nor strategic incentives?
Small states have utilized a number of strategies to increase their small power resources. A number of states have volunteered a symbolic number of military personnel to peacekeeping operations (ex. Georgia, Mongolia, and Poland are three prominent examples of small states currently contributing troops to U.S. operations in Afghanistan), others have worked to build records of consistent adherence to international norms, and still others have sought to act in line with regional interests to help foster stability (ex. South Korea and Thailand).
Analysis, Thoughts, Ideas
This blog will be an online publishing site for smaller analytical projects, news stories that I find relevant to small state foreign policy and indigenous autonomy, as well as a testing ground for new ideas and new projects that I may pursue.