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Which matters more in international relations: power or wealth?
Published on January 31, 2008 By singrdave In War on Terror
The effective use of power matters more in international relations than sheer wealth of a nation. Despite the cliche that money makes the world go around, the promise of wealth (or the withholding thereof) cannot influence hearts and minds as successfully as power can. Both can be helpful, but power can be used more effectively than wealth when it comes to international relations.

In considering which is more effective in diplomatic circles, there is a lot to be said for wealth. The promise of remuneration can get acts accomplished, no matter how abhorrent the act may be. Many deals have been done in international circles with the promise of cash or future consideration. Wealth is not always effective in swaying opinion, though. In the lead-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the United States (US) promised Turkey a large sum of money to allow overflight and basing rights within the country. Due to its proximity with northern Iraq and its accessibility to the Mediterranean Sea, Turkey was a logical staging point for the upcoming invasion. Turkey had also been essential in the 1991 liberation of Kuwait and its aftermath, allowing American airmen to affect Operation Northern Watch from Turkey's Incirlik Air Base. However, on the eve of the invasion, and despite the material wealth the country would have enjoyed, Ankara decided to refuse America's overtures. The Coalition forces had to completely scrap their plans to invade Iraq from the north. Money did not coerce Turkey into compliance with American plans.

Another use of wealth in foreign relations is the withholding of money for coercive purposes. The threat of ongoing sanctions can be effective, but it does not always affect the changes required. Iran, Cuba, Myanmar (Burma), and North Korea continue to live under decades-long sanctions without noticeable changes in behavior. While not thriving, these nations nevertheless flaunt the effectiveness of international bodies such as the United Nations which imposes such punishments.

While one could argue that the effective use of wealth equates to power, power is overall the more effective commodity in international relations. Machiavelli's seminal work The Prince clearly showed the value of power in the effective governance of one's own country as well as eliciting favorable reactions in the international arena. Power is the most important thing one can have when one is running a nation -- without it, there can be no stability or peace.

There are two types of power: hard and soft. Hard power is equated with might -- the ability to sway opinion through threats of violence or inflammatory rhetoric. This is the brute force approach to diplomacy that has been employed in recent years in the War on Terror. In rallying nations to its cause, the United States has used black-and-white phrases to demonstrate that there were two sides to the battle against terrorism -- those on America's side and those who chose to assist the terrorists, even through inaction. This polarized the international community and it was hoped that no nation would want to be found on the side opposing American action in the wake of the terrorist acts of 11 September 2001. Historically, the Soviet Union used shows of force or explosive rhetoric to ram their foreign policy decisions down the throats of other nations. Khrushchev's shoe-banging incident at the United Nations (UN) and his threats of "burying" the US are famous examples of the ham-fisted use of hard power. Other examples include a massing of forces on the border with a belligerent neighbor or the presence of gunboats off the enemy's shore. Such implementations of hard power are meant to coerce compliance from other nations to the policies of the initiating nation. Shows of hard power can be very effective, as nations line up behind the instigating country in order to avoid punishment or retribution.

Soft power is more subtle and insidious in its effect. It is the exportation of ideas rather than the communication of threats or actions. Soft power is meant to evoke sympathy -- deliberate or unconscious -- in the hearts and minds of the people in foreign lands. America does this quite well, as the exportation of American pop culture and foods have made virtually everyone on earth part of America's sphere of influence. The effect of soft power is that through acts of goodwill and mutual prosperity, people and governments will see the inherent rightness of certain actions or policy statements. Voice of America broadcasts throughout Eastern Europe during the Soviet era helped to break down walls of ideologically-motivated hatred, evoking understanding and mutual friendship between communist East and capitalist West. In more recent years, humanitarian efforts in the wake of the Indian Ocean tsunami of December 2005 warmed Indonesian hearts towards America and the West. In a 28 November 2007 speech, the Indonesian ambassador to the US expressed his appreciation to America (and specifically the LDS -- or "Mormon" -- Church) for providing so much assistance to the Indonesian people during the crisis. He stated that such acts of kindness engendered much love and respect between parties, bringing more peace on earth than diplomacy could ever convey. Though not as instantly effective as hard power, a country's skillful use of soft power can engender appreciation and respect from the world community.

While money indeed greases the wheels of diplomacy, it is the successful use of power that really brings change in the world. The appropriate employment of hard and soft power in diplomatic relations can sway people and governments to one's side far more effectively than can the promise of monetary gain.

on Jan 31, 2008
Grease them wheels!
on Feb 01, 2008
But money is power.  So in effect, the use of money is exerting power.  It is not an overt display, but as you point out at the end, sometimes it can be as effective.
on Feb 04, 2008
Indeed, money is a manifestation of power. But there is a difference between the coercive power of money and the coercive power of threats. "Do as I say or we invade" has a completely different nuance from "do as I say and there's something in it for you."