Soft power in Turkish foreign policy, Part 2

By THO Contributor, Tarik Oguzlu

Conceptual Discussion

The conceptual discussion that follows revolves around two particular questions. First, what do states do in order to change the identities, interests or behaviors of others in the image of their own priorities? Second, why do states change their behaviors alongside the expectations of others’? Would they comply with the terms of others out of fear/coercion, interests/enticement/inducement or legitimacy/attraction/identity?

The soft power of attraction (1): Do nothing and get what you want

The softest power resource of any country is its particular identity and the feeling of admiration and legitimacy that its material successes, policies, values and institutions arouse/inspire in the eyes of others. Here, there would be no need for the country A to employ any particular instrument or policy tool to affect the decisions of others, for others would comply with the terms of A automatically. A would be admired by others for who it is. If the citizens of the country A are happy with their lives and if the country A has already become a well-governed polity that does not suffer from any lack of internal and external legitimacy, others might come to the conclusion that they would also achieve similar successes should they follow in the footsteps of A. This is the least costly strategy of materializing one’s foreign policy interests, for there would be no need to explain who the ‘one’ is and what the ‘one’ wants from others. A would do nothing to affect the incentive matrixes of others. Stated somewhat differently, the county A would simply lead by example and through the demonstrative effects of its norms and material achievements. A would be seen as the role model or the shining star over the hill.

The soft power of attraction (2): Explain yourself and get what you want

A less softer version of the soft power of attraction takes place if countries feel the need to explain who they are and what they want in order to influence the decisions of others. The assumption here is that because states do not always possess an automatic power of attraction/admiration in the eyes of others, they might deem it necessary to invest in self-advertisement/image-making/branding projects. The goal here is to help project a positive image of one’s self in the eyes of others. Similar to the previous case, countries would not employ here the logic of conditionality in order to change the incentive matrixes of others. The country A would not directly engage other countries. The goal would be to make one’s self known to others so that others would be attracted to you. Investing in multi-lingual broadcasting activities as well as institutional platforms to teach one’s culture, language and history to outsiders would be quite important. Attracting foreign tourists and students would also matter. Building national carriers that connects you to many other countries and doling out developmental aid for altruistic purposes would also help in this regard.

The soft power of persuasion: Act as a normative power and get what you want

Another soft power tool might be that states try to promote a particular regional or global vision of their own as well as persuade others to the legitimacy and appropriateness of their foreign policy preferences and behaviors. The prime motivation here is to help manufacture an attraction for the normative underpinnings of one’s foreign policies and regional/global vision in the eyes of others by engaging others directly. This is an exercise that requires more investments than the ones mentioned above. The goal is beyond explaining one’s identity and domestic success stories. The particular regional order that one state aims to promote might be of realpolitik or non-realpolitik in nature, but the point is that this order would reflect the normative preferences of the actor in question. The state that holds a regional/global vision would not only need to explain what kind of a vision it wants to institutionalize but also convince others why its vision is much better than other visions through the employment of communicating and diplomatic strategies. In their efforts to engage others, they would invest in concrete initiatives with a view to winning the hearts and minds of others. However, similar to the previous cases, states would not use tempting or coercive strategies while explicating their normative projects. The goal would never be to push other states to engage in a cost-benefit calculation. Others’ followership should be secured through manufacturing of legitimacy. The counties which adopt this strategy aim something more than leading by example. The prime goal of such states that make use of persuasive strategies would be to explain their differences from others on ideational and normative grounds. They would need to justify their regional/global mission/vision in the eyes of others. Projecting norms and setting the terms of appropriate/legitimate interstate behaviors require the use of diplomatic and persuasive strategies.

The sharp power of manipulation and disinformation

Whereas soft power emanates from attraction and strongly hinges on credibility, sharp power stems from well-designed propaganda and public relations efforts aiming at cultivating a positive image about one's self as well as activities of manipulation and disinformation targeting external audiences. When it becomes a tool to be employed in interstate competition, sharp power can no longer be considered as innocent nation-branding efforts. For example, Russia has been waging political warfare against liberal democracies in the aftermath of the Crimean crisis in 2014. There is a war between Russia and Western powers, and this war is being fought more politically than militarily. Apart from the ongoing proxy wars in Syria, Libya and other conflict-riven failed states, the growing power competition between Russia and liberal democracies has been evolving more in political than military platforms. Lending support to pro-Russian political parties and movements across Europe and the United States, helping manufacture a positive image about Russia and its policies through the employment of all available media platforms and resorting to disinformation campaigns with a view to tarnishing the image of the West all over the world can all be considered as textbook examples of how sharp power has increasingly become a part of Russian statecraft. Investing in creating alternative truths and contesting conventional understanding of social realities constitute other examples of how sharp power is exercised. As universalism has begun giving way to relativism and as various practices of the globalization process have been increasingly replaced by various practices of protective nationalism in recent years, sharp power wars have inevitably turned out to be propaganda wars.

The hard power of temptation: Offer carrots and get what you want

Moving from the softer side of the spectrum to the harder side, one first witnesses that states might employ economic tools/strategies to help produce a change in the behavior of others. Here, the goal is to buy the cooperation of others by offering them some rewards. If others came to the conclusion that complying with the terms of the state A, or following its leadership, would bring them more benefits than costs, one might argue that the state A has the hard power of temptation over them. Here the goal is to push others to make a cost-benefit calculation. Here one would mainly employ economic tools, ranging from trade to developmental aids, in order to change the behaviors of others. The message given by the state A would be ‘if you cooperate with me and reconstruct yourself in line with my norms and preferences, then you will gain this or that.’ The state A would act as a civilian power in this configuration, for it would try to influence others’ decisions through the employment of non-military instruments. Devising a strategy based on the logic of conditionality would fit the power of temptation. An example is the employment of this logic by the European Union in its relations with many countries lying on its peripheries that want either to join the EU as member or develop cooperative relations with European nations. The basic message that the European Union has been giving to many such states is that ‘if you want to have access to EU’s market, attract EU investment and reap other economic benefits, you had better transform yourself in the image of EU’s norms and values.’ Stated somewhat differently the EU uses the economic tools at its disposal in order to help transform others in its image as well as project its model beyond its borders.  

The hard power of coercion: Threaten others with sticks and get what you want

Here the goal would be to change the behaviors of other by employing coercive strategies, such as economic sanctions, threat and use of force. The immense military capabilities at the disposal of some actors might embolden them to resort to a threatening language in their dealings with other states. For this foreign policy instrument to yield success, both the power holder needs to possess a lop-sided military advantage vis-à-vis others and others need to conclude that they had better comply with the preferences of the power holder. Here the power holder would try to push others to engage in a cost-benefit calculation by employing its coercive instruments at its disposal. Here the power holder would not spend any effort to help convince others through deliberate argumentation or buy their cooperation through offering rewards. Rather, the power holder would see herself so powerful that she would simply coerce others militarily and economically to change their behaviors. The message given would be that ‘If you do not cooperate with me and change your behavior alongside my preferences, then you will lose a lot and face the negative consequences of your con-compliance!’

The hard power of imposition: just go and impose your will onto others

Here the state A would simply impose its will onto others without spending any time to communicate its messages to others, let alone spending any effort to convince, coax or coerce them. The immense coercive power capabilities at one’s disposal would lead one to grab what it wants from others.


For an exemplary soft power relationship to exist, the way how others respond to the strategies of power holders is as much important as what kind of power instruments the power holder employs. Theoretically speaking, the target country might change its behaviors out of three different motivations, namely fear, interest and identity/admiration. Only in the case of admiration, one could talk about the existence of soft power relationship. Here, the target country would not engage in material cost-benefit calculations but simply conclude that changing its behaviors in line with the expectations of the power holder would be the most appropriate and legitimate thing to do. The target country would follow the leadership of the power holder automatically. Simply stated, it would be attracted by the power holder.