Soft Power Matters, but Hard Power Matters More

September 15, 2022 | Rich Lowry
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In the past few decades, Israel has undergone a diplomatic revolution, in part by using its newfound status as an engine of technological innovation, reversing many years of isolation and hostility. These achievements can in many ways be chalked up to what political scientists call “soft power.” But Israel has always known that soft power can supplement, but not replace, the state’s capacity to defend itself from terrorism and military aggression, and to project its own deterrent force. The rest of the world is again learning to appreciate the irreplaceable necessities of “hard power.” Rich Lowry writes:

After the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky had bucketfuls of soft power. He was the most admired man in the world. He spoke at the United Nations, to Congress and other national legislative bodies, and even at the Grammys. What did that get him? It helped solidify the good will of Western countries, which was essential. He constantly tried to leverage that sentiment, though, for the hardheaded priority of more weapons.

Zelensky could still be admired in death, or in a Russian prison, or as an exile. Yet, if he wanted to continue to be admired as the leader of an independent country, he needed sheer firepower. Ukraine’s cause hasn’t gotten any more just or inspiring over the last couple of months; it’s gotten better armed.

The United States is a marvel of soft power, binding allies to us, attracting people all over the world who want to come here, and reaching the most far-flung places in the world. What we’ve been able to provide Ukraine that has been most telling, though, hasn’t been diplomatic or moral support, rather a system that can put a rocket directly on a target up to 50 miles away.

That’s been the game changer, as better military technology has always been, from long bows to arquebuses, from muskets to fighter jets. There is simply no substitute for hard power.

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