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Foreign policy in an age of austerity : ‘soft power’, hard choices

Trevor Harris
p. 17-36


Soft power, according to Nye, can be a highly cost-effective form of national projection within the contemporary international system. With such an objective in mind, the relation between soft power and budget restrictions became increasingly important after 1945. Initial post-war resistance to the idea of using national heritage, particularly, as soft power, gave way to a more pragmatic attitude by the 1960s. The Falklands conflict then further stressed the relationship between national power and national finances, while hesitations continued in respect of what kind of power might be projected. Conservatives argued that Britain’s role remained a global one – a position New Labour continued to support, even infusing it with a sense of national mission. These global ambitions soon foundered on the financial crisis which began in 2007, ushering in policy decisions overtly designed, from the beginning of 2011 – notably following various debates in the House of Lords – to implement a comprehensive soft power strategy. 

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Keywords :

soft power, IR, crisis
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Extrait du texte

Ce document sera publié en ligne en texte intégral en septembre 2018.


Emergence of the concept of soft power in Britain
The strategic and financial context post-Blair
The Lords debate “soft power”, April 2011
Foreign policy privatized ?
Soft U turn

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It was Joseph Nye who, in an article in Foreign Policy in 1990, first coined the term “soft power. The latter, he argued, consists in attempting to shape the attitudes and preferences of others, in getting others to want what you want, rather than forcing them to do what you want: in short, in attraction rather than coercion or payment. To be fair to Nye, he has not claimed that soft power itself is new: in an interview on France Inter in November 2010 Nye said, “Soft power is as old as human history”. Nye was interested above all in stressing the clear advantages of soft power over other types of power. In his original article he underlined that:

Soft co-optive power is just as important as hard command power. If a state can make its power seem legitimate in the eyes of others, it will encounter less resistance to its wishes. If its culture and ideology are attractive, others will more willingly follow. If it can establish international norms consistent with its society, i...

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Trevor Harris, « Foreign policy in an age of austerity : ‘soft power’, hard choices », Observatoire de la société britannique, 20 | 2018, 17-36.

Référence électronique

Trevor Harris, « Foreign policy in an age of austerity : ‘soft power’, hard choices », Observatoire de la société britannique [En ligne], 20 | 2018, mis en ligne le 01 septembre 2018, consulté le 17 août 2018. URL : ; DOI : 10.4000/osb.1976

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Trevor Harris

Professeur de civilisation britannique à l'Université de Picardie Jules-Verne

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Observatoire de la société britannique

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