Soft power does not mean wimp power – Biswasdip TIGELA


Each sovereign country has a foreign policy to make a better and stronger relationship with neighbouring countries and others. Foreign policy is not only a matter of relationship; it is a policy of protecting the sovereignty of the country as well. It is called a diplomat relationship. Effective and successful diplomacy plays a pivotal role to make a peaceful and prosperous country. There are 195 sovereign countries in the globe, among them some are big, rich and powerful and, some of them small and less-developed countries. (, 2017). Powerful countries influence smaller countries by soft power or either hard power. In this essay, there will be an evaluation of soft power and analysing how small countries make foreign policy to achieve their goal. Two small countries, Brunei and Nepal, and how they achieved their foreign policy will be the case study. There will be textbook, Journal and internet resources used.

What is soft power?

To attract, influence or appeal to others, without using force or any coercive is the soft power. “When one country gets other countries to want what it wants to be called co-optive or soft power.” (Nye, 1990). There are many resources of the soft powers such as cultural attraction, economic benefit, political ideology, institutionally supporting each other in a common forum, better initiative, and activity in multinational organisations. Soft power is a type of indirect power, but instead of soft power, there is hard power where powerful state use force, they could intervene, but that could be more negative effect and expensive. The power is shifting in the number of occasions. Such as after the WW II, world superpower was transferred to the USA, and after the Coronavirus pandemic power could transfer somewhere else.

The world’s powerful countries are using soft power around the globe. They just provide humanitarian aid and support at conflict area and developing countries, in consequence, less develop and small countries are attracted to the big and powerful nations. Small countries need help from powerful countries and, also big and powerful countries needs small and less developed countries’ solidarity. On the other hand, richer countries are not developing poor, small countries; less developed countries are making the richer countries wealthier. (Hickel, 2017). Some people think this reverse order; however, a small country needs help from a powerful nation, and they form an alliance or stick with a powerful country.

Joseph Nye used this soft power terms in the 1980s. He described soft power is an ability to persuade others what you want, without force. As a soft power, companies, foundations, churches, universities, institutions of civil society, culture and values are attracted to the USA. It is meant the winning of hearts and minds is winning the war. (Ikenberry, 2004).

Axworthy said that Soft power is not wimp power, during the UN press conference in 1999. It was about the UN involvement over Sierra Leon crisis. Canada contributed 4.5 million Canadian dollars for humanitarian and peacebuilding. (Press conference by the foreign minister of Canada, 1999). Axworthy speech was as the foreign minister of Canada. There were many critiques about Sierra Leon. Therefore, he expressed his views; the UN peacekeeping mission must be mandated to support and reconciliation. Sierra Leon crises was not successful during that time. (Chapnick, 2000). The UN missions failed in various involvement. Such as Srebrenica in 1995, Rwanda in 1994, Somalia in 1995. These are the reasons there were big discussions about whether the UN peacekeeping missions should be mandated to using force or intervene authority to protect civilians, who are under attack or remain the soft power. (Henderson, 2015). Axworthy stressed that the UN peacekeeping mission should have both power’s soft and hard to solve the disputes. (Chapnick, 2000). There were fail history of soft power; therefore, he emphasises to have soft power and hard power. The UN highlight the Peacekeeping Missions, Article 42, where the authorising measure mentioned. (Peacekeeping Missions | United Nations Security Council, 2020).

There are many power’s intervened examples, such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Somalia, Sudan. Also, there are some soft power, the USA bought Alaska in 1867, from Russia for $7.2 million. (Milestones: 1866–1898 – Office of the Historian, 2020). Furthermore, the US bought Louisiana state from France in 1803 and paid $15 million. (The Louisiana Purchase, 2020). These are some distinct examples of soft power, whereby force was not used to make these gains.

The soft power supplies opportunities to spy through various projects and programmes in many countries, which is another advantage for rich countries who run the programmes overseas. There is always both side giving and taking. Soft power is a kind of diplomacy, and diplomacy is not avoiding war for national interest; it is choosing for the right allies in the right time for the right issue. (Cooper, 2011).

Less-developed and small countries are lobbying with powerful and rich countries to achieve their foreign policy goal. Especially, small countries are focusing on border, security, and protect the sovereignty because small countries are always vulnerable to protect the sovereignty of the state. They are not able to develop enough infrastructure and resources because of geographical limitations. Some small countries might be capable, but they do not have big enough spaces. Let’s look at the foreign policy of two small countries Brunei and Nepal.

Brunei foreign policy

Brunei is a sovereign and small country but consider as a wealthy nation. It is under British protection since 1888. Brunei foreign policy is mainly focused on maintaining and protecting the state sovereignty, independence as a state with territorial integrity, preserve politics, culture, religion and identity as the state, promote regional and worldwide security, peace and stability. Also, to enhance economy, prosperity and well-being are the fundamental goal of foreign policy. (Ministry of Foreign Affairs – Foreign Policy, 2018). 

To the pursuit of these goals, Brunei adheres and promotes recognition and equality for all small and large countries. No interference in the country internal affairs and dispute of other countries. If there are any disputes, they should be settled peacefully and cooperatively for mutual benefit. 

Brunei is promoting foreign policy by a bilateral and multilateral basis for friendship with mutual respect and peaceful co-existence. Any country wishes to have friendship or diplomacy relationship, Brunei is warmly welcome to extend the hand. Brunei is following the UN Charter, International Law, the ASEAN Charter, universal principle of sovereignty, apply the Human Rights’ norms, and the principle of freedoms are the underpinning of Brunei foreign policy.

To achieve foreign policy goals, Brunei has diplomatic relations with 170 countries, bilateral relationship with 36 countries. And they are actively taking part in the number of regional organisations such as the Asian Cooperation Dialogue (ACD), Association of Southeast Asian Nation (ASEAN), Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM), Forum for East Asia – Latin America Cooperation (FEALAC), The Commonwealth and special and active contributions over The Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and the United Nations (UN) membership and remarkable contributions over various organisations. Among them, Brunei played actives role over the NAM and OIC because the number of time Brunei hosted special events. (The Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), 2018). 

Brunei is an active monarchy kingdom among the 28 countries. (Dewey and Fisher, 2013). The Sultan/King Hassanal Bolkiah is the world’s second-longest monarch, and he is the Prime Minister, Defence, Finance and Foreign affairs and trade ministers as well. Including PM office there are 13 ministry department. One of the active King self-doing job of foreign affairs, therefore there are many advantages and disadvantages as well. (Brunei: cabinet reshuffle, 2018). 

As mentioned above, Brunei is under-protected by the British. There is a British Army (Gurkha) Battalion and retired Gurkha Unit for Brunei security and Brunei government pay to British tens of millions of pounds annually. (Marszal, 2016). However, there are many rumours on-going, India offered for protection role over Brunei. (Marszal, 2016). And Brunei is greatly influenced by Australia as well. Brunei King Bolkiah had bought farmland bigger than Brunei’s land in Northern Australia, known as Willeroo station but he sold it in 2013 and has just a big farm called Opium Creek in Australia. (Brann, 2014). Also, a few years back, Australia had offered that protection role as well. 

According to IMF statistic in 2017, by GDP, Brunei is 4th wealthiest country in the world. Brunei’s economic policy is also remarkable because the currency is remaining pegged one-to-one with the neighbour country Singapore since 1967. (Brunei-Singapore Currency Interchangeability Agreement, 2020). Singapore’s economy is one of the strongest and stable economy in the world.

Brunei is tiny but powerful world leaders President Xi Jinping has visited, and Brunei government keep engaging with foreign voluntary organisations such as the Commonwealth Fund for Technical Cooperation (CFTC). Oil-rich Brunei has a significant volume of trade with Japan, Singapore, China, Australia, and a perfect relationship with Malaysia because of surrounded country. Therefore, Brunei has 60,000 foreign workers, and they are from the Philippines, Bangladesh, Indonesia, and others. (Damit, 2002).

Brunei has maximum involvement and output to maintain a healthy and balanced foreign policy. 

Nepal foreign policy

Nepal foreign policy is more complicated than Brunei; however, basic foreign policies and objective are the same. On top-up Nepal, the constitution is clear and concise about the fundamental principle in Article 5, 50.4, and 51. On the state, the policy acknowledges charter of UN, non-alignment, the principle of ‘Panchsheel’ where are 5 points which were included during the treaty between China and India in 1954. it’s all about the same as a basic foreign principle; non-aggregation, non-interference, mutual benefit, respect sovereignty and peaceful co-existence.

Nepalese politics was volatile, and still is, there are challenges to maintain the stability because Nepal geographic location is sensitive. Upraising power China and India are the neighbouring countries with an open border. Many terrorist activities could happen against India and some time against China. Terrorist groups are using Nepal soil. It is difficult to maintain balance policy with India and China. The USA and EU using Nepal soil against China and India as well. Currently, Nepal is a battleground of Belt Road Initiative (BRI) vs US Millennium Challenge Cooperation (MCC). This MCC is under the ‘Indo-Pacific Strategy’, and this strategy is against the Chinese Belt Road Initiative. (Wagle, 2020).

Nepal is a landlocked country and needs to use Kolkata Port, which is in India, and already Nepal has negotiated with China to use the four ports of China. (Mukhopadhyay, 2020). And, there are the considerable influence of the UK and EU as well. Furthermore, Nepal is the second country after the Philippines who sends the most people, in the millions, overseas for work. Nepal received from citizens abroad remittance $6.6 billion. (Desilver, 2018). Therefore, Nepal foreign policy is complicated and have to balance well; otherwise, Nepal could be trapped. Fortunately, in 1993 Nepal has an agreement with India to pigging currency IRs 1 = NRs 160. (Jha, 2011).

Nepal has an active role over The UN peacekeeping mission over various places. Nepal is a democratic country; therefore; the government foreign policy is transparent, and each policy bill has to pass through the Parliament.

Nepal’s first-ever relationship is with Britain since 1816. During that time, Britain was in India as the East India Company. Nepal has 30 embassies around the globe and bilateral relationship with 168 countries. Nepal’s big donors’ countries are Japan, Denmark, Norway, and others. Nepal is receiving grand support from The World Bank, International Monitory Fund (IMF), Asian Development Bank (ADB); therefore, Nepal foreign policy is at a high level. In addition, Nepal is playing an instrumental role over The UN and significant role in SAARC, BIMSTEC, ACD and Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). 

The multinational companies have various investment in Nepal hydropower, Banking sector and others. Fortunately, in 2014, Nepal discovered a huge amount of Uranium in Upper mustang, it is a 10-Kilometer long and 3-Kilometer wide deposit, which is used for Nuclear power or energy. (Titzler, 2019). As above mentioned, The USA’s MCC programme is a $500 million project; some people suspect that is for two reasons: first against Chinese influence and second, may to control that uranium. There are hundreds of Non-Government Organisation (NGO) serving various sectors in Nepal; it is also the foreign policy effect.

Nepal’s affected by climate change because of world top Mt Everest’s snow is melting, it is a world tourist destination, and another is Lord Buddha birthplace of Lumbini in Nepal. Which is 535 million Buddhism people’s attraction, therefore Nepal has a big voice for climate change and more advance foreign policy. However, facing many problems and support from neighbour country, India.


As Axworthy said ‘soft power is not a wimp power. Some cases, soft power is much more effective than hard power. Politics economy, lobbying, trade, and investment are essential for the state. Small states are always under threat to protect state sovereignty, to maintain recognition of independent nation and, powerful countries pressure to tackle are the significant challenges. To deal with these challenges, small states are actively taking part in international organisation and forums. Both small countries Brunei and Nepal have similar basic policy; however, depending on the nature of the situation, they got advance foreign policies. Both countries do not have corrosive power, so they have a policy to influence and make an alliance to get their goal. As above both countries actively involved in various forms and stick close to the big state for protection.


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  • 4 May 2020