Hard Vs. Soft Power

Foreign Policy Strategies in Contemporary International Relations

(Cambridge University, UK; June 23rd - 26th, 2010)
"Hard Vs. Soft Power" is an international congress that will explore the balance between hard and soft power in contemporary international relations and consider the future of the two approaches. The congress is a four day program of lectures, seminars, and panel discussions, being organised by the Institute for Cultural Diplomacy in cooperation with the Cambridge Union Society.

Since the end of the Cold War and the subsequent opening of the international environment, the pursuit of national interests abroad through hard power has come under increasing examination. The use of military force on foreign soil has in particular been criticised. The high profile examples of Iraq and Afghanistan providing fuel to arguments that such an approach cannot succeed in the complex tasks of nation building and fighting terrorism. Within this context, the concept of soft power and the use of cultural diplomacy have increasingly been put forward as alternative or complementary approaches.

"Hard Vs. Soft Power" will begin by exploring the origins, development, and contemporary understanding of the terms "hard power", "soft power", and "smart power", and the extent to which they can be viewed as distinct concepts. Having explored the definitions of these terms, the focus of analysis will then be on the balance of hard and soft power in the contemporary foreign policy strategies of nation states. Under particular consideration here will be the changing nature of foreign policy priorities; the increasing importance of global public goods and the challenges of pursuing objectives in an interdependent world. During the second part of the program case studies of soft power and cultural diplomacy will be considered, and speakers will be asked to reflect on the future of foreign policy strategies.

Conference Agenda

The program for "Hard vs. Soft Power" will be split into four general parts. The first day will begin with a theoretical and practical examination of the concept of soft power. A selection of academic experts will consider how soft power can be understood, how it compares to hard power, and how a country can generate a strong international image for itself.

The program will then move to consider a diverse range of case studies within the field of international relations that will highlight the use of both hard and soft power. Renowned figures from international politics and academia will explore case studies including, amongst other countries, China, the US, Poland, and Portugal.

On the afternoon of the third day the program will move to focus in particular on the United Kingdom and its approach to international relations. Experts from British politics, academia, and the media, will offer their views on how the UK's foreign policy is changing, both in terms of strategy and priorities, and will reflect on what lies ahead under the new government.

The fourth and final day of the program will look to the future. Experts from politics and civil society will consider the changing nature of international relations and the emergence of new challenges and opportunities for individual nation states. They will then consider the implications of this changing context for foreign policy makers and national governments.


The program speakers will include leading figures from international politics and diplomacy, academia, civil society, the armed forces, and related fields.


Participants will include students and young professionals, journalists, political and diplomatic representatives, and other individuals with an active interest in international politics and the direvers of foreign policy.


"Hard Vs Soft Power" will be based in the Cambridge Union, home of the university's largest student society and the oldest student debating society in the world. The Union is located in the heart of Cambridge, surrounded by the city's historic colleges and a short walk to the River Cam.