Guns and gold of August

China and Russia have just provided the world with sharp contrasts in the use of power. As the French analyst Dominique Moisi recently put it "whereas China intends to seduce and impress the world by the number of its Olympic medals Russia wants to impress the world by demonstrating its military superiority - China's soft power versus Russia's hard power".
Some American analysts such as Edward Luttwak have concluded that Russia's invasion of Georgia proves the "irrelevance" of soft power and the dominance of hard military power. In reality the story will turn out to be more complicated for both countries.
Soft power is the ability to get what you want through attraction rather than coercion or payment. It is not the solution to all problems. North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il's fondness for Hollywood movies is unlikely to affect his nuclear weapons programme. And soft power got nowhere in dissuading Afghanistan's Taliban government from supporting Al Qaida in the 1990's.
But other goals such as the promotion of democracy and human rights are better achieved by soft power which can also create an enabling or disabling environment as the United States discovered in the aftermath of the invasion of Iraq.
Sceptics who belittle soft power because it does not solve all problems are like a boxer who fights without using his left hand because his right hand is stronger. Soft power is rarely sufficient but it is often crucial to combine soft and hard power to have an effective "smart power" strategy.
As the US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said last year "I am here to make the case for strengthening our capacity to use soft power and for better integrating it with hard power."
Military force is obviously a source of hard power but the same resource can sometimes contribute to soft power behavior. The impressive job by the American military in providing humanitarian relief after the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004 and the South Asian earthquake in 2005 helped restore America's attractiveness.
On the other hand misuse of military resources can undercut soft power. The Soviet Union had a great deal of soft power in the years after the Second World War but destroyed it by the way the Kremlin used its hard power against Hungary and Czechoslovakia.
If the Russians had used their "peacekeeping" force solely to protect South Ossetians' "self-determination" (citing the precedent of Western actions in Kosovo) they would have done little damage to their soft power and the benefits could have exceeded the costs.
By bombing blockading and occupying many parts of Georgia delaying its withdrawal parading blindfolded Georgian soldiers and failing to protect Georgian citizens Russia lost its claims to legitimacy and sowed fear and mistrust in much of the world.

More wary
Neighbours such as Ukraine have become more wary. An immediate cost was Poland's reversal of its resistance to an American anti-ballistic missile system. When Russia appealed for support of its Georgia policy to its fellow members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation China and others refused.
Longer-term costs may include the failure of Russia's proposal for a new European security system a revived European interest in the Nabucco and White Stream gas pipelines that skirt Russia and a decline in foreign investment.
In contrast China ended August with its soft power enhanced by its successful Olympic Games. In October 2007 President Hu Jintao declared China's intent to increase its soft power and the Olympics were an important part of that strategy.
But China's government did not achieve all its Olympic objectives. By not keeping its promises to allow peaceful demonstrations and free internet access China undercut its soft-power gains.
It will take more than a successful Olympics to overcome these self-imposed limits. For example a recent Pew poll showed that despite China's efforts to increase its soft power the US remains dominant in all soft-power categories.
So while China won the most gold medals the Beijing Olympics did not turn the tables on the US outside the sports arenas. One hopes that China's leaders will learn the importance of free expression for establishing soft power.
Of course only time will tell the ultimate outcomes of the guns and gold of August for Russia and China. Unlike an Olympic competition their recent performance will not be given a final score until well after their power games have been played.

By Joseph S. Nye Project Syndicate 2008