Hard power and soft power in health

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According to Nye (2011), hard power is the ability to get others to act in a way that is contrary to their initial preference and strategies, which is the capacity to coerce one through threats and inducements. On the other hand, Nye defines soft power as the ability to get others to want the outcome you want, which is the ability to achieve goals through attraction rather than coercion. Nye argues that both soft power and hard power are necessary, especially in international policies as both powers enable a change in the behavior of others. The universal health coverage is one global health issue that could benefit from the application of both hard power and soft power.

The rise of global health in foreign policy is an indication that states began to recognize health problems and soft power opportunity as more relevant to all the basic functions of foreign policy. The identification of global health as important in all foreign policy’s core functions reveals that health concerns expand beyond their conventional association with the human dignity (Nye, 2011). Moreover, the appearance of health in higher priority foreign policy functions means that to policy makers, health concerns are helping to stimulate broader conception of foreign policy responsibilities. For the achievement of universal health coverage, the WHO used soft power to push for Health for all in the 1970s, culminating in the declaration of the Alma Ata in 1978. However, during the cold war, several countries, including the United States, Cuba, and Soviet Union resorted to coercions and intimidations, which are aspects of hard power to push the agenda of universal health coverage, by supporting the foreign health policies of their allies and threatening the foreign health policies of their enemies, and perceived enemies (Fidler, 2011).

In 1979, the Iranian revolution, the resulting oil crisis and its impact on economies coupled with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan marginalized Health for all as a foreign policy. In this light, it is evident that both soft power and hard power can lead to positive results under different circumstances. Soft power, for instance, is important for universal health coverage as it is less costly and enables the change in health policies without competition or conflict. Alternatively, hard power such as sanctions of countries that do not uphold the universal rights of its citizens is important in pushing for the implementation of the Health for All throughout all corners of the world because it often leads to speedy results (Fidler, 2011).

To promote universal health coverage, my strategy would be to utilize soft power before the application of hard power, and the use of hard power would only come when there is a persistent failure of the soft power. The strategy where soft power is favored at the expense of the hard power would help in gaining the trust and the confidence of other countries and people from different parts of the world on the benefits of achieving a universal health coverage. Nevertheless, only in instances where there is an evident violation of rights to access to healthcare would hard power be applied in my strategy, which implies that my strategy would be cost efficient and leads to the achievement of universal health coverage goal.

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  1. David P. Fidler. (2011). Rise and Fall of Global Health as a Foreign Policy Issue. Retrieved from: http://www.ghgj.org/DavidFidler.pdf
  2. Joseph S. Nye. (2011). Power and foreign policy. Journal of political power. Volume 4.
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