Soft and Hard Power of South and North Korea | Sunday Observer

Soft and Hard Power of South and North Korea

18 October, 2020

In politics, or more specifically Foreign Policy, power is vital for each nation to establish itself in the global stage. Power, by traditional definitions was quantified and understood in terms of military and economic might. Hard power, in effect was the coercion of others under threat of force, economic sanctions or induced payments. While Hard power continued to be the sole source of influence in the realm of foreign policy ever since conflict was even a concept, modern society introduced a different power. Soft Power, in direct contrast to Hard Power, was the idea of a nation using positive attraction and persuasion. In essence, not forcing other nations to agree but making them want to agree.

How and which power a nation has depends on the strengths and values of each country and many nations have plenty of both, like USA and China, but there is no better example of the two extremes of Hard and Soft Power than North and South Korea, the complete opposites in foreign policy.


Quantifying Hard Power is easy as measuring how big is the military and for the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea, the answer is very. The Korean People’s Army (KPA) is  the largest military institution in  the world with nearly  eight  million personnel, a third of its entire population. In addition to that, the development of nuclear weapons makes them, not only a relevant international power, but an international threat. However, this overreliance on Hard Power, despite having a lot of it, has significantly soured foreign relations with nearly every other country quite irreparably and has severely crippled other aspects of the country. Such as culture, which has suffered severely as all forms of art and expressions have heavy government involvement.

Soft Power is a bit more difficult to quantify but has just as much, if not more influence as Hard Power. The concept was split into three categories, cultural, ideological and institutional. South Korea, completely antithetical to the North’s approach, focused greatly on its Cultural Soft Power. South Korea is a nation that, since the 90’s, has slowly been taking over the cultural zeitgeist of modern times. South Korea is now recognised as major exporter of pop culture which has richly benefited its economy, which grew from one of the world’s poorest to having the 12th highest GDP globally. This global cultural presence they hold used to be solely dominated by the USA for the better part of a century but has since been ousted by the likes of South Korea, which along side Japan and Britain have become cultural superpowers.


Much like its Northern  counterpart, the South Korean government also has deep involvement in its culture but while North Korea throttles and restricts its culture, the South promotes it at every opportunity, providing aid and funding for the creative industry. Thanks to international popularityof social networking and streaming services, South Korean culture and media saw exponential growth that continues to this day.

With Parasite(2019) winning Best Picture at the 92nd Academy Awards and the K-Pop giants, BTS ranked number one on Billboard’s Social 50 chart for over an year running, it is clear that this South Korean cultural takeover, or Korean Wave as it is called, has been extremely successful.

However, while Soft Power seems to be far more beneficial in modern times compared to Hard Power, there still are weaknesses. Countries with great Soft Power, while having very strong influence in foreign relations, they have little active control over another, unlike Hard Power. It is also much slower to cultivate and while South Korea is a great positive example, it is up to chance for Soft Power to develop at all. So, while Soft Power, the power of cultural influence seems stronger, only Nations that have balanced Soft and Hard Power that consistently remain the strongest.