How to Use Hard and Soft Power to Win Awards: 5 Smart Power Skills Every Delegate Should Learn

by Ryan on October 26, 2010

Guest Post by Andrew Roush of Central Texas Model United Nations

I’m excited to present Best Delegate’s first guest post of the MUN season! Today’s post was written by Andrew Roush, who sits on the board of Central Texas Model United Nations, was Chief of Staff for UNA-USA MUN 2010 (now Global Classrooms International MUN), and has nearly a decade of MUN experience. Andrew also serves as Editor-in-Chief of Reply Magazine, an online publication that gives young people “the opportunity to express themselves on culture, society and politics, honestly and unapologetically.”

You don’t have to study international relations to do MUN, but knowing a few basic concepts can help you win awards. In this post, I explain:

  • How countries use hard power, soft power, and smart power
  • How these concepts apply not just to countries, but also to individuals
  • How you can use smart power to stand out in committee

Hard power is the use of coercion – economic sanctions, military force, or other threats. Hard power is the traditional “carrot and stick” of international diplomacy. While nations may use troop movements, currency devaluations or trade restrictions to make their point, individual delegates use their research, academic knowledge, or procedural prowess to influence or force the hands of others.


Soft power is diplomacy through co-option, rather than coercion — through attraction, rather than intimidation. Harvard Professor Joseph Nye coined the term in 1990, as the Cold War was winding down and many scholars and policymakers ruminated on a “new world order” to be dominated by the transforming role of the United States. Nye described soft power as “the ability to obtain the outcomes one wants through attraction rather than using the carrots and sticks of payment or coercion.” States may use the power of their culture or their international perception to their advantage. Delegates can use their charisma, poise and courtesy to sway their peers.

Smart power is the careful combination of hard and soft power based on a nation’s resources. The idea has since caught on the diplomatic circles, particularly with liberal American policymakers. During her confirmation hearings, US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee:

“We must use what has been called ‘smart power,’ the full range of tools at our disposal — diplomatic, economic, military, political, legal, and cultural — picking the right tool, or combination of tools, for each situation. With smart power, diplomacy will be the vanguard of foreign policy. “

The concepts of soft, hard, and smart power don’t just apply to states. “In individuals,” Nye wrote for the Huffington Post, “soft power rests on the skills of emotional intelligence, vision, and communication that Obama possesses in abundance. In nations, it rests upon culture (where it is attractive to others), values (when they are applied without hypocrisy), and policies (when they are inclusive and seen as legitimate in the eyes of others.)”

Andrew Shakes Hands with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon in the General Assembly

How do these concepts help you as a delegate? Best delegates use smart power in committee. They know how to combine hard power — research, knowledge of procedure — with soft power — interpersonal skills, demeanor and charisma. Below, I’ve listed my version of the five major smart power skills every delegate should learn:

1. Role Playing. Smart delegates not only have the research to represent their country accurately and debate their topics intelligently, but they also have the public speaking skills to pitch their ideas, the poise to avoid inaccurate or outlandish statements, and the charisma to attract followers. This influences every level of your performance, from position papers to resolution writing, to voting.

2. Problem Solving. Successful delegates understand underlying issues and trends, as well as existing structure, agreements and protocols. To make this knowledge work, they must be able to synthesize new solutions and evaluate the viability of new ideas. This skill is particularly important in drafting resolutions.

3. Creativity. While we’ve all seen the delegates who turn their speech into a telenovella-style monologue, creativity really means the knowledge of existing structures and situations and the ability to think within and outside of the paradigm. Your creativity not only comes across in your speeches, but in the actual content of your resolutions and proposals.

4. Compromise. In MUN, as in life, you have to know your interests as well as those of others. Smart power means the ability to perceive what others will do, and be proactive, knowing when and where to make sacrifices. Compromise can greatly impact how you vote, and can make an impact on fellow delegates.

5. Presence. This is the element that brings the others together. To earn the gavel, you have to both learn how to command the room and have the skills to work with others. Speaking and presentation style, personal mannerisms, even appearance all affect your ability to apply your knowledge. This comes into play every time you speak, from the speakers’ list, to unmoderated caucuses.

Everyone’s skill set is different, and applying your smart power requires you to understand your strengths and well as areas of improvement. The greatest delegate you’ll see will apply their smart power effortlessly. For most of us, however, using our personal smart power takes time and practice. In time, you’ll be peddling influence without even trying.

How do you use smart power in Model UN? Let us know what you think of Andrew’s post in the comments!

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