In reading this week’s articles, it became obvious that middle powers are in a unique position because while they are present and involved in different issues, they are oftentimes not on a level in which they are able to compete with major powers. Being removed from this competitive context allows them to relate to major powers in a non-threatening way. This can be both positive and negative for the country’s soft power.
On the upside, it means that the country can approach mediation for other countries in a more objective way. For example, South Korea is not on the same plane as China and Japan from an economic or militaristic viewpoint, so as far as hard power goes, it can’t compare. However, its soft power is respected. According to a survey conducted by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, South Korean soft power is viewed more positively by both China and Japan than they view each other’s soft power (Lee, 4). If South Korea continues to be viewed as an approachable outside observer, it could use that quality to play a role in important Northeast Asia mediations, and potentially even turn those discussions in ways that would have benefits for South Korea.
Further, South Korea’s relatively recent development into a middle power means it can play the part of an accessible role model to other countries who hope to progress similarly. By building strong relationships and extending assistance to other developing nations, it will increase its soft power with smaller countries who may be intimidated by larger powers. This strategy is important in order to create networks of small and middle powers.
Like South Korea’s proximity to China and Japan, Mexico is a middle power that is located very close to a much stronger and stable power, the United States. However, Mexico’s soft power strategies have not been as defined or successful as South Korea’s. One of the dangers of being a middle power is marginalization. In 1990, the international cultural exhibition, Mexico Splendors of Thirty Centuries, did much to present Mexico in a positive light but did not seem to have a long-term or deep impact in the way foreign publics perceived Mexico. It is important for a middle power to avoid the trap of being seen as purely exotic and entertaining, as this makes it more difficult for it to seriously contribute to global affairs in a substantive way.
As we can see from these two middle powers, being in the middle can have its advantages. While they may not be calling the shots, they’re in a position to build strong relationships with those both more and less powerful than they are, if they can establish themselves as a sophisticated state.