spanish portuguese
Home >> Previous Page >> article
feedback this article by E-mail

The United States needs to learn to combine hard and soft power more successfully

Jorge Nascimento Rodrigues, editor of, December 2007

A conversation with Harvard academic Joseph S. Nye, author of the forthcoming "The Power to lead: soft, hard and smart power" (February 2008)

Center for Strategic and International Studies | Joseph Nye at Harvard

Articles and Documents:
The Benefits of Soft Power | Soft Power Concept review from Futurecasts magazine
Testimony at the House Committee about Smart Power

United States position as the lone global power, as the "hegemon" of this long geopolitical cycle lasting from the beginning of the 20th century is unlikely to last forever. The US relative cycle power is declining consistently from its peak in the system of world power since the post-WWII. But, the decline remains slow, and in main power indicators saw actual increases between the 1980's and 2001. The present critical aspect of the US is its image and world reputation - core aspects in a persistent negative track. Its soft power is a mess. It is debatable if the US can do the "turnaround" of this situation.

Joseph S. Nye, professor of International Relations at Harvard University and former Dean of the John F. Kennedy School of Government, at Harvard, says YES - the turnaround is feasible. But he explains HOW.

He authored in 2004 Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics, a masterpiece in geopolitics, a sequel of his seminal book Bound to Lead: The Changing Nature of American Power, published in 1990. Soft power, coined by Nye in the 1990's, rapidly entered foreign policy discourse. Although others consider that the concept changed in the meanwhile - mainly because of China global strategy and due to some aspects of European Union policy -, the concept is powerful. But now Nye wants to add a new dimension - smart power. That's the core of his forthcoming book - The Power to lead: soft, hard and smart power, from Oxford University Press.

Precisely Professor Nye pointed out that "the US must become a smarter power by investing once again in the global public goods." Also he referred to the US National Security and Foreign Affairs of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform that the strategy must focused in "complementing US military and economic might with greater investments in its soft power." Nye and Richard L. Armitage, both from de Center for Strategic and International Studies, presented in Washington, November 7, 2007, a Testimony titled "Smart Power and the US Strategy for Securuty in a post-9/11 World".

Joseph Nye studied the main causes of the present US decline. He coined the importance of soft power: "soft power is the ability to attract people to our side without coercion. Legitimacy is central to soft power." He "redesigned" the famous Machiavelli motto - that it was safer to be feared than to be loved -, pointing out that "today, in the global information age, it is better to be both". Nye said: "It matters a lot whether the big kid on the block is seen as a bully or as friend."

His forthcoming book develops the concept of smart power - it is neither hard no soft; it is the skillful combination of both. It means an integrated global strategy, including soft power resources outside of government in the private sector and civil society. "It is an approach that underscores the necessity of a strong military, but also invests heavily in alliances, partnerships, and institutions at all levels."

Nye referred also the historical experience of former British superpower in the beginning of its declining period in the 19th century: "What it did was provide a series of international public goods, and that essentially made British power more acceptable."

"Serious alliance of hostile powers balancing European and American power seems less likely"
"American military power and economic power have not declined, but America's soft power of attraction has declined quite sharply during the past decade"
"May be that no American policy could do much about the current nationalistic cycle in Russia"
"Russia is clearly willing to use its oil and gas reserves as an instrument of hard coercive power, not the soft power of attraction"
"But if the rising power also develops the soft power of attraction, it reduces those fears and the likelihood of balancing. This is what China is doing"

INTERVIEW (December 2007)

1. Do you think the US was loosing real and perceived power in terms of capacity of control over outcomes in the geopolitical arena? Its image, reputation and influence are at all-time lows, even worse than in the Vietnam period, and possibly sinking further? Why?

American military power and economic power have not declined, but America's soft power of attraction has declined quite sharply during the past decade. This is partly the result of excessive unilateralism and partly because of the Iraq War.

2. You refer perceptions of US incompetence. Recently Ambassador Chas Freeman refers to US "amateurish foreign service". What is the cause of this perception?

The perceptions of incompetence were created by the failure to plan and implement the aftermath of the invasion of Iraq, as well as domestic episodes like the Bush Administration fumbling of the response to Hurricane Katrina.

3. One of the clear perceptions is the fact that the US isolates itself from the innovation in global public goods since the 1990's - in contrast with its leadership role after WWII and during the Cold War. European Union is credited recently on this field, suggesting, launching and endorsing international initiatives and institutions. Instead, the US gained the reputation of being rejectionist. Why the US changed its commitment to international institutional innovation?

The Bush 43 administration adopted a narrower and more unilateral view of American national interest than did the Clinton or Bush 41 administrations, and this was reinforced by the climate of fear created by the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

4. Some analysts refer that the Clinton Administration begins a wrong approach regarding Russia since the implosion of Soviet Union, considering the "thirdworldization" of this former great power, adopting an "arrogant" strategy. Do you think the authoritarian and great power politics revival of Russia is a kind of revenge?

Both Bush 41 and Clinton made effort to help Russia adjust to its economic failure and loss of status, but it may be that no American policy could do much about the current nationalistic cycle in that country.

5. Due to the close proximity of European shatterbelt countries in the borders of Russia in the Baltic, East Europe and Black Sea, do you think Europe is at risk from hard power projections from Russia? The gas soft power strategy from Russia is a marker of this risk situation?

Despite the current wave of nationalism, I do not think Russia will take the risks of military intervention. But it is clearly willing to use its oil and gas reserves as an instrument of hard coercive power, not the soft power of attraction.

6. Do you think that the new Bush Administration' hard power strategies regarding pre-emptive war and nuclear tactical weapons' potential use for regime change, were the main causes for the growing lack of legitimacy of the US?

Bush 43 doctrine of pre-emptive war coupled with the invasion of Iraq clearly undercut international perceptions of the legitimacy of American policy.

7. Do you think that medium countries with weak relative power can develop a sort of jiu-jitsu effect 1 against the US? I am thinking of Venezuela, even Iran, probably others in the next future in Africa - and not only the global terrorist networks.

If the US over-reacts to Chavez and Ahmedinejad, it could help them. That would be a jiu-jitsu effect. If instead, the US shows that other countries have more to gain from cooperation that could help isolate them.

8. A recent book, "Charme Offensive", of Joshua Kurlantzick, refers that reality surpassed your theoretical concept of soft power, when we study the case of China in the last 20 years. What's your comment? Do you think China's strategy is a good example of a "smart power" approach?

China is a rising power, and we know from history that as a country's hard power increases, others become fearful and may balance against it. But if the rising power also develops the soft power of attraction, it reduces those fears and the likelihood of balancing. This is what China is doing. The combination of hard and soft power in a successful strategy is what I mean by "smart power." Richard Armitage and I recently co-chaired a Commission on Smart Power that reported that the United States needs to learn to combine hard and soft power more successfully.

9. Regarding the resource rich regions in the Globe, do you think we can see the emergence of coalitions of whiling between great powers, challenging "provocateurs", even rogue states, against the interests of the US and Europe?

Many such diplomatic coalitions of convenience have been formed and will be in the future. But serious alliance of hostile powers balancing European and American power seems less likely.

1 Jujutsu or jiu-jitsu literally means the "art of softness", it is a Japanese martial art consisting primarily of grappling techniques. Jujutsu evolved among the samurai of feudal Japan as a method for dispatching an armed and armored opponent in situations where the use of weapons was impractical or forbidden. These techniques were developed around the principle of using an attacker's energy against him, rather than directly opposing it. (Wikipedia)

Five critical areas where specifically the US should focus:
- Alliances, partnerships and institutions. It is critical to work effectively in multilateral settings.
- Global Development. The US commitment and approach to global development has been marked by inconsistency over the past half century.
- Public Diplomacy. An effective public diplomacy approach must include exchanges of ideas, peoples, and information, it must include citizen diplomacy. The US spends $750 billion on defense, but only $1.5 billion on public diplomacy. It's a ratio of 500 times.
- Economic Integration. Pay attention to the trends of de-integration.
- Technology and Innovation. Addressing climate change and energy insecurity.
Two Silver Principles:
- An extra dollar spent on hard power will not necessarily bring an extra dollar's worth of security
- The key is not how many enemies the US kills, but how many allies it grows

©, 2007

Other articles
The Futurist
Web Heroes
Peter Drucker - Exclusive Interview 2001
Reality Check
3M A Century of Innovation
Chandler about Strategy & Structure 40 years after
«A Consistent Record of Strong Business Execution»
The Risk of an unending series of Oil Wars
The secrets of Japan's economic anorexia
Sam Hill, the new american guru of Marketing Trends: «We will see the industrialization of thinking»
«Do not imitate the british example»
The Big Clash of the XXIst Century
In defense of the CEO chair against the split of power in public corporations
«Japan wants to be Number One Solutions Provider of the XXIst Century»
Revolution in Knowledge Management
Daguo Xintai - China, the New Power of the XXIst Century
Knowledge Navigation
Report on the US Economy
Learning Tours
Transition Report
Sustainable Sourcing
«Imitating imperfectly or customizing the thing that is being imitated can be a source of creativity»
«Corporations compete and cooperate for power and turf like countries»
«Think Inside the Box»
Geo-Political and Geo-Economic Dialogue
«The China Factor came to stay», Graham Birch, from Merrill Lynch
«The "geography" of services is linguistic and cultural»
The Sandwiched Middle
Prosumers are human media – a powerful word of mouth, the brand evangelists
China Century
«The China Factor and the Overstretch of the US Hegemony», just published the 3rd Transition Report
Intellectual Capital of Nations
India and China: Fruitful Partnerships and Bound to Grow, by George Zhibin Gu
India’s Emergence as a Global R&D Hub - a new special Transition Report
The flash movie that shocked America
News from InnovAsia/Insead
Case Studies
The Road to 60 dollars a barrel - In the eve of a radical societal change
Biotech: India's Next Sunrise Sector
The Final assault
The college grad with a «stream» dream
Federation: The Best Choice for Taiwan & Mainland China
The crown jewel buys the crowns
Economics new buzzword
Lessons of China's Stock Market
Skyhook Wireless - the first urban Wi-Fi positioning system
Proxpro - business and professional matchmaking with an SMS
China's Global Reach: Markets, Multinationals, and Globalization (Book Excerpt)
China's competitiveness in a strong-yuan world
Vinton Cerf, the «Father of the Internet», joins Google
Zhibin Gu new book in English
The Yangtze Crocodile
The Death of the Devil's Advocate at the Hands of IDEO ideologist
The Enzyme Magician
John Naisbitt
Janice Fraser, the Queen of Web 2.0
The story of the Number One Biotech Asian Woman Entrepreneur
China and the New World Order: How Entrepreneurship, Globalization, and Borderless Business are Reshaping China and the World (Book Excerpts)
Three looks over India
The two oldest Matrixes of World Discoveries - Portuguese and Chinese Historical linkage
Russia and China, the (re)emergent great powers and the impact in the world system
About Smart, Soft and Hard Power
The Poisoned Heritage of Alan Greenspan's FED Kingdom
The Authoritarian Challenge in the new context of Great Power Politics

   authors from A to Z
   word from the sponsor
   word from the partners
   who we are

Altitude Software


   SunTop Media
   Jala Inc.
   Janela na Web
Copyright © 2001 GurusOnline.Net - All rights reserved.
A global project
Ilustrations: Paulo Buchinho