NYE 2006 ThinkAgain SoftPower FP
Think Again: Soft Power By Joseph S. Nye, Jr.
In 1990, Foreign Policy was the first journal to publish the concept "soft power". Over the next fifteen years, the idea became widely used around the world as a quick check of Google and Wikipedia show. Ladytron even uses it as the title of a song in its new album. But the term has also been misused. What exactly does soft power mean and how useful is it in dealing with today's problems?
"Soft power is cultural power."
Only in part. Power is the ability to alter the behavior of others to get what you want, and there are basically three ways to do that: coercion (sticks), payments (carrots) and attraction (soft power). Niall Ferguson, a distinguished historian, described soft power as “non-traditional forces such as cultural and commercial goods,” and then dismissed it on the grounds that “it’s, well, soft.” (Foreign Policy January 2003) Of course drinking coke or wearing a Michael Jackson shirt does not necessarily convey power. But this view confuses the resources that may produce behavior with the behavior itself – what the political philosopher Steven Lukes calls the “vehicle fallacy.” Whether the possession of power resources actually produces favorable outcomes depends upon the context. This is not unique to soft power resources. Having a larger tank army may produce military victory if a battle is fought in the desert, but not if it is fought in a swamp.
The soft power of a country rests primarily on three resources: its culture (in places where it is attractive to others), its political values (when it lives up to them at home and abroad), and its foreign policies (when they are seen as legitimate and having moral authority.) Consider Iran. Western music and videos are anathema to the ruling mullahs, but attractive to many of the younger generation. As a resource, America’s culture produces soft power among some Iranians, but not others.
"Economic measures are soft power"
No. In discussing Iran, Peter Brookes of the Heritage Foundation refers to “soft power
options such as economic sanctions.” But there is nothing soft about sanctions if you are on the receiving end. They are clearly intended to coerce, and thus a form of hard power.
The confusion arises because economic resources can produce both hard and soft power behavior. As Walter Russell Mead has argued, “economic power is sticky power; it seduces as much as it compels…A set of economic institutions and policies…attracts others into our system and makes it hard for them to leave.” A successful economy is an important source of attraction. Sometimes in real world situations, it is difficult to distinguish what part of an economic relationship is comprised of hard and soft power. European leaders describe the desire by other countries to accede to the European Union as a sign of Europe’s soft power. Turkey today is making changes in its human rights policies and laws to adjust to European standards. But how much are the changes the result of the economic inducement of market access and how much is the result of of mixed motives, and different actors in a country may see the mix in different ways. Some Turks are replying more to the hard power of inducement, but others are attracted to the European model of human rights.
"Soft power is better than hard power" Not necessarily. Because soft power has appeared as an alternative to raw power politics, it is often embraced by ethically-minded scholars and policymakers. But soft power is a descriptive rather than a normative concept. Like any form of power, it can be wielded for good or bad purposes. Hitler, Stalin, Mao and bin Laden all possessed a great deal of soft power in the eyes of their acolytes, but that did not make it good. It is not necessarily better to twist minds than to twist arms. If I want to steal your money, I can threaten you with a gun, or I can swindle you with a get rich scheme in which you invest. I can also persuade you that I am a guru to whom you should hand over your estate and that I will save the world. The third means depends upon attraction or soft power, but the result remains fraud and theft.
We often judge ethics on the three dimensions of motives, means and consequences. While soft power can be used with bad intentions and wreak horrible consequences, it does differ in terms of means. It is on this dimension that one might construct a normative preference for greater use of soft power. Contrast the consequences of Ghandi or Martin Luther King’s choice of soft power with Yassir Arafat’s choice of the gun. Ghandi and King were able to attract moderate majorities over time, and the consequences were impressive both in effectiveness and in ethical terms. Arafat’s strategy of hard power, particularly in the second intifada, drove Israeli moderates into the arms of the hard right. One might investigate a counterfactual of what might have happened if Arafat had chosen King’s or Ghandi’s soft power strategy. Perhaps he might have achieved his goal of a Palestinian states by now. Instead we have Hamas and stalemate. Even positive concepts can have normative implications.
"Hard power can be measured and soft power cannot" False.
The columnist Jim Hoagland has complained that soft power, like globalization, is too “elastic” a concept to be useful. Like others, he failed to understand the difference between power resources and behavior. Even with hard power, measuring resources can be misleading. The apparent precision of the measurement of hard power resources is often spurious, and might be called “the concrete fallacy.” Some people act as though the only resources that can change behavior are those that can be dropped on your foot or on a city. But that is a mistake. The U.S. had far more measurable military resources than North Vietnam, but nonetheless lost the Vietnam War. Similarly, one can measure and compare the cultural, communications, and diplomatic resources that may produce soft power for a country. Public opinion polls can quantify changes in a country’s attractiveness over time. Whether that produces behavior in others that results in what we want will depend on the context and the skills with which the resources are converted into outcomes. But the problem is with the way in which we use the concept “power” to refer both to resources and to behavior, not with the concept of soft power.
"Europe counts too much on soft power and the US too much on hard power." True.
Robert Kagan’s clever phrase that Americans are from Mars and Europeans are from Venus is an overstatement, but it contains a core of truth. Europe has successfully used the attraction of its successful integration to obtain outcomes it wants, and the United States has often acted as though it military pre-eminence could solve all problems. But it is a mistake to count too much on hard or soft power alone. The ability to combine them effectively is “smart power”. During the Cold War, the West used hard power to deter Soviet aggression, while it used soft power to erode faith in Communism behind the iron curtain. That was smart power. To be smart today, Europe should invest more in its hard power resources, and America should pay more attention to its soft power.
"The Bush Administration neglects America's soft power." More true in the first term than the second. Colin Powell understood and referred to soft power, but according the Financial Times, when Donald Rumsfeld was asked about soft power in 2003, he replied “I don’t know what it means.” Too bad. As a Defense Science Board report made clear in 2004, the administration and the country paid a high price for that ignorance. Fortunately, in his second term, with Condoleezza Rice and Karen Hughes at the State Department and Rumsfeld’s reputation dented by failures that would have led to his firing or resignation had he still been in the private sector, the President’s second term has shown an increased concern about America’s soft power. "Some goals can only be achieved by hard power." True. Soft power is not the solution to all problems. For example, even though North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il likes to watch Hollywood movies, that is unlikely to affect his decision to give up his nuclear weapons program. Such a choice would be determined by hard power, particularly in the unlikely case that China were to agree to economic sanctions. Neither will soft power be sufficient to stop the Iranian nuclear program, though the legitimacy of the Administration’s current multilateral approach may help to recruit other countries to a coalition that isolates Iran. And soft power got nowhere in attracting the Taliban government away from its support for Al Qaeda in the 1990s. It took American hard military power to end that. But other goals such as the promotion of democracy and human rights are better achieved by soft power. Coercive democratization has its limits as the United State found out in Iraq.
Military resources are the opposite of soft power. False.
Military force appears to be a defining resource for hard power, but the same resource can sometimes contribute to soft power. Dictators like Hitler and Stalin cultivated myths of invincibility and inevitability to structure expectations and attract others to join their bandwagon. As Osama bin Laden has said, people are attracted to a strong horse rather than a weak horse. A well run military can be a source of attraction, and military to military cooperation and training programs, for example, can establish transnational military in providing humanitarian relief after the Indian Ocean tsunami and the South Asian earthquake in 2005 helped restore the attractiveness of the United States.
Of course, misuse of military resources can also undercut soft power. The Soviet Union had a great deal of soft power in the years after World War II, but they destroyed it by the way they used their hard power against Hungary and Czechoslovakia. Brutality and indifference to just war principles of discrimination and proportionality can also destroy legitimacy. The efficiency of the initial American military invasion of Iraq in 2003 created admiration in the eyes of some foreigners, but that soft power was undercut by the subsequent inefficiency of the occupation and the scenes of mistreatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib.
Soft power is difficult for governments to use. Partly true.
Governments can control and change foreign policies. They can spend money on public diplomacy, broadcasting and exchange programs. They can promote, but not control popular culture. In that sense, one of the key resources that produce soft power is produced by civil society – from Hollywood to Harvard. That is why the Council on Foreign Relations recently suggested a Corporation for Public Diplomacy to act as a foundation or heat shield to protect government funding of increased civil society contacts. "Soft power is irrelevant to the current terrorist threat" False . There is very little likelihood that we can ever attract people like Mohammed Attta or Osama bin Laden. We need hard power to deal with such hard cases. But the current terrorist threat is not Samuel Huntington’s clash of civilizations. It is a civil war within Islam between a majority of moderates and a small minority who want to coerce others into their simplified and ideologized version of their religion. We cannot win unless the moderates win. We cannot win unless the number of people the extremists are recruiting is lower than the number we are killing and deterring. That equation is hard to balance without soft power. We cannot win hearts and minds without it. Soft power is more relevant than ever.
Joseph S. Nye, Jr. is Distinguished Service Professor at Harvard and author, most recently, of The Power Game: A Washington Novel.