The Power of Persuasion: Dual Components of US Leadership. (Perspectives on the United States)

By Creehan, Sean; Rahman, Sabeel | Harvard International Review, Winter 2003 | Go to article overview

The Power of Persuasion: Dual Components of US Leadership. (Perspectives on the United States)


Creehan, Sean, Rahman, Sabeel, Harvard International Review


Joseph Nye, Don K. Price Professor of Public Policy and Dean of Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government since 1995, has had extensive experience in international affairs policy as an undersecretary of state, chairman of the National Security Council Group on Nonproliferation, chairman of the National Intelligence Council, and the US representative to the United Nations Advisory Committee on Disarmament Affairs. In addition, Mr. Nye is a prominent academic in the field, having served as director of the Aspen Strategy Group, the Institute for East-West Security Studies, and the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

A member of the editorial boards of Foreign Policy and International Security, Mr. Nye is a frequent commentator and writer on international security issues and US foreign policy. Most recently, Mr. Nye authored The Paradox of American Power (2002), which addresses the tensions between US military supremacy and multilateralism in foreign policy by introducing the concept of "soft power."

Senior Editors Sean Creehan and Sabeel Rahman interviewed Mr. Nye to discuss the role of "soft" and "hard" power in US foreign policy and to examine the impact international perceptions of US actions have on the formation of US policy itself.

HARVARD INTERNATIONAL REVIEW:

What is it about the post-Cold War, post-September 11 world that makes the United States unique?

What is unique is the dominance of the United States in traditional measures of power, particularly military power. The US military budget is equal to the next dozen or so countries combined, and the US economy is equal to the next three countries combined. I think it is fair to say that not since the days of the Roman empire has one country been so much stronger than the others. The key question is what to do with that power. There are some unilateralists like Charles Krautheimer who say, "We're so powerful, we can do whatever we want." The purpose of my book The Paradox of American Power is to point out that the strongest country since the days of Rome cannot protect its citizens by acting alone. It actually needs the help of others because of the development of these trends in international relations and the threat of terrorism.

You have written extensively about traditional forms of military and economic power but you also mention a third form of power, "soft" power. What is soft power?

Soft power is attractive power, while "hard" power is the ability to coerce others to do what you want and get the outcomes you want. Hard power uses carrots and sticks to get others to do what they would not otherwise do. Soft power achieves those goals by attracting others to you, so you do not have to spend money on carrots and sticks. Soft power generally grows out of the attractiveness of a culture, the political ideals of a country, such as democracy and human rights, or policies that include the interests of others.

How is soft power related to these other more traditional forms of power?

Soft power and hard power can reinforce each other; one is not contrary to the other. There may be some circumstances where you have to use hard power because you do not have much soft power. For example, in Afghanistan, the United States had very little attraction to the Taliban government, and the only way they could overthrow the Taliban state sponsors of terrorism was by using military power. Soft power would not have done much good. On the other hand, when it comes to defeating Al Qaeda, a transnational network of cells across 60 countries, then you need to have civilian cooperation, intelligence-sharing, police work across borders, tracing of financial flows, and so forth. In that circumstance, your attractiveness to others helps obtain more cooperation than you might otherwise have gained if you relied purely on the self-interest of other states.

Soft power, however, is not without its costs.

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