Joseph S. Nye, Jr.: Figuring Out How to Combine Soft and Hard Power in Different Contexts
It is a real pleasure to have the honor of being the Theodore Roosevelt Fellow of the American Academy. I do not know how you chose who got which titles, but it seems to be particularly appropriate since the idea of speaking softly and carrying a big stick was the original definition of smart power. But I also realize, as I think about the honor, that as I watch my children growing up, people would call the house and say, “Is Dr. Nye there?” And they would all say, “Yes, but he is not the useful kind.” If I think back to the work that I have done and what affect it has, in all of five minutes or so, what strikes me is that it probably grew out of a dissatisfaction with the dominant paradigm of my own field at the time, in which the general view at the height of the Cold War was a sense of realism in which states were the only significant actors, security was their only significant goal, and force was their dominant instrument. And I had actually done my PhD in East Africa on relations between Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania, and it just struck me that the dominant paradigm did not capture what I was seeing or studying. And I had the good fortune in my early stages as assistant professor at Harvard to encounter a likeminded friend, Bob Keohane, who has become a lifelong friend, and the two of us shared this discontent with the constraints or limits of the dominant paradigm in our field. Not that it was not useful for some purposes, but that it was unduly constraining. So we wrote a book on transnational relations in world politics, which said you have to look at non-state actors like terrorists and multinational corporations and other such things, and we followed that with a book on power and interdependence, saying that when you thought about how states worked with each other in economic relations, it was through use of force, it was the manipulation of asymmetrical interdependence and creating institutional regimes, which made it easier or harder for one or another state to do such things, or another group, a non-state group. And we also developed a concept which we called complex interdependence, which was what would it be like if you had some situations in which states were not the major actors, in which you found that they were not using force, and pursuit of security was not their dominant concern. Which would, I think, describe the relations among most of what we call advanced democracies today; the idea of fighting between France and Germany, between the U.S. and Japan, the U.S. and Canada, this is just outside the domain of what makes sense and yet a large chunk of international politics is like that. So, in that sense, I think when Bob and I first wrote about these concepts in the early 1970s we were regarded as slightly fringe, slightly far out. There was a revival of the Cold War, everybody quickly glommed on to revival of the traditional paradigm, and yet today if we think of a world in which every politician has globalization tripping off his or her tongue, and if you look at a world in which non-state actors killed more Americans on 9/11 than the government of Japan did in December, 1941, some of the thoughts that we developed in the 1970s have actually come full circle, now they are commonplace. They were not when we first invented them.
I followed that with another discontent in the late 1980s, which was the way we thought about power in my subfield. There was a tremendous tendency to think of power in terms of what I call the concrete fallacy–that you confuse power, which is actually about behavior – getting others to do what you would like them to do – with the resources that produce it. And so people thought of power as either something you could drop on your foot or drop on another city. And it struck me that this was inadequate and that it was narrowly truncating how we thought about power in our field. And as I was trying to write a book at the time, in the late 1980s, about why I thought the theory of declinism that my friend Paul Kennedy had written, that the Americans were on the way out, was wrong. It struck me that he had an inadequate concept of power. Now, it is also true that when I wrote the book Bound to Lead, which coined the term “soft power,” I think I got the answer right but Paul got all the royalties. I looked at military power and economic power and said, “There is still something missing,” to understand why the Americans were influential, and that is the ability to get what you want by attraction, by setting others’ preferences and then after you have set the preferences they can bargain as they wish. That I think has had some effect and what strikes me is that when you find not just Tony Blair or the Prime Minister of Japan using the term soft power, as he did a week ago when I was in Tokyo, but when you see that Hu Jintao instructs the Seventeenth Party Congress of the Communist Party that China needs to think more about soft power, you think “Oh my goodness, this thing has gone around further than I expected.” Now, it is also true that when you use a term like that it can get misused. And in 2004, I published a book in which I inserted the term “smart power,” because too many people were interpreting what I was saying is that soft power, the ability to attract rather than coerce and pay, is sufficient and it was not. What I was trying to say is that you need to be able to figure out how to combine hard and soft power in different contexts. And in that sense, the terminology “soft power” is an analytical concept, “smart power” is a normative concept, preference, you want smart strategies which are able to be successful. And I was pleased then when Hillary Clinton, testifying before the Senate for her confirmation hearings, referred to the new administration’s desire to use smart power. And, again, I thought this was gratifying to know that ideas which had been developed in an abstract sense were actually doing something in policy. I had seen ideas that I developed in the abstract affect policy when I served in government, but they were ideas that I had taken in with me. The idea, though, that you can sit in the Academy and write something and then it does pervade a broader policy community, that I think is a more intriguing question as to when it takes off and when it does not. Who knows what effect all this has had on policy? There are so many different causes of any given political event, so many different things that people pick up or use or do not use and discard for a variety of motives and reasons that nobody can claim that their ideas have had a strong or powerful effect. But it is nice to see at least that they are being given lip service in the sense that they are coming out of the lips of people who are in a place to do something with power.
But, finally, I did publish this piece in The Washington Post on April 13th, which was called Scholars on the Sidelines, which noted that perhaps not for economists but for academic political scientists that there were fewer and fewer who were actually serving, who were transferring ideas in Dick Neustadt’s idea of In-and-Outers than there had been in the past, and that probably the fault for this was not the Obama administration or the government, but was something in the Academy, the way we approached the question of the usefulness of our ideas and whether we cared about the usefulness of our ideas or at least translating them into accessible terms. And that does bother me. That, I think, is a problem that we as a profession need to think about. So while I am pleased that there has been lip service to some of my ideas, I would be much more satisfied if there were a greater concern in the Academy to make sure that ideas were making this world a better place.
Thank you very much for the honor.
Joseph S. Nye, Jr. is the University Distinguished Service Professor at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. These remarks were prepared for his induction as the 2009 Theodore Roosevelt Fellow of the American Academy of Political and Social Science.
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