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SAIS Review 26.1 (2006) 197-200
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Making the Case for Soft Power
It is not about domination. It is not about fear. Joseph Nye dispels conventional understandings of power and places the forces of attraction and persuasion center-stage. As the United States seeks to democratize Iraq through war, Nye's book warns policy-makers against over-reliance on military power and reminds them of the effectiveness of soft power.
Nye introduced the concept of soft power in his 1990 book Bound to Lead and discussed it in more detail in his article "Soft Power" which appeared in Foreign Policy the same year. While this concept gained recognition and has been applied in policy fields, it is often misunderstood and misused due to a lack of academic refinement. In Soft Power, Nye intends to disabuse policy-makers of their erroneous interpretations of soft power as cultural dominance. Similar misconceptions are prevalent and Nye elucidates its true meaning to avoid future misuses of the concept.
The events of September 11, 2001 compelled Nye to revisit the concept of soft power in The Paradox of American Power in 2001, Power in the Global Information Age in 2004, and in articles appearing in leading foreign policy journals such as Foreign Affairs and Foreign Policy. However, it is only in Soft Power that he refines this concept.
This book consists of five chapters. In the first chapter, Nye clarifies and elaborates the concept of soft power. In the second chapter, Nye delineates the various soft power resources available to the United States, and argues that America's unilateral foreign policy toward Iraq has eroded its soft power, although the it possesses significantly large soft power resources overall. Chapter Three contends that non-state actors such as NGOs and international organizations also possess soft power. Chapter Four discusses the implications of a non-state actor's soft power, and the consequent importance of strengthening the soft power resources of the U.S. government. The final chapter stresses the need for cooperation with other states and various non-state actors in the war against terrorism. More specifically, he argues that in Iraq, soft power is necessary to foster cooperation on such issues. Overall, Nye's book contributes to the academic debate by clarifying the definition and function of soft power. This essay will analyze his success in doing so and discusses the significance and shortcomings of Soft Power.
Nye defines power as a relational concept and argues that actors cannot wield power unless they understand whom they seek to influence.1 Additionally, [End Page 197] the types of power and the means employed to wield it will differ depending on the outcome sought, which therefore, must also be clearly understood. When operating within the framework of great power politics, actors tend to wield coercive power by relying on their military capabilities. In this vein, military capability translates to influence. Nye calls this kind of traditional power based on military capabilities hard power. Economic capability also falls within the scope of hard power, since it allows states to strengthen their military power.
However, deterrence based on large military capability may not always be the appropriate strategy. It can produce unintended consequences such as an arms race or escalation to war. Instead, the actor may use influence and persuasion to achieve its desired outcome. This is what Nye calls as soft power "the ability to get what you want through attraction rather than coercion or payments."2 Nye argues that soft power is based on three kinds of resources: a country's culture, political values, and policies. While hard power is used for coercion or inducements that prompt others to do things they would otherwise they would not, soft power is used for attraction to make others want to do things they did not think they wanted to do. In other words, soft power seeks to change other actors' policy preferences through attraction. With particular...