Illuminating analysis of the mechanisms of power shaping global politics.
Nye Jr.’s latest book (International Relations/Harvard Univ.; The Powers to Lead, 2008, etc.) steers the traditional debate over power politics into a new direction, proving that power does not depend solely on domination and manipulation but on cooperation. As non-national institutions continue to develop, the world’s most powerful nations must act as stewards of peace, not the usurpers of dominion. There are three major forms of power: hard, soft and smart. Hard power uses force to achieve desired goals but is only truly successful in specific contexts in which its use is considered necessary. The legitimacy of hard power often depends on the legitimacy of a nation’s culture and ideas, which are the intangible resources used to develop soft power. As the author writes, “[d]uring the Cold War, military deterrence helped to prevent Soviet aggression in Europe, while the soft power of culture and ideas ate away at belief in communism behind the Iron Curtain.” Soft power may be an appealing alternative to the military solutions common to hard-power politics, but is not always legitimate. Propaganda, for instance, is a method of soft power. Nye suggests a new, more comprehensive approach called “smart power,” which is a combination of the two. If the United States is going to remain the strongest power in the world throughout the 21st century—amid the growing challenges of terrorism and nuclear proliferation; political Islam and how it develops; the rise of a hostile hegemony like China; an economic depression; and vast ecological or climate change—it will need to develop a cooperative, smart-power strategy. The author’s sober, rigorous analysis anchors a debate that seems to be squirming from the grip of most media.
A great reminder that fear and hate are not the only tools used to sell books these days—a substantial work that should be read by anyone with an interest in how politics works.