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Why military power is no longer enough by Joseph Nye
Observer Worldview Extra
Why military power is no longer enough
Force remains important in global politics. But getting people to want what you want is much more effective, argues one of America's leading foreign policy thinkers.
Sunday March 31, 2002
Traditionally, the test of a great power was 'strength for war'. War was the ultimate game in which the cards of international politics were played and estimates of relative power were proven.Over the centuries, as technologies evolved, the sources of power have shifted.
Today, the foundations of power have been moving away from the emphasis on military force. A combination of factors - nuclear weapons that are too awesome to use, the difficulties of building empires in an age of nationalism, the unwillingness of western societies to send their troops into battle - have conspired to make war a last resort for most advanced countries. In the words of British diplomat Robert Cooper, 'A large number of the most powerful states no longer want to fight or conquer.' War remains possible, but it is much less acceptable now than it was even half a century ago.
For most of today's great powers, the use of force would jeopardise their economic objectives. Even non-democratic countries that feel moral constraints on the use of force have to consider its effects on their economic objectives. As Thomas Friedman has put it, countries are disciplined by an "electronic herd" of investors who control their access to capital in a globalised economy.
Force remains important as we saw on September 11, 2000 and in Afghanistan. But it is also important to mobilise international coalitions and build institutions to address shared threats and challenges. As I explain in my book The Paradox of American Power: Why the world's Superpower can't go it Alone, no country today is great enough to solve the problem of global terrorism alone.
There is also an indirect way to exercise power. A country may secure the outcomes it wants in world politics because other countries aspire to its level of prosperity and openness. It is just as important to set the agenda in world politics and attract others as it is to force them to change through the threat or use of military or economic weapons. This aspect of power is "soft power" - getting people to want what you want.
Wise parents know that if they have brought up their children with the right values, their power will be greater than if they have relied only on cutting off allowances or taking away the car keys. Similarly, political leaders and thinkers such as Antonio Gramsci have long understood the power that comes from determining the framework of a debate. If I can get you to want to do what I want, then I do not have to force you to do what you do not want to do.
Soft power is not simply the reflection of hard power. The Vatican did not lose its soft power when it lost the Papal States in Italy in the nineteenth century. Conversely, the Soviet Union lost much of its soft power after it invaded Hungary and Czechoslovakia, even though its economic and military resources continued to grow. Imperious policies that utilised Soviet hard power actually undercut its soft power. And countries like the Canada, the Netherlands, and the Scandinavian states have political clout that is greater than their military and economic weight because of their support for international aid and peace-keeping.
The countries that are likely to gain soft power are those closest to global norms of liberalism, pluralism, and autonomy; those with the most access to multiple channels of communication; and those whose credibility is enhanced by their domestic and international performance. These dimensions of power give a strong advantage to the United States and Europe.
By the late 1930s, the Roosevelt administration became convinced that 'America's security depended on its ability to speak to and to win the support of people in other countries.' With World War II and the Cold War, the government sponsored efforts including the United States Information Agency, the Voice of America and the Fulbright student exchange programme.
But much soft power arises from forces outside government control. Even before the Cold War, 'American corporate and advertising executives, as well as the heads of Hollywood studios, were selling not only their products but also America's culture and values, the secrets of its success, to the rest of the world.'
There are areas, such as the Middle East, where ambivalence about, or outright opposition to, American culture limits its soft power. All television in the Arab world used to be state-run until tiny Qatar allowed a new station, Al-Jazeera, to broadcast freely, and it proved wildly popular in the Middle East. Its uncensored images, ranging from Osama bin Laden to Tony Blair, have had a powerful political influence. Bin Laden's ability to project a Robin Hood image enhanced his soft power with some Muslims around the globe. As an Arab journalist described the situation earlier, 'Al-Jazeera has been for this intifada what CNN was to the Gulf War.' In the eyes of Islamic fundamentalists, the openness of Western culture is repulsive. But for much of the world, including many moderates and young people, our culture still attracts. To the extent that official policies at home and abroad are consistent with democracy, human rights, openness, and respect for the opinions of others, the United States and Europe will benefit from the trends of this global information age, although pockets of fundamentalism will persist and react in some countries.
Power in the global information age is becoming less coercive among advanced countries. But most of the world does not consist of post-industrial societies, and that limits the transformation of power. Much of Africa and the Middle East remains locked in pre-industrial agricultural societies with weak institutions and authoritarian rulers. Other countries, such as China, India, and Brazil, are industrial economies analogous to parts of the West in the mid-twentieth century. In such a variegated world, all three sources of power - military, economic, and soft - remain relevant. However, if current economic and social trends continue, leadership in the information revolution and soft power will become more important in the mix.
Joseph S. Nye, Jr. is Dean of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. This is extracted from an essay in Re-ordering the World: The long-term implications of September 11, published by The Foreign Policy Centre ().
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