UNITED STATES: by Sharif ShujaNews Weekly
Has the US forgotten the importance of soft power?
, October 27, 2007
In the past, the US has wielded enormous global influence without necessarily having to resort to military power, writes Sharif Shuja.As the world's sole superpower with unrivalled economic and military dominance, the United States must make critical choices about the forms of power it employs to achieve its foreign policy objectives.
In contrast to hard power that rests on coercion and is derived from military and economic might, soft power rests, not on coercion, but on the ability of a nation to co-opt others to follow its will through the attractiveness of its culture, values, ideas and institutions. When a state can persuade and influence others to aspire to share such values, it can lead by example and foster cooperation.
Joseph Nye first coined the term "soft power" in a 1990 essay, Bound to Lead: The Changing Nature of American Power
, and further developed the concept in a 2004 book, Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics
Up until 2000, American soft power was strong. The attractiveness of its society and institutions was conveyed by economic power, the domination of US businesses, American television, film and music, soaring immigration and the international appeal of its democratic culture and institutions.
During that period, US foreign policy involved the use of both hard power and soft power.Controversial
However, since September 11, 2001, US soft power has declined sharply due to the controversial policies of the current Bush Administration, which has relied excessively on coercive diplomacy and military power and a unilateralist approach.
It has also neglected public diplomacy and cultural exchange programs, and failed to promote the attractiveness of American society to the rest of the world.
Since 2001, US foreign policy, especially in the Iraq War, has become increasingly unpopular, strengthening anti-American sentiment and seeing a further decline of American soft power.
It is argued that both hard and soft power are important in US foreign policy and in the fight against terrorism. However, America's neglect of soft power is undermining its ability to persuade and influence others.
In comparison, the soft power capabilities of others such as the European Community and China have grown.
Soft power has always been an important element of leadership. For example, the Cold War was won with a strategy of containment that used soft power along with hard power. However, in the global information age, we are seeing an increase in the importance of soft power.
Communications technology is shrinking the world and creating ideal conditions for projecting soft power through the control of information.
Polls taken around the world show strong evidence of America's declining popularity. A 2005 poll by the Lowy Institute reported that just over half of Australians polled had a positive view of the US, but, paradoxically, that around the same number saw the foreign policies of the US as a potential threat - equivalent to the same number of Australians who worried about the threat of Islamic fundamentalism.
Polls taken in other nations suggest similar anti-American sentiment. A poll by the Pew Charitable Trust reported that the attractiveness of the US decreased significantly between 2001 and 2003 in 19 of 27 countries sampled. Gallup International polls report that, for the majority of people in 29 countries, US policies have had a negative impact on their opinion of the US.
It is argued that the Bush Administration has neglected its soft power capabilities.
The US State Department's public diplomacy initiatives, such as educational and cultural exchange programs, help to project the more non-commercial aspects of American values and culture, and influence public opinion overseas. These were once a linchpin of American foreign policy.
Similarly, US government overseas broadcasting that is open, unbiased and informative helps to improve American credibility. However, funding has been slashed, and the efforts of the current administration to boost State Department's public diplomacy and international broadcasting have been limited.
Arguably, there is currently no coherent public diplomacy strategy to communicate American values and mould public opinion worldwide.
According to Joseph Nye, the US spends billions of dollars on defence and only one-quarter of one per cent of this on public diplomacy. One element of American society that tends to decrease its attractiveness abroad is its lack of knowledge and interest in the rest of the world.
America's soft power capabilities are built on the style and substance of its foreign policy. J. Kurlantzeck, in an article in Current History
(December 2005) said: "The Clinton Administration did not always use its political leverage to promote multilateral institutions, but it at least openly praised multilateralism while trying to publicly soothe fears of American unilateralism. The Bush Administration does not even offer such praise or reassurance."
Events such as the abuse of prisoners in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay have undermined the attractiveness of American values, since that is based in part on international perceptions of the US as a humane and law-abiding nation.
America's declining soft power capabilities mean it is losing its persuasive power. In its attempt to persuade North Korea to give up its weapons of mass destruction, the US has had to let China play a major role.
While the US continues to rely on hard power, other nations have successfully used soft power to improve their global position. Polls taken in 2005 report that a large majority of nations believe Europe and China play more positive roles in the world than does America.China
As its economy has rapidly grown over the last decade, China has sought to develop its soft power capabilities. It has sought to influence other countries using regional aid, public diplomacy, interaction with multilateral institutions and the embracing of free trade.
Its appeal threatens to outstrip that of the United States and cast it as the primary regional power, presenting a potential danger to US influence and interests in the region.
Some proponents of hard power argue that the US is so strong that it can do as it wishes without approval. According to former US Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld, "The world's only superpower does not need permanent allies; the issues should determine the coalitions, not vice versa."
I believe both hard and soft power are important in US foreign policy - the right balance of hard coercive power and soft co-optive power.- Sharif Shuja is a lecturer and coordinator of Issues in Contemporary Asia subjects at Victoria University.