18 April 2011

Hard vs Soft Power

The thoughtful folks at ZenPundit have juxtaposed two recent pieces of scholarship from two the world's leading thinkers on strategy and national power: Colin Gray regarded as one of the four or five go-to strategic thinkers around today and Joseph Nye, the father of the soft power concept, and a seminal figure in Political Science and International Relations. They post this under the following title:

Head to Head: Colin Gray and Joseph Nye on Soft and Hard Power

Colin S. Gray: From Hard Power and Soft Power: The Utility of Military Force as an Instrument of Policy in the 21st Century

….Unfortunately, although the concept of American soft power is true gold in theory, in practice it is not so valuable. Ironically, the empirical truth behind the attractive concept is just sufficient to mislead policymakers and grand strategists. Not
only do Americans want to believe that the soft power of their civilization and culture is truly potent, we are all but programmed by our enculturation to assume that the American story and its values do and should have what amounts to missionary merit that ought to be universal. American culture is so powerful a programmer that it can be difficult for Americans to empathize with, or even understand, the somewhat different values and their implications held deeply abroad. The idea is popular, even possibly authoritative, among Americans that ours is not just an “ordinary country,” but instead is a country both exceptionally blessed (by divine intent) and, as a consequence, exceptionally obliged to lead Mankind. When national exceptionalism is not merely a proposition, but is more akin to an iconic item of faith, it is difficult for usually balanced American minds to consider the potential of their soft power without rose-tinted spectacles. And the problem is that they are somewhat correct.

American values, broadly speaking “the American way,” to hazard a large project in reductionism, are indeed attractive beyond America’s frontiers and have some utility for U.S. policy. But there are serious limitations to the worth of the concept of soft power, especially as it might be thought of as an instrument of policy. To date, the idea of soft power has not been subjected to a sufficiently critical forensic examination. In particular, the relation of the soft power of attraction and persuasion to the hard power of coercion urgently requires more rigorous examination than it has received thus far.

Joseph Nye, From The War on Soft Power

….In 2007, Richard Armitage and I co-chaired a bipartisan Smart Power Commission of members of Congress, former ambassadors, retired military officers, and heads of non-profit organizations at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. We concluded that America’s image and influence had declined in recent years and that the United States had to move from exporting fear to inspiring optimism and hope.

The Smart Power Commission was not alone in this conclusion. Even when he was in the George W. Bush administration, Defense Secretary Robert Gates called on Congress to commit more money and effort to soft-power tools including diplomacy, economic assistance, and communications because the military alone cannot defend America’s interests around the world. He pointed out that military spending then totaled nearly half a trillion dollars annually, compared with a State Department budget of just $36 billion. In his words, “I am here to make the case for strengthening our capacity to use soft power and for better integrating it with hard power.” He acknowledged that for the secretary of defense to plead for more resources for the State Department was as odd as a man biting a dog, but these are not normal times. Since then, the ratio of the budgets has become even more unbalanced.

ZenPundit says: "One of the ironies here, is that the United States, through the private sector production of goods, services and intellectual property, has since WWII been overwhelming successful in exporting our “soft power” into foreign cultures to an extent seldom matched in history. However, the ability of the USG to capitalize on this latent-passive global acculturation through public diplomacy has ranged from minimal to excruciatingly counterproductive when our words, deeds and image are in serious disharmony."

Both articles are well-worth reading....