Fourteen Denying “America’s Decline”: The New Development of Joseph Nye’s “Soft Power” Theory: China’s Perspective Ruiping Wang


For a country that claims to be a world-beater, but has a strong sense of crisis, debates about whether America’s hegemony will decline or last have emerged in America’s modern history unceasingly. That is to say, the dispute about whether America will decline, which we hear in China at present, is actually an out-and-out American topic.

Since the 1950s, there have been about five influential theories “of America’s decline.” In the 1950s, when America did not win the Korean War, and the first artificial satellite was launched by the former soviet Union, some scholars believed that American hegemony would fade swiftly. In the 1970s, the Bretton Woods System of fixed exchange rates collapsed, the oil crisis caused America's massive recession, and the United States lost the Vietnam War, while some revolutionary states supported by the former Soviet Union saw successive victories, etc.-all of which resulted in America’s global strategic space being further squeezed, and the “theory of America’s decline” becoming more gigantic and vigorous. In the 1980s, on the basis of Japan's economic miracle and the consolidation of the European Economic Community and its growing international influence, the “theory of America’s decline” was demonstrated by many American and European scholars from different aspects. After the “9/11” terrorist attacks in 2001, the US launched the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, but they did not attain the desired effect. Its global military front was stretched further, and the “two wars” fought on the grounds of counter-terrorism, although supported by its allies and partners, were costly and unpopular domestically, and the “theory of America’s decline” rose again. America’s soft and hard power were hit hard by the 2008 financial crisis, which has had an extremely far-reaching negative impact on America’s power, while the rise of emerging countries (China, India, Brazil, etc.) was given more attention by America. Thus, the “theory of America’s decline” caused a temporary clamour in American public opinion once more.

In the past five years, or since the financial crisis in 2008, America has been in the midst of one of the toughest periods in its history; its power and influence in the world has declined, and its ability to control the world as a sole super power on the international stage is not what it was twenty years ago. Years of warfare with Islamic radicals after the “9/11” terrorist attacks, the sequential rise of “emerging countries,” a pile of knackered debt-all of this is recounting the “domestic trouble and foreign invasion” situation that America is confronted with. Will 21st-century America be on the wane, or rejuvenate from its distress?

Being inundated with the “theory of America’s decline,” Professor Joseph Nye-prominent international political scholar, father of the “soft power” theory, and former dean of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University-has responded forcefully. This paper aims to analyze how Nye could refute the “theory of America’s decline” by constructing a “soft power” theory, as well as expressing our opinions about the “theory of America’s decline,” rather than summarizing his theory.

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