The Significance of “Soft Power”

During recent years, America’s soft power has been hit hard, and its international image, “American model” attraction, and ability to manage international affairs, etc. turned out to be a flash in the pan. Then, Nye repeatedly stressed the significance of restoring America’s “soft power.” In his article “The Decline of America's Soft Power,” published in the journal of Foreign Affairs (May/June 2004), Nye points out that, because of unilateralism, America’s soft power was in decline to a great extent, but it is not too late. He argues that the US should change its attitude and listen attentively to other countries’ voices. Then, in his paper, “Restoring the Leadership of America,” in 2008, he repeated his call to alter the unilateralism of the Bush Administration, strengthening cooperation with other countries, and making soft power and hard power complement each other. Furthermore, in his article “The U. S. can Reclaim ‘Smart Power,’” (Los Angeles Times, January 21, 2009), Nye further developed his soft power theory, and created a new concept, “smart power” (i.e. the combination of soft power and hard power). In his opinion, America’s soft power suffered a serious setback after the Vietnam War, but was restored around the time that the former Soviet Union collapsed, which is a typical case of “soft power” being recovered.[1]

Nye gave a speech entitled, “Powers of America and China after Financial Crisis,” at Fudan University in China in December 2010, in which he maintained that power is an ability that can achieve its own goal through influencing other countries to some extent. It can be attained by “sticks” or “carrots,” or neither of them but rather “soft power.” The invention of “soft power” provides a new thought for America’s foreign affairs. America's soft power is so strong that it can become an effective alternative to “sticks and carrots,” which is the traditional American foreign policy. Traditionally, international politics measure national prowess according to military strength, and powerful states refer to winners in the war (esp. military conflicts that are relevant to the overall situation); but in this information age and globally interconnected world, countries need to develop not only “hard power” but also “soft power” to strengthen their influence, enhance their position in the world, and attain the respect and support of international society.[2]

  • [1] Nye, “The U. S. Can Reclaim 'Smart Power'”.
  • [2]
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