- In English section
- Ultima modifica il 02 Luglio 2012
- By Redazione
In the year 1990, in his book Bound to Lead, Professor Nye coined the concept of soft power for the first time. With the term, he was referring to a state’s capacity to obtain concrete political outcomes through its attractive power rather than through the traditional channels of coercion and payments. Nye’s principal point of reference was naturally the USA; in this regard, developing the concept of soft power was a way to offer a rebuttal to the theories of those who at the time were prophesizing the imminent decline of the American nation.
With this novel concept, Professor Nye proved that the USA had tools which transcended mere military and economic resources. US culture and values, as well as its republican institutions and foreign policy posture represented the three principal pillars of the soft power concept. Nowadays, such a term has become almost ubiquitous and has sparked countless debates around its significance and applicability. However, not all scholars and policymakers accepted this novel theorization; as a case in point, Donald Rumsfeld provocatively stated in 2003 that he did not what was meant with the term.
The apparent lack of interest regarding soft power demonstrated by the then Secretary of Defense became even more apparent during the 2003 Iraq War and its (mis)management. During said conflict, the USA adopted an assertive and unilateral posture, opting to wage war notwithstanding a clear lack of consensus within the UN and the international community as a whole. Such a decision provoked a strong anti-American backlash in the Middle East and in Europe alike.
Operation Iraqi Freedom demonstrated the importance of adopting organic and multidimensional external projection strategies; as shown by this conflict, choosing to focus exclusively on the “hard” dimension of power risks alienating crucial partners, as was the case with Turkey, which, notwithstanding its historical ties with Washington, refused to provide forward air bases for the invasion in 2003. The Turkish refusal adversely affected the American military strategy and increased the overall cost associated with initial phase of the conflict. A clear link can be made in this case between the capacity to project soft power and the ability to wage war effectively.
To further investigate the intricacies of this concept, the relations that tie the material and immaterial aspects of power and the magnetism which new emerging powers are currently exuding, we have interviewed Professor Joseph Nye, who currently teaches at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.
Professor Nye, during President Bush’s 8 years in office, the image of the USA in the world, at least in relation to its foreign policy, suffered a significant decline. Do you believe that the Obama presidency has recovered some of the soft power that had been lost under Bush?
Polls show that the attraction of the US in Europe declined by about 25-30 percentage points during the Bush years. The record in the Muslim world was even worse. The polls show that much of this loss was regained after the election of Obama, but not in all Muslim countries, particularly in the Middle East and Pakistan.
The EU is often described as a “civilian power”, capable of generating a significant attractive force towards countries in its periphery that may desire to join the Union (like the Balkan states) and also towards other nations in nearby regions, such as North Africa and the Near East. Do you believe that the European debt crisis and the risk of a Greek exit from the monetary union dealt a blow to the EU's attractive force in these areas?
If one looks at the way that Southern and Central Europe were attracted to the EU model and to Brussels, you can see evidence of European soft power. Cultural differences make thatmagnetism a bit weaker in the Muslim periphery, but there is still some effect. The current danger is that a Greek exit from the Euro may spread to a loss of confidence in Spain and other countries and that would have a terrible effect on Europe’s soft power.
During the course of the past few years we have witnessed the ascent and consolidation of Chinese economic and political power. This has also convinced the government of Beijing to carry out strategies aimed at enhancing its soft power, especially via-à-vis developing and emerging countries. Does the Chinese poor track record in the field of human rights (as evidenced by the Cheng Guangcheng affair) constitute a limit to the amount of soft power the nation can wield?
China is making major investments to increase its soft power, and it benefits from its attractive traditional culture and from its economic success. But as I argue in The Future of Power, Chinese soft power is limited by its political system which is afraid to unleash the creative powers of its civil society. Much of a country’s soft power comes from its civil society, not its government, and China’s poor track record in human rights is only part of a larger problem.
Do you believe that one or more nations among the rapidly growing emerging markets (Brazil, India, etc.) have the potential to develop global soft power projection capabilities?
Brazil, India, and Turkey have all increased their soft power in recent years. In part this is a reflection of their improved economic performance, but they are also helped by their democratic political systems which allow them to develop civil societies in a way that is difficult for China or Russia. At the same time, government corruption, bureaucratic inertia, and slowdown of their economic growth rates could limit that potential.