KSG Dean Touts ‘Soft Power’ Foreign Policy

The Kennedy School’s dean criticized America’s foreign policy for focusing too strongly on military force and intimidation in a speech yesterday.

Joseph S. Nye noted the Bush administration must pay attention to the image of the United States in the international community if it hopes to maintain the country’s ability to attract support from other countries.

Nye’s comments came to a noontime crowd of roughly 40 people as he applied the theory of international power dynamics that he has developed over the past two decades to modern realities.

The theory looks at what Nye called “soft power”—“a country’s cultural or ideological appeal”—as a source of power and influence.


This “soft power” contrasts to “hard power” that is characterized by military force.

In the speech, Nye made an effort to separate his concept of soft power from notions America’s commercial image overseas.


“Coca Cola and McDonald’s don’t determine outcomes, but that’s not what soft power’s about,” he said. “The way you attract [support] is the nature of your policies.”

Analyzing America’s current use of each kind of power, Nye had harsh words for the country’s current foreign policy.

“If you look at the U.S. now, we’re squandering our soft power.”

Nye cited recent examples of international tension, including Turkey’s resistance to allowing American troops to use its terriroty and delayed negotiations with North Korea, as signs of America’s declining appeal.

Nye said he believes in a balance between “soft” and “hard” power. He said the current administration’s insistence on the use of military force and intimidation detracts from the overall effectiveness of U.S. foreign policy.

“The unilateralism of their policies has made them look rather arrogant,” Nye said.

Nye first mentioned this theory 13 years ago. And in the past few years, numerous policy-makers and world leaders have cited Nye’s analysis.

Secretary of State Colin Powell debated America’s post-World War II power dynamic in Nye’s terms at the 2002 World Economic Forum.

But even though Nye’s analysis does not generally support current foreign policy, it does offer some praise.

He said certain U.S. initiatives—such as fighting AIDS internationally—may help to resurrect the country’s image and further America’s future power.

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