Book Reviews

Smart Power

In search of the balance between hard and soft power.

By Joseph S. Nye, Jr.

Tagged Foreign Policynational security

Hard Power: The New Politics of National Security By Kurt M. Campbell and Michael E. O’Hanlon • Basic Books • 2006 • 224
pages • $25

When I developed the concept of soft power a decade and a half ago, the conventional wisdom was that the United States was in decline. As the late Senator Paul Tsongas put it in 1992, “the Cold War is over, and Japan and Germany won.” As I was trying to understand why the declinists were wrong and why I thought the United States would be the leading country of the twenty-first century, I totaled up American military and economic power and realized that something was still missing: the enormous capacity of this country to get what it wants by attraction rather than through coercion. This attractive, or “soft,” power stemmed from American culture, values, and policies that were broadly inclusive and seen as legitimate in the eyes of others.

Today that soft power has diminished, as public opinion polls around
the world show. There are many reasons for this decline, but the most
important trace back to the fact that in its first term, the Bush
Administration focused heavily on hard military and economic power in
ways that subverted our soft power. Neoconservatives and assertive
nationalists in the Administration believed that we were the only
superpower and that others had little choice but to follow us into Iraq
and out of multilateral institutions, such as the Geneva Conventions.

When President Bush spoke to the United Nations about terrorism in
the first year of his second term, he said that “this war will not be
won by force of arms alone “We must also defeat them in the battle of
ideas.” He was right, belatedly. And the Administration’s actions still
belie his words. In the information age, success is not merely the
result of whose army wins, but also whose story wins. Hard military
power is not enough. We also need the soft power of attraction.

The current struggle against extremist jihadist violence is not a
clash of civilizations, but a civil war within Islam. We cannot win
unless the Muslim moderates win. While we need hard power to battle the
extremists, we need the soft power of attraction to win the hearts and
minds of the majority of Muslims. Polls throughout the Muslim world
show that we are not winning this battle, as the graphic images and
detailed stories of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo have
done enormous damage to the credibility and soft power that we need to
win this struggle. In Jordan and Pakistan, two front-line states, Pew
polls show that Osama bin Laden is more popular than George W. Bush. In
Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim nation, three-quarters of the
population had positive feelings about the United States in 2000;
today, this figure has been reduced by half.

Despite these failures, there has been too little political debate
about the squandering of American soft power. Of course, soft power was
intended to be an analytic term, not a political position. Perhaps that
is why, not surprisingly, it has taken hold in academic analysis (and
in other places like Europe, China, and India), but not on the American
political hustings. Especially in the current political climate, it
makes a lousy slogan–post-September 11 emotions left little room for
anything described as “soft.” We may need soft power as a nation, but
it is a difficult political sell.

Indeed, Bush’s embrace of unilateral hard military and economic
power after September 11, and the Democrats’ hesitant criticism of the
president from an often soft power-based point of view, has meant that
the soft-power/hard-power dichotomy has lined up along partisan lines:
Republicans are for unilateral hard power, Democrats are for
multilateral soft power but hesitant and ineffective in pressing the
point. Given the American public’s fears, it’s no surprise that the
former has proved more popular than the latter, as seen in the last
presidential election. Politically, soft is out; hard is in.

That is the central thesis of Hard Power, a well-reasoned
book by two young stars in the Washington think-tank firmament: Kurt
Campbell, a senior vice president at the Center for Strategic and
International Studies, and Michael O’Hanlon, a senior fellow at the
Brookings Institution. For them, the soft/hard split in American
foreign policy thinking isn’t just bad for the Democrats but for the
country: “What is needed, whichever party prevails in the coming
elections, is a more sophisticated approach to this broad array of
rising transnational issues,” they write. “Yet Democrats and indeed
moderates will not have the chance to apply such a nuanced approach
unless they can master the first order matters of national
security–that is, how and when to put force on targets.” [Full
disclosure: Campbell worked for me in the Pentagon during the Clinton

Much of the book is a prescription for how Democrats can recapture
the foreign policy lead by more effective advocacy of hard power. They
must handle the war in Iraq (no precipitous withdrawal); manage the
military (rearrange, but don’t cut the defense budget); improve
homeland security; win the “long war” against terrorism; develop a
better strategy for energy and environmental security; pursue
nonproliferation better; and cope with China’s ascent. On all these
issues, they want the Democrats to become more comfortable with hard

One can quibble or disagree with some of their policy proposals. For
instance, if their preferred strategy on Iraq proves untenable, what is
their fallback position? They are probably too kind to the Department
of Homeland Security and yet not kind enough about the Administration’s
“responsible stakeholder approach” to China. And on energy and the
environment, given that we are not going to become independent of world
oil markets any time soon, they do not address adequately how we should
adjust our military and political posture in the Persian Gulf. But,
overall, this book provides a thoughtful discussion of the hard-power
dimensions of critical security issues. Any candidate would be wise to
read it.

In their analysis, Campbell and O’Hanlon identify three possible
approaches to foreign policy and national security challenges among
Democrats. The “Hard Power Democrats” are a smallish band who believe
the Bush Administration’s central shortcoming is not in the conception
of national security strategy per se, but rather in its implementation.
The “Globalists” believe that most of the true challenges to national
security cannot be dealt with effectively through military means and
wish to broaden the definition of national security to include more
transnational issues. The “Modest Power Democrats” believe that, given
both pressing domestic issues and the corrosive effect of recent
initiatives like the war in Iraq, it is time for the United States to
step back from global politics. This group is not only unhappy with
Bush’s strategy but also with the internationalism of the Washington
Democratic establishment, whom they see as “Republican-lite.” They
believe we should retreat to being a shining light on the hill and a
beacon to the world. Taken separately, each of these camps takes one
side or the other in the soft-power/hard-power dichotomy.

Campbell and O’Hanlon’s solution consists of a strategy that
combines the “Hard Power” and “Globalist” approaches to the world while
resisting strenuously any suggestion of a retreat from global affairs.
Fundamentally, what they are calling for is what I have termed “smart
power,” which stems from the belief that soft power is not necessarily
better than hard power and that the two should be complementary parts
of an effective strategy. In the battle against jihadist terrorism, for
example, we must kill our enemies and also reduce their numbers through
deterrence, suasion, and attraction. Or in countries where immediate
alternatives to current regimes are nonexistent or unacceptable and
stark economic and military punishment is not practical, “patience and
soft power must be married with principle and hard power if the United
States is to be effective.”

Yet what Campbell and O’Hanlon do not say enough about is how to
strike this balance between soft and hard, largely because they say so
little about the dynamics and instruments of soft power. For example,
many official instruments of soft power–public diplomacy, broadcasting,
exchange programs, development assistance, disaster relief,
military-to-military contacts–are scattered throughout the government,
and there is no overarching strategy or budget that even tries to
integrate them with hard power into an overarching national security
strategy. We spend about 500 times as much on the military than we do
on foreign broadcasts and exchanges. Is this the right proportion? How
would we know? How would we make trade-offs? And how should the
government relate to the nonofficial generators of soft
power–everything from Hollywood to Harvard to the Bill and Melinda
Gates Foundation–that emanate from our civil society? Campbell and
O’Hanlon do not tell us, and that sort of guidance is sorely needed.

Consider Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s recent comments in a Los Angeles Times op-ed.
“Some of the most critical battles” in the Administration’s war on
terrorism, he wrote, “may not be in the mountains of Afghanistan or the
streets of Iraq but in newsrooms in New York, London, Cairo and
elsewhere.” The good news is that Rumsfeld is beginning to realize that
the struggle against terrorism cannot be won by hard military power
alone. The bad news is that he still does not understand soft power.
Even when the Bush Administration pays lip service to soft power, they
do not understand how to implement it. They think that hearts and minds
are won the same way as new customers, through slick ads and p.r. Yet
Rumsfeld forgets the first rule of advertising: If you have a poor
product, not even the best advertising will sell it.

Rumsfeld’s mistrust of the soft power approach contains a grain of
truth, however accidental. Of course, soft power is not the solution to
all problems. For example, even though North Korean dictator Kim Jong
Il likes to watch Hollywood movies, that is unlikely to affect his
decision to give up his nuclear weapons program. Such a choice would be
determined by hard power, particularly if China would agree to more
economic sanctions. Nor will soft power be sufficient to stop the
Iranian nuclear program, though the legitimacy of the Administration’s
new multilateral approach may help to recruit other countries to a
coalition that isolates Iran. And soft power got nowhere in attracting
the Taliban government away from its support for Al Qaeda in the 1990s.
It took hard military power to remove them. That said, other goals,
such as the promotion of democracy and human rights, are better
achieved by soft power. Coercive democratization has its limits, as the
Bush Administration found out in Iraq.

The lesson here is that it is a mistake to count too much on hard or
soft power alone. Only smart power will move us forward. During the
Cold War, the West used hard power to deter Soviet aggression, while it
used soft power to erode faith in communism behind the Iron Curtain.
That was smart power. To be smart today, Europe should invest more in
its hard-power resources, and the United States should pay more
attention to its soft power. For Europe, that means more military
capability, such as that demonstrated by Great Britain and the
Netherlands in Afghanistan. For the United States, it means more
multilateralism, more institution-building, policies more consistent
with our values, and more of the humility that Bush promised as a
candidate in 2000 but soon forgot. After all, bombs and bayonets do not
protect us from avian flu, slow global flooding, or create democracy.

Yet how those bombs and bayonets are used can be important to
American soft power. A well-run military can be a source of attraction
for other nations. For example, military cooperation and training
programs can establish transnational networks that enhance our
country’s soft power. Similarly, the impressive job of the American
military in providing humanitarian relief after the Indian Ocean
tsunami and the South Asian earthquake in 2005 helped burnish the
luster of the United States. On the other hand, Pentagon psychological
operations that planted paid stories in the Iraqi press (at the same
time that the State Department was trying to train Iraqi journalists
about a free press) undercut American credibility and soft power.

Moreover, the misuse of military resources can undercut soft power
and, by extension, a nation’s overall power and influence. For example,
in Europe after World War II, the Soviet Union had a great deal of soft
power that stemmed from its resistance to Adolf Hitler. They squandered
it by the illegitimate ways in which they used their hard power against
Hungary and Czechoslovakia. Brutality and indifference to just-war
principles can also destroy legitimacy. The efficiency of the initial
American military invasion of Iraq in 2003 created admiration in the
eyes of some foreigners, but that soft power was undercut by the
subsequent inefficiency of the occupation and the scenes of
mistreatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib and the policies of detainment
without hearings at Guantánamo.

While the Bush Administration is now beginning to recognize the
importance of soft power, the challenge is how to balance it with hard
power in a coherent and effective way. To do that, both sides of the
“power” divide–hard Republicans and soft Democrats–need to engage in a
dialogue that stresses the integration of these two dimensions into an
effective strategy. If progressives refuse to criticize openly the
Administration for ignoring soft power and our public discourse is
limited solely to hard power, our discussion of national strategy will
be like one hand clapping, with each party trying to sound tough by
trumpeting hard power. Instead, we would be wise not to imitate the
Bush conservatives but to develop a smart-power doctrine that
recognizes the importance of both hard and soft power and seeks ways to
integrate them. This book is a good step toward the former, but it does
not do enough to explain the tough part, which is the latter. And
without that, American smart power will remain beyond our reach.

Read more about Foreign Policynational security

Joseph S. Nye, Jr. is University Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus and former Dean of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. He has served as Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs, Chair of the National Intelligence Council, and a Deputy Under Secretary of State. His recent books include Soft Power, The Power Game: A Washington Novel, The Powers to Lead; The Future of Power; Presidential Leadership and the Creation of the American Era; Is the American Century Over?; and the most recent Do Morals Matter? He is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the British Academy, and the American Academy of Diplomacy. In a recent survey of international relations scholars, he was rated the fifth most influential over the past 20 years; ranked as the most influential scholar on American foreign policy, and in 2011, Foreign Policy named him one of the top 100 Global Thinkers. He received his bachelor's degree summa cum laude from Princeton University, won a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford, and earned a Ph.D. in political science from Harvard. He is Co-Chair of the Aspen Strategy Group.

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