Harvard University Professor Joe Nye has a lifelong fascina- tion with the various con- cepts of power. He first coined the term ”œsoft power” in his 1990 book Bound to Lead which he suggested was complementary to, but not a substi- tute for, more traditional means of power projection. Nye defined soft power as ”œintangible power resources such as culture, ideology and institu- tions.” He said that soft co-optive power was just as important as hard command power. The book itself was a considered rebuttal to the then trendy proposition put forward by Yale Professor Paul Kennedy in his 1988 best-seller The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers, that the United States was in some sort of inevitable decline in its power. The first President Bush had rebutted Kennedy’s thesis in his 1988 election campaign. But Henry Kissinger, in one of his less prophetic declarations, said that the 1991 Gulf War was the last time the United States could go to war without the permission of Japan.
Thirteen years later the world watched helplessly as the world’s only ”œhyper power” called France’s bluff, ignored world opinion, and went to war against Iraq. This was just after Nye had published another book, The Paradox of American Power: Why the World’s Only Superpower Can’t Go It Alone. While the Iraq war may have suggested to some that Nye was wrong in his analysis, events since then have shown that he was right. Even President George W. Bush in his September 2002 National Security Strategy admitted that ”œthere is little of lasting consequence that the United States can accomplish in the world without the sustained coopera- tion of its allies and friends in Canada and Europe.”
Nye’s Bound to Lead never made it to the best-seller list but the concept of soft power resonated and even became the driving force behind the foreign policy activism of Lloyd Axworthy, Canada’s foreign minister from 1996 to 2000, although not exactly in the manner envisaged by Nye. Axworthy is not mentioned in Nye’s new book, but there is a clear message for Canadians sympathetic to Axworthy’s soft power foreign policy, which is exactly the opposite of the message he has for his American audience: focusing only on soft power (the Canadian tendency) is just as dangerous and counter-productive as focusing only on hard power (the American tenden- cy). Nye and his Harvard colleague Robert O. Keohane in a much earlier work, Power and Interdependence in 1977, had catalogued the role which Canada had been able to play in its relationship with the United States which was out of all proportion to its military or economic power.
The author told me last fall that he decided to write his latest book about soft power because many people misunderstood the concept. In his new book Nye notes that ”œthe agenda of world politics has become like a three- dimensional chess board in which you can only win by playing vertically as well as horizontally.” On the top board of classic interstate military issues the United States is the only superpower. On the middle board of interstate eco- nomic issues, the distribution of power is multipolar. On the bottom board of transnational issues like terrorism, inter- national crime, climate change and the spread of infectious diseases, power is widely distributed and chaotically organized among state and non-state actors. Nye uses the war in Iraq as an example of his three dimensional con- cept noting the connections in the war on terrorism between military actions on the top board, where a dangerous tyrant was removed in Iraq, but simulta- neously increased the ability of the al- Qaeda network to gain new recruits on the bottom transnational board.
Nye notes that many politicians still focus almost entirely on military assets and classic military solutions, making them one-dimensional play- ers in a three-dimensional game. The same criticism can also be made of Canadian politicians who focus only on the soft power game. Nye acknowledges that the British aca- demic, E.H. Carr, wrote in 1939 that international power came in three categories: military, economic and power over opinion.
Nye suggests that the resources that produce soft power in interna- tional politics arise in large part from the values a country expresses in its culture, in the example it sets by its internal practices and policies and in the way it handles relations with oth- ers. Narrow values and parochial cul- tures are less likely to produce soft power. Similarly policies based on broadly inclusive and far-sighted defi- nitions of national interest are easier to make attractive to others than poli- cies that take a narrow and myopic perspective. He notes that the American practice of capital punish- ment and weak gun control laws undercut American soft power in Europe. He also suggests that private sources of soft power are likely to become increasingly important in the global information age. Nye says that the Iraq war provided a fascinating case study of the interaction between hard and soft power. He says it is too soon to tell whether the hard-power gains will in the long run exceed the soft-power losses.
He is extremely critical of the ”œnew unilateralists” in the Bush administration, saying they were directly responsible for the decline of American attractiveness abroad. He admits that the struggle between mul- tilateralists and unilateralists in the Congress created a schizophrenic American foreign policy even before the Bush administration.
Nye also presents the concept of ”œsmart power” or learning better how to combine hard and soft power. He has chapters on the sources of America’s soft power and that of other countries including Russia, Europe and Asia. His only reference to Canada in that chapter is a quote that for many countries, the constitutional ideas of Canada ”œhave been disproportionately influential, perhaps more influential that those of the United States.” Elsewhere in the book he quotes Michael Ignatieff: ”œCanada’s influence derives from three assets: moral author- ity as a good citizen which we have some of, military capacity which we have a lot less of, and international assistance capability.” Ignatieff also says that with regard to the United States ”œwe have something they want. They need legitimacy.” Nye also refers to Canada as having the second high- est per capita spending on public diplo- macy and international cultural relations, after France and more than seven times higher than that spent by the US State Department. He also men- tions Canada’s role in bringing togeth- er the mixed coalition of Internet- based NGOs and individual politicians and celebrities to bring about the Ottawa Convention Banning Anti- Personnel Land Mines.
Nye identifies the neoconserva- tives in his country as being advocates of soft power but they focus too simply on substance and not enough on process. By downgrading the legitima- cy that comes from institutional processes where others are consulted, they squander soft power. Nye believes that the only way to achieve the type of transformation that the neoconser- vatives seeks is by working with others and avoiding the backlash that arises when the United States appears on the world stage as an imperial power act- ing unilaterally. Nye concludes that America’s success in the post 9/11 era will depend on developing a deeper understanding of the role of soft power and developing a better balance of hard and soft power in our foreign pol- icy. That will be smart power and it is a message whose mirror image is required in Ottawa.
Nye’s concept of power being a three-dimensional chess board is con- vincing and his general approach to international relations and the impor- tance of listening, consulting and using multilateral institutions is one which many Canadians favour. His approach will not satisfy those in Canada who have criticized Lloyd Axworthy for stressing soft power issues to the detri- ment of hard power ones, nor those who believe that further military spending should be one of the new government’s top priorities. Nye says you have to play on all levels of power to succeed. Whether Canada still wants or can afford to play in this three- dimensional game is an open question.