Ethics Matter: Political Scientist Joseph S. Nye, Jr.

Mar 8, 2011

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Global Ethics Forum TV Show

Joseph Nye discusses the sources of his ideas, his major concepts such as soft power, the impact of these concepts, and his thoughts on the information revolution. 

WILLIAM VOCKE: I'm William Vocke. Our guest today is Dr. Joseph Nye.

Dr. Nye is dean emeritus of the faculty at the Kennedy School of Government. He was in the Carter and the Clinton administrations in Defense, the National Security Council, and the State Department. He was a former Rhodes Scholar. His Ph.D. is from Harvard. He has written numerous influential books on international affairs, including his current book, The Future of Power.

Welcome, Dr. Nye. We are glad to have you with us. Thank you for coming.

JOSEPH NYE: It's good to be with you.

WILLIAM VOCKE: We want to do a discussion today on basically three things: we want to talk a little bit about the sources of your ideas, your influences; we want to talk a little bit about the major concepts that you've been associated with; and then their impact on both the public and on policymaking.

Let's begin with the sources of your ideas and where those influences come from. Your first work was on the East African Community, integration in East Africa, and pan-Africanism. Has that been influential? You don't write much on Africa today.

That's true. But it helps to account for my interest in international affairs.

I went to Oxford on a Rhodes Scholarship after I graduated from Princeton. I had met a fellow student from Ghana and we got into long discussions about the prospects for democracy in Africa and how Africa was going to develop. So when I was doing a Ph.D. at Harvard, I thought "I'd like to go to Africa."

At that point, Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania had a common market. The question was could they keep it.

I remember Ed Mason, one of my professors in a course on economic development, had just come back from a World Bank mission to Uganda. He said, "Whether this common market is going to survive or not is crucial for understanding the economy. But I can't answer that as an economist. Some political scientist should do it." A little light bulb went off in my mind. I said, "There's my thesis topic."

I applied for a grant from the Ford Foundation and went out to East Africa. I lived there for a year and a half and wrote a book about whether the ideas that leaders had about pan-Africanism and unity would actually affect the outcomes in terms of holding a common market together, practical economics.

Alas, they were not able to keep the common market together. Fortunately for my academic career, I got the prediction right. But, unfortunately for them, it was a bad outcome.

It's interesting that today that they have made new efforts to recreate that common market. So, with enough time, perhaps this will succeed.

But that was the start.

WILLIAM VOCKE: Did that presage then your interest both in the relationship between economics and politics and in power?

JOSEPH NYE: That's right, because what happened with the East African leaders is they were sincere about wanting unity, but the base of their power was "Are the jobs going to be in my part of the market and not your part of the market?" That's the kind of pressure that tore things apart. So I became quite interested in how ideas and interests interact and how it affects power.

From East Africa I then went to Central America to look at the Central American common market, to see how that compared.

Then I went to live in Geneva and did a study of European regionalism and also the UN organizations in Geneva. That took me into the nuclear trade, and that got me into nuclear proliferation, which I managed in the Carter Administration. Then that got me into the whole area of what are the ethics of nuclear weapons, which led to a book called Nuclear Ethics.

In some ways it looks like I've hopped all over things, but there has been a common strand of interest in my mind, which is: What's the relationship between ideas and power realities? I see a web that holds together everything from pan-Africanism and East African integration, where I started, to this new book, The Future of Power. To me it's consistent. Other people look at it and say, "Where did all that come from?"

WILLIAM VOCKE: What other scholars have been influential in terms of your background? Who do you think of as your predecessors?

JOSEPH NYE: I was very fortunate when I was a graduate student at Harvard to work with Rupert Emerson, who had been a great student of post-colonial countries. He was my thesis supervisor.

I was very strongly influenced by Stanley Hoffmann, with whom I eventually wound up as a co-teacher. I used to sit in his classes.

I used to sit in the classes at the back of the lecture hall of Henry Kissinger, and he served on my general exams.

Sam Huntington was also a colleague who strongly influenced me.

Probably the person who has had the strongest influence on me intellectually was Robert Keohane, who now teaches at Princeton. One of the great ironies is that he and I overlapped as graduate students at Harvard but didn't know each other there, because I was off in Africa studying and he was one year behind me. But a few years later, both of us were interested in international institutions, and we got together and have co-authored a number of works, and remain very close friends. As I say in the preface to The Future of Power, I sometimes don't know which of the ideas are mine and which really came from him. So we're pretty thoroughly intertwined.

There are many other people who influenced me as well. I've been very fortunate to have a lot of colleagues and mentors, and I'm grateful to all of them. Nobody thinks up all of their ideas themselves. We're all influenced by others. I've been very fortunate to have had the support and friendship of some terrific intellectuals.

WILLIAM VOCKE: One of the things that people regularly remark about in both your writing and your presentations is how clear and easy to follow they are, although the ideas are very complex. Is that related to your teaching? Have you worked on that?

JOSEPH NYE: I do make an effort to write without jargon when possible. One of the dangers for academics is if they write only for other academics, they quickly lapse into jargon and make their work inaccessible.

It might have been the fact that my father never went to college. He was a self-made man. He often used to tease me. He said, "You've been in university for ten years and I didn't even go at all. How do you explain the value that you add for those extra ten years?"

I always thought, I ought to be able to write things that my father will understand, and my mother, my friends, and policymakers. I try to write in a manner which is accessible, while at the same time not neglecting the academic rigor, which is important.

If one looks at The Future of Power, the first chapter is a little bit tough going, looking at the different dimensions of power and going over the social science literature very closely, distinguishing power as a resource and power as behavior, and explaining how they relate to each other. But after working to get it clear in my mind, then I went back over the chapter and said: "How can I use simple examples and metaphors to explain things, which in some cases are somewhat esoteric in theory?"

If more academics would try to essentially translate themselves, then academics might have more influence on policy.

WILLIAM VOCKE: In a historical perspective where do you place yourself? You come out of the realist position in international affairs, with people like Huntington and Kissinger, and with Robert Keohane you've introduced this concept of neoliberalism and complex interdependence. Do you see yourself moving away from that tradition, or did your focus on East Africa always include that complexity and those multiple layers of the system?

JOSEPH NYE: I jokingly call myself a "liberal realist." But that's mostly to say that I think these great terms, liberalism vs. realism, are oversimplified.

I came into international relations through a side door, so to speak. When I worked in East Africa, I was interested in how these countries related to each other. That led me to economic integration, which led me to think a lot about how domestic forces and politics interact across borders. I didn't start with balance of power between these countries; I started with the power of these social forces and ideas that cross borders, that are transnational in East Africa, and how they led to particular outcomes.

In that sense, I started by working in integration theory before we were using the term "transnational relations." That was outside the mainstream of realism.

When Bob Keohane and I were both put on the board of the journal, International Organization, as they tried to put some younger blood into the board—it must have been around 1968 or so—we were explaining at a meeting of the board that one had to think about international organizations with a small "i" and a small "o." There was a lot happening in the world—networks, institutions, and relationships across borders—that wasn't summarized by states sitting behind placards at UN meetings or states basically thinking of a balance of power.

Our colleagues challenged us to do something about it. We edited a volume, a special issue of International Organization, called "Transnational Relations and World Politics." It was an effort to try to explain this vision that we had of international politics as more than just the traditional realist view. It included chapters on multinational corporations, on terrorists crossing borders; it even had a chapter on the Catholic Church.

This was how we got into thinking about the book that we then called Power and Interdependence, which came after the Arab oil embargo and the feeling that some people had that the world had changed totally. Hans Morgenthau, a great realist from whom I did take a course when he was a visiting professor at Harvard when I was a graduate student, wrote after 1973 that this was unprecedented in world history and everything had changed.

Bob and I said, "Some things have changed and others have not." In that book we tried to explain why realism was a good place to start—it was a simple and parsimonious model—but why it wasn't a good place to stop, that you needed to go beyond it and to look at other things.

We developed different models for how to think about world politics, one of which was a realist model; another which was a structural realism for a particular issue, not globally; and the third, which was the area that we called complex interdependence, in which transnational actors were crucial.

We did that by almost replacing the basic assumptions of realism. If realism says the state is the only actor and military is the only instrument—or the dominant instrument—and security is the major objective, we said that there are some aspects of world politics that don't fit that model. Today the European Union would be a good example. We asked what would world politics look like if you reversed those assumptions and said non-state actors play a major role, they use means other than military, and they have goals other than security.

We contrasted two ideal types, an ideal type of realism and an ideal type of complex interdependence, and argued that in the world as it exists there are some relations that are close to the realist end of the spectrum and some that are close to the complex interdependence end of the spectrum—European relations or U.S.-Canadian relations for example. What one needed to do a good analysis was not to fall into the trap of thinking you use one model to explain everything; you have to pick the model that fits the context or situation you're explaining.

That's why I consider myself both a realist and a liberal—call it liberal realism.

WILLIAM VOCKE: Let's talk about some key concepts. You've already explained the concept of complex interdependence. Do you feel that that's one of the key contributions you and Dr. Keohane have made to academia and to the understanding of international affairs?

Yes, with Bob. That and the concept of asymmetrical interdependence as a source of power were two very important tools which help people understand the way the world was changing in the 1970s.

WILLIAM VOCKE: Let me understand the latter term a little bit more.

JOSEPH NYE: When we were looking at interdependence, there was a view in the early 1970s, somewhat simplified, often driven by economists, that interdependence was growing and that that would produce a peaceful world. You could see this in trade and investment figures.

Economists think of a positive-sum game rather than a zero-sum game, and economics is win/win in many cases. They then applied that to politics, and sometimes politics is a zero-sum game, sometimes it's not. But there was a general view that interdependence meant we're now all in the same boat together.

What Bob and I were trying to say is: "Wait a minute. That may be true. But which way is the boat going? Who's doing the rowing and who's getting a free ride?"

That depends on power relations. When you talk about power relations and interdependence, it matters who depends more—or as we put it, the symmetry or asymmetry of interdependence. If I depend on you and you depend on me equally, there's not much power in that relationship. But if I depend on you and you don't depend much on me, then you have power.

What Bob and I were doing with asymmetrical interdependence is saying: "Let's get away from this simplistic view that grows out of 19th-century liberalism, that increased trade and investment is going to produce a peaceful, harmonious world—maybe yes, maybe no." There are some beneficial effects, as 19th-century liberals like Cobden and Bright expressed, but it's not an automatic path to peace, which was a view that was held by many before World War I, including Andrew Carnegie.

WILLIAM VOCKE: That's correct.

JOSEPH NYE: We were trying to say that the growth of economic interdependence was a good thing, but it also has a power component that has to be analyzed in a more sophisticated way. That's where we developed the concepts and models of asymmetrical interdependence.

WILLIAM VOCKE: What would be some illustrations of asymmetrical interdependence? How can people relate to that?

JOSEPH NYE: To give you a current illustration of it, many times people will say, "Look at China and the U.S. today. China owns over a trillion dollars of reserves, much of it in U.S. Treasury bonds, and that gives China tremendous power over the U.S., because if China were to dump their dollars on the world market, the dollar would collapse and they could bring the United States to its knees."

The trouble with that argument is it doesn't realize that there's symmetry in interdependence. The Chinese depend upon access to the American market to produce exports, which produces jobs, which keeps employment high, which keeps the Chinese communist regime in a position of legitimacy. So yes, they could dump dollars and bring us to our knees, and in doing so they'd bring themselves to their ankles. The fact that there is symmetry in this interdependence means that there's not a lot of power in the fact that the Chinese hold all these dollars.

WILLIAM VOCKE: What would be an asymmetrical situation in today's world?

JOSEPH NYE: An asymmetrical situation would be just the opposite. If you look at certain countries in Africa that want Chinese investment, China can say to them essentially, "You want us to come in and invest and build a railroad or a soccer stadium. Let me tell you what the price of that is going to be, and you're going to give us access to your raw materials on favorable terms." That's asymmetrical interdependence.

WILLIAM VOCKE: When you talk about complex interdependence, you're talking about the kind of layering of—

JOSEPH NYE: Complex interdependence is different. Complex interdependence is an ideal type. In Max Weber's terms, it's imaginary. It's saying: "Imagine that you didn't have states as the only actors, you didn't have the military as a major instrument, and you didn't have security as the major goal. How would states relate to each other?"

We took the case of the United States and Canada and examined it, because there you find that all sorts of transnational actors are involved in addition to the two governments. The idea of using military force against Canada is unthinkable. Yes, we're concerned about security, but we're also concerned about welfare, cultural identity, and a lot of other things.

How do politics work there? It doesn't mean that because there's no military or security threat that there are no international politics. Politics and struggles for power are ubiquitous.

We did a case study in Power and Interdependence, in which we compared Canada-U.S. relations with Australian-U.S. relations to see how politics work out. By pairing those two, we tried to hold language and British heritage as a constant, but asked: What's the effect of proximity in terms of allowing more transnational interactions? At that time, before the age of the Internet, geography mattered even more.

Complex interdependence was an ideal type. We looked for a case that came close to the ideal type to study to see how do politics work in that kind of circumstance.

WILLIAM VOCKE: You speak of multiple layers of polarity in a system. Is that essential where that idea of complex interdependence has evolved today?

JOSEPH NYE: Yes, in part, in the sense that I sometimes talk about that power today as distributed like a three-dimensional chess board: that the top board of military relations, which is beyond the area of realism, tends to be a unipolar world, with the Americans as the superpower.

The middle board of economic relations tends to be multipolar; Europe, China, Japan, and others can balance American power.

The bottom board of transnational relations, things that cross borders outside the control of governments, whether they be terrorists, financial flows, or climate change, is chaotically organized. This is an area where you can't imagine solving climate change by bombing China, or you can't really think that the major players are simply governments, because there are lots of other actors that are involved. This comes to a much closer approximation of complex interdependence.

WILLIAM VOCKE: That implies from a policy perspective that you really need to think about policies which are multi-layered or multi-leveled.

That's right. That's where I come to this concept of smart power, which is the ability to combine hard and soft power.

Power is the ability to affect others to get what you want. You can do it in three ways: you can do it by threats, coercion (sticks); you can do it by payments (carrots); or you can do it by attraction and persuasion, getting others to want what you want. If you can get others to want what you want, you can save a lot on carrots and sticks.

When it comes to dealing with these transnational interests, where no government has coercive power—

WILLIAM VOCKE: This is the third layer?

JOSEPH NYE: This is the bottom layer, yes.

—then you have to use more soft power. You have to organize networks and coalitions that attract people to work together. That's an important part of power. It's often called "power with" rather than "power over." You need to have others work with you to get things done, as opposed to just coercing them into getting things done.

WILLIAM VOCKE: In talking about these three levels, one of the political tricks would seem to be to generate policies that are able to transverse and work effectively on all of those levels. The contemporary uprisings in the Middle East suggest a need to work at both the popular and the governmental level.

JOSEPH NYE: That's right. That is very difficult. If you think only in classical realist terms, in which you say, as A.J.P. Taylor once said, the mark of great power is the ability to prevail in war, you're missing that in the information age that we live in today, power is not only whose army wins but whose story wins, your narrative. That means that you have to deal with both hard and soft power, and getting the proportions right in different situations is difficult.

If you take a case like the Middle East today, we can't ignore a government like the Egyptian government—if you want to balance Iranian power, you have to work with the Egyptian government. On the other hand, you also have to address Egyptian civil society, the people in Tahrir Square. The narrative that you're conveying is either a tremendous source of soft power, or it can destroy your attractiveness and soft power.

It's a doubly difficult job then, which is instead of the simplistic realist model in which you say, "I only work with governments; I don't care about what happens in civil society"—that's not enough in an information age.

You have to work with governments—that's the realist end of the angle, the hard-power end—but you also have to address a narrative to civil society, because those are essentially the sources of stability in the future. You've got short-run stability, which is propping up an existing government, but you have dynamic or long-term stability, which is appealing to the people who will be the government of the future.

That's a tightrope that you have to walk in policy. It's hard. When you walk it, you tend to wobble. You say a little bit too much for the government or a little bit too much against the government and you're criticized by both sides.

A smart power strategy realizes that you need to have both hard and soft power and you've got to do that balancing act to get the proportions right as you try to deal with issues like the current issue in Egypt.

WILLIAM VOCKE: I want to talk more about soft power and smart power in just a moment.

Let me go back to complex interdependence for a second. Is that complexity that is driving the rise of soft power primarily coming from technological change?

JOSEPH NYE: No. Complex interdependence actually has roots beyond just technology, in the following sense. If you look at Europe today, that's a great example of complex interdependence. But it's also true of relations among most advanced industrial states.

You can't imagine France and Germany going to war today, as they did three times in the past, tearing Europe apart. The reason you can't imagine it is for several purposes:

    • One, if they are in a common market, which gets them deeply involved in each other, it's a win/win situation—as Germany prospers, France prospers—rather than a zero-sum situation.

    • They are also democracies. Germany today is not the Germany of the 1900s or the 1930s. It's a democratic society, which has a very different attitude toward the use of force.

  • In addition to democracy and economic integration, they have established institutions. It's not just the convenience of the moment; it's the existence of institutions like the European Union, and behind that, NATO plays a role.

Some people say, "Yeah, but that's where realism comes in; it's the American security guarantee." Yes, the American security guarantee is of value, but much of what creates complex interdependence in Europe is in fact internally generated. The reason that's interesting and important is that it gives Europe a lot of soft power. It makes it attractive to others.

When the Berlin Wall came down, there were some people, like my friend John Mearsheimer, who wrote an article saying: "This will be back to the future. What we'll see is Germany will drop out of NATO and the European Union, it will develop its own nuclear weapons, it will jockey with Russia for who controls these different small countries in the center of Europe, and we'll return to a classic realist model of European politics, like the 1930s or the 19th century."

That's not what happened. One of the reasons—there are several reasons—is because of the institutions of the European Union, which are attractive, but also the values. This is an area which had developed democracy and prosperity through its economic integration.

It acted as a magnet, drawing the center of Europe, which could have been a great area of instability, to Brussels and to the West. The Western Europeans, to their credit, would tell these Central European countries: "You want to join us, you have to be democratic, you have to observe human rights." That's a great exercise of soft power.

The complex interdependence of the relations among European states when this was happening in the 1980s and 1990s, was a very different relation among states than the 1930s, where there was concern about balancing power. You had the little entente of Central European countries and whether they were going to align with France or whether other countries in the Balkans would align with Germany.

The politics of the 1930s in Europe is best captured by a realist model. Politics in the 1990s and in the 21st century is best captured by a model of complex interdependence.

WILLIAM VOCKE: Is this a fair summary: the complex interdependence approach suggests that economic interests, shared institutions, commonality of values, the addition of more players, overlaid by a technology that allows communication are all in a pot that stews together?

JOSEPH NYE: Yes. But I'd add institutions, because institutions give a sense of permanence. In other words, the institutions mean that there are many points of contact, many areas of predictability, and your expectations are structured in a certain way. So all of the above plus institutions.

WILLIAM VOCKE: We get a fairly simplistic view sometimes that the Internet and the ability to communicate, the mass democratization of ideas—Twitter, Facebook—that that is the driving force. But you are suggesting that there's much more behind that, that that is kind of the surface of complex interdependency. Is that accurate? How do you put those technological factors in?

JOSEPH NYE: What technology has done is it has accelerated a lot of communication. There have been information revolutions in the past. After all, Gutenberg basically produced the Protestant Reformation. But it took a lot longer.

What's different today is that it's all so much faster and cheaper, which means many more people play. The impact of the information revolution has been to speed up these processes and broaden them to include many more parts of the population.

What's the effect of this? It's both good and bad. It doesn't just produce complex interdependency. It can also produce some nasty outcomes. The ability to communicate on the Internet was used by Osama bin Laden to basically recruit and coordinate an attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. This reduction of the barriers to entry which Internet communications technology has produced enables or empowers both good and bad people. Technology is more or less neutral per se; it can be used for good or for bad.

WILLIAM VOCKE: So virulent nationalism, for instance, is also something that has that kind of spread?

JOSEPH NYE: Yes. One of the great ironies is that you'd think that with a technology which is transnational and knows no borders, that it would produce cosmopolitanism. It doesn't. It often disrupts people's identities, as they are now in traditional terms, and when they are looking for something to replace it they may turn to a radicalized version of Islam, as al Qaeda advocates; they may turn to nationalism.

It's quite fascinating, if you look at China today, to see that the blogosphere is very nationalistic. There are over 400 million Chinese on the Internet, but a lot of the expressions you get on the Internet are not one world of cyber-utopians but are really quite narrowly nationalistic in Chinese terms.

WILLIAM VOCKE: And that has become a support for the Chinese government as well.

JOSEPH NYE: The Chinese government not only feeds that but counts on it. But, in turn, they have unleashed a sorcerer's apprentice, which essentially influences them. Top Chinese leaders actually are influenced by the blogosphere, even though this nationalism of blogosphere is one of the things they have contributed to.

WILLIAM VOCKE: In your current book you talk a lot about an international environment in which both a transition of power and a diffusion of power is going on. Could you talk about that a little bit more about that?

JOSEPH NYE: Yes. "Transition of power" is the term I use to refer to power changing from one set of states to another set of states. "Diffusion of power" is the power moving or shifting from states, whether East or West, to non-state actors.

On power transition, we've seen it before in history. It's as old as Thucydides' History of the Peloponnesian War.

WILLIAM VOCKE: This is the realist model?

JOSEPH NYE: This is very much a realist model, though it doesn't have to turn out in realist outcomes of war.

For example, there are some people who say that China's rise can't be peaceful. A war between the U.S. and China is inevitable because the rise in the power of Athens and the fear it created in Sparta created the Peloponnesian War, which tore the Greek city state system apart; the rise in the power of Germany and the fear it created in Britain created World War I, which tore the European system apart.

There are some who say that the 21st century will see the rise in the power of China creating fear in the United States and that will lead to a great conflict between states in this century, that therefore power transition, sometimes called the hegemonic transition theory, is going to produce a huge conflict.

I don't think that's right. It's a bad historical analogy.

One reason is that Germany had passed Britain in its economic strength by 1900. When you look carefully at China and the United States, China is not going to be equal in size to the United States overall GDP until sometime in the 2020s, and even then equality in size doesn't mean equality in composition. In per capita income, which is a better measure of the sophistication of an economy, the Chinese won't be equal to the United States, if then, until the 2040s or more.

We have more time to manage this relationship with China. In other words, it's not like Germany—Germany wasn't merely breathing on Britain's heels; it was starting to pass Britain in the race.

Despite public opinion polls, which are wildly misinformed, where many Americans think China has passed us, they haven't. We're three times larger and in wealth or per capita income ten times richer. That's not going to change for another couple of decades. That gives us time to manage this power transition.

The worst outcome is if we become so fearful that we overreact. In that circumstance, we can create a conflict where a conflict need not exist.

I do worry about these predictions that conflicts between the United States and China are inevitable. I don't think they are. But if you say it enough times—as Thucydides pointed out, belief in the inevitability of war makes war inevitable.

WILLIAM VOCKE: It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.


WILLIAM VOCKE: That's the transition side.

What is the diffusion side?

JOSEPH NYE: Diffusion is more difficult. We know about power transition. We have seen it in history many times.

Power diffusion is really quite new in the following sense, that technology and rapid reductions in the costs of computing and communication have enabled actors to play a role in world politics in ways that were never seen before.

The cost of computing power decreased a thousand-fold in the last quarter of the 20th century. If the cost of a car had dropped as rapidly, you could buy a car today for $5.00.

What that reduction of barriers to entry means is everybody can get into the game. It doesn't mean that governments aren't the most important actors on the stage of world politics—they still have more resources than others—but it does mean that the stage is a lot more crowded.

In 1970, if you wanted to be able to communicate instantaneously around the whole world, you could do it technologically, but it was very expensive. You had to be a government or a large corporation to be able to afford it. Today anybody has that capacity simply by going into an Internet café. That means that the technology is empowering and enabling a much broader set of actors to play a role in world politics.

That power diffusion is something we haven't quite come to terms with. It's particularly true in the area of cyber power. We are becoming so dependent upon cyber connections that it is now presenting opportunities, challenges, and vulnerabilities. That's why I have a whole chapter on cyber power in the book.

If you think about it, it's very recent. Yes, the Internet was founded or created 40 years ago, but at that time it was a small community. It was like a village. Everybody knew each other. You didn't worry about security because you knew who the other people were.

The World Wide Web, when it becomes commercial and broad, doesn't start until two decades ago. Indeed, if you look at the mid-1990s, there were a few million people on the Internet, it's not that big of a deal. Today there are 1.7 billion people and everything is connected to everything.

That means that people who want to manipulate those connections suddenly have power. Many of these people who want to manipulate the connections are good guys and many of them are bad guys. In that sense, we are vulnerable in a way that we haven't been before. We are only beginning to think about what it means to have national security in a cyber age.

I've drawn the analogy in the book that we are today a little bit like people were in 1950 when they were trying to understand nuclear conflicts. We know that there are these new weapons, we've seen their explosive power, but we haven't developed strategies or an understanding of vulnerability.

What does deterrence mean? What does attack mean? What does defense mean? What does security mean? What does arms control mean? If you look at the nuclear area, what's interesting is it took decades for us to work out those things.

For example, the first arms control in nuclear weaponry didn't occur until the 1960s, the Limited Test Ban Treaty and the Nonproliferation Treaty—that was two decades after the bomb was invented. Bilateral arms control between the United States and the Soviet Union didn't occur until the 1970s—that's three decades after the bomb was invented. Finally, in 1985 Reagan and Gorbachev came to a statement about a new norm, which is that nuclear war cannot be won, it must never be fought—and that's four decades after nuclear weapons were invented.

If we ask where are we in cyber, we're two decades into the World Wide Web cyber era and we've got a long way to go to work our way through these concepts.

What I've tried to do in this book is in the chapter on cyber power say: How do you relate cyber to our concepts of power as traditionally used in international politics? That's the beginning, not the end, of what's going to be a complex process.

WILLIAM VOCKE: Dr. Nye, I want to talk a little bit about the concept that has the most popular influence, the idea of soft power and then its follow-on, smart power. Could you define for us what you mean by soft power?

JOSEPH NYE: Let me tell you where it came from and then I'll define it.

I was writing a book in 1989, when the conventional wisdom was that the United States was in decline. I wrote a book called Bound to Lead, which was a challenge to my friend Paul Kennedy, who in The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers said that we were going the way of Philip II's Spain with imperial overstretch. I might add parenthetically that I got the answer right but Paul got all the royalties—and I've told him this. We're friends.

But when I was asking why I had this view different from his, I looked at American military power, then I looked at American economic power, and I said, "But there's still something missing, which is the ability to get what we want because others want to follow us, rather than because we coerce or pay them." That's where I came up with this idea of soft power.

Power is the ability to get what you want. You can do it through coercion, payment, or attraction and persuasion. That third aspect, attraction and persuasion, is what I mean by soft power.

WILLIAM VOCKE: You've talked about the sources of soft power as well. Where does soft power come from?

JOSEPH NYE: For countries it comes in part from a country's culture, one that's attractive to others. It comes from a country's values when it lives up to its values—practicing democracy or human rights in the American case. It also comes from a country's policies, when the policies are seen as legitimate in the eyes of the others.

What's interesting about soft power is it depends very much on perceptions of, if you want, the subject of soft power or the target of soft power.

Hard power doesn't depend that much. Let me give you a somewhat facetious example. If I want to steal your money, I take out a gun and I shoot you and take your wallet. That's hard power and you have no choice; it doesn't matter what you think. If I want to steal your money by soft power, I have to persuade you and attract you that I'm a guru to whom you should give your money. That usually takes quite a while. In the end I steal your money either way. But with hard power it doesn't matter what you think; with soft power everything matters on what you think.

WILLIAM VOCKE: That comes to, in a sense, the question of measurement, because it's fairly easy to measure hard power—you have X number of tanks, soldiers, or bullets, and occupied territory if it's a war or a conflict. Of course, there are intangible elements of hard power. But it's much more difficult to see the consequences and impact of soft power.

JOSEPH NYE: Soft power often takes longer. It depends more on the perception of the target. That's often harder to measure.

We have to be careful not to think that hard power is so easily measurable. It's true that we act that way, but it's a misperception. Power always depends on context. If I have 10,000 tanks and you have 1,000 tanks, we say I'm ten times stronger than you. That's true of the battles fought in a desert. But if the context is a swamp, it might be just the opposite, as we found out in Vietnam. So this tangibility of hard power and measurability is often misleading.

With soft power you have some degree of measurability in public opinion polls, which are a first approximation of whether a target sees you as attractive or not. The final outcome is whether you are able to get what you want that measures power. But that's a problem of prediction both for hard and soft power.

WILLIAM VOCKE: In terms of soft power, if it has cultural value and policy roots, does that imply that those three roots need to be in consonance with each other?

JOSEPH NYE: It's best if they are, but they're not always. Let me give you an example.

American culture often remains attractive at the time that American policy is unattractive. That helps us overcome some bad policy decisions. So even when the Americans were unpopular because of the invasion of Iraq, nonetheless there was still attraction to American culture.

I often use the example of the Vietnam War. American policy was unpopular around the world at the time of the Vietnam War and people were marching in the streets to oppose our policies. But they weren't singing the Communist Internationale; they were singing Martin Luther King's We Shall Overcome. That's evidence of American soft power despite American policies.

WILLIAM VOCKE: In terms of that difficulty between the expression of soft power and the policies, frequently American leaders when they express values and culture—democracy, human rights, et cetera—are viewed as hypocritical. They're viewed as simply mouthing the words, whereas in actuality we don't do that. How do you make that appear to be the truth?

JOSEPH NYE: That's a real problem. For a narrative to be influential in attracting people it has to be credible. When your actions belie your words, your narrative makes no difference.

Look at George W. Bush's second Inaugural Address, "The Freedom Agenda." It was wonderful. It's hard not to resonate with that wonderful Wilsonian rhetoric. For Americans it sounded great. But in much of the Muslim world, which was reacting to the invasion of Iraq, it seemed pure hypocrisy, and the public opinion polls showed it. It was regarded as valueless.

On the other hand, to go back to the sources of American soft power, it's interesting to look at the effect of the election of 2008. There was a conventional wisdom both in the United States and around the world that the American political system is corrupt, that you had to have big money and a family name to get into the game, that Americans were all hypocrites; they didn't live up to their proclamations of democracy.

Then we had the election of 2008, in which we elected an African-American with a Muslim-sounding name who didn't have a family dynasty and didn't have his own money. A major British politician who I had dinner with in November 2008 said, "This is the real example of the soft power of the United States. With one election, by living up to your values, you transformed the view of billions of people about the United States."

WILLIAM VOCKE: This is the power of soft power. But has that been translated into a wider sense of power or relationship in the Muslim world? There's a question about how you translate that.

JOSEPH NYE: You have to have actions that follow words. President Obama did a good job with his Cairo speech, Prague speech and speech to the UN, in general, of trying to restore an American narrative that had credibility.

But in the Muslim world today we are not doing as well as we are in Asia, Latin America, or Europe, partly because there is a question about why American troops are in Muslim countries, why we are not doing more about the Arab-Israeli peace process, and why we are propping up in many cases autocrats. So there are a number of issues.

WILLIAM VOCKE: So there's a competing narrative there?

JOSEPH NYE: There is a competing narrative, and that's why the polls show we don't do as well in the Muslim world as, let's say, in East Asia.

WILLIAM VOCKE: One critique of the idea of soft power is that it's a thinly disguised argument in favor of American imperialism, that it takes a Western view of how the world should be—democracy, human rights, democratic institutions—not just American, but a westernization of things.

JOSEPH NYE: Yes, I've read that by a number of critics. It simply illustrates that people don't understand the concept. There's nothing American about soft power. China is trying to increase its soft power.


JOSEPH NYE: Yes. Hu Jintao says, "We need to increase our soft power," and they're spending billions on it. If it's American imperialism, then why are the Chinese able to use it, why are Norway and Singapore able to have soft power?

This kind of trendy leftist criticism, that it's all American hegemony and that's all I'm writing about, just means people haven't thought very hard, and haven't really looked at the concept and understood it. I hope that if somebody reads the first chapter of this book and looks carefully at what power means and what soft power means, they'll get away from this kind of what I call silly criticism.

WILLIAM VOCKE: One of the key things behind soft power is the values that get represented and seen around the world. You argue that those values are very traditional American values. That is a concept of American foreign policy that you share with neoconservatives, that sense that American values are crucial and important to the narrative that we have in the world.

How are you differentiated from them then?

JOSEPH NYE: Probably by means rather than by ends. I don't think you impose soft power or American values at the point of a gun.

There's another way of exercising soft power, which is going all the way back to John Winthrop and the "City on the Hill." Ronald Reagan picked this up. He called it the "Shining City on the Hill." By living up to your values you can attract others.

But again, these are American values which are attractive in some places but not others. For example, American democracy and American culture may be attractive in Brazil but not in Saudi Arabia, a conservative society. Even in Iran, a Hollywood film may be seen by the mullahs who rule Iran as the Great Satan, but it may be that a younger generation of Iranians want nothing more than a Hollywood video to show in the privacy of their home. So the same cultural resource—let's say a Hollywood film—may create soft power in the mind of a younger Iranian and destroy soft power in the mind of a mullah.

WILLIAM VOCKE: Let's talk then about the impact of these ideas of soft power. We really didn't get to smart power yet, so perhaps you can talk about that in terms of impact as well.

You have been remarkably effective in translating ideas into the public discussion. Soft power is an intellectual idea that everyone talks about, even if everyone doesn't understand it.

What kind of impact do you think you have had both in policy and in popular forums?

JOSEPH NYE: I've been surprised at the way the concept of soft power has taken off. When I was first using it, or developed it, in 1989, it was an analytical concept to try to explain one of the ways in which one would measure power when one was assessing whether America was in decline or not. But what has interested me is to see an academic or an analytical concept—which somebody pointed out to me is not even in the index of my first book—how that has become picked up and used.

I was at the Munich Security Conference last weekend. The secretary-general of NATO was talking about soft power. The chancellor of Germany was talking about soft power. Ban Ki-Moon was talking about soft power.

A friend of mine sitting next to me nudged me and said, "I bet you never thought you'd be sitting in a room like this with all these foreign leaders using your concept." I said, "You're absolutely right."

But probably the most surprising was when Hu Jintao, the president of China, told the 17th Party Congress that China needed to develop its soft power. That really surprised me. A friend of mine who's a China expert said there's something like 800 articles in Mandarin Chinese about soft power now.

So yes, sometimes you get surprised by the way an academic idea gets picked up.

WILLIAM VOCKE: Are you concerned that by its diffusion that this academic idea has lost its core impact?

JOSEPH NYE: It often becomes misused. Some people say soft power is just soft and squishy or soft power is just cultural. They often mistake the resource that could, but may not, produce soft power with the behavior, which is attraction and persuasion. That's a very common mistake.

Others make the mistake of saying, "Soft power is everything that's not military power." That's also a mistake.

Sometimes people say, "Economics is soft power." Well, wait a minute. Economic sanctions don't feel soft. They're not attracting people; they're coercing them.

So yes, there's a lot of misuse of the idea.

But I am interested to see that you are beginning to get an academic literature, as well as political use, which does understand soft power. In that sense, it can have an influence on policy.

If you're in this much more complex world in which the "rise of the rest" and the diffusion of power to non-state actors are the characteristics of the world, as I try to argue in this new book, then you're going to need strategies which are able to attract others, to develop networks and institutions to get things done. That will be crucial to having a much more sophisticated understanding of power.

Which means this term "smart power," a term that I developed. When I wrote a book on soft power in 2004, I deliberately put in there that soft power doesn't solve all problems, that hard power still remains important, and the ability to combine hard and soft power is smart power. That depends on contextual intelligence, knowing which situations you want to have more hard in the mix and more soft in the mix.

Indeed, it doesn't refer just to states. In the book I wrote on leadership in 2008, called The Powers to Lead, I pointed out that individual leaders have certain resources that produce hard power, certain that produce soft power, but the key to successful leadership is contextual intelligence, understanding the culture of the organization or situation and the distribution of political views, so that you can adjust your hard and soft power into a smart-power strategy.

When you talk about influence, I was intrigued that when the Obama administration came in, at her confirmation hearings for secretary of state, Hilary Clinton talked about smart power being the theme of the Obama administration. I was somewhat surprised and pleased.

The ideas have apparently had more impact on political discourse than I would have expected.

WILLIAM VOCKE: Do you see them having an impact not only on the way people talk about things, but the way people act? For instance, do you see more money being put into American soft power?

JOSEPH NYE: Yes and no. It's interesting that Robert Gates, when he was secretary of defense still in the Bush administration, gave a speech in Kansas City in 2007 pleading for more investment in soft power. You might think it's odd to have the secretary of defense pleading for more money for the State Department. But he said that's what we need for a successful strategy; we've got to invest more in soft power.

But if you look at the Congress and the general attitudes, it's a lot easier to get money for the defense budget than for the State Department. There was one account which dealt with a particular aid budget in the Defense Department budget where the Defense Department asked that it be shifted to state. When it was shifted to state, the congressional committee responsible cut the budget in half. It had nothing to do with the nature of the program—the Congress had been willing to fund it fully when it was in defense—but when it went to state they cut it in half.

Our political culture still hasn't caught up with smart power, and how to really integrate it. We use the words in the discourse, but in practice we have a political culture and a congressional culture which is willing to pour a lot of money into hard power and not very good at thinking about how to integrate soft power into the mix.

WILLIAM VOCKE: In the Defense Department they even, instead of using the term "soft power," use the term "strategic information" or "strategic communications" as kind of a way—

JOSEPH NYE: Yes, they do, though it's interesting that Bob Gates uses "soft power."

WILLIAM VOCKE: In the last piece of our discussion I'd like to come to something that is at the heart of the Carnegie Council's issue, which is ethics.

You wrote an influential book, a third major area you've had an impact on, Nuclear Ethics, and you wrote a great novel, The Power Game, which was about the corrupting aspects of power and the ethical conundrums that that presents.

Where does ethics fit in this whole discussion of multiple layers, a complex international community, and soft power combined with hard power to be smart power?

JOSEPH NYE: Morality is a power reality. People don't live by the sword alone; they also live by the word. As humans, we are guided by both, by what is in our interests but also by what is right.

It's not always might that makes right. Sometimes people do things that surprise us because of an ethical concern. People who burn themselves in protest against authoritarian unjust government, as we just saw recently in Tunisia, have an enormous impact in terms of a moral position.

Ethics is tremendously important. That's why the work of the Carnegie Council is so important, to get us to think carefully and rigorously about how we can introduce ethics into this.

When you have a moral position, it helps your soft power as a country. When you are not true to your moral position and you create hypocrisy, you undercut your soft power.

We can't always live as though it was a perfect world in which we could live ethically. We sometimes have to make hard choices. But it doesn't excuse us from thinking about ethics. We ought to know what we're doing if we make such choices.

The Power Game, a Washington novel, was an effort to explore that. I explored that in Nuclear Ethics in an academic sense. In The Power Game I wanted to explore it at the personal level.

The theme of the novel is that the CIA discovers that Pakistan is about to transfer nuclear weapons to Iran and they mount a covert operation to destroy it. Two friends in defense and in the State Department take different views on whether this is moral or right because it will lead to death of a third friend who was at college with them together who now works in Pakistan. They struggle for power as to should you promote to stop this operation and how do you weigh the death of a friend in a situation where you are thinking about the proliferation of nuclear weapons which could lead to the deaths of millions of people.

These are some of the core and hard questions of international politics. I felt that with using fiction I could explore that in a greater depth and in a more personal way than just by writing a book called Nuclear Ethics, though I like Nuclear Ethics.

It grew out of a case when I was working in the State Department doing nonproliferation work in the 1970s, where the secretary of state asked me to write him a private memo about whether we should use force or not. I said not, for rather pragmatic reasons. But I was left with this moral quandary, which is: What are the ethics of this?

WILLIAM VOCKE: The old dictum is that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Is that true? Does power corrupt?

JOSEPH NYE: Psychologists have run tests that too much power is corrupting. There's good empirical evidence.

In the last chapter of this new book, I use the analogy that power is like calories in your diet—too much is bad for you and too little is bad for you, and trying to get the balance right is difficult.

WILLIAM VOCKE: In that regard and in terms of an ethical approach, is there a distinction to be made between individual ethics and the ethics of a person in a responsible position in state or state ethics?

JOSEPH NYE: There is. It's hard, because when you are a leader of a state, you are a trustee for people. You might find that you have to do things as a trustee for the interests of people that you might find distasteful in your own personal ethical system.

I often explain this to my students by saying that when you're picking a roommate you want somebody who firmly believes "Thou shalt not kill." When you're picking a president, you might not want a pacifist.

There is a difference in the ethics of a statesman and the ethics of the individual. But we don't want to overdo that. We don't want to say that because you're running a state, that a man or a woman who is the head of a state has free license to do whatever they want. But it does make the problem of calculating their ethical duties more difficult than when we try to make decisions in our private lives.

WILLIAM VOCKE: Any last comments about where you think these issues are going in the future, where you think these concepts and this issue of ethics in international affairs is going in the next ten years?

JOSEPH NYE: What I argue in this book is that the 21st century is going to be profoundly shaped by this information revolution. More people have more information than at any time in history, and they can use that to do good or to do ill. Our job is to figure out how to combine hard and soft power into smart-power strategies that enable the good and discourage the bad.

WILLIAM VOCKE: With all of the caveats you've just given us about the role of power.

That's right. As I used the metaphor before, it's like walking a tightrope—you wobble and you've got to be careful not to fall off.

WILLIAM VOCKE: We've been talking to Dr. Joseph Nye, dean emeritus of the Kennedy School at Harvard; a member of two administrations and three major institutions, the National Security Council, State Department, Defense Department; and a prolific and noted author and commentator.

Dr. Nye, thank you for being with us today.

JOSEPH NYE: Thank you. I enjoyed it.

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