Smart Power and US Leadership: A Critique of Joseph Nye

Paul Cammack



Joseph Nye’s much reiterated insistence on the importance of ‘soft power’ is invariably deployed to support the argument that in the absence of a credible alternative the United States can and must lead in global affairs in the twenty-first century world. He has argued consistently over two decades, and continues to argue today, that the US remains unchallenged in terms of ‘hard’ power (military and economic strength combined), but that because hard power alone is insufficient it must be married to ‘power over opinion’ (the power to persuade others to want what the US wants). Recent formulations in terms of ‘smart power’ are partly presentational (‘smart’ being easier to sell to public and policy-makers alike than ‘soft’); at the same time, Nye uses the term ‘smart power’ to make the point that soft power must be backed by hard power. However, the argument has remained the same over two decades. His question, as put in the bipartisan 2007 CSIS Report A Smarter, More Secure America he co-chaired with Richard Armitage, is ‘How does America become the welcomed world leader for a constructive international agenda for the twenty-first century?’. His answer is that, in terms of style, it must learn to cooperate, and to listen; in terms of substance, it must ‘first ensure its national survival, but then focus on providing global public goods’. Underpinning this stance are two assumptions: that America (and America alone) can and should lead; and that American leaders can win domestic and international support for their leadership.



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