How Should the United States Wield Power in a Changing World?

Ideas in Action with Jim Glassman is a new half-hour weekly series on ideas and their consequences.

In his new book, Nye writes, "It is currently fashionable to predict a decline in the United States' power. But the United States is not in absolute decline, and in relative terms, there is reasonable probability that it will remain more powerful than any other state in the coming decades." Forty years ago Nye formulated the term "soft power" to describe diplomacy, communications and cultural influence as a force equal to and at times more desirable than the hard power of military dominance. Given the economic changes and the threat of terrorism in the world today, two eminent scholars debate the best way for the United States to wield its power now.

Transcript

JIM GLASSMAN:

Welcome to Ideas in Action a television series about ideas and their consequences. I'm Jim Glassman. This week: does the nature of power change? Should it? Great powers have always relied on hard power; might, machinery, and manpower. But does the new century with new challenges call for a strategic reboot? And will exercising power in a new way bolster America or diminish it? Joining me to explore this topic are; Joseph Nye, Harvard University Distinguished Service Professor, and the author of a new book, The Future of Power; and Robert Kagan, he's a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and a prolific author on foreign affairs including his last book, The Return of History and the End of Dreams. The topic this week: Power plays in the new century. Should the U.S. wield or yield?  This is Ideas in Action.

ANNOUNCER:

Funding for Ideas in Action is provided by Investor's Business Daily. Every stock market cycle is led by America's never ending stream of innovative new companies and inventions. Investor's Business Daily helps investors find these new leaders as they emerge. More information is available at Investors.com.

JIM GLASSMAN:

Joe Nye, in your new book you write, and I'm going to quote from The Future of Power, 'The ability to get the outcomes we want," meaning the U.S. wants, "will rest upon a new narrative of smart power." What is smart power?

JOSEPH NYE:

Smart power is the ability to combine both hard power, which is economic and military power, and soft power, which is the power of attraction and persuasion, and being able to put the two together is smart power.

JIM GLASSMAN:

And soft power is a term that you coined in your previous work.

JOSEPH NYE:

It's a term I developed in 1989 when I was trying to show why the United States wasn't in decline. And I wanted to show that in addition to military and economic strength we also had a strong ideological appeal, a strong attraction to other countries because of the nature of our culture and our values. And oddly enough an academic term it's now been used by Hu Jintao, the president of China, talks about China's need for soft power.

JIM GLASSMAN:

And China's very good at soft power but we'll get to that. So, Bob, do you agree? Do you think we should be wielding this kind of smart power?

ROBERT KAGAN:

No I think we should be wielding dumb power [laughs].

JIM GLASSMAN:

That's your next book.

ROBERT KAGAN:

Until Joe came up with smart power we've been wielding nothing but dumb power I'm sure. No of course we should be smart and of course Joe's right that there's no single element of influence, if you want to use that term, whether it's economic, political, ideological, religious, or military power that can get you what you want in the world and the United States I think has been tremendously successful, not just at the end of the Cold War but before because it had a whole variety of kinds of power and I think in some areas we've diminished that power and we have to see in the present international environment how our various levels of power are still operating.

JIM GLASSMAN:

So, where have we diminished?

ROBERT KAGAN:

Well clearly--there's no question that the reputation of the United States was damaged during the Bush years as a result of the Iraq war. I think a lot of people hope that with Barack Obama in office that the world would now be very excited about the United States. I don't think that there's a lot of evidence of that. But there's an interesting element to this whole hard power soft power issue, which is that soft power also derives from effective hard power. When you--when we were in the Cold War yeah people looked up to the United States but so many people also depended on the United States, that that was a big part of the attraction. I think when people feel they don't need the United States as much it's inevitable that some of that attraction fades.

JIM GLASSMAN:

And before we get to the--we talked about the adjectives but what about the noun? What is power anyway?

JOSEPH NYE:

Power is the ability to affect others to get what you want. You can basically do it three ways; you can threaten them with sticks, you can buy them with carrots, or you can attract them, and that's soft power.

JIM GLASSMAN:

You talk also in your book about new transnational challenges that the United States has to contend with. What are some of those transnational challenges?

JOSEPH NYE:

Well they're--a large number of them--international financial stability is a transnational challenge. Climate change is a transnational challenge. Pandemics, in which you can have Swine Flu spreading around the world is a transnational challenge. There are also ones that are embodied in groups, non-governmental groups like terrorism; Al Qaeda is a transnational actor. Indeed think you could even argue that a non-governmental actor killed more Americans on September 11th than the government of Japan did on 1941.

JIM GLASSMAN:

So do transnational challenges have to be met with transnational approaches?

JOSEHP NYE:

Well usually you need to get some cooperation--

JIM GLASSMAN:

--Or is it just one player?

 

JOSEPH NYE:

Sometimes you can do it alone but very often you need to get others to cooperate. For example if we wanted to do something on a pandemic, it's not enough just to close the borders we need to see what's happening to the public health systems in places like Cambodia, we also have to try to make sure the Chinese have a capacity to control what's going on. In other words, very often these transnational problems require cooperation among governments.

JIM GLASSMAN:

Do you believe by the way that these transnational challenges have increased? Have they always been with us? Is there kind of a shift in the kinds of challenges that the Untied States will be facing?

ROBERT KAGAN:

Well it's been--people have talked about these transnational challenges for a good 20 years now and I--and of course they exist but for me what is interesting is the degree to which some very sort of old fashioned traditional kinds of challenges have reemerged in the international system, the rise of China being an example of that. That's not really a new kind of transnational challenge and I think what we're seeing is competition in that traditional way gets in the way of handling some of these kinds of issues. It certainly affects international talks about climate change, Chinese for a whole host of reasons but some of which are strategic, are--don't have the same view of climate change and what to do about it as we do. So I'm finding that what--you know the increase of great power rivalry infects the dealing with these kinds of transnational issues.

JIM GLASSMAN:

And do you see any other kinds of shifts as far as the importance of soft power and hard power in the world today?

ROBERT KAGAN:

I think that we're going to be in an era where unfortunately--I say unfortunately because we would like to move to an era where soft power was all that matters but I think we're very much in an era where yes soft power is continuing to matter but military capacity's going to mean a great deal too. We are, whether we like it or not, whether we want to be or not, in an arms race with China right now and how we manage our hard power, which includes alliances but it also--a lot of those countries in the region Japan, South Korea, Australia, Southeast Asian nations, one thing they want to know is what do we have. What are our capacities in that region right now? Military capacities.

JIM GLASSMAN:

But you write in your book that essentially the United States is number one. I mean there's nobody--there's no one anywhere close really in the hard power game.

JOSEPH NYE:

I think the United States is the world's leading power and I think it's going to continue to be for another 20 years. It's ironic that right now when we have a downturn in the economy everybody thinks China's basically overtaking us. It's not true. I was in Beijing last week and talking to a variety of Chinese. There's a younger generation there, many of whom think that the U.S. is in decline and therefore China should press harder. I think that's a big mistake. I think the U.S is going to recover from this current economic downturn and you'll find that we're not only three times larger than China economically, six times richer. China's not going to equal us in per capita income for another 20 to 30 years.

JIM GLASSMAN:

But on the hard power side, it looks like almost everyone is abandoning the hard power field except perhaps for the Chinese and maybe the Russians and a few others. But, the Europeans for example, you know they're not a significant player in hard power at all.

JOSEPH NYE:

Well I think except for the China--the French and the British to some extent but I agree with Bob that we need to have a capable military and keep the position we have. I was struck by the importance of American military power as reassurance. If you go to Japan, to India, other countries in Asia, you'll see that the fact that the Americans have a military capacity is very important for how they decide to align themselves.

JIM GLASSMAN:

I also want to quote some more from your book. You write, "empowering others can help us to accomplish our own goals in this world. Networks and interconnectedness become an important source of relevant power." So when you say we should empower others to reach our own goals, what do you mean by that?

JOSEPH NYE:

Well let's take financial stability. If other countries don't have the capacity to manage their finances that can hurt us. Or take climate change, if others can't control the way their--let's say their carbon efficiency, of how their burning fuels as they develop, that hurts us. I was in India also recently and there it's very interesting. India is going to grow enormously but it's in our interest to have India have a greater capacity to use its coal less and to use carbon more efficiently. So those--that--so if we give them help so that they can be more efficient in the way they develop, less carbon intensive, that's good for us as well as good for them.

JIM GLASSMAN:

Do you, Bob, find this kind of discussion of soft power or transnational challenges kind of. I don't know, naïve? 

ROBERT KAGAN:

It's not naïve--

JIM GLASSMAN:

I'm not saying that you're naïve, I'm just saying that--Joe's the opposite of naïve. But there's certainly--you hear a lot of people using the term soft power in a way where they're--it's kind of well we don't really need the--a big military, we don't need to try to push other people around, we can do it only through persuasion.

ROBERT KAGAN:

I find that that was a very powerful meme maybe ten years ago and is less powerful now. I'm struck by--one of the things that I think people have seen in the Obama administration is yes we have a very attractive president, yes the United States is sort of trying to move away from things that people were upset about in the Bush administration but--and that's helped with some countries, it's helped with Europe, I think Europeans feel better about the United States. But on some of the really tough problems it hasn't helped at all. It really hasn't made life easier dealing with the Chinese, it really hasn't helped with the Iranians, and I think we're back to understanding--I mean I would say it's the resurgence of hard power, I would say soft power was a very dominant way of looking at the world, and Joe's always had a very subtle understanding of this, a lot of people who use the term don't use it so subtly, see it as a kind of substitute and that has never been Joe's point. But I would say we're probably in an era where people are understanding more than they used to. That--unfortunately military power is going to be a very important currency in the international system in the decades to come.

JIM GLASSMAN:

Joe, how would you describe the Obama administration's approach to the use of soft power? I mean it seemed to me, for example, that - they talked a lot about engagement, which didn't seem to have a particular strategic end in mind it was just that we're going to show up, we're nicer than the Bush people, they're going to like us and they're more apt to do what we want them to do.

JOSEPH NYE:

I think if you look at what Hilary Clinton said, that she is using smart power, which means using all the tools in your toolbox, it means you are using military power, economic power, and soft power, and you've got to blend these.

JIM GLASSMAN:

And that brings up some other foreign policy terms that we ought to talk about. One is realism. I mean there are some who viewed the Obama administration as being more of a--falling more into the realism school of foreign policy than the Bush administration, which was more driven by, I don't know, an ideological view of the world. Do you think that's true?

JOSEPH NYE:

Well I think any administration is a coalition of very disparate views and some people in the Bush administration who are highly ideological, some were very much realists, and I think the same is true in the Obama administration. I do think though that the--America's standing for democracy is an important aspect of our appeal. I think where Bob and I might disagree is how you do it. I mean I think the invasion of Iraq as a way to promote democracy was a strategic disaster. But I think the idea of standing for democracy and promoting democracy is absolutely essential for American foreign policy.

ROBERT KAGAN:

Let me just say that I didn't--we didn't invade Iraq to promote democracy that was kind of an ex post facto justification for when we couldn't find the weapons of mass destruction, and I don't believe in invading countries to promote democracy and the United States is by the way has almost never done that. But what we have done--and this was true during the Cold War and unfortunately it's true at different times throughout our history has tended to view sympathetic dictators, people who seem to be on our side, people like Putin who we want to try to do business with, as people we don't want to really give any hard time to and I think we make a mistake when we do that.

JIM GLASSMAN:

Let me give you maybe a less controversial example. What about Iran? Here--I have to say that I was in the Bush administration and the State Department and if the Green Revolution or uprising or whatever you want to call it had occurred during our administration I think we would have followed up with--at the very least with some pretty strong moral support but that--or other soft power type approaches to encourage a change in the behavior in the regime and that didn't--I don't think that happened during the Obama administration.

JOSEPH NYE:

Well I think one of the great questions is could you have seen a green revolution overthrowing Ahmadinejad and Khomeini. I don't think that was about to happen. So I don't think that Obama--I think the Obama administration said things in favor of the Green Revolution but I think what they've tried to do in the strategy with Iran has a lot more to do with hard power. It's getting sanctions, which essentially are affecting Iran, it's now we see disclosed in the front page of the New York Times is using cyber instruments to try to interfere with their nuclear enrichment program. I think these in the mix of hard and soft power, soft power might help with another generation in Iran, but right now with the people who have control, I think you probably have to use hard power.

JIM GLASSMAN:

What do you think about that? Are there places to use soft power in Iran?

ROBERT KAGAN:

Yeah I think--

JIM GLASSMAN:

If our aim is to stop the Iranians from getting nuclear weapons for example.

ROBERT KAGAN:

Well that's a different issue actually. I think that--my personal view is regardless of whether they're--whether we're stopping them or not stopping then we ought to be supporting these more moderate, these more, some of them more liberal political forces in Iran because that's where Iran is eventually going. Iran is a highly educated society. I think most people in Iran would like to be part of the west and they really have this fanatical group in charge and we would be on the right side of history if we supported that kind of change in Iran. Do we know exactly what button to push with the Green Movement? Of course we don't. But I think that the Obama administration unfortunately made a strategic decision that what they were really aiming for when that election occurred and there was the uprising of the Green Movement, they were still very much in the mode of trying to get a deal with the existing regime. I think if they had it to do over again, knowing what they know now they would of done more for the Green Movement. Whether it would have toppled the regime, whether it would have weakened the regime-- the funny thing is we never have any way of knowing. As people often point out, who in 1979 would have predicted the fall of the Soviet Union ten years later? I mean we don't always know. That's why it's always better, from my point of view, to just sort of go with what we think is the right thing to do.

JIM GLASSMAN:

But that was-- your point is that it was the Obama administration's strategy-- it appeared anyway the strategy was we want to negotiate with these guys, we want to engage with them, and if we support the Green Movement that's going to sort of throw a monkey wrench into that engagement.

ROBERT KAGAN:

Right and nobody was ready for that-- that election result and the way the people responded to that election result and I think the Obama administration was caught off guard because-- this is true of any administration, you lock into one strategy and you're often too slow to realize that something's happened that's changed the situation and I think that's what happened in this administration.

JOSEPH NYE:

I think what Obama administration did was put a priority on making sure Iran didn't go nuclear-- nuclear weapons. And I think that was-- they were looking for both a bigger carrot and a bigger stick to try to get the regime to the deal. I don't think that's best-- I mean engagement is a slogan but I think what they were doing is actually quite a shrewd strategy of surrounding Iran with others including the security council resolution of sanctions, to try to create incentives-- that's hard power that's not soft power. But I think what Bob's right about is that there is generational change in Iran, we want to be on the right side of that generational change and how do you balance these things? In foreign policy you're always facing trade offs and I think in this case they had prioritized the nuclear issue and weren't quite as ready for the generational change.

ROBERT KAGAN:

And it's an interesting moment now because if it's true that Stuxnet or whatever other measures have slowed down the Iranian nuclear which means-- I mean one of the arguments against worrying about trying to help the Green Movement is--

JIM GLASSMAN:

Stuxnet is the worm that got into the Iranian nuclear system--

ROBERT KAGAN:

Seems to have slowed down or messed up their development. I mean one of the arguments always against trying to support any kind of democratic opening in Iran was the clocking is ticking, you know, they'll get a bomb long before we can do anything. Well maybe we've bought three or four more years and what I fear is that we'll now waste those years too. And by the way I have to correct you, the Bush administration did precious little to support the Iranian opposition during those years because they also ironically were fixated on trying to find someway of-- they were fixated on the nuclear program--

JIM GLASSMAN:

No I didn't say we did. I think-- just a guess--

ROBERT KAGAN:

Maybe they would have responded differently.

JIM GLASSMAN:

Right. If the Green Movement had arisen.

ROBERT KAGAN:

Yeah.

JIM GLASSMAN:

I also-- you mentioned being on the right side of history. What about Arab countries? I mean are we not doing enough to be on the right side of history there?

ROBERT KAGAN:

We have for 40 years or more sought stability in the region and that has meant supporting these autocrats. And you could even say ok maybe for those 40 years that was the right strategy. That stability now is elusory. These regimes are going to fall and we face a classic problem of the kind that we also faced in the Cold War, what are they going to fall to? Are they going to fall to more moderate forces or are they going to fall to more radical forces? We have a direct interest in how that happens.

JIM GLASSMAN:

So Joe, how would you apply your smart power prism to the Arab-- to Arab nations?

JOSEPH NYE:

Well I would draw an analogy to the Cold War where we had hard military power to deter the Soviets from invading Europe but we used culture and values to eat away the belief in communism behind the iron curtain. That combination was smart power. We have to be concerned about some degree of stability in the region. That means that there is a foreign policy interest of that sort. We also, though, want to use our values and ideas to try to bring about change over the longer term. I think it's interesting on Tunisia for example, that if you look at the WikiLeaks cables the American diplomats actually were behind the scenes quietly saying, you know, you really should be opening up, you should be liberalizing. And I think the interesting thing about WikiLeaks is that sometimes it's not what we're saying in our broadcasts but what we're saying behind the scenes and American diplomats in the last few years have been saying to repress the regimes you've got to open up, you've got to change this. So it's not as though we were totally cynical of being down the line supporters. We were in fact quietly saying you've got to have some change.

JIM GLASSMAN:

Right but of course-- but the people who might produce some of that change and even develop institutions of civil society would like to get the moral support from having the United States be public about it.

JOSEPH NYE:

So you're always balancing a set of things in foreign policy.

ROBERT KAGAN:

And you have to make the right move at the critical moment and sometimes you have to wait for things to ripen.

JIM GLASSMAN:

One other country I wanted to talk about; North Korea. How would smart pow-- what's the smartest way to apply smart power in North Korea?

ROBERT KAGAN:

Well he's the smart power guy you ask him. I'm the dumb power guy remember? [Laughs]

JOSEPH NYE:

I think the North Koreans are one of the really paradoxical countries in the sense that they're a left over Stalinist regime but the threat of their collapse gives them what's called the power of weakness-- so if you owe a bank, you know, 100 dollars, the bank has you in its power, if you owe the bank a billion dollars you have power over the bank. North Korea has that kind of power over China. China's so afraid of North Korea collapsing that it doesn't use the hard power it has which would be to cut off their food and fuel supplies. Basically we don't have that much power over North Korea. The Chinese have some and what we've been trying to do is persuade the Chinese use what you've got and the Chinese are very reluctant to use it because they're afraid of collapse on their border.

ROBERT KAGAN:

And they're afraid of a unified Korean peninsula that is united-- that's closer to the United States than to China. I mean here's a classic case where what ought to be a kind of transnational problem, it's a nonproliferation issue, I'm sure the Chinese would rather not have North Korea brandishing nuclear weapons as much as we wouldn't but the great power rivalry now comes into play and the Chinese simply do not have the same set of interests in North Korea that we do when it comes to great power rivalry and they're faced with a real dilemma. The scarier North Korea is, the more military power you see of the United States in the region, the closer the military links between the United States and Japan and South Korea, that's not in China's interest. And I think right now instead of addressing the Korea problem they're going to decide that they just need to get a lot stronger with-- in relation to us and that's why we're-- that's why I think this is fueling this increasing tension.

JIM GLASSMAN:

I want to read a quote from each of you and get you to comment. Joe near the end of Obama's first year in power you wrote that this, "timidity", your word, "was a foreign policy virtue." You also said that, "his conciliatory approach has been a good approach on foreign policy." And Bob you summed up Obama's first year as quote, "if there's one thing that 2009 confirmed it is that the United States under Barack Obama remains a martial nation."   So in one sense timidity-- martial, timidity--

JOSEPH NYE:

I think we're both right. The word timidity is perhaps a little-- it was partly tongue and cheek. What I was saying is that going at a number of issues with a-- if you want a velvet glove in which there was a hard hand was probably more successful than some of the early statements of the Bush administration in which there was no velvet glove. So I think that's what was behind my terminology. But I don't-- I think there's not a lot of difference about the feeling that you needed both a strong military and you also needed a somewhat more conciliatory approach in public diplomacy.

JIM GLASSMAN:

And why is the United States a martial nation?

ROBERT KAGAN:

It's deeply imbedded in our character and it goes back I think all through our history. You know, if you think about the greatest moments in American history, the revolution, the Civil War, World War I, World War II, those stand out and I think if-- I lived in Europe for six years so I know what it's like to live in countries that are not martial, and it's a very striking difference and what-- one of the reasons I wrote that was to sort of annoy and shock people because I think many people assumed, especially in Europe, that with Barack Obama we were now going to have a European America--

JIM GLASSMAN:

Right. A European president of America.

ROBERT KAGAN:

And I must say I spent a lot of time warning them that that was not going to be true. That the election of Barack Obama was not going to change fundamentally the American character and I think now people have seen that that's the case.

JIM GLASSMAN:

Good. Thank you Bob Kagan and thank you Joe Nye.

JOSEPH NYE:

Thank you.

JIM GLASSMAN:

And that's it for this week's Ideas in Action. I'm Jim Glassman, thanks for watching. Keep in mind that you can watch Ideas in Action whenever and wherever you want. To watch highlights or complete programs just go to ideasinactiontv.com or download a podcast from the iTunes store. Ideas in Action because ideas have consequences.

ANNOUNCER:

For more information visit us at ideasinactiontv.com. Funding for Ideas in Action is provided by Investor's Business Daily. Every stock market cycle is led by America's never ending stream of innovative new companies and inventions. Investor's Business Daily helps investors find these new leaders as they emerge. More information is available at Investors.com. This program is a production of Grace Creek Media and the George W. Bush Institute, which are solely responsible for its content.


Leave a comment

Featured Guests

Robert Kagan

Brookings Institution

Robert Kagan is an expert and frequent commentator on U.S. national security, foreign policy and U.S.-European relations. He writes a monthly column on world affairs for the Washington Post and is a contributing editor at the Weekly Standard and the New Republic.

Prior to Brookings, Kagan spent 13 years as a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. From 1984 to 1988, he served as a member of the State Department’s Office of Policy Planning, as principal speechwriter for Secretary of State George Shultz, and as deputy for policy in the Bureau of Inter-American Affairs.

Kagan is a prolific author on U.S. foreign policy issues. His most recent book is The Return of History and the End of Dreams (Knopf, 2008). His previous book, Dangerous Nation: America’s Place in the World from its Earliest Days to the Dawn of the 20th Century, (Knopf, 2006) was the winner of the 2008 Lepgold Prize and a 2007 Finalist for the Lionel Gelber Prize. His book, Of Paradise and Power (Knopf, 2003), was a New York Times bestseller, and a bestseller in the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands, and Canada.

On more then one occasion, Kagan has been named one of Foreign Policy magazine's "Top 100 Global Thinkers."

Joseph Nye

Author of “The Future of Power”

Joseph S. Nye, Jr. is Dean Emeritus of the Kennedy School, Sultan of Oman Professor of International Relations, and a member of the Belfer Center Board of Directors. He joined the Harvard Faculty in 1964 and has served as Director of the Center for International Affairs, Dillon Professor of International Affairs, and Associate Dean of Arts and Sciences at Harvard University. From 1977 to 1979 he served as Deputy to the Undersecretary of State for Security Assistance, Science and Technology and chaired the National Security Council Group on Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons. In 1993 and 1994 he was chairman of the National Intelligence Council, which coordinates intelligence estimates for the President. In 1994 and 1995 he served as Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs. In all three agencies, he received distinguished service awards.

Dr. Nye is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Academy of Diplomacy and a member of the Executive Committee on the Trilateral Commission. He has served as Director of the Aspen Strategy Group, Director of the Institute for East-West Security Studies, Director of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, the American representative on the United Nations Advisory Committee on Disarmament Affairs, and a member of the Advisory Committee of the Institute of International Economics. Dr. Nye received his bachelor's degree summa cum laude from Princeton University in 1958. He was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University and earned a Ph.D. in political science from Harvard University. In addition to teaching at Harvard, Dr. Nye has also taught for brief periods in Geneva, Ottawa, and London. He has lived for extended periods in Europe, East Africa, and Central America.

Episode Clips