Summary: The Bush administration may dismiss the relevance of soft power, but it does so at great peril. Success in the war on terrorism depends on Washington's capacity to persuade others without force, and that capacity is in dangerous decline.
Joseph S. Nye, Jr., is former Assistant Secretary of Defense and Dean of Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government. He is author of Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics.
Anti-Americanism has increased in recent years, and the United States' soft power -- its ability to attract others by the legitimacy of U.S. policies and the values that underlie them -- is in decline as a result. According to Gallup International polls, pluralities in 29 countries say that Washington's policies have had a negative effect on their view of the United States. A Eurobarometer poll found that a majority of Europeans believes that Washington has hindered efforts to fight global poverty, protect the environment, and maintain peace. Such attitudes undercut soft power, reducing the ability of the United States to achieve its goals without resorting to coercion or payment.
Skeptics of soft power (Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld professes not even to understand the term) claim that popularity is ephemeral and should not guide foreign policy. The United States, they assert, is strong enough to do as it wishes with or without the world's approval and should simply accept that others will envy and resent it. The world's only superpower does not need permanent allies; the issues should determine the coalitions, not vice-versa, according to Rumsfeld.
BALANCE OF NYE ARTICLE / FOREIGN AFFAIRS MAGAZINE