AMERICA AS A 'SOFT' HEGEMON? JOSEPH NYE ON THE EVOLUTION OF AMERICAN POWER
"I think the Americans, as the largest power, have to remain involved without falling into the trap of becoming the world's policemen and becoming over involved. And I think what that means is that there are certain key things that we need to do, because if we don't do them no one else will, and if nobody does them it will be a much more chaotic world. One of them is to maintain the overall balance of power. That means that American military power remains very important to stability in Europe, in Asia, in an area like the Persian Gulf where we still are dependent on oil supplies. And therefore the primary or first thing that America has to do is make sure that we have a stable balance. That's why we have 100,000 troops in Europe, 100,000 in Asia, about 20,000 in the Gulf, essentially because it is a stabilizing factor and we benefit from that stability.
The second thing we need to do is to help preserve an open international economy so that you have benefits that can flow from international economic transactions. There are lots of problems with this, it creates friction at home, it can create a number of difficulties, but I do believe that in the long run a liberal international economic trading system is better than one which becomes closed and protectionist. That's an important role.
A third thing I think the Americans need to do is act as the organizer of coalitions of the willing, of countries that can deal with serious issues as we did in the Gulf War. I think we need to, in that same context, provide support for international institutions. People complain about UN peacekeeping, but when you do something through the UN it means that 75 percent of the costs are being provided by others. It also means there's a legitimization of what we're doing. So we need to be the "organizer of the posse" or the supporter of the institutions by which countries can pull together to accomplish certain common purposes.
And then finally, I think we need to be the peacemaker and the country that tries to mediate the difficult conflicts, whether it be Northern Ireland or the Middle East or South Asia, because that again is a role that, because of our size and power, we're able to do. So those are the international roles.
I should add to that a fifth point which is that we still need to continue to act as a beacon at home. Our soft power, our appeal to other countries, depends very much on our maintaining an open, vibrant democracy and a successful economy at home. Sometimes people think, "Well, that's domestic policy. It has nothing to do with foreign policy." I would argue that you can't make that distinction, that our ability to run a good society at home is central to our position abroad".
Joseph Nye, 8 April 1998, in www.globetrotter.berkeley.edu
Josephy Nye, Jr., is without a doubt one of the most intelligent men to have ever held a post in the American government in the last fifty years. A graduate of Princeton, Oxford and Harvard, one of the key theorists in International Relations theory in the United States in the last fifty years, Nye is without a doubt at the heart of the American foreign policy establishment, such as it is. While no doubt, a true blue, Democrat, Nye is also someone who it can be accurately said, has always veered right of center in his views of foreign policy. As someone who (correctly) torpedoed, the Paul Kennedy school of 'declinism' in the late 1980's, as well as the coiner of the concept of 'soft power' (at the same time), Nye has proven himself time and again to be an astute observer and commentator on International affairs and American foreign policy. No doubt his two terms in office during the Carter and Clinton Administrations, helped Nye in this respect as well. Like many of his ilk, Nye has watched with less than enthusiasm, if not with the same degree of dislike &disdain, as say Zbigniew Brzezinski, the antics of the Bush regime as it relates to foreign policy. In his two books (titled respectively: 'The Changing Nature of American Power' and 'Soft Power') published in the last six years, Nye in a very sotto voce fashion, criticized the often overbearing and clumsy nature of American diplomacy in the Bush era. Which he (not surprisingly enough) viewed as a falling off from American diplomacy in the Clinton and Bush the Elder years. A common enough point of view, as any readers of this journal knows quite well.
Now, with the American Presidential elections upon us, in lo so many months hence, Nye has chosen to favor the American public with a new book on American's leadership in the contemporary world. Being a 'soft' (51% to 49% in his own words) supporter of Senator Clinton over her rival Senator Obama, for the Presidency, Nye no doubt views his upcoming book as a primer for the next Democratic Party, President. Although to be fair, given his age (71) it is highly unlikely that he views himself as being up to occupying high office in the future. A precis of this volume, has just come out in the journal Survival, which is published by the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies. The journal itself I can strongly recommend: it has articles by Sir Michael Howard, the Oxford historian, Hew Strachan, Colonel McMaster and David Calleo. Nye's aticle is titled: "Recovering American Leadership" (for a free pass to see the entire issue go to: www.informaworld.com) And, it is without a doubt an entirely depressing and predictable exercise. At least to this reader. This most intelligent of men, cannot for the life of him, avoid rehashing cliches and jejeune comments about International Affairs which to be honest have no more currency than the Divine Right of Kings. We are back to Nye's 1990 classic, "Bound to Lead," in which the USA is once again, the 'indispensible power' (Madelyn Albright), or as Nye puts it, the "predominant power," `a la the UK in the 19th century. Any emerging challengers (The EU, Russia or China ) are immediately knocked out of the box, with one swing of the Nye club. Indeed with Nye (just as for that matter with Senator McCain) one has the feeling, that one has gone back to TR and the 'big stick'. Of course this nostalgia for the pre-Bush, pre-Iraq debacle form of genteel, American, 'soft hegemony,' is of a piece with many in the Clinton Presidency in exile group. One heard much the same last evening at the Princeton Club from Strobe Talbott (see my prior journal entry for the specifics of Talbott's comments).
In his conclusion, Nye raises up for his readers the following scenario of the future shape of American power:
"the United States will continue to be in a position to provide leadership in managing global security in all its dimensions. But it will have to learn to work with other countries to share such leadership. That will require combining the soft power of attraction with hard power into a ‘smart-power’ strategy. The information revolution, technological change, and globalisation will not eliminate the nation-state, but they will continue to complicate world politics for all states. The paradox of American power in the twenty-first century is that the largest power cannot achieve its objectives by acting alone. Just as shared and participatory leadership is becoming more prevalent in managing modern organisations, so too will the international situation require more cooperative leadership".
In short, to utilize a vulgar expression from the world of the cinema, we are with Nye, quite literally 'back to the future,' where One hundred dollars for a barrel of oil, the Iraq debacle, Chinese and other foreign companies are buying up portions of American financial institutions, et cetera, are non-existent problems and, we can with the right (Democratic) leadership, go back to the halycon days of Clinton-Gore-Christoper-Albright, et cetera. May God Help us!