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Joseph Nye on power & American diplomacy

How we can understand what power is and how it fits into American diplomacy: “Smart Power,” Hilary Clinton, Sayyed Ali Khamenei, Hu Jintao, President Obama. Nick Burns, professor at Harvard Kennedy School in conversation with professor and author of The Future of Power Joseph Nye.

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Video transcript

I'm Nick burns professor at Harvard Kennedy School here with my colleague at the Kennedy School Joan I Joe is a noted author the American intellectual who was once Dean of the Kennedy School has been a professor there for a very long time but also served in government has had experienced both at the national intelligence council as its director and his assistant secretary of defense serves on advisory bodies to the US government and today we're going to talk about how American diplomacy works specifically about the toolbox so what are the tools that we have to make American foreign policy successful and about power and about how various presidents have exercised power on behalf of the American people first lesson Joe you've written a book about the future of power and the Kennedy School we talked about the fact that countries have political influence that's power they have military power they have economic power and weight and they also have soft power how do you see power fitting into the American concept of diplomacy well power is the ability to affect others to get the things you want you can do that three ways you can do it with coercion sticks you can do with payments carrots or you can do it with attraction of getting others to want what you want in that sense power is an essential part of a toolbox for diplomacy you have to use all three dimensions of power hard and soft power are two aspects of the same thing they approach to the getting what you want in international affairs in this case the United States of course is the country without any question with the greatest too much power in the world in fact of each of those dimensions that i mentioned political military economic your concept and you were the one who originated this of smart power soft power I wonder if you could talk about those various elements and from your perspective what are the most important for the younger generation of Americans to think about well I country's power rests on its military obviously if in terms of hard power also rests on its economy and it rests on its I he is an attractiveness to others and the United States is pretty well equipped in all three many people now think that china is going to pass the United States I've just written a book called is the American Century over in which I say that china is not likely to pass the United States in those three dimensions of power over the next quarter century or so but for the United States and China make people often compare the size of the economies and they say well that's shows that china is catching up in terms of economic size there for China's more powerful but that neglects the other two dimensions of power military power where the Americans spend four times what China's bend and soft power where despite China's major efforts to increase its attractiveness to others it has some drawbacks and problems which have limited that and so public opinion polls in Asia or in Europe would show you that the United States has a lot more soft power than China so this term soft power Hillary Clinton has talked about soft power is smart power it's become a major feature around the world in describing a particular type of power how did you come about that originating that term and how did you develop your thinking on that well I was trying to write a book in the early 1990s and guess who is exactly nineteen ninety about why I didn't think the United States was in decline my friend Paul Kennedy's book the rise and fall of great powers had done extremely well on making the bestseller list but I didn't agree with his conclusions that the United States was going the way over over Philip the second Spain so forth so I more or less totaled up American military power and then I totaled up American economic power and I said that there's still something missing which is the ability of the United States to attract others and I called that soft power so for a young person listening to this soft power could be the power of the iphone well it could be the ideas that come over the I phone it could also be the the attraction of the given country because of its success I mean China has a certain amount of soft power that comes just from its extraordinary economic success where it's raised hundreds of millions of people out of poverty so China's ideas which are usually authoritarian and tight censorship often fail to attract China's success does attract all countries have soft power their 195 countries in the UN General Assembly all have a VIP well one degree or another a soft foul they can try remember soft power is in the eye of the beholder so with hard power it doesn't matter what is in the mind of the other side of you invade them or shoot them since I wasn't matter what they're thinking but if you're trying to attract them matters very much what they're thinking and in that sense you can take a country like Iran where you have the mullahs the ruling theocracy who look at an American film a Hollywood film which shows young women going to law school or going to the beach wearing a bikini and they say this is terrible this is the Great Satan but if you show that same film the privacy of a teenager's house in Tehran it's extremely attractive and that's why you see a considerable difference between the attitude of some of the older folks in Iran toward the United States and the younger generation so as the United States is our presidents and secretaries of state interact with the rest of the world this is a part of the influence that we have it's an important part and it's something that we are costs neglected times for example if you look at the invasion of Iraq 2000 and 3000 3 we relied very heavily on our hard power and it didn't take very long just a few weeks to topple Saddam Hussein's regime but in terms of winning the mines and attracting others in the region it didn't work we had a hard slog on our hands in Iraq also if you look at public opinion polls when the United States invaded Iraq without a resolution from the united states united nations to give it legitimacy public opinion polls show that us attractiveness in europe went down about 20 or 30 points per country these among countries that are relatively sympathetic to us some of our NATO allies very many Germany or France yes yeah when Hillary Clinton now running for president was Secretary of State she said this sounds right to me she said it's smart and she called it smart power in her speech in New York when she announced her candidacy she actually used this phrase again you must feel pretty good about that well I can say you should feel good about that well I I used the term smart power to refer to the ability to combine hard and soft power right so instead of defeating each other they reinforce each other complimentary complement each other so I was pleased that Hillary Clinton used it but I was probably even more surprised when who Jintao then the president of China told the 17th Chinese Communist Party conference in 2007 that China needed to invest more in soft power then I thought well that's actually a smart power strategy you're a country that's growing mightily in your hard power economic and military you're likely to frighten your neighbors and what do they do if they're frightened they form coalition's to protect themselves against you but if you can at the same time increase your soft power so that you're attractive to them they're less frightened and those coalition's to protect themselves are less effective so in that sense the Chinese Communist Party policy of trying to invest billions of dollars in soft power was an aspect of smart power combining hard and soft power the problem is they haven't been able to do it very well right partly because the Chinese think that governments produce soft power a lot of the soft power of a country comes from civil society you could argue that war of American soft power from our universities our foundations like the bill and melinda gates foundation from hollywood from our popular culture then come from The Voice of America or the particular formal government apparatus and of course me you're absolutely right and of course the problem of the Chinese right now in 2015 is that while they want to be attractive as a culture and country to the rest of the world they're picking some fights with their neighbors in the south and east china sea and that's what those people see they see Chinese warships they see Chinese assertiveness that's right you notice that china sets up a Confucius Institute which is a way to teach people about the attractiveness and there really is attractiveness to traditional Chinese culture so you set up a Confucius Institute in vanilla the capital of the Philippines but at the same time Chinese naval ships we're chasing Philippine fishing boats out of Scarborough grief which are there Scarborough Shoal which is a reef close to the Philippines but which China contends is theirs well if you do that you're not going to have much luck with your Confucius Institute try to make yourself look attractive because of traditional culture so that's a case where they were unable to combine the soft power with the hard power and the two canceled each other out right what this is such an interesting subject and you're so closely identified with it you're the author of it one more question President Obama came into office in 2009 very consciously saying we need to show a different side of America to the rest of the world and he emphasized conflict resolution he'd be willing to talk to difficult governments like Iran and Cuba and he's done that has that enabled the United States to use our soft power more effective leading to showcase that aspect of our society well I think President Obama deliberately was reacting against the overuse of hard power by President Bush his predecessor and he made a major effort to increase them use of soft power and come buying them into smart power I think it works in some areas but not on others when you're faced with something like al-qaeda or you're faced with ISIL the Islamic state in the Middle East using force or when you're looking at the collapse of Iraq hard power plays important role it doesn't mean that soft power is important after all the video and YouTube videos that something like the Islamic state puts out our desert are designed to attract a certain set of people who can be recruited to their cause we have to be able to attract those people away from that have an alternative message but I would say that that President Obama's policies have been more effective in Asia where for example the United States is broadly attractive than in the Middle East where there are many problems policy problems where we're at on at odds with some of the local people but in addition to that where there's a role of violence which is probably greater than you have in some other regions thank you very much thank you