Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics (2004) is a book written by American political scientist Joseph Nye. Joseph Nye (aka Joseph S. Nye Jr.) was the former Dean of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. He first coined the term “soft power” (around 1990). In short, “soft power” refers to “a nation’s ability to attract and persuade.”
In the book, Nye defines “power” as “the ability to influence the behavior of others to get the outcomes one wants.” “Power” is a key concept in politics, (maybe) like “price” in economics.
According to Nye, there are essentially three types of power: 1) Military Power, 2) Economic Power, and 3) Soft Power.
1) Military Power: Coercion, threats, force…
2) Economic Power: Inducement, payments, sanctions, aid, bribes…
3) Soft Power: Attraction, agenda-setting, values, culture, policies, institutions, public diplomacy…
To explain, I thought of “military recruitment” as an example. If the ability to recruit is “power,” it could be exerted in three different ways:
1) Conscription (mandatory by law)
2) Higher pay/salary and more benefits (monetary compensation)
3) Make serving in the military “cool” (movies like Top Gun…)
At any rate, Nye goes on to discuss in great detail the sources of “soft power.” He lists three sources:
1) Culture: For instance, “high culture” – students having been educated in that country + “pop culture” – TV, movies, music, products, food from that country…
Of course, liking a culture does not, ipso facto, mean you “agree with” that country. As Nye points out, there have been anti-American dictators who were actually quite fond of Hollywood movies and so forth. I, too, can remember seeing some Korean students here participate in anti-American protests wearing JanSport bags and going to McDonald’s afterwards. Nevertheless, Nye comments, “popular entertainment often contains subliminal images and messages about individualism, consumer choice, and other values that have important political effects.”
2) Domestic Values and Policies: For instance, “…expressing its values in what it does as well as what is says.”
Every day, I see tweets (in English) about Korea. Now, everyone (in the world) is able to vigilantly monitor Korea’s every domestic value and policy. Even judgments/decisions rendered by Korean courts.
With regard to domestic values and policies, Nye argues that it’s vital to avoid “hypocrisy.” For instance, proclaiming to be “international,” while abruptly implementing very “uninternational” policies can easily turn people off. I remember some people would scoff at the slogan “Soul of Asia.”
Nye further adds that admiration does not necessarily lead to emulation. I agree. When Korean golfer Pak Se-ri won two LPGA majors in 1998 (her rookie year), she confessed (in an interview) she was once made to practice in the cemetery (by her father) as part of her training regimen. People can applaud, yet (at the same time) disagree with such an approach to life.
3) Foreign Policy (Substance and Style): For instance, “the values we express through the substance and style of our foreign policy.”
Last year, the Korean government sent relief troops/aid to the Philippines (to help out with the typhoon victims). I thought it was a great decision. At the time, I remember reading an official government tweet (modestly) saying how the relief being provided was not comparable to the troops/aid sent by the Philippines during the Korean War.
Today, I feel “civilians” (intentionally or not) cannot help but play an increasingly greater role in diplomacy. I remember watching a news report about how some Korean men have “second wives” in the Philippines and end up abandoning their illegitimate child/ren there. These kids are called “Kopinos.”
In a way, “soft power” is maybe a misnomer. As Nye points out, “soft power” can sometimes be more effective than “hard power.” It’s not “soft” at all. I think what Nye tries to convey is that we (more specifically the U.S.) need to recognize and use each type of power accordingly/appropriately (aka wisely).
Thanks for reading!