Foreign Policy Blogs

Making America a "Smarter" Power

Harvard professor Joseph Nye and former Assistant Secretary of State Richard Armitage
briefed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week on their Smart Power initiative.

Joe Nye has been writing about smart power and its earlier version soft power since The “smart power” concept was first introduced to the Senate Foreign Relations committee by Admiral Leighton Smith and General Tony Zinni back in March. The purpose of this particular hearing was to give Congress an executable plan for “modernizing our civilian tools of national power and increase the emphasis of these tools in our global strategy.”

In a nutshell, they told the Senators, smart power is based on the three main principles:

-First, America's standing in the world matters to our security and prosperity.

-Second, today's challenges can only be addressed with capable and willing allies and partners.

-Third, civilian tools can increase the legitimacy, effectiveness, and sustainability of U.S. Government policies.

Nye and Armitage go on to explain: “Smart Power is a framework for guiding the development of an integrated strategy, resource base and tool kit to achieve U.S. objectives, drawing on both hard and soft power. It underscores the necessity of a strong military, but also invests heavily in alliances, partnerships, and institutions at all levels to expand American influence and establish the legitimacy of American action.

The United States can become a smarter power by investing in the global good‚ providing services and polices that people and governments want but cannot attain in the absence of American leadership. This means support for international institutions, aligning our country with international development, promoting public health, increasing interactions of our civil society with others, maintaining an open international economy, and dealing seriously with climate change and energy insecurity.”

The pair emphasized that while the US military plays a vital role in implementing soft power, its civilian services do not have the resources to perform the functions vital to soft power.

“The U.S. Government is still struggling to develop its soft power instruments outside of the military. Civilian institutions are not staffed or resourced properly, especially for extraordinary missions. Civilian tools are neglected in part because of the difficulty of demonstrating their short-term impact on critical challenges. Stovepiped institutional cultures inhibit joint action There is little capacity for making tradeoffs at a strategic level. The United States spends about 500 times more on the military than we do on broadcasting and exchanges. How would we know if this is the right proportion, and how would we go about making tradeoffs?”

They step back and make an important point about the bigger picture: “Distinguished Members of the Committee, we developed Smart Power in large part as a reaction to the global war on terror, a concept that we consider to be wrongheaded as an organizing premise of U.S. foreign policy. America is too great of a nation to allow our central narrative and purpose to be held captive to so narrow an idea as defeating al Qaeda. We were twice victimized by September 11‚ first by the attackers, and then by our own hands when we lost our national confidence and optimism and began to see the world only through the lens of terrorism.”

“When our words do not match our actions, we demean our character and moral standing and diminish our influence. We cannot lecture others about democracy while we back dictators. We cannot denounce torture and waterboarding in other countries and condone it at home. We cannot allow Guantanamo Bay or Abu Ghraib to become symbols of American power.”

They conclude with a ten-point implementation plan, some of whose highlights include: creating a cabinet-level position for global development, encouraging greater effectiveness for U.S. public diplomacy, and providing more training and professional development for civilian agencies. This testimony is an important call for reforming America's approach to global leadership that I hope Members of Congress will heed.



Melinda Brouwer

Melinda Brower holds a Masters degree in Global Politics from the London School of Economics and Political Science. She received her bachelor's degree in Political Science and Spanish at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She received a graduate diploma in International Relations from the University of Chile during her tenure as a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar. She has worked on Capitol Hill, at the State Department, for Foreign Policy magazine and the American Academy of Diplomacy. She presently works for an internationally focused non-profit research organization in Washington, DC.