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Soft Power

Soft Power

When assessing the world’s rising powers, we often focus on the most evident forms of strength – military, economic and diplomatic. But, does a country’s soft power impact the global balance of power?

The term soft power was coined by Joseph S. Nye Jr., a professor at the Harvard Kennedy School (and rumored new United States Ambassador to Japan). Power is the ability to influence the actions of others and soft power is the power of attraction (as opposed to coercion or payment). Culture, moral and social values and legitimate policies provide countries with authority. A phrase popular in the new Obama administration is smart power, the balance of hard and soft capabilities.

Following the rise of anti-Americanism and disproportionate use of hard power, one might expect the soft power of the United States to be at an all-time low. Apparently not in Asia. A recent survey conducted by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs surprisingly found that the United States “is the region’s undisputed soft-power leader.” Thomas Wright from the Chicago Council commented that “the center of gravity in international politics is moving from the Atlantic to the Pacific. The United States is the leading source of soft power in Asia.” Despite China’s rise, the US outpolled the emerging giant in every country surveyed.

“The United States ranks first in terms of overall soft power in China, Japan, and South Korea, and  second (next to Japan) in Indonesia and Vietnam. All countries rank the United States above China in soft power.”

Chicago Council(And the study was completed before Barack Obama was elected president, so any increase in popularity following the voting was not detected.)

Of course different forms of power often go hand-in-hand. Economic resources buy military muscle and people are attracted to success. So, is soft power relevant when measuring global dominance? The debate continues…

Photo from China Photos/Getty Images.



David Kampf

David Kampf is a writer and researcher based in Washington, DC. He is also a columnist for Asia Chronicle. He analyzes international politics, foreign policy and economic development, and his pieces have appeared in various publications, including China Rights Forum, African Security Review and World Politics Review. Recently, he directed communications for the U.S. Agency for International Development and President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief in Rwanda. Prior to living in East Africa, he worked in China and studied in Brazil, India and South Africa.

Area of Focus
International Politics; Foreign Affairs; Economic Development