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We all know what "hard" power is: You can make someone do whatever you want them to do . . . either by coercion or by intimidation backed up by the potential for coercion. What is "soft" power? That's the subject that Kennedy School dean Joseph S. Nye, Jr. explores in this interesting book.
Dean Nye originally coined the term "soft power" so he's a good person to develop the concept. He sees government power coming from three sources: Military power; economic power; and soft power. Military power is all bout coercion, deterrence and protection through threats and force. Government pursues this path through war, coercive diplomacy, and alliances. Economic power is the carrot and the stick enforced through payments and sanctions. Payments take the form of aid and bribes, and sanctions can be anything from boycotts to interdictions.
Soft power looks at the other hand from the gloved fist: Attraction and agenda setting. Countries use their values, culture, policies and institutions to make inroads as applied through various forms of diplomacy.
These themes are explored in the context of the Cold War, the policies of the Clinton and two Bush administrations, and the war on terror. In making his arguments, Dean Nye addresses philosophical arguments made by conservative and neo-conservative thinkers who favor the fist in all situations (including unilateral action), and provides examples of what has and has not worked.
Dean Nye's basic point is that a country should use both its hard and its soft power to obtain the best results. He analyzes what this means for the major countries in the world in specifics (the choices for Finland are a lot different than for the United States or Japan).
Of particular relevance for the current moment is the data he provides on the costly erosion in soft power that the war on terror and the invasion of Iraq have created for the United States. People still like the United States outside of the U.S. but most of them don't trust us any more . . . and they like us a lot less than they did two years ago. They often don't feel that we ever consider their interests. The problem is most severe in the Muslim world. Dean Nye points out that these problems are as bad as they were at the worst of the Vietnam quagmire, but that we can recover. He argues persuasively for reinstating more people-to-people contacts, operating from democratic principles in dealing with all other countries, developing alliances and consensus before taking military and economic action, and sharing all parts of our culture with the citizens of other countries through "open" exchanges.
Those who are appalled by the Iraq war will be very attracted by this book. It provides concrete suggestions to the alternative of just working with the United Nations when problems arise and hoping that all will be well. Those who think we did the right thing with our invasion will hate this book a lot.
Regardless of your stance on Iraq, I hope that both presidential candidates will heed the lessons of this book. We've gotten away from what helped us be successful in the Cold War. Those lessons need to be reapplied today to meet the new global challenges.
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VINE VOICEon 27 April 2008
This book is a very important analysis of soft power. Soft power is a loose term whereby a country improves its reputation and ability to persuade others by its actions and principles, rather than its overt and covert threats to bully others.

The author argues that power exists on three dimensions - military, economic and cultural. The author argues that America is the unrivalled master of "hard" power as the world's only military super power. But on the soft power dimensions of trade/economy and popular culture, America is nowhere near as all triumphant. The author feels that America must pay attention to developing its soft power if it is to remain dominant, and not have to rely on its hard power. Given the difficulties in Iraq, America more than ever needs to cultivate its soft power, which the author feels is well within America's capability.

There is also an interesting analysis of the history of soft power, such as when the USSR used ballet tours to promote Soviet/communist culture in the West, and America's use of jazz music on Radio Free Europe broadcasts into the Iron Curtain. The fact that soft power initiatives can sometimes have multiple and contradictory affects it also examined. For example, a Hollywood film in Iran may make young people like America more, but may make Iran's ruling mullahs hate it more.

All in all, this book is the definitive work on the subject of soft power. This is a must read for anyone interested in politics, current affairs or diplomacy.
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on 21 December 2007
I like this book and certainly rate it but I am a harsh scorer, hence the 3 which might seem low to others.

I think the ideas contained in the book are very good ones and should certainly be heeded by western governments if they are to avoid finding the political environment of the mid twenty-first century much less well disposed towards them than the current one (and the current environment is not brilliant).

Mr Nye is clearly a clever man who has considered the issue of soft power (getting other countries to do what you want them to (or at least not hinder you doing things) because they are attracted to your culture and values) in depth and has come up with very interesting points to consider. He makes the point that governments can often give out messages that are contradictory and quickly lose the goodwill they have earnt with foreigners over a long period by ill-thought out actions. This point is well worth considering in light of the current problematic policies being adopted in the Middle East by western governments. The issue will become even more problematic given western governments' propensity to grow.

The two criticisms I have are (1) there is a large reliance placed in opinion polls and as we know statictics can be found that will support most arguments, and (2) some of the early part of the book is quite theroetical (but admittedly this improves later and the book becomes more practical and interesting).

Definitely worth reading, especially as it is only about 150 pages long.
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on 9 May 2011
So smooth, so fluent... Once you start, not easy to leave the book on the table and turn back. Great explanations with simple words; repetitive in some parts, but an amazing source to understand the "Soft power", and its power on the nations. Criticizes the Bush administration freely. Some explanations and opinions are just breathtaking and unbelievable.
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on 10 January 2014
amazon really does have wide range of titles, thought we would have to order from local academic bookshop and not get in time for school use
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on 13 August 2015
Very good condition
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