Critical Analysis on “Soft Power and [Global] Politics” II

[Continued from Part I]

First Subtheme: “Soft Power is Cultural Power” 

Partly, Power is the ability to alter the behavior of others to get what you want. … basically three ways to do that: coercion (sticks), payments (carrots), and attraction (soft power). … the fact that a foreign drinks Coca-Cola or wears a Michael Jordan T-shirt does not in itself mean that America has power over him. … Whether power resources produce a favorable outcome depends upon the context. … Having a larger tank army may produce military victory if a battle is fought in the desert, but not if it is fought in swampy jungles such as Vietnam. … Consider Iran. Western music and videos are anathema to the ruling mullahs, but attractive to many of the younger generation to whom they [Western music and videos, i.e., films] transmit ideas of freedom and choice. American culture produces soft power among some Iranians, ….”[22] 

What Nyes’ First Subtheme basically argues about is as follows: 1) In order to “get what America wants, alter other’s behavior by any means (both soft and hard) necessary”; 2) Power resources, both soft and hard, can “produce what America favorably prefers”; 3) American/Western “cultures such as Coca-Cola, Michael Jordan T-shirt, music and films, etc., have power over other countries like Vietnam and Iran, particularly ideas of freedom and choice to the young generation.” 

First, in order to “get what America wants by altering other’s behaviors,” Nye recommends policymakers should apply more so-called tactically “attractive, smart and soft” methods, means, and approaches rather than traditionally “coercive” military (“sticks”) methods only. His strategic intentions of soft power concept seems further get clearer when he mentions countries like Vietnam and Iran in order to substantiate his arguments. 

Thus, core strategic reasons behind Nye’s conceptualization of “soft power” seem not much different from that of the America’s past at all. For Nye’s conceptual arguments seem explicitly reveal how to successfully carry out America’s hegemonic strategies in the world.

According to that logic, he recommends America’s strategic goals with soft approaches at times (rather than the hard power-only methods) can be effectively carried out in order to get far better results and deal with rapidly changing global politics better as well. 

Indeed, according to Nye’s one of the most recent articles on the said-concept in 2006, it seems very much conclusive his whole soft power arguments mostly focused only how to achieve, maintain and protect America’s strategic goals and interests by any (both soft and hard) means necessary![23]

In order to make that ends meet effectively, those tactical methods or means, according to Nye, should be designed with “attractive, smart or soft” manners.

Therefore, it can be also said, if necessary, those tactically “attractive, smart and soft” methods can be further used to confuse, disguise, deceive thereby eventually disarm “America’s enemies.”[24] It seems it’s hardly true if those America’s strategic intentions are particularly not true to America’s two most competitive global powers like China and Russia.

Of course, it’s also hardly true if America’s soft power, whatever that may be, does not intend eventually to alter their behaviors in terms of their cultural acquiescence or co-option and acculturation.  

But, strategically far more importantly, if that acculturation (specifically meaning, as Nye lists, admire, buy, or choose America’s goods, fast foods, music, Hollywood films, T-shirts, etc.) through “popular American culture” has been already processed so much in any nations, then it’s also not true if those societies might have not been already by and large co-opted to the American way of thinking, i.e., American way of life! Many seriously argue if it’s not what a top America’s strategist has really intended to do with his conceptualization of so-called “Soft Power” language? 

Second Subtheme: “Economic Strength Is Soft Power” 

No. … options for dealing with Iran, … ‘… economic sanctions.’ … clearly intended to coercive and are thus a form of hard power. … Turkey … making changes in its human rights policies and domestic law to adjust to EU standards. … how much by the attractiveness of Europe’s successful economic and political system? … some Turks are replying more to the hard power of inducement, whereas others are attracted to the European model of human rights and economic freedom.”[25] 

In this second subtheme, Nye first argues if “economic sanction is soft power or hard power.” He refutes Peter Brookes (a conservative Republican strategist at Heritage Foundation) when he said economic sanction is also soft power. Nye argues economic sanction is not soft power, because of its “coercive character, it’s a hard power.”

However, no matter how they argue if America’s economic sanction is soft or hard, the real issue is not their, in a way, language play. What is really important is to correctly understand what that “economic sanction” really means to “the sanctioned peoples,” particularly from the perspective of the receiving end (Nye’s language).

For example, the case of North Korea’s 25 million people (who’ve indescribably suffered from America’s continued economic strangulations, in addition to the ongoing military threats including threats of “first use of nuclear weapons” for over half a century) is not necessarily well-known, even if it is indeed the longest- and harshest-ever economic sanction in history!

Devastated results those “economic sanctions” might bring particularly to the children and elderly populations can be easily found not only in the case of North Korea but also in the well-documented case of Iraq during the entire period of 1990s up until the 2003 US invasion.[26] 

Therefore, many would doubt if people like Nye and Brookes might have ever put themselves into those “sanctioned” peoples’ shoes, i.e., suffering and hardship which were mainly caused by their (America’s) arbitrarily imposed economic sanctions. It’s the very reason why I also question the credibility of Nye’s language which could be, otherwise, considered as a deceptive language play.

As Chomsky argues, “the Giant,” as he calls America, has often unilaterally imposed against nations in the name of “freedom, democracy, human rights. But, in fact, the fact they dared to challenge American global hegemony could be often the real reasons why they’re economically sanctioned, militarily threatened or invaded.[27] 

Secondly, Nye argues if “EU is an attractive place to other countries such as Turkey with its soft power such as European model of human rights and economic freedom.” Yes, there is no doubt what EU has so far in many aspects accomplished last two three hundred years is great and wonderful.

However, it seems many in the world might still remember those bitter days from the past histories of Western colonialism. Thus, I wonder if those formerly colonized countries would automatically buy into the “European model of human rights.”

For example, if Britain talks about “human rights” issues of India and Zimbabwe which were its former colonies, wouldn’t it be quite natural if those formerly colonized won’t easily buy it or trust Britain’s concerns of human rights issues, even if those concerns might be true and genuine this time? Past histories of Western colonialism for centuries and still in some parts of the world seem hardly immune from continued suspicions and skepticisms among majority populations of Europe’s former colonies. 

This critique could also equally work for the case of America’s habitual fanfare of “human rights issues,” as if they are the champion of it. In fact, as well-documented and in daily realities around the globe, it seems HARDLY the CASE! Chomsky, in his “Interventions,” identifies his own nation as “the most awesome military force in human history has attacked a much weaker country – an enormous disparity of force. … pursuing an ‘imperial ambition’ that is, rightly, frightening the world and turning the United States into an international pariah.”[28]

Not only Chomsky but even former U.S. President Jimmy Carter also challenges America’s not-much-proud-of past and present history. Here is another typically hypocritical record Carter refutes, i.e., the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, as if America also is the champion of it

“[The United States is] the major culprit in this erosion of the NPT. While claiming to be protecting the world from proliferation threats in Iraq, Libya, Iran and North Korea, American leaders not only have abandoned existing treaty restraints but also have asserted plans to test and develop new weapons, including antiballistic missiles, the earth-penetrating ‘bunker buster’ and perhaps some new ‘small’ bombs. They also have abandoned past pledges and now threaten first use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states.”[29] 

In numerous historical cases, as America did in the past centuries of inhumane colonization processes of many parts of the world including America itself, U.S. still is considered the main culprit of human rights violations around the globe, mostly in non-Western parts of the world, often-called “third world nations.”[30]

If their concerns on the “human rights” issues were genuine and true this time, then America seems likely challenged, first and foremost, for them to change and correct their arrogant, self-righteous and judgmental attitudes toward majority others. Then their concerns of human rights issues may be recognized, supported or justified by the global community. Otherwise, however they talk about the issues of “human rights,” it could be quite probably dismissed as neither genuine nor serious.

Or it could be, as it’s been, considered as America’s disguise of its military strategies, interventions or furthering their “national interests.” As well-published, America’s been often disrespected or even considered hypocritical and double-standard in the issues of human rights and proliferations of WMDs, particularly development of nuclear weapons programs.

Challenging America’s hypocrisy on their habitual talk about other countries’ human rights issues, Chinese government for some years now has annually published its own official findings of America’s human rights violations around the globe including within American society. 

Third Subtheme: “Soft Power Is More Humane Than Hard Power” 

Not necessarily. Because soft power has been hyped as an alternative to raw power politics, it is often embraced by ethically minded scholars and policymakers. But soft power is a description, not an ethical prescription. Like any form of power, it can be wielded for good or ill. Hitler, Stalin, and Mao, … It is not necessarily better to twist minds than to twist arms. If I want to steal your money, I can threaten you with a gun, or I can swindle you with a get-rich-quick scheme in which you invest, or I can persuade you to hand over your estate as part of a spiritual journey. The third way is through soft power, but the result is still theft. … Contrast the consequences of … Mohandas Gandhi or Martin Luther King Jr.’s choice of soft power with Yasir Arafat’s choice of the gun. Gandhi and King were able to attract moderate majorities over time, … Arafat’s strategy of hard power, by contrast, killed innocent Israelis and drove Israeli moderates into the arms of the hard right.”[31]

In this Third Subtheme, there are four major issues to wrestle with:

1) Nye again attempts to play with his language even when he had to admit a fact that there are suspicions, skepticisms and critiques on his soft power concept. However, he still distorts those seemingly credible concerns with confusing and subtle expressions by saying, “Soft power has been hyped as an alternative to raw power politics”;

2) As already discussed before, Nye attempts again to create a confusing and deceptive notion by putting communism (Stalin and Mao) together with fascism (Hitler) and Islamic terrorism (bin Laden);

3) The tactical deceptiveness of his language, again with his sophistication, divisiveness, and misidentification, is further sharpened when he, again as if innocently, identifies Gandhi and King with cases of soft power, while Arafat with hard power;

4) His singling out Arafat by accusing his choice of armed struggle but not even saying a word about Israel’s brutal, murderous and inhumane colonial occupation against the will of Palestinian people for over 40 some years

The first issue of Nye’s dishonesty and sophisticated language play on certain historical facts seems to convince many further realize Nye is a top military strategist rather than an honest and/or objective academician. It’s hardly imaginable if he had not been aware of those skeptical critiques that his concept, as he discreetly admits, is a tactical disguise of military strategic power.

However, he still seems to attempt to camouflage that deceptiveness of his language by carefully choosing words like “hyped” and “raw power politics.” With these wording, he seemed condescendingly dismissive of those credible concerns, suspicions and critiques on the tactical deceptiveness of his language. He even said his language “is often embraced by ethically minded scholars and policymakers.”

Anyhow, first, the word “Hype,” according to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, means (as a noun) “to deceive”; (as a verb) “promote” or “publicize extravagantly.” Second, the language “Raw Power Politics” Nye chose could mean power politics of whatever the word “raw” might mean. The “raw,” again according to Merriam-Webster and a couple of other dictionaries, means “uncooked, unwrought, undiluted, vulgar, coarse or crude, unbridled, unrefined, ignorant, indecent, harsh, unfair, ‘damp and cold,’ or naked.”

Based upon these dictionary meanings of “raw,” one can arguably identify the “raw power politics” with that of colonial, imperialistic or hegemonic military powers. For, in most historical cases, colonial or hegemonic power politics seemed to have produced so many of those dictionary-meant results. 

At any rate, Nye seemingly tries to avoid use of ordinary expressions like “being deceived” (for the “been hyped”) and “colonial or imperial power politics” (for the “raw power politics).” Language deceptiveness of these words in the case of Nye can be also found in the case of former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.

According to a New York Times article on March 27, 2004 by Elizabeth Becker on “Kissinger Tapes Describe Crises, War and Stark Photos of Abuse,”[32] Kissinger’s language that “transmitted” Nixon’s orders of the bombing attack against Cambodia was like this: “Anything that flies, on anything that moves,” which Chomsky charges “one of the most explicit calls for genocide in the archives of any state.”[33]

Again, Kissinger’s language, too, in addition to Nye’s, seems to further substantiate how sophisticated, deceptive, confusing and hypocritical America’s military strategic languages could be. 

The second issue that puts communism together with fascism and terrorism was fully discussed in previous section. So this discussion will be skipped here. However, this second issue still has a couple of other issues that also should be dealt with.

First and foremost, Gandhi and King Jr. must not be identified with or categorized in the America’s deceptive soft power concept. Gandhi, needless to say, was the leader of a non-violent but national liberation movement of the colonized India from British colonialism until its independence in 1947. King Jr., also well-known for his leadership in America’s non-violent Civil Rights movement, but he himself was a “Black freedom fighter who tried to liberate his fellow black people from white people’s centuries-old slavery, discriminatory and inhumane regime.”

Neither Gandhi nor King Jr. should be even ever mentioned in Nye’s hypocritical wordplay of America’s hegemonic power.

Nye, in this third subtheme, even demonized Arafat, the founder and leader of Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), by accusing him for his “choice to take arms.” Nye also accuses Arafat, with his so-called “hard power,” “killed innocent Israelis.” But, nowhere, he ever mentions “Israel’s murderous colonial occupation of Palestinian people” since 1967.[34]

The world, except seemingly Nye and the Bush-Cheney-type of Americans, seems to know who the Arafat is, what he did, why he “took guns,” how Israeli colonial military power (with America’s full supports, including continued military aids with most sophisticated killing machines and even with nuclear weapons, thereby, in its notoriously double-standard actions, repeatedly violating “Non Proliferation Treaty” (NPT) rules and regulations, and, of course, the history of U.S. veto that’s put down all those justifiable UN resolutions condemning Israeli violations of Palestinian peoples’ rights to self-determination, freedom and independence) has committed heinous crimes against Palestinian people for over 40 years now.[35]

The so-called “hard power,” i.e., “the guns Arafat chose” as Nye deceptively characterizes is, as numerous UN resolutions in the past basically argued, not the same as Israelis’ killing machines that have brutally colonized Palestine till this very day.



[22] Joseph S. Nye, Jr., Think Again: Soft Power, Foreign Policy, 1 March, 2006, p. 1

[23] In other words, it could mean Nye, like everybody else such as his former President Bush, Vice President Chaney and Pentagon boss Rumsfeld, seems not interested in the issues of global justice, equality, mutual-respect for each nation’s sovereignty, independence and self-determination, cultural diversity, international laws such as International Court of Criminal Justice, international treaties such as Kyoto Climate Treaty, and international institutions even the United Nations when it dares to challenge American hegemony, of course, genuine and true sense of “freedom and democracy” (not in the way Bush, US Congress, his State Dept. and mainstream media always talk about!) human dignity and life itself, the Mother Nature, ethics, moral responsibilities, peace and social justice, etc.

[24] This language is one of the most typically- and frequently-used expressions in America’s global politics.

[25] Ibid., p. 2

[26] Noam Chomsky, Interventions, p. 15. Chomsky said “Iraqi society had been devastated by U.S.-U.K.-led harsh [economic] sanctions.” Also see Wikipedia’s discussions on “Iraq Sanctions” which details those conflicting numbers of victims from US-led UN sanctions from 1990 till 2003. Mainly U.S.-led nonstop economic sanctions against North Korea since July 27, 1953 (Semi-End of the Korean War by a fragile Armistice Agreement) and Iraq throughout 1990s (until it was invaded by U.S. in 2003) had resulted unknown numbers (some documents claim more than a couple of millions) of North Korean children and elderly populations and over 100,000 Iraqi children who’d been either died or greatly suffered from malnutrition and/or lack of enough nourishments.

[27] Ibid., p. 197. Chomsky argues “the United States has long dominated the region [of Americas] by two major methods: violence and economic strangulation. Quite generally, international affairs have more than a slight resemblance to the Mafia. The Godfather does not take it lightly when he is crossed, even by a small storekeeper – as Latin Americans know all too well. However, these two typical methods for continuation of America’s global dominance have not only been applied in the Latin American region but also around the globe, particularly in the cases of North Korea and Iraq.

[28] Ibid., p. 19

[29] Ibid., p. 138

[30] It’s hard to count and mention all those cases of human rights violations around the globe in which U.S. governments and its mighty military troops have been involved by committing, often, numerous “war crimes and/or crimes against humanity.” However, usually America claims it is “the protector of freedom, human rights, and democracy.” See not only America’s most-respected conscientious scholar Chomsky’s critiques but also a fairly objective Documentation on U.S. Human Rights Violations, annually complied and published by Chinese government, whenever U.S. State Dept. produces its Annual Document on Human Rights Situations of other countries around the globe, including Chinese, but not necessarily theirs.

[31] Ibid.

[32] Ibid., p. 204

[33] Ibid.

[34] Joseph S. Nye Jr., Think Again: Soft Power, Foreign Affairs, March 1, 2006, p. 2. His accusation of Arafat, without even mentioning of ongoing murders and oppressions by the brutal Israeli military power was so cunning, hypocritical and vicious

[35] Check with the website of Applied Research Institute-Jerusalem (ARIJ), Monitoring Israeli Colonization Activities in the Palestine Territories.


Dr. Kiyul Chung who is Editor-in-Chief is also a Visiting Professor, School of Journalism and Communication, Tsinghua University. 

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