Critical Analysis on “Soft Power and Global Politics” I – V

[Editor’s note: In October, 2011, Chinese President Hu Jintao made a very historic and one of the most important political speeches at the Sixth Central Committee Plenary Session of the 17th CPC Party Congress. It’s about the issue of CULTURE. Specifically about the issue of “Westernization” [or Americanization] of China. In other words, it’s about the very serious danger of “cultural imperialism” of the West/US. Since mid 1980s, however, the term cultural imperialism has been conveniently replaced by a very deceptive language the so-called “soft power.”

Or it has disguised its real intents/characters with that very deceptive language. It’s therefore often identified as a West’s language play. At any rate, since mid 1980s, Joseph Nye is the one who’s made this very deceptive and lethal language globally very popular. Nye plainly explains the soft power is the one which can be effectively used to deceive or indoctrinate any targeted populations when the military machine Nye identifies with “hard power” won’t work.

The following Prof. Kiyul Chung’s paper was originally written and presented at an International Conference on “Soft Power and Nation Branding” at the occasion of 60th Anniversary of Founding Peoples’ Republic of China (PRC) at Tsinghua University in October, 2009.  It was later that year translated into Chinese and published by Tsinghua University. The 4th Media believes, for the benefit of our readers, this article is still very much useful, relavant and pertinent to the issue President Hu and the whole CPC leadership dealt today with a great sense of determination, seriousness and urgency. Due to the length of the paper, the article is going to be posted in the next five different postings.]



New York Times: China’s President Lashes Out at Western Culture:


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

Kiyul Chung, PhD

Visiting Professor, School of Journalism and Communication

Tsinghua University


This paper mainly intends to critically argue America’s former Assistant Secretary of Defense Joseph Nye’s “Soft-Power” concept, in its relationship with “Global Politics,” of its validity, credibility, and strategic intentions with following questions:

1) Isn’t former high Pentagon official’s concept a differently phrased but still strategically very much same hegemonic language, with a little bit of modifications and readjustments in language nuances, specifically with tactically sophisticated methodologies in terms of its “attractiveness, softness and smartness”[1]?;

2) Isn’t a America’s top military strategist’s language specifically designed to deal with rapidly restructuring global power relations after collapse of Soviet Union, though Cold War legacies are still intact in socio-political contexts, but more importantly with the rise of China which is often considered a strategically more challenging than any other global “competitors”?;

3) Therefore, isn’t a Harvard dean’s (seemingly academic but essentially military!) concept another America’s strategic language to continue and maintain its global dominance?;

4) Finally, isn’t this so-called “soft power” concept America’s another tactics, in disguise of “hard power” of its ongoing “imperial ambitions[2] most likely, as many argue, to confuse thereby “hype” (Nye’s language) the world which was supposedly “unilaterally-dominated by the New American Century?”[3] 

Key Words 

Is American Soft-Power an “attractive and smart” disguise of Hard-Power, i.e., hegemonic military power? However, if “Soft-Power” does mean something mutually-respectful, genuine and multilateral form of dialogue on equal terms, only then it can serve harmoniously symbiotic processes of peaceful transformation of the world for a far better future!



History of the 20th century remembers what former American President Theodore Roosevelt meant by when he said the following statement, “Walk softly and carry a big stick!”[4] Later that same century, former Assistant Secretary of Defense Joseph Nye introduced a new concept, called “soft power,” seemingly using Roosevelt’s word, “soft.” One could argue, thus, the latter must have taken his “Soft Power” idea from the first.

Therefore, both of their languages might have meant same thing, i.e., tactical methodologies such as how to use America’s strategic power. Thus, “walk softly” can mean “soft power” and vice versa, while “carry a big stick[5] seems replaceable with “hard power” concept and vice versa as well. In short, both strategists’ “soft” methods could mean tactical concepts, while both “hard” and “stick” might mean strategic languages of hegemonic military power.  

According to the American History since its first historical inception in late 15th century with the arrival of Christopher Columbus onto the Eastern shore of North American continent, Roosevelt’s “carry a big stick” which might have meant America’s colonial military power, in Nye’s term “hard power,” seems to have never been changed.

However, its tactics or tactical strategies and languages seem to have been continually transformed, depending upon America’s surrounding (socio-economic-political-military) situations.[6] What it says might mean America’s top military strategists like Roosevelt and Nye had to come up with “effectively working and wise” (Nye’s language) strategies and tactics to deal with rapidly changing circumstances in certain historical time periods.

As always, therefore, a high-powered American strategist like Nye also might have been called into work to readjust, rebuild, and reshape his government’s military tactics and strategies in order for it to effectively deal with then the “post-Cold War” and “post-9/11 world.”[7]

Any differences between the two high-powered American strategists’ language can be easily found in their two different major historical backgrounds in modern history. Roosevelt’s era covers before, during and after the World War II mainly in 1930s and early 40s, while Nye’s language seemed to have specifically targeted a new period that began at the end of 20th century with the collapse of Soviet Union.

The period Nye works for can be also identified with a presumably expected arrival of “new world order[8] which, the father Bush and his top strategists then believed, “would be unilaterally-governed by the reigns of the only global superpower.”[9]

For example, probably the most senior neo-conservative American strategist in recent years former Vice President Dick Chaney and the likes named 21st century “the New American Century!”[10] The following excerpt from the “Project for New American Century” (PNAC) plainly reveals what America wants again in this new 21st Century: “… [W]e need to increase defense spending significantly if we are to carry out our global responsibilities[11] today and modernize our armed forces for the future …”[12]

This period, as many globally-recognized economists like Joseph Stiglitz and Michelle Chossudovsky have already pointed out, could be also identified with “US-led neoliberal Globalization” of the world’s economy that has since early 1980s rapidly changed the world for worse rather than good.[13]

However, this new period should be strategically most importantly identified with the rise of rapidly growing China, often considered among/by America’s strategists “a threat to its global hegemony.

In short, their (Roosevelt and Nye) military, economic and political ends seemed to have been continually very much same, though their historical backgrounds different.

As always, America’s strategic goals, according to its history, seem to have never stopped to further its territorial expansions, now even to the Space, and continued to maintain its global hegemony of the world.[14]

Therefore, like Roosevelt, Nye also chose the language of “soft power” as his tactical concept for America’s strategic goals. It is interesting to note the introduction of Nye’s concept which coincides with the time of huge and volatile historical changes. This period is often identified with the time of great transition from the first US-initiated Cold-War era (then with “anti-communism”) to another new US-made Cold War-like era (this time with “anti-terrorism”).[15]

Nye is often identified as one of the most-celebrated America’s 21st century scholars and strategists. It seems important to keep in mind his both (scholar and strategist) backgrounds together and sincerely question why that new language so-called “soft power” came upon during that great historical transitions. His reasons of whys seemingly could have hardly avoided never-dying suspicious critiques or theoretical skepticism from people around the globe, including the author of this paper.

In order to substantiate the above-mentioned “new Cold War-like ideology,” I am going to introduce some of Nye’s arguments. In his expose of soft power concept, Nye seems intentionally put names of Stalin and Mao right after that of Hitler of the Nazi Germany and bin Laden of Al Qaeda.[16]

Here is how Nye describes: “Hitler, Stalin, Mao and bin Laden all possessed a great deal of soft power in the eyes of their acolytes, but that did not make it good.”[17] When Nye plainly talks about soft power concept, he looks as if he’s innocent with no hidden agendas whatsoever.

However, that seems hardly a reality! Instead reasons why Nye lists those names put together in the same basket seem hardly unintentional. First, it’s quite doubtful both majority Chinese and Russian populations would readily agree with Nye’s confusing thereby deceptive way of name arrangement. Second, it’s also quite doubtful, particularly since 2003 American invasion of Iraq, if Nye had not learned that so many around the globe had been “putting the name of American President George W. Bush together with the name of Nazi Hitler,”[18] but not necessarily with the names of Mao or Stalin or even with bin Laden.

Also one can further argue, if Nye had ever included the name of his President Bush into that same original list together with those names, Nye could have avoided unnecessary critiques and suspicions.

Anyhow, people who may not necessarily know enough of the modern history, particularly the US-initiated Cold War History could have mistakenly identified Stalin and Mao with Hitler or even with bin Laden. Nye also, in addition to the list where he put everybody’s name all together, did not hesitate to call them “dictators,” again in the same category.

By doing so, as many suspiciously question if he might have attempted to create a confusing thereby deceptive notion by identifying fascism (Hitler) first with communism/socialism (Stalin and Mao), and then even with Islamic terrorism (bin Laden).

Many, therefore, question if it’s not another America’s typical demonization processes of any nations and/or their leaders who seemed to have dared to challenge America’s unilateral global hegemony.

It seems, in regards to the already-globalized discussions on Nye’s concept, he has been identified more with his Harvard (academic) background rather than that of Pentagon (military strategist).

Today, he seems considered one of the most prominent American scholars, as Dean of Kennedy School of Administration. However, Nye, with this prestigious academic background, but in reality, seems to play more roles of military strategist than that of academician.

This is the very reason why I challenge if today’s “anti-terrorism” (combined with the ideology of “anti-communism” of “old Cold War“) is another Cold War-like” global ideology as a newly created America’s 21st century strategy.[19]

Many America’s mainstream media,[20] scholars and experts like Nye and the likes seem conveniently put them (fascism, communism/socialism, and terrorism) all together in a same ideological category whenever it is strategically and/or tactically necessary to do so. It seems this is neither academically nor journalistically objective.

It’s hardly morally sound! Again many could challenge if it’s not a typical American hypocrisy. At any rate, Nye’s language seems hardly free from further academic critiques and suspicions. Some may even conclusively argue if his language is a mere repetition of same old hegemonic language with tactical sophistications of “softness, attractiveness and smartness.” 

Nye’s 2006 Foreign Policy Article, “Think Again: Soft Power

One of the most recent Nye’s articles on Soft Power that appeared in Foreign Policy (March 1, 2006) is titled, “Think Again: Soft Power.” This article seems to substantiate the above-discussed critical arguments furthermore credible, validated, and justified.

In order to further (hopefully correctly!) argue what Nye is really talking about with his soft power concept, it seems this 2006 article would be a good place to start with. A direct dialogue with Nye’s each and every one of those Ten Subthemes he dealt in this article hopefully could help people understand better how America’s strategic and tactical languages are worked out, specifically in the case of Nye’s conceptualization of Soft Power.

Each subtheme has its short answer with a couple of “self-righteous and very subjective interpretations.”[21] However, two subthemes (eighth and ninth) will be skipped here, since there aren’t much substantially to talk about. Thus, only eight subthemes and their short answers will be discussed in the following:

1. Soft Power Is Culture Power = Partly;

2. Economic Strength Is Soft Power = No;

3. Soft Power Is More Humane Than Hard Power = Not Necessarily;

4. Hard Power Can Be Measured, and Soft Power Cannot = False;

5. Europe Counts Too Much on Soft Power and the United States Too Much on Hard Power = True;

6. The Bush Administration Neglects America’s Soft Power = More True in the First term than the Second;

7. Some Goals Can Only Be Achieved by Hard Power = No Doubt;

8. Military Resources Produce Only Hard Power = No;

9. Soft Power Is Difficult to Use = Partly True;

10. Soft Power Is Irrelevant to the Current Terrorist Threat = False!


[The article continues in the next four following texts II, III, IV, and V. The “Americanization of the World: Undeniable Reality?” is an appendix article which is attached at the end of the original paper when it first was presented in October, 2009.]


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

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

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

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

Americanization of the World: Undeniable Reality?:



[1] Noam Chomsky, Imperial Ambitions: Conversations on the Post-9/11 World (Interviews with David Barsarmian), Metropolitan Books: New York, 2005, pp. 4-5.

[2] Ibid., see, pp. 1-17

[3] See Wikipedia’s discussions on “Project for New American Century” (PNAC)

[4] Najam Rafique, Book Review on Joseph S. Nye’s Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics, Public Affairs, New York, 2004.

[5] The language “carrot and stick” is one of the most-used America’s foreign policy jargons which is inherently self-righteous thereby arrogant but deceptive language.

[6] Howard Zinn, Peoples History of United States of America: 1492-Present, HarpersCollins Publishers: New York, 2003; Noam Chomsky, Interventions, City Lights Books: San Francisco, 2007, pp. 1-6, 45-50, 85-88.

[7] Noam Chomsky in his Imperial Ambitions newly defines the world after the 9/11 the “post-9/11 world.” See, specifically pp. 1-17.

[8] With the collapse of Soviet Union, the father Bush administration in early 1990s boastfully declared there is going to be a “new world order” to come, which was presumed to be dominated by “the only global superpower.”

[9] See Wikipedia’s discussions on America’s “world dominance” and “American Empire” in the section of Project for New American Century (PNAC).

[10] Wikipedia, “PNAC’s first public act was releasing a “Statement of Principles” on June 3, 1997, which was signed by both its members and a variety of other notable conservative politicians and journalists: “As the 20th century draws to a close, the United States stands as the world’s pre-eminent power. Having led the West to victory in the Cold War, America faces an opportunity and a challenge: Does the United States have the vision to build upon the achievements of past decades? Does the United States have the resolve to shape a new century favorable to American principles and interests?”

[11] PNAC’s deceptive expression of “our global responsibilities” should be changed into, “our global hegemonyinstead.

[12] From Wikipedia’s PNAC concept.

[13] Joseph E. Stiglitz, Globalization and Its Discontents, W.W. Norton & Company: New York, 2002.

Michelle Chossudovsky, The Globalization of Poverty and the New World Order, Global Research: Canada, 2003.

[14] Noam Chomsky, Hegemony or Survival: America’s Quest for Global Dominance, Owl Books, New York, 2004, pp. 2-4.

[15] Like some of my colleagues, I’ve been also challenging the notion of “End of the Cold War.” For it’s never been the case in regard to another new US-made Cold War, in continuation of old Cold War in terms of its legacies in America’s domestic and global politics. US has cunningly and conveniently employed, whenever it’s needed, its outdated, outspent and outworn ideology of anti-communism to smear and attack its enemies in general and global competitors in particular, like China and Russia. The new Cold War, combined anti-communism with anti-terrorism, is still in action in this new century, too, which supposed to be free from the old Cold War’s anti-communist ideology.

[16] From Wikipedia’s on “Soft Power”

[17] Ibid., a quote from Joseph Nye’s own statement

[18] ANSWER Coalition, the Anti-Iraq War and Anti-Racism movement based in U.S. but throughout the world since 2003 with Bush’s invasion of Iraq, had “charged Bush a “war criminal” and since then identified him with Hitler.”

[19] This suggestive but controversial notion of a “newly created America’s 21st century strategy” will be further discussed later in the paper.

[20] Among America’s mainstream, particularly conservative, media outlets, by far, it seems the Fox TV could be one of the most distinctive cases to do so.

[21] The “self-righteous and very subjective” thereby “arrogant, arbitrary and unilateral” attitudes and mindsets seem to have become a sort of general culture among many Americans, particularly those conservative Southern Christian populations like former President George W. Bush.


Prof. Kiyul Chung, PhD, Editor-in-Chief at The 4th Media

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