Monday, January 31, 2005

The "Hard-Soft" Power of US Tsunami Aid

James Traub published this excellent essay in yesterday's NYTimes magazine discussing military involvement in humanitarian activities, an issue I addressed in this previous post. His main point is a riposte to Joseph Nye's theory of "soft power," the notion that the United States projects it power not simply through the "hard power" of coercive military and economic strength, but also through the export of culture and values. Nye's taxonomy fails to consider where in the toolbox of American diplomacy to place the aircraft carrier delivering potable water or the US Army officer promoting civil society in Kosovo. Traub also argues that, at the same time we use our "hard power" for "soft purposes," our power to influence through culture may, in fact, be limited by the nature of the culture we are exporting. (For a couple of examples of cultural exports, see discussions here, here and here about reality televisions programs in Africa.)