Whatever Happened to Soft Power?

Dr. Joseph S. Nye, Jr. with Project Syndicate
January 11, 2022

-Project Syndicate-

As 2021 drew to a close, Russia had massed troops near its border with Ukraine; China had flown military jets near Taiwan; North Korea was still pursuing its nuclear-weapons program; and Taliban fighters were patrolling the streets of Kabul. Seeing all this, friends asked me: “Whatever happened to soft power?”

One answer is that it can be found in other recent events, such as President Joe Biden’s virtual Summit for Democracy, which was attended by representatives from more than 100 countries. Having been excluded, China took to the airwaves and social media to proclaim that it had a different and more stable type of democracy than the one being extolled by the United States. What we were seeing was a great-power competition over soft power, understood as the ability to influence others by attraction rather than by coercion or payment.

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