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The Case for Smart Power

by on April 28, 2012


US President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recognise “smart power” as essential to American Foreign Policy.   


With globalisation in the 21st century, the very nature of power, defined as “the capacity to do things and in social situations to affect others to get the outcomes we want” (Nye, 2011, 6), has arguably been transformed. In this way, states such as the United States and China have recognised that they no longer can rely solely on hard power of coercion, based upon military and economic resources, when seeking to implement their respective foreign policies ( and 

As a response to these changes in power relations, Joseph Nye coined the term “Smart Power” in 2004 (Nye, 2011, xiv.) As a combination of hard power of coercion and soft power of attraction, based upon a state’s attributes such as culture, values and level of legitimacy, smart power refers to the strategic interaction of public and cultural diplomacy, traditional diplomacy, development and defence (Nye, 2011, 209, and      

Joseph Nye argues that states may find themselves both in situations where the mere use of hard power is counterproductive as well as in situations where soft power, hereunder public and cultural diplomacy, proves inadequate, as has arguably been the case with seeking to halt North Korea’s nuclear weapons program ( In this way, Joseph Nye argues that states, regardless of their size, must seek to combine the two (

With this, China has invested billions of dollars on the development and implementation of soft power policies since 2007, hereby transcending hard power and embracing smart power (

In the United States, the concept of smart power has gained momentum under the Obama administration. Where Former President George Bush relied heavily on hard power policies, arguably especially with the Iraq War, President Barack Obama has recognised the importance of attraction in international politics (, and In this way, through outreach, a number of symbolic speeches across the world and the implementation of substantial soft power policies, public opinion of the United States abroad were in many places restored to their pre-President Bush numbers just a year after President Obama took office (          

The major proponent of the use of American smart power has been Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. With this, she put forth the concept as essential to American foreign policy as early as 2009, stating that the Bush administration’s hard power politics had not been efficient, while appearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. In this way, Clinton proclaimed: “We must use what has been called ‘smart power,’ the full range of tools at our disposal — diplomatic, economic, military, political, legal, and cultural — picking the right tool, or combination of tools, for each situation”(

Clinton Vows “Smart Power” Diplomacy, 2009:




Nye Jr., J. S. (2011), The Future of Power, PublicAffairs, New York. 


Clinton: Use “Smart Power” in Diplomacy (2009), CBS News, accessed 21st April 2012.


Public Diplomacy and Smart Power – An Interview with Joseph S. Nye Jr. (Date Unknown), Ekopolitik, accessed 21st April 2012.


Wielding “Smart Power” in World Affairs (2011), The Boston Globe, accessed 21st April 2012.


Testing Obama’s “Smart Power” Foreign Policy (2009), The Sunday Times, accessed 23rd April 2012.



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One Comment
  1. mimi001 permalink

    Well done with this interesting post! I agree with you that it is of vital importance that both aspects of power ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ are taken seriously, especially since some time it feels that all the concentration is on mere soft power tools.

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