A capacity crowd attended Dr. Joseph Nye’s Walter Roberts Endowment lecture on January 28 at George Washington University’s School of International Affairs in Washington. He shared the stage with Tara Sonenshine, former Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy, who asked penetrating questions preceding those from the audience of diplomats and students attracted by the potential of public diplomacy as a career.
Harvard Professor Nye has been known nationally since originally coining the term “soft power” in 1990. Writing in Foreign Affairs, John Ikenberry described “soft power” as “the ability of a country to persuade others to do what it wants without force or coercion….”
At the annual Walter Roberts Lecture, Dr. Nye related the concept of soft power to the subject of his latest book, “Do Morals Matter?”
“Intentions, Means and Consequences”
These factors, Dr. Nye told the annual forum established by the late U.S. public diplomacy giant Walter Roberts, are key in thinking about what steps national leaders might take to produce successful moral outcomes.
“The assessment of long range consequences,” Dr. Nye said, “is what counts.” Leaders may be tempted to pursue “hard power”, i.e. military action, in resolving crises quickly, when using soft power (persuasion, building alliances on an issue) might yield safer and more solid long-range results.
Clearly outlining intentions, and persuading others to sign on, is key. Sharing means, joint contributions or agreements to move ahead to the goal, is the second major characteristic in solving a crisis. The hope for shared positive consequences is the third element.
“Do morals matter?” Dr. Nye asked, drawing from history for examples. In the waning weeks of World War II, the relatively new U.S. President Harry S Truman had to make a key decision: Should America use its newly developed atomic bomb against Japan, the remaining Axis power? That bomb had been dropped on Hiroshima, killing tens of thousands Japanese civilians, and Truman ordered a second atomic bomb attack on Nagasaki, killing many more of its citizens. That led Japan to agree on terms of unconditional surrender about two weeks later, ending the 20th century’s most horrific conflict but likely saving countless more Japanese and American lives.
Dr. Nye recalled that in the 1950s, as the U.S. became mired in the Korean war, General Douglas MacArthur, the U.S. commander, recommended that America use its newly-developed atomic bomb to against 20 to 40 cities in Communist China, which was allied with and supporting North Korea. President Truman declined to do so, an example of careful thinking about the moral consequences of killing millions more Asians.
“The United States and China together have a lot to offer,” Professor Nye said, turning to the current era. “We could work for common agendas by using soft power means rather than hard power”.
It doesn’t always succeed in a world of complex diplomacy. Responding to a question from the audience, Dr. Nye said: “I think, for example, that BREXIT (Britain leaving the European Union February 1) was a big mistake.”
“Governments,” Dr. Nye stressed,”will remain the most powerful actors on the global stage, but the stage has become more crowded… As American scholar and international relations specialist John Arquilla noted: ‘In today’s global information age, victory may sometimes depend not on whose army wins, but on whose story wins’.”
As a 36-year veteran of the Voice of America (VOA), Alan Heil traveled to more than 40 countries a foreign correspondent in the Middle East, and later as director of News and Current Affairs, deputy director of programs, and deputy director of the nation’s largest publicly-funded overseas multimedia network. Today, VOA reaches more than 275 million people around the world each week via radio, television and online media. Read More