Ambassador Mark L. Asquino (ret.) Senior Public Diplomacy Fellow (SMPA 2010-11)
In his 2004 book, “Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Power,” Joseph Nye defined “soft power” as follows:
“A country may obtain the outcomes it wants in world politics because other countries –admiring its values, emulating its example, aspiring to its level of prosperity and openness –want to follow it. In this sense, it is also important to set the agenda and attract others in world politics, and not only to force them to change by threatening military force or economic sanctions.”
In announcing the preliminary, 2018 budget proposal in March, which includes a nearly 10% proposed increase in defense spending, Director of the Office of Management and Budget, Mick Mulvaney, could not have been clearer about the Trump administration’s view of soft power, when he announced:
“This is a ‘hard power’ budget. It is not a ‘soft power’ budget.”
In my view, such a reliance on military hard power at the expense of soft power is not only unfortunate, but also indicates a fundamentally different approach to international engagement from what we’ve seen since the end of World War II.
During the past seven decades, U.S. foreign policy has combined “soft power” with “hard power.” In 1948, the passage of the Informational and Educational Exchange Act was a major initiative by the U.S. government to use the power of cultural diplomacy, which relied on attraction, to counteract Soviet propaganda. It was followed by the 1961 Fulbright-Hays Act, which expanded educational exchanges even further. Both pieces of legislation focused on promoting “mutual understanding,” through employing U.S. information, cultural and educational exchange programs as a means of engaging foreign audiences and governments to promote dialogue.
Similarly, the establishment of USAID and the founding of the U.S. Peace Corps, both in 1961, indicated the importance John F. Kennedy and all presidents since him have accorded “soft power” tools.
There has already been strong bipartisan opposition to what I regard as a short-sighted approach regarding the vital role soft power plays in foreign policy. In this present fiscal year, Congress rejected the Administration’s proposed cuts to the State Department’s budget, and instead actually increased funds for exchange programs by 9%.
During tough Senate hearings with Secretary Tillerson in June, Republican Senator Lindsay Graham criticized the Trump Administration’s putting hard power above soft power. Graham said:
“I want the country to know that this budget request is radical and reckless when it comes to soft power.”
Such opposition is a hopeful sign for me that our representatives in Congress will provide adequate resources for the sort of soft power tools, including highly successful exchange and cultural programs, that have been a mainstay of U.S. foreign policy during both Democratic and Republican administration.
Caveat: The views expressed in this blog are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Institute for Public Diplomacy and Global Diplomacy or The George Washington University.