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Joseph S. Nye, Jr.



Articles by Joseph S. Nye, Jr.

Whatever Happened to Soft Power?

11 days ago

With the news dominated by dramatic examples of countries using coercion, intimidation, and payoffs to advance their interests, the power of attraction would seem to be irrelevant in international relations. But it still matters, and governments ignore its potential at their peril.

CAMBRIDGE – 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

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What Really Matters in the Sino-American Competition?

December 6, 2021

Although the United States has long commanded the technological cutting edge, China is mounting a credible challenge in key areas. But, ultimately, the balance of power will be decided not by technological development but by diplomacy and strategic choices, both at home and abroad.

CAMBRIDGE – The United States and China are competing for dominance in technology. America has long been at the forefront in developing the technologies (bio, nano, information) that are central to economic growth in the twenty-first century. Moreover, US research universities dominate higher education globally. In Shanghai Jiao Tong University’s annual Academic Ranking of World Universities, 16 of the top 20 institutions are in the US;

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Our AI Odyssey

November 26, 2021

The powerful effects of artificial intelligence are already being felt in business, politics, medicine, war, and almost every other domain of twenty-first century life. For all of its positive potential, the technology presents significant risks that are best addressed sooner rather than later.

CAMBRIDGE – An elder statesman, a retired Big Tech CEO, and a computer scientist meet in a bar. What do they talk about? Artificial intelligence, of course, because everyone is talking about it – or to it, whether they call it Alexa, Siri, or something else. We need not wait for a science-fiction future; the age of AI is already upon us. Machine-learning, in particular, is having a powerful effect on our lives, and it will

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American Democracy and Soft Power

November 2, 2021

As President Joe Biden meets with fellow leaders at COP26, many are asking just how badly US soft power was damaged by Donald Trump’s presidency. True, Trump trashed democratic norms that must be restored, but American culture retains great sources of resilience which pessimists often underestimated.

CAMBRIDGE – At a recent meeting of trans-Atlantic foreign policy experts, a European friend told the group that he used to worry about a decline in American hard power, but felt reassured. On the other hand, he now worried more about what was happening internally and how that would affect the soft power that underlies American foreign policy. Are his fears justified?
The Subordination of Women in

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The China Sleepwalking Syndrome

October 4, 2021

If the Sino-American relationship were a hand of poker, Americans would recognize that they have been dealt a good hand and avoid succumbing to fear or belief in the decline of the US. But even a good hand can lose if it is played badly.

CAMBRIDGE – As US President Joe Biden’s administration implements its strategy of great power competition with China, analysts seek historical metaphors to explain the deepening rivalry. But while many invoke the onset of the Cold War, a more worrisome historical metaphor is the start of World War I. In 1914, all the great powers expected a short third Balkan War. Instead, as the British historian Christopher Clark has shown, they sleepwalked into a conflagration that lasted four

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America’s New Great-Power Strategy

August 3, 2021

During the Cold War, US grand strategy focused on containing the power of the Soviet Union. China’s rise now requires America and its allies to develop a strategy that seeks not total victory over an existential threat, but rather managed competition that allows for both cooperation and rivalry within a rules-based system.

CAMBRIDGE – During the four decades of the Cold War, the United States had a grand strategy focused on containing the power of the Soviet Union. Yet by the 1990s, following the Soviet Union’s collapse, America had been deprived of that pole star. After the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, US President George W. Bush’s administration tried to fill the void with a strategy that it called a

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What Did Biden Achieve in Geneva?

July 7, 2021

Even if formal cybersecurity treaties are unworkable, it may still be possible to set limits on certain types of civilian targets, and to negotiate rough rules of the road. Whether US President Joe Biden succeeded in launching such a process at his meeting last month with Russian President Vladimir Putin may become clear soon.

CAMBRIDGE – When US President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin held their first summit in Geneva last month, cyber weapons played a larger role on the agenda than the nuclear kind. Clearly the world has changed since the Cold War, but what, if anything, did Biden accomplish?
Attack of the COVID Zombies

Dave Tschorn

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COVID-19 Vaccines and the US National Interest

June 1, 2021

Nationalism is no way to confront a virus that is indifferent to nationality. Now that safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines are available, the US has four good reasons to lead a Marshall Plan-like effort to immunize the world’s poor countries.

CAMBRIDGE – A century ago, an influenza pandemic killed more people than died in World War I. Today, the COVID-19 pandemic has killed more Americans than died in all US wars since 1945. A big difference, however, is that science did not have a vaccine for the influenza virus back then, but now several companies and countries have created vaccines for COVID-19.

European and African Leaders Call for a New Deal for Africa

Mahmoud Hjaj/Anadolu

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The Logic of US-China Competition

May 6, 2021

The success of US President Joe Biden’s China policy will depend on whether the two powers can cooperate in producing global public goods, while competing in other areas. The US-China relationship is a “cooperative rivalry,” in which the terms of competition will require equal attention to both sides of the oxymoron. That will not be easy.

CAMBRIDGE – In his recent address to the US Congress, President Joe Biden warned that China is deadly serious about trying to become the world’s most significant power. But Biden also declared that autocrats will not win the future; America will. If mishandled, the US-China great-power competition could be dangerous. But if the United States plays it right, the rivalry with China could be

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What Could Cause a US-China War?

March 2, 2021

Thucydides attributed the war that ripped apart the ancient Greek world to two causes: the rise of Athenian power, and the fear that this created in the established power, Sparta. To prevent a new cold or hot war, the US and China must avoid exaggerated fears and misperceptions about changing power relations.

CAMBRIDGE – When China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, recently called for a reset of bilateral relations with the United States, a White House spokesperson replied that the US saw the relationship as one of strong competition that required a position of strength. It is clear that President Joe Biden’s administration is not simply reversing Trump’s policies.

A Realist Reset for US-Saudi Relations

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Biden’s Asian Triangle

February 4, 2021

The Japan-US alliance remains popular in both countries, which need each other more than ever. Together, they can balance China’s power and cooperate with China in areas like climate change, biodiversity, and pandemics, as well as on working toward a rules-based international economic order.

CAMBRIDGE – How Joe Biden handles China will be one of the defining issues of his presidency. He inherits a Sino-American relationship that is at its lowest point in 50 years. Some people blame this on his predecessor, Donald Trump. But Trump merits blame for pouring gasoline on a fire. It was China’s leaders who lit and kindled the flames.

Multilateral Cooperation for Global Recovery

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How Will Biden Intervene?

January 5, 2021

Broadly defined, intervention refers to actions that influence the domestic affairs of another sovereign state, and they can range from broadcasts, economic aid, and support for opposition parties to blockades, cyber attacks, drone strikes, and military invasion. Which ones will the US president-elect favor?

CAMBRIDGE – American foreign policy tends to oscillate between inward and outward orientations. President George W. Bush was an interventionist; his successor, Barack Obama, less so. And Donald Trump was mostly non-interventionist. What should we expect from Joe Biden?

How Might COVID-19 Change the World?

PS OnPoint

STR/AFP via Getty Images

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Can Joe Biden’s America Be Trusted?

December 4, 2020

America’s friends and allies have come to distrust it in the wake of Donald Trump’s presidency. Joe Biden will do all that he can to repair the damage, but the deeper problem is that many are asking whether Trump was merely a symptom of the decline of American democracy.

CAMBRIDGE – Friends and allies have come to distrust the United States. Trust is closely related to truth, and President Donald Trump is notoriously loose with the truth. All presidents have lied, but never on such a scale that it debases the currency of trust. International polls show that America’s soft power of attraction has declined sharply over Trump’s presidency.

Can Joe Biden’s America Be Trusted?

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An Interview with Joseph Nye

November 10, 2020

This week in Say More, PS talks with Joseph S. Nye, Jr., a professor at Harvard University.

Project Syndicate: Donald “Trump’s electoral appeal may turn on domestic politics,” you wrote in September, “but his effect on world politics could be transformational, particularly if he gains a second term.” Well, he hasn’t gotten his second term. Is this enough to ensure that we really are at “the end of an historical accident”? What changes cannot be undone, at least not easily?Joseph Nye: Had Trump been re-elected, the damage to the international system of multilateral institutions and alliances would have been very difficult to repair. As one European friend told me, “it is hard to hold one’s breath for four years; eight

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Is Trump a Turning Point in World Politics?

September 1, 2020

Will Donald Trump’s presidency mark a major turning point in world history, or was it a minor historical accident? Trump’s electoral appeal may turn on domestic politics, but his effect on world politics could be transformational, particularly if he gains a second term.

CAMBRIDGE – As the United States enters the home stretch of the 2020 presidential election campaign, and with neither party’s nominating convention featuring much discussion of foreign policy, the contest between President Donald Trump and Joe Biden apparently will be waged mainly on the battleground of domestic issues. In the long run, however, historians will ask whether Trump’s presidency was a major turning point in America’s role in the world, or

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Brent Scowcroft Remembered

August 10, 2020

At a time when US President Donald Trump has run through four national security advisers in four years, and seems unable to distinguish national interest from his personal interest, Brent Scowcroft’s legacy is more relevant than ever. He remains the model for a modern public servant.

CAMBRIDGE – Brent Scowcroft, who died on August 6, aged 95, was the model of a modern lieutenant-general. A graduate of West Point whose career as a fighter pilot was cut short by a broken back suffered in a P-51 Mustang crash in 1949, Scowcroft went on to serve three presidents and advise others. He was the national security adviser to Presidents Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush, and, to this day, when scholars and practitioners discuss

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The Other Global Power Shift

August 6, 2020

The world is increasingly obsessed with the ongoing power struggle between the US and China. But the technology-driven shift of power away from states to transnational actors and global forces brings a new and unfamiliar complexity to global affairs.

CAMBRIDGE – Since 2017, America’s National Security Strategy has focused on great power competition, and today much of Washington is busy portraying our relationship with China as a new cold war. Obviously, great power competition remains a crucial aspect of foreign policy, but we must not let it obscure the growing transnational security threats that technology is putting on the agenda.

How to Prevent the Looming Sovereign-Debt Crisis

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After the Liberal International Order

July 6, 2020

If Joe Biden defeats Donald Trump in November, the question he will face is not whether to restore the liberal international order. It is whether the US can work with an inner core of allies to promote democracy and human rights while cooperating with a broader set of states to manage the rules-based international institutions needed to face transnational threats.

CAMBRIDGE – Many analysts argue that the liberal international order ended with the rise of China and the election of US President Donald Trump. But if Joe Biden defeats Trump in November’s election, should he try to revive it? Probably not, but he must replace it.

Priorities for the COVID-19 Economy

Gav

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American Exceptionalism in the Age of Trump

June 5, 2020

As the world’s two largest economies, the United States and China are condemned to a relationship that must combine competition and cooperation. For the US, exceptionalism now includes working with the Chinese to help produce global public goods, while also defending values such as human rights.

CAMBRIDGE – In my recent study of 14 presidents since 1945, Do Morals Matter, I found that Americans want a moral foreign policy, but have been torn over what that means. Americans often see their country as exceptional because we define our identity not by ethnicity, but rather by ideas about a liberal vision of a society and way of life based on political, economic, and cultural freedom. President Donald Trump’s

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An Abysmal Failure of Leadership

May 7, 2020

During times of crisis, the most effective leaders are those who can build solidarity by educating the public about its own interests. Sadly, in the case of COVID-19, the leaders of the world’s two largest economies have gone in the opposite direction, all but ensuring that the crisis will deepen.

CAMBRIDGE – Leadership – the ability to help people frame and achieve their goals – is absolutely crucial during a crisis. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill demonstrated this in 1940, as did Nelson Mandela during South Africa’s transition from apartheid.

Germany’s Constitutional Court Goes Rogue

Sebastian Gollnow/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

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An Abysmal Failure of Leadership

May 7, 2020

During times of crisis, the most effective leaders are those who can build solidarity by educating the public about its own interests. Sadly, in the case of COVID-19, the leaders of the world’s two largest economies have gone in the opposite direction, all but ensuring that the crisis will deepen.

CAMBRIDGE – Leadership – the ability to help people frame and achieve their goals – is absolutely crucial during a crisis. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill demonstrated this in 1940, as did Nelson Mandela during South Africa’s transition from apartheid.

How Will the Great Cessation End?

PS OnPoint

Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images

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China and America Are Failing the Pandemic Test

April 2, 2020

All national leaders must put their country’s interests first, but the important question is how broadly or narrowly they define those interests. Both China and the US are responding to COVID-19 with an inclination toward short-term, zero-sum approaches, and too little attention to international institutions and cooperation.

CAMBRIDGE – COVID-19 is confronting humanity with its most severe test since 1918, when an influenza pandemic killed more people than died in World War I. Yet the top leaders of the world’s two largest economies, China and the United States, have failed the first round.
Witnessing Wuhan

PS OnPoint

Xinhua/Xiao Yijiu via Getty Images

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What Is a Moral Foreign Policy?

March 4, 2020

A foreign policy should be judged not only by specific actions, but also by how a pattern of actions shapes the environment of world politics. Leadership in supplying global public goods, for example, is consistent with “America First,” but it rests on a broader historical and institutional understanding than Donald Trump has shown.

CAMBRIDGE – Many Americans say they want a moral foreign policy, but disagree on what that means. Using a three-dimensional scorecard encourages us to avoid simplistic answers and to look at the motives, means, and consequences of a US president’s actions.
Solidarity Now

PS OnPoint

Spencer Platt/Getty Images

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Trump’s Transactional Myopia

February 4, 2020

Foreign partners’ willingness to help the United States is affected not just by America’s hard military and economic power, but also by its soft power of attraction, based on an open culture, liberal democratic values, and policies that are perceived as legitimate. US foreign policy can succeed only if Americans relearn this.

CAMBRIDGE – US President Donald Trump’s attacks on unfair Chinese trade and technology policies may have been justified, but his tactics have damaged the alliances and institutions on which the United States depends. Will the short-term gains outweigh the long-term institutional costs?
Can Sanders Do it?

PS OnPoint

Ralph Freso/Getty Images

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Why Morals Matter in Foreign Policy

January 8, 2020

It is tautological or at best trivial to say that all states try to act in their national interest. The important question is how leaders choose to define and pursue that national interest under different circumstances.

CAMBRIDGE – When I told a friend I had just written a book on morality and foreign policy, she quipped: “It must be a very short book.” Such skepticism is common. An Internet search shows surprisingly few books on how US presidents’ moral views affected their foreign policies. As the eminent political theorist Michael Walzer once described American graduate training in international relations after 1945, “Moral argument was against the rules of the discipline as it was commonly practiced.”

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Eight Norms for Stability in Cyberspace

December 4, 2019

At last month’s Paris Peace Forum, the Global Commission on the Stability of Cyberspace issued its report on how to provide an overarching cyber stability framework. Combined with norms, principles, and confidence-building measures suggested by others, the GCSC’s conclusions are an important step forward.

CAMBRIDGE – In little more than a generation, the Internet has become a vital substrate for economic, social, and political interactions, and it has unlocked enormous gains. Along with greater interdependence, however, come vulnerability and conflict. Attacks by states and non-state actors have increased, threatening the stability of cyberspace.
Democratic Leadership in a Populist Age

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How to Deal with a Declining Russia

November 5, 2019

It seems unlikely that Russia will again possess the resources to balance US power in the same way that the Soviet Union did during the four decades after World War II. But declining powers merit as much diplomatic attention as rising ones do.

TOKYO – The Kremlin is on a roll. Under President Vladimir Putin, Russia has replaced the United States in Syria, continues to intervene in Eastern Ukraine, and recently hosted an African summit in Sochi. Appearances, however, can be deceptive. True, Russia retains a vast nuclear arsenal, equal in size to that of the US, and it used force effectively against Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine in 2014; provided military assistance to save Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria; and has used

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Can Cyberwarfare Be Regulated?

October 2, 2019

In the cyber realm, the same program can be used for legitimate or malicious purposes, depending on the user’s intent. But if that makes traditional arms-control treaties impossible to verify, it may still be possible to set limits on certain types of civilian targets and negotiate rough rules of the road that limit conflict.

CAMBRIDGE – Whether or not a conflict spirals out of control depends on the ability to understand and communicate about the scale of hostility. Unfortunately, when it comes to cyber conflict, there is no agreement on scale or how it relates to traditional military measures. What some regard as an agreed game or battle may not look the same to the other side.
The Impeachment

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Trump’s Effect on US Foreign Policy

September 4, 2019

Donald Trump’s long-term impact on US foreign policy is uncertain. But the debate about it has revived a longstanding question: Are major historical outcomes the product of human choices or are they largely the result of overwhelming structural factors produced by economic and political forces beyond our control?

CAMBRIDGE – US President Donald Trump’s behavior at the recent G7 meeting in Biarritz was criticized as careless and disruptive by many observers. Others argued that the press and pundits pay too much attention to Trump’s personal antics, tweets, and political games. In the long run, they argue, historians will consider them mere peccadilloes. The larger question is whether the Trump presidency

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Speaking Truth to Power

August 5, 2019

Many partisans accused President George W. Bush of lying and pressuring the intelligence community to produce intelligence to justify a war that Bush had already chosen. But the situation was complicated, and to understand the problems of speaking truth to power, we must clear away the myths.

CAMBRIDGE – US President Donald Trump’s nomination of John Ratcliffe, a highly partisan Congressman with little international experience, to replace Dan Coats as Director of National Intelligence raised the red flag of the politicization of intelligence. Opposition to Ratcliffe among Democrats and Republicans alike forced Trump to withdraw the nomination, but the question remains: Will power corrupt truth? Presidents

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