One might as well call it “the Pink Powdery Pixie Dust of Hippie Magic,” because it is really quite a made-up concept that doesn’t make sense relative to its own applications.
Joseph Nye first defined and popularized the notion of “soft power” as the ability to attract and influence others. But somewhere down the path of popularity, such a general idea became shrouded in numbers and PR. Now, it is no longer enough to merely “attract”, no longer enough to be “soft”. “Power” and “Influence twisted the essence of the notion until “soft power” became a plan of attack, like a soft drink overloaded with caffeine and sugar and double spiked with rum and turned into a 12 hour Energy Drink.
Mr. Nye may have defined “soft power”, but he certainly did not create it. He merely sought to coin a word and define what he thinks was missing from Western traditional exercise of “hard power”. But that means, Mr. Nye may himself be wrong in what he perceived, and he cannot give all the answers.
Worst of all, it is now being used to PR against China to prove rhetorically silly media lines like “China doesn’t have Soft Power Afterall.” Well, I don’t think any one can say China has lost that Pixie Dust of Magic, because I don’t think China ever claimed that it had it in the first place!
What Mr. Nye (and the followers of his “soft power” theory) is encountering, is the denial of the limitation of their own theory. That being, they can’t explain why the data in China’s case don’t fit their model, and yet they still insist that their theory must be correct.
So, Mr. Nye tries to explain China as rising BECAUSE of a mystery substance of “soft power” that China must have had, i.e. via its economic influence without too much bloody baggage of foreign interventions.
Mr. Nye’s basic premise of “soft power” is that it is a power that seeks to influence or attract others by culture, value, morality, ethics, etc., instead of the “hard power” of military force and diplomatic pressure. The strongest proof of his theory/model is that US failed to utilize its “soft power” properly, and that is why US has failed to sway other nations, especially in the War on Terrorism. Mr. Nye argues that US needs to “balance” its “hard power” with “soft power”.
On the point of US failure, Mr. Nye will get very few disagreements on the facts. But is it because of lack of “soft power”, whatever that means?? That theory is, I say, still debatable.
Culture, value, morality, ethics, etc., while may be “soft” by some standard, if one remember history, were still long used tools of Western imperialism and colonialism. Afterall, the West wielded the Cross along with the Guns to dominate the world.
Some have criticized Nye’s “soft power” as potentially intrusive and unwanted. And they clearly have a point. Culture and values may not be as overtly destructive as bullets and bombs, but if littered like garbage on someone’s backyard, they can be just as destructive in turning some one’s nation into a wasteland, albeit a little slower.
This also explains why Nye’s “soft power” theory is wrong, because in the root of it, it is still based upon a very Western biased notion of imposing influences upon other nations, which is imperialistic in nature. In other words, Nye is basic premise is flawed, because his narrow focus was on “how can we manipulate others”.
Of course, by this narrow focused question, Nye and others cannot understand what China is seeking to gain in its “soft power” type actions, like the 2008 Olympics, the Confucius Institute, etc.
That is because, Nye’s Premise or assumption of model of “soft power” is fundamentally flawed, i.e. if you are going to assume that there is an imaginary “pink elephant”, then you will likely be proven wrong on your assertions about the “pink elephant”.
In other words, Nye and others, incorrectly assumed that China had “soft power”, or was wielding “soft power” as a “power” in the traditional Western sense of the term.
They cannot fathom the possibility that ordinary Chinese would want to move to Africa to do business, for no particular collective reason OTHER than mere knowledge, profit and opportunities. (Hard to image that 1000’s and 1000’s of Chinese would want to go to far away foreign places, just for new opportunities?? Try consider when Chinese came to America and help built the railroad system.)
No, for Nye and others, China must have a collective agenda to wield that Pixie Dust of “soft power”, generally to the detriment of the West.
But that is precisely where the Myth of the “Soft Power” has gone awry. China’s REAL “soft power”, (if there is such a thing), is in the plain ordinary and personal goals of its 1.3 billion People, who can mobilize themselves without collective edicts, who don’t need “aid programs” to go to new places to adapt to new ways, who don’t need protections of armies and drones to build roads and hospitals.
Nye and his disciples, (among them Hillary Clinton), are unfortunately stuck in the mindset of “State-Sponsored Influence in Geopolitics,” where they can only see that to counter China, the West must pour vast resources into its own version of “soft power”, and that means, PR movies, marketing, etc., to balance the Hard Power of the “State-sponsored collateral damages.”
As usual, “Soft Power” in the Nye sense, is turning into another Orwellian Newspeak term that means almost nothing at all, because it was afterall, Made-up.