Why Smart Power is Not Smart At All




Joseph Nye coined the term Soft Power in 2003 that advocates the adequate use of Hard and Soft Power combined. Members of our group are Ms. Christine Wester, Mr. Teun Oonk, Mr. Jan-Lodewijk Boonstra and Mr. Albert Hahne. We think that Mr. Nye’s approach is systematically wrong – to elaborate this; we initially stated that, in our perception, we must perceive Smart Power as the balanced use of all factors, both, hard and soft power strategies in order to guard the national interests of a country. Hard power existed for ages; Joseph Nye did not invent this principle. We therefore state that it can perfectly exist without soft power in an acceptable way. Hence, we will focus mostly on Soft Power to show you the fatal flaws of Smart Power.


 To be independent of public opinion is the first formal condition of achieving anything great.

(Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel)


The first line of argumentation of Mr. Albert Hahne will fetch the US-Smart power clash with democratic institutions, which also is one pillar of Joseph Nyes Soft Power theory. Smart Power does not work because it only embraces its own interest, whereas it is mainly indifferent to the culture and interests of other major countries. These countries, namely China or Russia, have cultural heritage and interests that are too strong to be overcome; soft power will eventually fail to make these countries fully comply the smart power’s strategy. China and Russia, the first being an authoritarian regime, the second being an illiberal democracy – both countries offering a very minimum of human rights – have voted in the 2012 resolution to end the civil war in Syria with their Veto right. Their underlying intentions – undoubtfully, were to protect their own illiberal regimes 2. During the history of the UN, Russia has used their P5 veto right by far the most with 119 times. However, to exert Smart Power successfully in the long-run, it is of utmost importance to retain moral authority. Thus, the US could not intervene in the Civil War in Syria. The UN is a major organ to validate the Smart Power plans of the USA. As China and Russia have Veto seats in the Security Council, it is not possible to exert hard power legitimately in the long-run – that’s why smart isn’t smart at all!!


Ms. Christine Wester’s line of argumentation stated that our opponent team tried to convince us that there are only two options; soft power and hard power. It is already know that both theories have their flaws and haven´t proved to be very successful and combining them will not cause the flaws to vanish. They have most apparently not even thought about alternatives. We believe that there are more and better possibilities and the other team blinds themselves to the facts that smart power is not as smart.  Our opinion is that, if a theory has not proven to work out, one must think about other ways.  Two other concepts include: transformational diplomacy and technocratic diplomacy. Both theories are not new, but have not been conducted, as most people stick to the old system.  In a technocratic diplomacy, decision-makers are chosen based on their technical expertise and background. A technocracy differs from a traditional democracy in that individuals are elected through a process that emphasizes their relevant skills and proven performance, as opposed to whether or not they fit the majority interests of a population. A technocrat demonstrates more pragmatic and data-oriented problem-solving skills in the political arena. Decisions made by technocrats are based on information derived from methodology rather than opinion. This has so many advantages as opinions can change quickly and can be irrational. Data does not.

A Transformational diplomacy promotes democracy by changing the world itself by working together with many partners around the world and building and sustaining democratic, well-governed states that will respond to the needs of their people and conduct themselves responsibly in the international system. This initiative was born out of the realization in the US that they cannot walk the same path in case of diplomacy as they did before. It is an active, peaceful approach that plays in the hand of the promoter.  Hence, we advocate a change of thinking.


Mr. Teun Oonk argumented that there are some fatal flaws in the definition of soft power. Mister Nye cites that soft power is based on three pillars, namely Public Diplomacy Cultural Diplomacy and Financial Aid.

Soft power does not lie with the governments and that it is therefore hard to wield it into a certain direction. It does not cost as much money as hard power, but therefore it is a lot less direct in its effect. Soft power is used to influence to alter the public opinion, reputational products or services are able to nudge this public opinion into a certain direction, however this comes at a risk. As soon as the respective company tries to influence the populace to hard, or there is a group which does not comply with way the public opinion is heading to it could have disastrous consequence for the reputation of a certain product, service, or company. People will start looking for the competitor and the reputation where the company worked on for years can be destroyed in an instant. Soft power is therefore a very fragile power as public opinion can change in an instant.

Soft power in the form of cultural diplomacy is also highly debatable as a power, because for one it is often reflected to as an influences coming from the movie industry or the music industry. They do not affect the other countries that much. According to an article of ue.eu.int on soft and hard power Hollywood is seen as a source of soft power, however both Saddam Hussein and Kim Jong Il are said to be avid American movie fans. It did not help the U.S. much in Iraq and North-Korea.

Every country wants to proclaim their own soft power. China for example who has an immense cultural history is therefore not likely to change and follow a more western approach due to the soft power those nations put on China.

In conclusion, I want to mention that although not all soft power is completely useless, it shows some major deficits and that as a result the focus shall lie more on hard power which is not the solution. 3


As Mr. Jan-Lodewijk Boonsta pointed out; eventually, with Smart power, you give the room to other countries to take your power. Even more, hard power isn’t working either, because invading a country will always create hatred amongst the populace of the country, which cannot be solved with Soft power.  Technocratic Diplomacy is a mediating way between parties that need help; it can be seen as similar to the UN. However, it is different in the way that countries involved cannot decide into the decision making progress. This is done by independent experts that look into the best solution for both parties. How is it possible to serve national interest when security forces are offered by all countries, stationed in countries where there are no interests for the individual countries?

And that’s why Smart power is not smart at all!

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