Analysis & Opinions - The National Interest

The End of Soft Power?

| June 12, 2024

Even as the hard power of weapons and armies resurges on the global stage, the cultivation and use of soft power will still hold currency in the twenty-first century.

In a world marked by wars in Ukraine and Gaza, is the age of soft power over? Thirty years ago, with the end of the Soviet Union, increasing integration in Europe, and America’s "Unipolar Moment," the prospects for inter-state war seemed low. Some observers argued that the age of hard power was diminishing, and the world was entering an era of soft power. That clearly turned out to be wrong, but that was never my view. I formulated the concept of soft power during the Cold War and argued that it was relevant to realism and conflict as well as peace.

Soft power is the ability to affect others through attraction rather than coercion or payment, and it is relevant in both war and peace. In the Seven Year's War of the eighteenth century, Russia dropped out of the coalition massed against Prussia because Czar Peter III (newly anointed in the course of the conflict) was a fan of Frederick the Great. Usually, however, its effects are slow and indirect, and it is not the most important source of power for foreign policy in the short run.

However, ignoring or neglecting soft power is a strategic and analytic mistake. Soft power is not new. Roman power rested partly on the attraction of its culture....

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For Academic Citation:

Nye, Joseph S. Jr."The End of Soft Power?" The National Interest, June 12, 2024.