Europe must work harder at becoming a smart power | Transatlantic Voices | DW | 18.05.2011
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Transatlantic Voices

Europe must work harder at becoming a smart power

The killing of Osama bin Laden was justified, argues Joseph Nye in an interview with Deutsche Welle. Nye, who coined the terms soft and smart power, also advises Europe to invest more in its military capacities.

Joseph Nye

Joseph Nye is one of the world's most influential foreign policy scholars. He is currently Distinguished Service Professor at Harvard University and previously served as Dean of the Kennedy School. Nye is credited with coining the terms and theory of soft and smart power. He also served as Assisted Secretary of Defense in the Clinton administration from 1994 to 1995. Nye is the author of numerous books on international relations, the latest being "The Future of Power" (2011).

Deutsche Welle: President Obama who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize soon after taking office has generally been characterized as a supporter of soft power who prefers a multi-lateral approach over unilateralism and engagement with adversaries over military confrontation. Do his decisions to resort to hard power in the use of military force in Libya and to kill Osama bin Laden alter the image of Obama?

Joseph Nye: Obama was never just a soft power president. Remember the term which was used by administration was smart power which I have defined as mixing hard and soft power. The difference between Obama and Bush is Bush relied almost primarily on hard power. Obama relies on a mixture of hard and soft power and that is smart power which has become the slogan for the administration. If you also go back to his Nobel speech in 2009 you'll notice he makes very clear that there are times when military force has to be used.

How would you rate Obama's tenure so far then as a smart power president?

I think he's actually done quite well. If you look at the case of Libya for example, he was very careful not to use American military power until he had the power of a narrative which was based on a resolution from the Arab League and the UN. If he had gone in unilaterally with American military power the narrative or soft power story would have been that Americans invade another Muslim country.

And by waiting I think he actually showed that he was able to combine the soft power of narrative with the hard power of military force. Contrast that with President George W. Bush who when he failed to get a second UN resolution decided to go in (to Iraq - the ed.) anyway and that had very high costs for American soft power.

Do you then support the killing of bin Laden on Pakistani soil even though it is the epitome of hard power that one would have associated with George W. Bush?

I do. Bin Laden had a soft power of his own which was a myth that he was trying to perpetuate that he was invincible, that he was the strong horse and that his perverted view of religion was the future. And there's no way to attract bin Laden with soft power. And in that sense you had to use hard power to puncture his myth.

So you would support that even though it was a unilateral action which some argue was against international law?

I am not sure it was against international law. Remember bin Laden had declared war against the United States and was indeed engaged in operations to kill Americans both in Afghanistan and in the United States. I think the use of force against him is fully justified.

One lesson from the fight against terrorism appears to be that hard power is not enough to uproot terrorism and the ideology that is behind it, but that what you call smart power, the use of soft and hard power is needed. Has the West learned the lesson now after a decade of fighting international terrorism?

I think we are beginning to understand that. You have to use hard power against the hard cases like bin Laden that can't be attracted. But you are never going to prevail unless you are going to able to prevent the hard core from recruiting from the mainstream.

And the way you prevent that recruitment from the mainstream is essentially by a soft power narrative, an approach that basically indicates that we are sympathetic to mainstream Muslims, to their religion, to their approach to life and are willing to be helpful. I think that is an indication that you need soft power as a major component in dealing with the struggle against extremist terrorism.

President Obama is due to give a speech on the Middle East. Do you also consider this as part of the mix of hard and soft power after the killing of bin Laden to try and reach out to the wider Muslim world?

Yes, I think it's very important to keep that narrative going. One of the things I say in my new book is that in the information age, it's not just whose army wins, it's also whose story wins. And that ability to make sure you are in control of the narrative to attract and persuade is as important as the use of hard power.

Do you think the fight against Islamic terrorism has been won now and that the end of bin Laden also signals the demise of al Qaeda at large?

Unfortunately no, there will be many other would-be imitators. I think it greatly weakens bin Laden's al Qaeda organization. But there are many self-recruited people who have been involved in terrorism and I am afraid this will continue. So even while al Qaeda will not be as strong as it was there will still be, I am afraid, a good deal of terrorism. We know from history that terrorism tends to go in generational cycles and this generation is not over.

Europe prides itself and is also internationally considered as perhaps the leading soft power in the world. Do you consider Europe a smart power as well?

Obviously, yes, Europe can use the hard power of its economic assistance not merely to attract, but also to be coercive at times. But I think it's equally important for Europe to maintain the capacity to use military power as we saw in the actions relating to Libya.

So my concern is that while I am greatly impressed with Europe's soft power, Europe too needs to be a smart power. And I worry that it may not be investing enough in the other half of what is required to be a smart power.

Interview: Michael Knigge
Editor: Rob Mudge

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