Soft power

From Academic Kids

Soft Power and American Foreign Policy

Soft power is the ability of a political body to get what it wants through the use of cultural or ideological attraction, in order to influence other political bodies that they want the same thing. It is a type of behavioral power rather than a type of resource power. That is to say, it is a type of power that is used to reach the favored and ideal outcome of an actor. Soft power must be distinguished from the other type of behavioral power: hard power. Hard power, as opposed to convincing others what they want through cultural means, deals with the ability to coerce another political body to do something. Hard power necessitates the use of carrots and sticks with other nations in order to reach a desired outcome. The idea of soft power thus suggests that if a country’s ideals and culture are appealing, it will have greater influence abroad because other countries will be open to its ideals and values. International institutions exercise soft power by advocating certain values that serve as standards for the world. The success of soft power depends on the actor’s credibility within the global arena, as well as the flow of information between actors. Thus, soft power is often associated with the rise in globalization.

The United States has great potential to exercise soft power in the international sphere, given its seemingly successful capitalist system and the proliferation of liberal values and equality. The spread of these values is made possible by what Keohane and Nye term the “information revolution”. Over the past century, the United States has exercised soft power on and off to achieve several outcomes, none of which have been more prevalent than the goal of promoting and creating liberal democracies abroad in line with democratic peace theory. In many cases, the exportation of American values as a model to be replicated has promoted liberal democratization in the international arena. In 1991 the students protesting in Tiananmen Square showed their reverence for American political values by building a model of the Statue of Liberty. It can be argued that the success of the American economic system and the liberal nature of American society lead to the end of the cold war as Gorbachev and Yeltsin began to admire US prosperity. Furthermore, economic sanctions against the apartheid South African regime, and more importantly an anti-apartheid movement in American civil society contributed to the dissolution of the apartheid government in South Africa in 1994. Because American soft power clearly influences regimes abroad, it is crucial that American domestic politics actually present equal and liberal values that American foreign policy decision makers would like to see emulated abroad in order to create an environment more conducive to democracy.

The ability of the United States to use soft power to achieve its goals will depend on its credibility and the capability to maintain model domestic politics at home. According to Joseph Nye, the cheap nature of soft power (as opposed to military might and hard power) reveals that it may be beneficial for the United States to use soft power in achieving democratic aims in the war on terror. However, the exercise of American soft power is dependent on the congruency between American domestic politics and American foreign politics, as well as the congruency between American national interests and the interests of the rest of the world. The explicit exercise of hard power by the Bush administration in order to promote democracy abroad somewhat decreases the credibility of American soft power because it engenders resentment in certain areas of the world. The use of soft power by the United States necessitates multilateral actions abroad in order to promote the credibility of American values and foreign policy aims.

The United States has certain institutions that focus on using soft power (rather than hard power) abroad. The National Endowment for Democracy is one such institution, funded by Congress, whose aim is to use soft power to promote more democratic regimes in the international arena. Such grassroot organizations specifically focus on creating conditions for democracy by the sharing of information, expertise, and democracy-strengthening techniques. Institutions such as the NED are out of sorts with George W. Bush’s neo-conservative isolationist platform, which advocates the unilateral exercise of military and economic force to implant democracies in Iraq and other countries abroad.


Keohane, Robert and Joseph Nye. "Power, Interdependence and the Information Age" from Conflict After the Cold War

Jentleson, Bruce. "Principles: The Coming of a Democratic Century?" from American FOreign Policy: The Dynamics of Choice in the 21st Century


Academic Kids Menu

  • Art and Cultures
    • Art (
    • Architecture (
    • Cultures (
    • Music (
    • Musical Instruments (
  • Biographies (
  • Clipart (
  • Geography (
    • Countries of the World (
    • Maps (
    • Flags (
    • Continents (
  • History (
    • Ancient Civilizations (
    • Industrial Revolution (
    • Middle Ages (
    • Prehistory (
    • Renaissance (
    • Timelines (
    • United States (
    • Wars (
    • World History (
  • Human Body (
  • Mathematics (
  • Reference (
  • Science (
    • Animals (
    • Aviation (
    • Dinosaurs (
    • Earth (
    • Inventions (
    • Physical Science (
    • Plants (
    • Scientists (
  • Social Studies (
    • Anthropology (
    • Economics (
    • Government (
    • Religion (
    • Holidays (
  • Space and Astronomy
    • Solar System (
    • Planets (
  • Sports (
  • Timelines (
  • Weather (
  • US States (


  • Home Page (
  • Contact Us (

  • Clip Art (
Personal tools