The Overnight Success of “Smart Power” (That Was Years in the Making)

The Overnight Success of “Smart Power” (That Was Years in the Making)

One of the take-aways from Hillary Clinton’s confirmation hearing was the rise of the term “smart power.”  Sen. Clinton said:

“I believe that American leadership has been wanting, but is still wanted,” she said. “We must use what has been called smart power, the full range of tools at our disposal — diplomatic, economic, military, political, legal, and cultural… With smart power, diplomacy will be the vanguard of foreign policy.”

As explained in The Cable,

the framing of “smart power” was, so far as we can determine, actually introduced into the public sphere by former deputy to the U.S. mission at the U.N. Suzanne Nossel…

Suzanne, who is currently the Chief Operating Officer of Human Rights Watch (and a friend of mine) wrote a 2004 article in Foreign Affairs entitled “Smart Power” that set out her conception of the term. She has a further take on it here, in part describing it “as a synthesis of hard and soft, arguing that America’s military and economic preeminence and its cultural and ideological appeal need to be tied together in a brand of power that reinforces both.”

While Clinton’s use of the term turned it into a bon mot literally overnight, “smart power” as a concept has been getting wider and wider usage in recent years. Harvard’s Joe Nye, (who had also used the term “smart power” in his 2004 book “Soft Power“) further explored the idea of smart power when he founded the the CSIS Commission on Smart Power in 2006. John Edwards talked about smart power in 2007, saying:

“We need to re-engage the world with the full weight of our moral leadership,” Mr. Edwards said, in excerpts of his speech obtained from his campaign. “Not hard power. Not soft power. Smart power.”

Here on Opinio Juris, this past November Peggy had blogged about smart power and Obama’s foreign policy.

So, it has taken about five years for “smart power” to be an overnight success.  And now we will see how the concept is actually operationalized.

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It seems to me that in order for us to “operationalize” this theory and use the full weight of our moral leadership in order to exert influence and stabilize conflict – we will have to make some significant changes.  Ones I believe Obama and Clinton are uniquely suited to accomplish.  Instead of responding to the pleading of other nations we must take a positive role on many global issues.  We must be a catalyst for change in order to inspire confidence.  We must discontinue detention at Guantanamo Bay.  We must begin to take climate change seriously.  We must destroy the notion of cowboy diplomacy, and preemptive strike policy.  Smart power cannot work if other nations do not see us as a proactive and serious team player in the international community.  Fair or not we are too often seen as defensive of things like torture, unending detention, and go-it-alone military occupations.  Instead we need to be seen as a bold and sincere opponent of genocide, AIDS, and nuclear proliferation. We need to take climate change seriously, as well as human rights. Quite honestly, we need to stop making senseless and overly cautious reservations to practically every treaty we sign.  We need to be seen as cooperative, strong,… Read more »