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The Paradox of American Power: Why the World's Only Superpower Can't Go It Alone 1st Edition

40 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0195161106
ISBN-10: 0195161106
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

"Unilateralism, arrogance, and parochialism" the U.S. must abandon these traits in a post-Sept. 11 world, says Nye, former assistant secretary of defense and now dean of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. He explains eloquently the principles he believes should govern American foreign policy in the decades ahead. His starting point is the preponderance of American power in today's world. Nye distinguishes between hard power (military and economic strength) and soft power (openness, prosperity and similar values that persuade and attract rather than coerce others). Nye argues that a dominant state needs both kinds of power, and that the current information revolution and the related phenomenon of globalization call for the exercise of soft more than hard power. It is, Nye believes, dangerous for the U.S. systematically to opt out of treaties and conventions endorsed by the great majority of nations. The U.S. should participate in world debate on transnational issues such as global warming and nuclear defense, not simply declare American interests paramount to the exclusion of all other views. Nye quotes a summarizing insight from a French critic: "nothing in the world can be done without the United States, [A]nd... there is very little the United States can achieve alone." As the author points out, in the aftermath of September 11, the policy issues this book addresses are magnified rather than diminished in importance. This reasoned and timely essay on the uses of power makes a valuable contribution to American public discourse. (Mar.)Forecast: Blurbs by Madeleine Albright and Henry Kissinger highlight that this should be required reading for foreign policy wonks. Oxford is backing this with a $50,000 marketing budget and is counting on major media attention. Still, whether this finds a wider audience may depend on whether Americans' interest in the world at large survives six months after September 11.

Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Nye, former assistant secretary of defense under Clinton and current dean of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, offers a prescription for America's new role in the world that calls for a broader, more responsible, and cooperative relationship with the rest of the world. Nye sees September 11 as a "wake-up call" to Americans that negates our decade-long sense of invincibility and invulnerability in the wake of the invisible power now held by NGOs (nongovernmental organizations) and stealthy terrorist organizations. The main instigator of this dissipation of traditional American power is the technological revolution, which has been diffusing power away from governments during the post-Soviet decade and thus empowering individuals and groups to act globally in ways that were previously the domain of governments. Nye calls upon the U.S. to counter these forces by the use of "soft power," by which he means, for instance, a more focused and intelligent use of new forms of mass communications. A very thoughtful look ahead at American power through this century. Allen Weakland
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (May 1, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195161106
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195161106
  • Product Dimensions: 7.9 x 0.7 x 5.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (40 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #463,777 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
My highest complement for a book used to be how many pens I broke on it. This book leaps into a new category. I actually had to read it three times, short as it is. It is brilliant, with paragraphs of such substance that multiple readings are needed to "unzip" the implications. This is not an undergraduate text although it could certainly be used as such, to open deep discussions.
Among the strategic thoughts that I found most valuable were these: 1) a plenitude of information leads to a poverty of attention; 2) in the absence of time or means to actually review real-world information, politics becomes a contest of competitive credibility (with the Internet changing the rules of the game somewhat); 3) Japan has vital lessons to teach Islamic nations--that one can adapt to the new world while maintaining a unique culture; 4) we are failing to adapt our democratic processes to the challenges of the Earth as well as the opportunities of the Internet.
This last merits special attention. I found in this book an intellectual and political argument for restoring democratic meaning to our national policies. From its evaluation of the pernicious effect of special interest groups on foreign policy; to its explanation ("When the majority are indifferent, they leave the battlefields of foreign policy to those with special interests."); to its prescription for healthy policies: a combination of national discussion (not just polling), with a proper respect for the opinions of others (e.g. foreigners), the author clearly sets himself apart from those who would devise national policies in secret meetings with a few preferred pals.
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38 of 45 people found the following review helpful By Craig L. Howe on April 19, 2002
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Not since Roman Empire has any nation had so much economic, cultural and military power, yet that power alone will not be sufficient to solve the world's problems.
Joseph Nye, Dean of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, presents a three-pronged strategy for maintaining the United States' standing in the world while reducing its vulnerability in the years to come.
He argues this power will last far into the 21st Century, but only if we learn to exercise it wisely. Power in this new century will rest on a mix of what he defines as "hard" and "soft" resources. The greatest mistake we can make as a world power is to allow ourselves to become the victim of one-dimensional analysis, believing that investment in military power alone with ensure our strength.
Paying attention to "soft" power, the former Chairman of the National Intelligence Council and Assistant Defense Secretary in the Clinton Administration argues, will co-opt people rather than coerce them. Military and economic power can be used to influence or threaten other people and country's positions once they are taken. Soft power however, rests on the ability to set the political agenda in a way that shapes preferences.
It is the ability to entice and attract. It stems, in large part, from our values -- the policies we follow inside our country and the way we handle ourselves abroad. It recognizes that power in the information age is less tangible and coercive.
There is also a benefit to not going it alone. While an inequality of power, he says, has often led to peace, because there is no point in declaring war on a more powerful state, it causes some countries to chafe.
Effective global governance requires a powerful state to take the lead.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 1, 2002
Format: Hardcover
I rated this book at 4 stars because it is a thorough primer; in other words, it is a solid summary of arguments for and against an increased application of soft power. While most contemporary geo-political texts tend to be long on problems and short on solutions, Dean Nye consistently applies his solution throughout the text.
Having said that, it seems to me that this book was compiled hastily. Based on extrinsic research, I concur with most of Dean Nye's conclusions. However, his premises are often shallow - or at best, weakly articulated. For example, Dean Nye relies on passing reference to Antonio Gramsci in support of one of the basic premises of soft power - the ability to shape the political preferences of other nations. There is neither a cite to Gramsci's work, nor an explanation of why Gramsci's observations are more relevant than a more contemporary political theorist.
Finally, I suspect that reviews which interpret this as a text arguing the merits of "multilateralism v. unilateralism" may have missed the larger picture. Since even a unilateral regime can be a leading "soft power", it seems that the theory implicates more about an American approach to international relationships than it does about American policy, per se.
Compare George Mitchell's book, "Making Peace" about the American role in the negotiation of the Belfast Accords and Louise Diamond's primer "Multi-Track Diplomacy: A Systems Approach to Peace" as potential illustrations of the practical application of soft power techniques in international relations.
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