Soft Power and Communicating America

Soft Power and American
Communications with the World
Dr. Nancy Snow
William K. Fung Interdisciplinary Workshop
“Communicating with Skeptical Audiences”
Yaffe Center for Persuasive Communication
University of Michigan
October 16, 2003
Soft Power
• n. Power based on intangible or indirect
influences such as culture, values, and
ideology. (
• Has become an oft-referenced, ill-defined
term of the 1990s and beyond
Soft Power Origin
• Term “soft power” first coined by Dean Joseph Nye of
the Harvard Kennedy School of Government in 1990
• “…the richest country in the world could afford both
better education at home and the international influence
that comes from an effective aid and information
program abroad. What is needed is increased investment
in "soft power," the complex machinery of
interdependence, rather than in "hard power" — that is,
expensive new weapons systems.
—Joseph S. Nye, Jr., "The misleading metaphor of
decline," The Atlantic, March 1990
Soft Power= Culture Power
• Soft Power lies in cultural values and how the U.S.
handles, behaves, acts toward, engages and influences
the world
• Emphasis is on co-option over coercion
• Los Angeles megapolis and Hollywood are the central
nervous system for soft power
• US is soft power superman: blessing and our curse
• World has love/hate relationship with US soft power
advantage (We Hate You but Send Us Your Baywatch)
What Others Can Teach US
Nye nominates Canada, the Netherlands
and the Scandinavian countries as states
whose political influence is greater than
their hard power would permit. The
explanation lies in their astute
manipulation of soft power.
—Paul Kelly, "Soft option for hard heads,"
The Weekend Australian, June 8, 2002
The Soft Power Advantage
• Soft power not brand-new nor is the USG the first to try to utilize
culture to its advantage (France, Italy, Germany, UK)
• US a relative latecomer to utilizing culture for diplomatic purposes
• Soft power country advantage:
(1) when culture and ideas match prevailing global norms of
liberalism, pluralism, and autonomy (US advantage +)
(2) those with greater access to multiple communication channels
(ICT) that can influence how issues are framed in global news media
(US advantage++)
(3) when that country’s credibility is enhanced by domestic and
international behavior (US disadvantage --)
U.S. Soft Power
• U.S. should emphasize synergistic
practices such as building mutual
understanding, global community values,
not U.S.-led democratic values (We hold
no patent on soft power or democratic
• Acknowledge dialogue and dissent in U.S.
overseas practices
Soft Power Paradox
Surveys show that Arabs and Muslims admire the
universal values for which the United States stands.
They admire, as well, our technology, our entrepreneurial
zeal, and the achievements of Americans as individuals. We
were told many times in our travels to Arab countries that
“we like Americans but not what the American government
is doing.” This distinction is unrealistic, since
Americans elect their government and broadly
support foreign policy.
Report of the U.S. Advisory
Group on Public Diplomacy for the Arab and Muslim
World, October 1, 2003, p. 24
We Like You, Not Your Policies
1. Open up public diplomacy and soft power
networks to greater coordination between
governmental and nongovernmental players
2. Work to build stronger and lasting
relationships with international journalists
3. Interpersonal communication is most
important to building trust, understanding, and
friendship (Fulbright, IVP, Sports, Arts,
4. Shift focus from Washington, NY, and
Hollywood to Sister Cities International
From Telling to Sharing
1. Motto-shift from USIA motto, “telling
America’s story to the world” to “sharing
values, hopes, dreams, and common
respect” with the world
2. Encourage an “engagement” model of
public diplomacy over a “declamatory”
model (Washington Post editorial:
“Talking to the World”); shift from “To
Talk” to “With Talk”
From Selling to Caring
“The way for this nation to win the hearts and
minds of those most offended by our Iraqi invasion
and occupation is not through press agentry and
advertising. Rather, it is by proving to them that the
American spirit—which, with good will and
unselfish financing, once helped reinvigorate the
world after the great wars of the past century—still
exists despite the arrogant and bullying tactics with
which we have launched the 21st century.”
--Walter Cronkite, The Daily Herald, October 12, 2003