BOOK REVIEWS: 1. The Paradox of American Power: Why the World's Only Superpower Can't Go It Alone 2. Winning at the Merit Systems Protection Board: A Step-By-Step Handbook for Federal Agency Supervisors, Managers, Lawyers, and Personnel Officials 3. President Bush's Dream Team Goes to War 4. Whose War Is It Anyway?

Author:Major John Hyatt
Pages:09
 
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402 MILITARY LAW REVIEW [Vol. 175

THE PARADOX OF AMERICAN POWER: WHY THE WORLD'S ONLY SUPERPOWER CAN'T GO IT ALONE1

REVIEWED BY MAJOR JOHN HYATT2

America will continue to be number one, but . . . number one ain't gonna be what it used to be.3

To nearly every American, the above quotation is both heartening and vaguely troubling. Americans like the idea that the United States will continue to be the most powerful country on Earth. Yet, if this is so, Americans wonder why some problems seem insoluble and that the United States' vulnerabilities seem to be increasing. What costs, compromises, and sacrifices must America really make to secure its future.

In The Paradox of American Power, James S. Nye, Jr., explains the sources and condition of America's power and gives his audience a prescription for maintaining and even extending the country's might. Nye's voice merits considerable attention. He is currently the Dean of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, formerly served as an assistant secretary of defense in the Clinton Administration, and is a frequent contributor to numerous prestigious periodicals.4 Furthermore, his track record for understanding America's global position is solid. In 1989, in his book Bound to Lead,5 Nye took the unfashionable position (recall the enormous budget deficits and seemingly unstoppable rise of Japan) that America was poised to soar to new heights.6 Of course, readers should not take Nye's word as gospel. While his credentials and track record are impres-

sive, Nye is unmistakably a Democratic partisan, and his audience should view his work in that light.7

The essence of Nye's argument in Paradox is that the United States is on course to maintain its leading position in the world, but to do so it must acknowledge and take advantage of global changes elevating the importance of so-called "soft" power and diminishing the importance of more traditional "hard" power. Hard power, as Nye uses this term, is a nation's ability to coerce or force a change through sources such as military might and economic strength. It does not have to be negative; a nation can exercise such power through inducements as well as threats. Soft power, on the other hand, refers to a nation's ability to get other countries to want what that nation wants, to co-opt, rather than coerce.8 If other countries respect, admire, and want to be like a nation, they will likely work for outcomes favorable to that nation. The reason "number one ain't gonna be what it used to be,"and why Nye describes America's position vis-à-vis it's global power as a "paradox," is that the very process of acknowledging and harnessing soft power requires the United States to refrain from unilateral, "arrogant" policies-in short, to give up some of the benefits of being number one.

Nye does not argue that soft power is more important than hard power. Rather, he argues that soft power is gaining in importance because America cannot solve many of the problems it faces today, at acceptable cost, by resort to hard power alone.9 For instance, imagine the difficulty of solving any of the following problems without the cooperation of other states: the spread of infectious disease, the flow of illegal migrants, international industrial pollution, habitat destruction, drug smuggling, or terrorism. The list could continue, but the point is that even America, with the most powerful military and the strongest economy in the world, needs the cooperation of other states to address many significant issues it faces. Therefore, America must pay heed to the opinions, concerns, and perceptions of other countries and peoples in the conduct of its affairs.

Nye begins his analysis with a comprehensive exploration and evaluation of the current distribution of global power. In very clear and persuasive terms, he demonstrates that the United States is by far the most powerful country in the world. Nye's comparative analysis devotes se

eral pages each to China, Japan, Russia, India, a combined Europe, and several of their possible combinations. He provides a wide range of factors bearing on a country's power, including the number of nuclear warheads, defense budget, personal computers per 1000 residents, Gross Domestic Product, population, high-tech exports, manufacturing capacity, and several others.10 Nye includes a helpful chart that summarizes and displays the relationships.11

Next, Nye shows how the various factors interrelate. In Nye's view, power is a multifaceted and comprehensive concept, which he explains using the metaphor of a three-level chessboard. Military power occupies the top chessboard. At this level of power, the world is unipolar. The "United States is the only country with both intercontinental nuclear weapons and large, state-of-the-art air, naval, and ground forces capable of global deployment."12 Economic power resides on the second, multipolar chessboard, upon which Europe and Japan can already balance the United States, and China will probably become a significant power early this century. The bottom chessboard is the realm of "non-state actors as diverse as bankers electronically transferring sums larger than most national budgets, at one extreme, and terrorists carrying out attacks and hackers disrupting Internet operations, at the other."13 Here, power is widely dispersed, rendering any discussion of polarity obsolete.

Nye then explores and explains two macro-trends that he believes are increasing the importance of soft power such that the United States must embrace this concept. The first trend is the "Information Revolution."14

Nye offers some "gee-whiz" statistics to create a sense of the magnitude of the information explosion that has occurred over the past years. The growth in Web pages, e-mail messages, and gigabytes of stored data is so vast, it defies practical comprehension: "If the price of automobiles had fallen as quickly as the price of semiconductors, a car today would cost $5."15 Fortunately, Nye's statistical onslaught is relatively short, and it

makes the point that the information revolution is objectively and measurably happening and therefore undeniable.

No one can seriously dispute the existence of the information revolution; however, the impacts Nye ascribes to this global development are debatable. First, Nye argues that the information revolution will result in the decentralization of information, power, and authority. Other scholars point out that previous waves of technological innovation have tended to have a centralizing effect and that for much of the past century, national governments have grown dramatically.16 Although arguing for the reversal of a historical trend is difficult, Nye convincingly answers this criticism by highlighting a crucial difference between the information revolution and all previous rounds of technological innovation.

According to Nye, the information revolution has made very inexpensive "many-to-many" communications possible for the first time.17 Telephones and telegraphs have long allowed cheap "one-to-one" communications, and radio and television have allowed affordable "oneto-many" communication. But the Internet, like nothing before it, allows many-to-many communication at very low cost and on a global scale. Virtual communities in cyberspace claim the attention and loyalties of citizens across geographical boundaries.18

Nye cites a variety of examples to illustrate this point: Transnational corporations exert a great deal of control over the flow of capital, the location of factories, and the provision of goods;19 ordinary consumers have access to information once the exclusive preserve of the world's top-tier militaries, such as global positioning systems and high-resolution satellite photos;20 and a Vermont-based grass roots activist mobilized international support and ultimately succeeded in the creation of an international convention banning anti-personnel land mines over the opposition of the Pentagon, the most powerful bureaucracy in the most powerful country on Earth.21

The most convincing illustration of Nye's decentralization argument is the growth in the power of human rights activists. Activists have been

able to mobilize enough support within sovereign states to get those states to mount certain attacks on the concept of sovereignty itself. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization's intervention in Kosovo, the British arrest and extradition of General Augusto Pinochet, and a French magistrate's effort to summon a former U.S. Secretary of State to Paris to testify in a trial about Chile all exemplify the global influence human rights activists can exert.22

The second impact that Nye credits to the information revolution is a fundamental change to the prerequisites for effectively communicating any message. Too much information creates a "paradox of plenty."23 In

an information age in which virtually any voice can have a global reach, power does not flow merely from the ability to broadcast information; rather, to communicate effectively, the audience must believe your message over various competing voices. Thus, power flows from credibility. Nye concludes that to enhance the credibility necessary to take advantage of this trend, countries must emphasize liberalism and autonomy and have access to multiple channels of communication.24

Nye's reasoning on this point is seductive, but he does not adequately support his conclusion. Despite a robust democracy, an aggressively free press, a lengthy record as the foremost champion of the ideals cited by Nye, and lots of access to communications channels, the United States suffers from a profound lack of credibility in certain parts of the world, in particular among Islamic countries. The proposition that ideals that generate soft power in one culture may undercut it in another is certainly understandable, but even this allowance does not rescue Nye. One...

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