Soft Power and the Struggle Against Terrorism

Last year, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, George Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, asked Secretary of State Colin Powell why the United States seemed to focus only on its hard power rather than its soft power. Secretary Powell replied that the US had used hard power to win World War II, but he continued: "What followed immediately after hard power? Did the US ask for dominion over a single nation in Europe? No. Soft power came in the Marshall Plan¼.We did the same thing in Japan."

After the war in Iraq ended, I spoke about soft power (a concept I developed) to a conference co-sponsored by the US Army in Washington. One speaker was Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. According to a press account, "the top military brass listened sympathetically," but when someone asked Rumsfeld for his opinion on soft power, he replied, "I don't know what it means."

One of Rumsfeld's "rules" is that "weakness is provocative." He is correct, up to a point. As Osama bin Laden observed, people like a strong horse. But power, defined as the ability to influence others, comes in many guises, and soft power is not weakness. On the contrary, it is the failure to use soft power effectively that weakens America in the struggle against terrorism.

Soft power is the ability to get what one wants by attracting others rather than threatening or paying them. It is based on culture, political ideals, and policies. When you persuade others to want what you want, you do not have to spend as much on sticks and carrots to move them in your direction.