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Employees of the state-owned English-language RT television network  YURI KOCHETKOV/AFP/Getty Images

The Point of Sharp Power

Authoritarian regimes do poorly in global public opinion surveys, reinforcing the view that despotism is incompatible with "soft power." And yet Russia and China, for example, are projecting more influence beyond their borders than at any time in recent memory, without relying principally on military might or even on raw economic coercion.

WASHINGTON, DC – In recent years, Russia and China have poured considerable resources into arenas typically associated with “soft power,” a term coined by the American political scientist Joseph S. Nye and understood as the “ability to affect others by attraction and persuasion.” Either directly or through compliant surrogates, these two countries have devoted billions of dollars to increasing their global influence through media, culture, think tanks, academia, and other spheres.

Despite these immense investments, however, observers – including Nye himself – have scratched their heads, wondering why these authoritarian regimes continue to suffer a deep soft-power deficit, even as they have grown more assertive internationally.

Russia and China tend to do poorly in global public opinion surveys and indices of soft power, reinforcing the notion that attraction and persuasion are incompatible with authoritarianism. Internationally, autocrats are not “winning hearts and minds.” Nonetheless, Russia, China, and other well-resourced and ambitious regimes are projecting more influence beyond their borders than at any time in recent memory – and not principally through what Nye calls “hard power”: military might or raw economic coercion.

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