The US has, since WWII, been the most powerful and influential country in the world. Following the collapse of the Communist system in 1990 it is the sole super power. Nonetheless, there have been limits to the extension of American power. The most obvious example is the defeat in Vietnam. More recently, in response to the terrorist attacks on 9/11, the US has become engaged in new wars of occupation in Afghanistan and Iraq. And the prognosis of those state building projects remains uncertain today.
Joseph S. Nye Jr. has provided a new book, The Future of Power, to assess American power and consider the future of America's reach. In some ways this book is an example par excellence of realpolitik. He offers a reasoned approach to assessing the limits of power and provides a methodology, which he terms `smart power,' as a strategy for the successful extension of American influence in the world. He explains that, while the US remains the dominate military power by far, it cannot successfully impose its will on the world order through military might alone. This is, as far as it goes, a rational critique of US policy and its continued reliance upon projected military strength. Indeed the US cannot afford the expense of maintaining military dominance and policing the world. So the author suggests a mix of soft and hard power that are measured against a prioritized list of goals in order to achieve the maximum influence possible. This is the essence of smart power. His advice would certainly be useful, if it were taken to heart by the many old cold-warriors who lead government policy. So from this perspective I think that The Future of Power is a worthy book.
However, in the long run not even smart power will be adequate. The US is losing ground economically in the world economy. Consequently, it will not be capable of maintaining its decisive lead in military prowess. Hence, the reliance on soft power will become ever more important. Why not recognize the trend and stand down earlier on the foolish race to maintain military dominance? In any case shouldn't one question the basic premise of Mr. Nye's book? Why is it important that the US maintain the maximum influence possible within the global community? The author never considers calling this unspoken premise into question. Surely there is a moral dilemma here. Hence, I recommend a more radical perspective on the issue of American power, such as that presented by Andrew J. Bacevich in his excellent book, Washington Rules.
Author of The Bridge