About Power & PolicyPower & Policy is a virtual forum for explaining and debating the exercise of American power in the world. The core participants are renowned Harvard Kennedy School faculty members and associates who have spent decades studying how power works.
Topics9/11 Afghanistan Al Qaeda American power Arab spring Belfer Center Bush China cyber Egypt Europe Fukushima Graham Allison Harvard Harvard Kennedy School Heineman Heinonen Iran Iraq Islam Israel Japan Libya Middle East military Muammar al-Gaddafi Mubarak Muslim Brotherhood NATO Nicholas Burns North Korea nuclear Nye Obama Osama bin Laden power Putin Qaddafi Russia Saudi Arabia security Syria terrorism Wikileaks Yemen
Author Archives: Joseph S. Nye
By Joseph S. Nye The death of Kim Jong Il may gradually unlock change in North Korea, but the process is unlikely to be smooth or quick. In 2010, Kim promoted his 20s-something son Kim Jong Eun to be a … Continue reading
By Joseph S. Nye I recently visited Japan and met with Prime Minister Noda, Foreign Minister Genba, and several Diet members, as well as business people and members of the press. The good news is that I came away encouraged. … Continue reading
By Joseph S. Nye The recovery of the American economy has slowed, and the collapse of the Euro — a financial crisis in Europe — could tip the United States into the feared double dip of recession. Ironically for the … Continue reading
Was 9/11 a turning point in world history? It is too soon to be tell. After all, the lessons of World War I looked very different in 1939 than they did a mere decade after 1918.
As I argue in The Future of Power, one of the great powers shifts of this century is the increased empowerment of non-state actors, and 9/11 was a dramatic illustration of this long term trend. In 2001 an attack by non-state actors killed more Americans than a government attack did at Pearl Harbor in 1941. But this “privatization of war” was occurring before 9/11 and some American government reports in the 1990s even warned it was coming.
The long-term effect of 9/11 depends on how the United States reacts and the lessons it has learned. In the short term of the past decade, the US has learned to take the new threat seriously and has improved its security procedures and been able to prevent a recurrence of 9/11. All that is to the good.
World Trade Center memorial lights (Photo by John Franco)
World Trade Center memorial lights (Photo by John Franco)
But there is a larger question about terrorism.
By Joseph S. Nye The Pentagon recently released a new doctrine for cyberspace. It is an intelligent document that stresses defense, and reserves the right to reply to a cyber attack by the means of our choice. But for all … Continue reading
President Obama’s speech on Afghanistan has been described as a domestic political compromise between those who want a rapid drawdown and those who want more time. Foreign policy always rests on domestic compromises in a democracy, and the initial reaction … Continue reading
When I was asked recently by a British literary website to recommend five books about global power, I naturally started with my favorite – Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War. But I also included a recent book by Richard A. Clarke and Robert K. Knake, Cyber War, because it is a useful primer on an increasingly important dimension of power.
(Dick Clarke is a faculty affiliate in the Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs — and is a contributor to Power & Policy; his initial blog post on cyber security is a stark survey of cyber concerns).
While techies have been aware of cyber problems for some time, political leaders and strategists are just beginning to come to terms with cyber power. In February, for the first time in its 47 years, the Munich Security Conference included a session on cyber security: it was a major issue at the April meeting of the Trilateral Commission in Washington; and the EastWest Institute held its second worldwide cybersecurity summit of more than 400 people from 40 countries in London in early June. Now the British government is planning a major intergovernmental conference in November.
My friend John Deutch has challenged me to explain the breakdown of governance in the United States and to identify what can be done about our capacity to deal with it.
The problems are real, but “breakdown” is too strong a word to describe them, and it is important to put current problems in historical perspective. The founders deliberately designed American government to be inefficient with checks, balances, and delays. As the joke goes, it was designed so King George could not rule over us — nor anyone else. Some argue that an inefficient 18th century design cannot cope with 21st century global problems like the rise of Asia or the transnational diffusion that I describe in The Future of Power. However, our inefficient system has coped with even greater problems in the past with only one serious breakdown a century and a half ago.
Some hawks have cited the skillful military operation that killed Osama Bin Laden as proof that terrorism must be dealt with by hard power, not soft power. But such conclusions are mistaken. A smart strategy against terrorism also requires a large measure of soft power.
Terrorists have long understood that they can never hope to compete head on with a major government in terms of hard power. Instead, they use violence to create drama and narrative that gives them the soft power of attraction. Terrorists rarely overthrow a government. Instead, they try to follow the insights of jujitsu to leverage the strength of a powerful government against itself. Terrorist actions are designed to outrage and provoke over-reactions by the strong.
For example, Osama bin Laden’s strategy was to provoke the United States into reactions that would destroy its credibility, weaken its allies across the Muslim world, and eventually lead to exhaustion. The United States fell into that trap with the invasion of Iraq. According to a May 6 article in the National Journal, “By conservative estimates, bin Laden cost the United States at least $3 trillion over the past 15 years, counting the disruptions he wrought on the domestic economy, the wars and heightened security triggered by the terrorist attacks he engineered, and the direct efforts to hunt him down.”
Killing Bin Laden does not end terrorism. In the short run, it may even lead to a spurt of decentralized revenge attacks, but in the longer term it deals Al Qaeda a severe blow. Over the past decade, Al Qaeda became a loose network, almost a franchise, where much of the activity was developed by local terrorist entrepreneurs. Now the value of the brand name is diminished, and that makes the franchise less valuable.
As I describe in The Future of Power, terrorism is not about military strength or military victory. In an information age, it is not always whose army wins, but also whose story wins.