dean of Harvard's
John F. Kennedy School of
limits of power Joseph Nye '58 argues
that the U.S. can't go it alone
Joseph S. Nye Jr. '58 was about
90 percent through writing his latest treatise on American diplomacy
and foreign policy when terror shocked the nation on September 11,
2001. No one in academia could have predicted those events, of course,
but they only underscored the points that Nye was looking to make.
In The Paradox of American Power: Why the World's Only Superpower
Can't Go it Alone, Nye argues that while the supremacy of American
power is beyond challenge, unilateral action is unwise in an era
when the gravest threats are posed by terrorism.
"There is a danger that we would be
led to believe that we are less in need of other countries,"
Nye said. "It's still much better to work as a broad coalition.
The timing of the book I think was right."
Nye points out that many of
the biggest challenges of the modern day everything from
global warming to drug addiction to terrorism are precisely
the sorts of things that don't respond to economic and military
might. And so America's future would be best served in patient cooperation
with other nations, he argues, with influence wielded through culture
and values rather than bombs and embargoes.
Nye's views have been honed
over decades of work both inside and outside of government, in some
of the top-ranking posts of academic life and the realm of national
security. Nye joined the Harvard faculty in 1964, after earning
a Rhodes scholarship and a Ph.D. in political science from Harvard,
and his career at Harvard has been interrupted only by stints serving
Democratic presidents. He was a specialist on national security
and nuclear weapons in the Carter administration's State Department,
and was chairman of the National Intelligence Council under President
For seven years, Nye has been
the dean of Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government. He still
usually teaches one seminar a year at the Kennedy School, though
much of his time is dedicated to fundraising, recruiting faculty,
and shaping the school's direction. Nye coined the term "soft
power" to describe his views on international theory, saying
that nations can achieve there international aims best by "co-opting
people rather than coercing them."
Nye's 1989 book, Bound to Lead,
brought him wide acclaim for its prescient prediction that the United
States was on the cusp of unprecedented power a view that
stood in contrast to the then-popular view that the nation was headed
toward decline with the rise of Japan and other nations. He correctly
identified the U.S.'s real challenge as how to wield its international
power, not how to maintain its spot atop the mountain.
Nye credits Princeton's Woodrow
Wilson School for launching what's become among the most impressive
careers to span academia and government. At Princeton, he said,
he was able to intertwine his interest in politics, economics, and
history, all with an eye toward the practical application of the
theoretical. For a man who has moved so seamlessly between theory
and practice, it could hardly have been a better education. "I
still hearken back to things I learned at Princeton," Nye said.
"It gave me a tremendous base for the things I went on to do."
He hasn't settled on his next
project yet, and for now, he's enjoying the measure of commercial
success the latest book has brought him. As long as he's proven
right, his will be a voice to be listened to for years to come,
whether he's bending the ear of the public or the president.