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The quest for power and its recent mutation

[ 2009-02-12 14:16]     字号 [] [] []  
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In recent times the phrase “smart power” has been used and several of our readers and bulletin board users have expressed an interest in this topic.

Offering a simple definition we would contrast “smart power” with that of “soft power” and “hard power” and mention that it refers to a nation’s foreign affairs approach.

For example, when the US invaded Iraq and executed that nation’s sovereign leader, Saddam Hussein, this was an example of “hard power”. Another example would be last month’s airstrikes by Israel on the Palestinian population living in the Gaza Strip. The emphasis here is on the physical aspect of strength to solve problems and meet objectives.

So next if we look at “soft power” we would include more diplomatic, humanistic responses that do not use violence or physical force to get results. Such examples could be sanctions, such as that being imposed on Iran for alleged intent to manufacture nuclear weapons or the blockade on trade with Myanmar by the US in response to the rulers there who they do not approve of. Other methods would also include aid, infrastructure building, favored nation policies etc.

Understanding the above two methods brings us to “smart power” which in some respects is an amalgamation of both. The concept arose in the US several years ago by foreign policy experts who realized the rest of the world was starting to despise them. Many global commentators were finding it appalling that successive US governments from the time of their Korean incursion in the 1950’s, to their failed Indo China invasions in the 60’s and early 70’s, to their behavior in central and southern America in the 80’s to the 90’s and actions in north western Africa, the former Yugoslavia and middle east and more recently Iraq and Afghanistan were evidence of the abuse of power, which often did not have success in trying to meet the desired objectives.

Appreciating the complexity of the above, US foreign policy commentators wanted to see their government engage the world better, to try and promote the ideals of freedom and equality, yet in a manner that was more successful and less likely to be misinterpreted as super power aggression. Hence by using more diplomatic means, by forging alliances with other supportive nations, by resisting the urge to use force and violence, the US under the present Secretary of Defense Hillary Clinton is embarking on a new campaign to try and rebuild their nation’s image abroad, while still exacting change, for purposes they believe are good for the planet.

Within this new agenda developments over recent years, particularly concerning the internet and the ability to express information, are making their job both easier and more problematic. With more transparency and accountability for their government’s actions both towards their own citizens and citizens of the world, great interest is being shown towards this new “smart power” initiative.

For a deeper understanding of the history of this strategy and its major proponents log online to a recent New Yorker article at


the Center for Strategic and International Studies


and the original article in Foreign Affairs journal that proposed the change in strategy






About the author:

The quest for power and its recent mutation

About the author: Brendan has taught at universities, high schools and primary schools in Japan,the UK, Australia and China. He is a Qualified Education Agent Counsellor and has extensive experience with International English Language Examinations. In the field of writing Brendan has been published in The Bangkok Post, The Taipei Times, Inflight magazines and the Asia News Network. He can be contacted at brendanjohnworrell@hotmail.com.