Smart Power

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Smart Power is a phrase coined by U.S. political scientist Joseph Nye in 2003 to counter the misconception that Soft Power alone can produce effective foreign policy. Nye has also used the concept to criticise the Hard Power driven foreign policy of President George W. Bush's administration[1].

Smart Power refers to the combination of Hard Power, the use of economic incentives or military strength[2]; and Soft Power, the ability to attract, persuade or co-opt[3], to influence the behaviour of others.

It is described as an approach that underscores the necessity of a strong military, but also invests heavily in diplomacy, alliances, partnerships, and capacity-building initiatives of all levels in order to expand power and influence in ways that are cost-effective and politically legitimate[4] [5].

It is argued that the most effective strategies in foreign policy today require the use of Smart Power resources; as employing only Hard Power or only Soft Power resources in a given situation will usually prove inadequate[6].

Evolution of Smart Power

In recent years, some scholars have sought to differentiate Smart Power even further from a basic mix of Soft Power and Hard Power approaches. These scholars argue that Smart Power should crucially involve a revival of political warfare: the non-violent push of ideas, people, facts, and events which adversaries would rather not contend with. This political warfare would include the many financial, cultural, rhetorical, economic, espionage-related, and military actions that states can take short of general war to influence political outcomes abroad[7].

Problems with Smart Power


One of the problems with implementing effective Smart Power approaches is that they require a great deal of coordination between different state departments, agencies and non-state organisations. Even sovereign nation-states can lack the appropriate authority or resources to coordination the necessary elements of a Smart Power strategy. The long-term of sustainability of Smart Power initiatives is dependent on organisational efficiency, the ability to coordinate, and the accessibility of both Hard Power and Soft Power resources[8].


The ever-present competition for financial resources among different state agencies and organisations presents a critical obstacle for the implementation of Smart Power. In 21st Century states, the balance of funding for collaborative Smart Power initiatives is often dwarfed by the funding for traditionally hard-line Hard Power campaigns. The budgets of modern states need to be fundamentally rebalanced so that non-military foreign affairs initiatives receive more funding. This tends to be a very difficult obstacle to overcome, as reductions in defense spending are often met with stalwart resistance[8].

Credibility and Legitimacy

As the 21st Century has progressed, foreign policy initiatives that employ Hard Power tactics are increasingly less popular with both domestic and foreign audiences. A long-term Smart Power strategy needs to address the concerns of domestic and foreign audiences, and focus on making a legitimate and credible case for the use of more nuanced Smart Power initiatives[8].



  1. Joseph Nye (2009), Get Smart: Combining Hard and Soft Power, Foreign Affairs July/August 2009, Foreign Affairs website (registration required), accessed 25 March 2015
  2. Public Diplomacy Wikia, Hard Power, Public Diplomacy Wikia website, accessed 25 March 2015
  3. Joseph Nye (2005), "Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics", U.S.: PublicAffairs
  4. CSIS Commission on Smart Power (2007), CSIS Commission on Smart Power: a smarter, more secure America, Center for Strategic & International Studies, CSIS website, accessed 25 March 2015
  5. Chester Crocker, Fen Hampson, Pamela Aall, eds, (2007), Leashing the Dogs of War: Conflict Management in a Divided World. Washington, DC: US Institute of Peace Press. p. 13
  6. Joseph Nye (2004), "Smart Power in the Global Information Age: From Realism to Globalization". London; New York: Routledge
  7. Jamie Weinstein (2013), TheDC Interview: Christian Whiton explains ‘smart power’, The Daily Caller website, 11 July 2013, accessed 25 March 2015
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 CACI International Inc (2009), Dealing With Today’s Asymmetric Threat to U.S. and Global Security, Symposium Three: Employing Smart Power, Asymmetric Threat website, September 2009, accessed 25 March 2015