Balancing soft and hard power in a changing world

ASIA INTERVIEW

Why is the Bush administration so effective when it comes to hard power, but not soft power?

They have overdone the use of hard power, particularly in the first term. Their attitude was that “we are the strongest country in the world and we can do what we want and others have little choice”.

The problems that they ran into, most notably in Iraq, have taught them that the world is more complex, and that they have to use soft power as well as hard power.

The danger may be that President Bush has lost so much credibility it would be hard for him to regain his soft power.

Do you see the recommendations of the Baker-Hamilton Commission leveraging on soft power?

The Iraq Study Group was a step in the right direction. It suggested that the United States needed a much more multifaceted strategy in Iraq. But the security situation has become so bad in Iraq that it’s very hard to use soft power on the ground until you’ve used enough hard power to create a security situation that allows the use of soft power.

For example, a marine or a soldier can build a school or a clinic, but not if somebody is shooting at him.

What the Iraq Study Group is saying is that we should at least give one more effort and one last try to make sure that this is not a point of no return.

How can the US win the hearts and minds of the Arab and Muslim world?

There are many Muslim countries and many different interests.

For example, the Americans’ tsunami relief in Indonesia helped to restore some of the soft power that the US had lost after the invasion of Iraq.

But for issues that cut across the Muslim world, it’s important that we show that we’re interested in economic development of the Muslim world, and that we’re prepared to tolerate diverse pinions. We don’t want Americanisation, but we don’t want to see, on the other hand, the “Al-Qae-daisation” of the Muslim world.

Is the situation in Iraq and the Middle East forcing the US to pay less attention to other issues in the world, such as the rise of China?

Iraq has sucked much of the oxygen out of the American foreign policy process. There is so much concern about Iraq that it’s very difficult to get full treatment at the highest levels of other important issues.

But I would argue that US policies in East Asia have been more successful. Our relations with China are reasonable now. Our relations with Japan are good. Our relations in South-east Asia are reasonable. The situation in Indonesia is better than it was five years ago.

It’s true that we haven’t spent as much time as we should in Asia, but at least we have the right policy.

What explains this relative success in East Asia?

We have had a bipartisan consensus. The policies today were started during the Clinton administration. At that time, we looked at the rise of Chinese power, and said that we would reinforce our security relationship with Japan as a way of hedging against Chinese power becoming aggressive.

But at the same time, we would integrate China into the international community. And that was represented by inviting China to join the WTO. We did not try to contain China. The policy was to “embrace but hedge”.

The Bush administration kept largely the same policy. Mr Robert Zoellick, when he was at the State Department, invited Beijing to be a “responsible stakeholder”.

And Mr Richard Armitage continued to reinforce our relationship with Japan and work more closely with South-east Asian countries. There is a lot of continuity.

In the Middle East, however, the policy has been ABC – “Anything But Clinton”.

Do you see Asia becoming the dominant force in the world this century, and what does this mean for the American era?

We’re seeing not the rise of Asia but the re-emergence of Asia. If one goes back to 1800, before the Industrial Revolution in Europe, Asia was three- fifths of the world’s population and three-fifths of the world’s products. By 1900, that had become three-fifths and one-fifth, and now it’s three-fifths and two-fifths.

And I think over the first half of the 21st century, we can get back to where it was in 1800.

This is to be welcomed. A strong and prosperous Asia is good for Asians, Americans and the rest of the world. I don’t regard this as a source of fear for the US.

But is American power being challenged in Asia?

Very definitely, because if you look at the rise of the Chinese economy and its military capabilities, it does make a difference to the US. It would be more difficult today, for example, to defend Taiwan if it had an altercation with the mainland.

Another example is the decline of US soft power as a result of the Iraq war. America is less attractive in Indonesia, Malaysia and other countries as a result of Iraq.

At the same time, the Chinese have been emphasising their increasing soft power in Asia. Look at how China treated the Spratly islands issue 10 years ago. They sent in ships and troops. Then they realised that was creating fear and aligning others against them. So, their diplomacy changed to one of trying to approach this multilaterally to attract others.

Their diplomacy towards Asean today is much more sophisticated. In addition, they’re making efforts to promote Chinese culture through Confucius institutes, and increasing the number of foreign students coming to Chinese universities.

Given your views of soft power, do you see China as a threat?

I don’t think China needs to be a threat.

Obviously, if the US and China misplay their hands, we could get an interaction between the two which leads to conflict of either hard or soft power.

In history, we know that when the rising power creates fear in an established power, it may lead to overreactions and to conflicts. Witness the origins of Word War I.

But if we don’t let fear overcome us, if we realise that the problems with China can be worked out, then I don’t think that there’s a zero-sum relationship here.

Is containing China an option?

Containment is not a practical option, or a wise one. During the Cold War, containment of the Soviet Union meant very little trade and contact. We have an enormous amount of trade and contact with China, as China has with its neighbours.

And I don’t think it’s possible to organise the containment of China unless China turns into an aggressive state. So, the only country that can contain China is China itself.

US Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson led a high-level delegation to China recently for the first round of the strategic economic dialogue. What does that tell us about US policy towards China?

It tells us that there is a large economic component of the US-China relationship, which is very important.

From the Chinese point of view, the American market for its goods is essential for their economy and to prevent unemployment. And for the Americans, the Chinese holding the US dollar reserves is very important.

This can be managed. There is symmetry to the interdependence. On the other hand, if it’s mismanaged, we could both do damage to each other and to ourselves.

By sending a high-level delegation to China, the Bush administration is signalling to China is that we take this issue very seriously. It could become a major factor in US domestic politics if it’s not handled properly.

And the Chinese are going to have to think hard about issues which previously they may not have done as much as they should have on – currency, trade, and the question of intellectual property rights.

If you were asked to join a Democrat administration in 2008, what changes would you make to US foreign policy, and why?

A Democratic administration will have some changes in style. There will also be some changes in substance.

I think a Democratic administration will probably try to push faster and a bit harder to try to find a better solution to the problems caused by Iraq.

On Asia, I think the policy will be a bipartisan one – after all, it started under the Clinton administration 10 years ago – and I think most Democrats will want to continue with how we have dealt with Asia. There may be some elements in the Democratic Party who are somewhat more protectionist than a Republican administration, but I don’t think they are going to alter the larger outlines of Asia policy.

Looking ahead, what will the world look like in 20, 30 years? Do you think soft power will still have a role to play then?

Well, there are many possible worlds in 2020 and after. The National Intelligence Council published a public report that identified several variants. One was a Davos world of lobalisation with a more Asian face.

Another, they described as a world of great security fear. So they range from benign to quite negative.

There are three major drivers that will influence which world we live in: the future of American power and how we use it; the future of Chinese power and how they use it; and the extent to which we are able to prevent the Islamic mainstream from being influenced by the extremists.

And that’s where soft power comes in. If you think of the struggle against terrorism, it’s really that between a small minority of Muslims who are trying to force their view onto others. We cannot solve that with hard power alone.

If they are able to recruit two people for every one killed or deterred, we will lose. Unless we are able to attract, to win the hearts and minds of the mainstream, it will be very difficult to deal with this third major driver of the world in 2020. And so I think soft power will be as important or more important than ever.

The US needs to recognise the importance of both hard and soft power, and to debate a smart strategy aimed at integrating them.

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