Joseph Nye's 'American Century'

In a February 1941 editorial in Lifemagazine, Time and Life publisher Henry Luce called on his readers to "create the first great American Century." The term radiates hubris, but it has proved long-lived. In today's hyperpartisan America, embracing or rejecting the concept has become a measure of patriotism.

At the idea's heart, however, is the basic truth of American exceptionalism. For much of the 20th century, the United States was a stabilizing force, with its military and economic power dominating world affairs. There have been plenty of ups and downs: anchoring the fight against Nazi Germany on the one hand, and becoming embroiled in a debilitating Southeast Asian war on the other, not to mention championing a global human-rights agenda while failing to ensure basic freedoms for minority Americans.

Harvard professor Joseph Nye, well known for his explorations of soft power, considers the American prospect in his newly published book, Is the American Century Over? (Polity, $12.95) His answer is a carefully constructed "No," which is based partly on the fact that there is no logical successor to convincingly claim dominance over the next century. Even the United States finds itself sharing the world stage with a growing cast of states and non-state actors, all with influence enhanced by new information and communication technologies.

Picture: For link to Amazon please see below

China is most often cited as the leading superpower for the coming century, but Nye skillfully points out that there might be less to China than meets the eye. He notes that 46 percent of the top 500 transnational corporations are owned by Americans, and that 19 of the top 25 global brands are American. Further, writes Nye, "China remains weak in science and technological innovation." He adds that Chinese complain that they "produce iPhone jobs, but not Steve Jobs."

China has emphasized soft power as a way to become a more significant player in world affairs and has spent vast sums on international broadcasting, Confucius Institutes, and other means of reaching the rest of the world. But the soft-power tools that China wields are mostly manufactured by government, while American soft power is rooted in civil society: universities, popular culture, private foundations, and such. China, continues Nye, "makes the mistake of thinking that government is the main instrument of soft power. In today's world, information is not scarce but attention is, and attention depends on credibility. Government propaganda is rarely credible."

Setting China aside, the continued prominence of the United States is partly attributable to an innate appeal that is best appreciated by those living outside the country. Nye notes that "the upward mobility of immigrants is attractive to people in other countries." As evidence, Nye cites the fact that 25 percent of high-tech startups have an immigrant founder, and 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants or their children.

In a society in which power is often a function of information dissemination, soft power is ever more important. Nye writes, "Conventional wisdom has always held that the government with the largest military prevails, but in an information age it may be the state (or non-state) with the best story that wins."

Soft power is closely tied to multinational cooperation, and in an era of a "multipartner world" (Hillary Rodham Clinton's term), skillful collaboration is essential. Nye writes, "If the American century is to continue, it will not be enough to think in terms of American power over others. One must also think in terms of power to accomplish joint goals, which involves power with others" (Nye's emphases).

Nye concludes that "we have not entered a post-American world," and that "the American century is not over." In this short, thoughtful book, he presents his case convincingly. It is a case that policy makers should ponder carefully.

To follow what's new on Facts & Arts, please click here.




Philip Seib is a Professor of Journalism and Public Diplomacy and Professor of International Relations. 

Picture: For link to Amazonplease see below

Seib's research interests include the effects of news coverage on foreign policy, particularly conflict and terrorism issues. He is author or editor of numerous books, including Headline Diplomacy: How News Coverage Affects Foreign Policy; The Global Journalist: News and Conscience in a World of Conflict; Broadcasts from the Blitz: How Edward R. Murrow Helped Lead America into War; Beyond the Front Lines: How the News Media Cover a World Shaped by War; New Media and the Middle East (2007); The Al Jazeera Effect (2008); Toward a New Public Diplomacy: Redirecting U.S. Foreign Policy (2009); and Real-Time Diplomacy: Politics and Power in the Social Media Era (2012). Seib is also the editor of the Palgrave Macmillan Series in International Political Communication, co-editor of the Palgrave Macmillan Series in Global Public Diplomacy and co-editor of the journal Media, War and Conflict, published by Sage. 

Prior to joining the USC faculty in 2007, Seib was a professor at Marquette University and before that at Southern Methodist University.




  

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Added 23.05.2018
The good news is that the United States and China appear to have backed away from the precipice of a trade war. While vague in detail, a May 19 agreement defuses tension and commits to further negotiation. The bad news is that the framework of negotiations is flawed: A deal with any one country will do little to resolve America’s fundamental economic imbalances that have arisen in an interconnected world.
Added 21.05.2018
The cryptocurrency revolution, which started with bitcoin in 2009, claims to be inventing new kinds of money. There are now nearly 2,000 cryptocurrencies, and millions of people worldwide are excited by them. What accounts for this enthusiasm, which so far remains undampened by warnings that the revolution is a sham? One must bear in mind that attempts to reinvent money have a long history. As the sociologist Viviana Zelizer points out in her book The Social Meaning of Money: “Despite the commonsense idea that ‘a dollar is a dollar is a dollar,’ everywhere we look people are constantly creating different kinds of money.” Many of these innovations generate real excitement, at least for a while. As the medium of exchange throughout the world, money, in its various embodiments, is rich in mystique. We tend to measure people’s value by it. It sums things up like nothing else. And yet it may consist of nothing more than pieces of paper that just go round and round in circles of spending. So its value depends on belief and trust in those pieces of paper. One might call it faith.
Added 19.05.2018
The protests that rippled across Russia ahead of Vladimir Putin’s fourth inauguration as president followed a familiar script. Police declared the gatherings illegal, and the media downplayed their size. Alexey Navalny, the main organizer and Russia’s de facto opposition leader, was arrested in dramatic fashion, dragged out of a rally in Moscow by police. On May 15, he was sentenced to 30 days in prison. More than 1,600 protesters across the country were beaten and detained.
Added 16.05.2018
Many knowledgeable people dismiss the prospect of advanced AGI [=Artificial General Intelligence]. Some, ..........,argue that it is impossible for AI to outsmart humanity........Yet other distinguished scholars........do worry that AGI could pose a serious or even existential threat to humanity. With experts lining up on both sides of the debate, the rest of us should keep an open mind.
Added 15.05.2018
The world’s most important bilateral relationship – between the United States and China – is also one of its most inscrutable. Bedeviled by paradoxes, misperceptions, and mistrust, it is a relationship that has become a source of considerable uncertainty and, potentially, severe instability. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the brewing bilateral trade war.
Added 15.05.2018
Viewed from Palestine, it’s hard to disagree that we’ve perhaps seen one of the most inflammatory weeks in recent memory. In just a few days, several extremely sensitive events have coincided to devastating effect: the culmination of weekly protests in the Gaza Strip, the relocation of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, the 70th anniversary of the 1948 Nakba (from the Arabic, “Immense Catastrophe”) and the start of the holy month of Ramadan. Throw in for good measure Israel and Iran’s recent clash over the occupied Golan Heights and it seems that more than ever, the region is something of a tinderbox.
Added 14.05.2018
The irony, of course, is that this is exactly the type of “grand bargain” Iran proposed to the Bush administration in May 2003. Bush rejected the offer, vowing never to talk with a member of the “axis of evil.” As Vice President Dick Cheney put it in reference to North Korea – another member of that fanciful “axis” – Americans “don’t negotiate with evil; we defeat it.” But by trading diplomacy for saber-rattling, the Bush administration slammed the door on a solution with Iran. Today, as Trump embraces the same tactics, it’s hard to fathom how the outcome will be any different.
Added 12.05.2018
Quote: "If you take out a piece of paper and put 10 political issues that are important to you on one side and the words “Republican” or “Democrat” on the top, then categorize them, most of you are likely to find that you, too, are a hybrid of both. If my contention is correct, and enough voters get fed up enough with the political status quo in the mid-terms and the next presidential election to say that neither Party actually represents their belief system, we may just find that the 40% of American voters who are already Independent turns into 50% or 60% in the near term. I am willing to bet that in spite of all the hype about most Americans being firmly in one political camp or the other, that most Americans are actually middle ground voters who form part of the emerging hybrid political class. Whether they choose to remain affiliated with either the Democrat or Republican Parties in the future remains to be seen. Stay tuned".
Added 10.05.2018
Quote: "China, clearly, is emerging as a world power, even more quickly than it otherwise would, to the extent that the US is coming to be seen as an unreliable partner concerned only with advancing its own interests – at the expense, if necessary, of other countries. But the belief that China will continue growing at mid-single-digit rates for an extended period violates the first rule of forecasting: don’t extrapolate the present into the future. At some point, China will hit bumps in the road, and there is no guarantee that its leaders will admit their failures and adjust policy accordingly."
Added 08.05.2018
The decertification of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) by Trump is most unfortunate. It seems that Trump was not swayed by either France’s President Macron or Germany’s Chancellor Merkel to preserve the deal. Instead, he appears to have taken Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s advice to decertify the deal, even though Iran continues to fully adhere to all of its provisions. It is dangerous that neither Trump nor Netanyahu appears to fully grasp the dire regional and international implications of the unilateral decertification of the deal by the US.
Added 04.05.2018
Quote fromthe article: "Iran has been instrumental in the survival of the Assad regime since the Syrian uprising began in March 2011. Since then, Israel has used its air power to disrupt weapons supplies to Hezbollah and maintain a buffer zone in the southwest, near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. But now it seems things are heating up. Is this now a far bigger, more direct confrontation in the Syrian arena?"
Added 03.05.2018
As signs of an incipient slowdown in the European economy begin to multiply – coincident indicators suggest that industrial production has slowed sharply in 2018 – the case for agreeing on a Brexit deal and refocusing attention on capital markets union is becoming more powerful and more urgent. The commissioner now responsible, Valdis Dombrovskis, said in London in late April that the “building blocks” will be in place early next year, to “help our companies to better cope with the departure of Europe’s largest financial center from the single market.” That is a laudable goal, but it could well be too little, too late.
Added 03.05.2018
Gaza has often been invaded for its water. Every army leaving or entering the Sinai desert, whether Babylonians, Alexander the Great, the Ottomans, or the British, has sought relief there. But today the water of Gaza highlights a toxic situation that is spiralling out of control. A combination of repeated Israeli attacks and the sealing of its borders by Israel and Egypt, have left the territory unable to process its water or waste. Every drop of water swallowed in Gaza, like every toilet flushed or antibiotic imbibed, returns to the environment in a degraded state.
Added 24.04.2018
Renewable electricity costs have fallen faster than all but the most extreme optimists believed possible only a few years ago. In favorable sunny locations, such as northern Chile, electricity auctions are being won by solar power at prices that have plummeted 90% in ten years. Even in less sunny Germany, reductions of 80% have been achieved. Wind costs have fallen some 70%, and battery costs around 80%, since 2010.........[The] estimate that the cost of going green will be very small has proved too pessimistic – the cost will actually be negative.
Added 23.04.2018
Electric Vessels, EVs don’t rise or fall on Tesla — Nissan and the Chinese brands are arguably way ahead, and the Chevy Bolt is comparable to the Tesla 3. But it is unarguable that a price spike in petroleum would certainly help the company get past its current Tesla 3 production problems by substantially bolstering investor and consumer confidence.
Added 20.04.2018
 

As the US, Russia and China test each other’s patience and strategic focus, speculation about the chances of a world war has hit a new high.

Added 18.04.2018

HONG KONG – At the beginning of this century, when China launched its “going out” policy – focused on using foreign-exchange reserves to support overseas expansion and acquisitions by Chinese companies – few expected the country quickly to emerge as a leading economic player in Latin America.

Added 18.04.2018

BEIJING – Last month, US President Donald Trump enacted steel and aluminum tariffs aimed squarely at China. On April 2, China retaliated with tariffs on 128 American products. Trump then announced 25% tariffs on another 1,300 Chinese products, representing some $50 billion of exports.

Added 17.04.2018

WASHINGTON, DC – Last week was a most unusual one for President Donald Trump’s administration.

Added 16.04.2018

All the attention being given to Facebook and Cambridge Analytica regarding their breach of public trust and exploitation of personal data is richly deserved.