I was hoping that Joseph Nye, Dean of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, would bring some real insight to these questions about how the US should determine and conduct its foreign policy. Unfortunately, in this short volume he provides mostly platitudes, almost no analysis, and little or nothing in the way of answers. Nye's analysis draws on several "insights." First, no one likes a bully. The US must therefore guard and enhance its "soft power" to set agendas and persuade others. Alas, no advice is offered as to how we do this. Nor does Nye explore in any concrete way how an emphasis on preserving our soft power would affect our policy choices. Second, other nations and groups have soft power too. I'm not sure that Nye actually makes any use of this insight, although one would think that it might play a role in addressing some of the concerns about democratic process in international institutions. Third, there are problems we can't solve ourselves. If we need others to help us with some of our problems, we have to expect that they will want us to help them with some of their problems in return.
Nye ends up by giving us a strategy to promote public goods and listing factors that should be considered in deciding whether to undertake a humanitarian intervention or whether to use unilateral or multilateral tactics. These provide useful checklists, but they are not really developed enough to give particularly useful guidance for developing policy.
Overall, a disappointment. I am giving it two stars only because I agree with most of what Nye has to say. If you already believe a multilateral approach to a foreign policy focused on public goods is necessary, you will probably find few new insights here. If you think the US can go it alone, I doubt that you will be persuaded otherwise by this book.
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