Does Russia Have Soft Power?

Does Russia Have Soft Power?

Photo of Joseph S. Nye Jr.

Joseph S. Nye Jr.

Courtesy: Shizuoka Shimbun

Vladimir Putin has argued that Russia needs to increase its soft power, so Russia is engaged in a massive propaganda campaign towards its neighbors, through overt broadcasting and covert payments to populist political parties in Europe. But Putin does not really understand soft power in the terms that I use.

I invented the term as an analytic concept to describe aspects of power — the ability to affect others to get outcomes you want — without coercion or payment. Soft power rests on attraction. The concept is new, but the practice is not. One can find it in ancient Chinese writings.

Europe has enormous powers of attraction based not only on culture but also on the success of its institutions. China attracts with its culture and the narrative of its success in raising hundreds of millions of people out of poverty. But polls show that despite spending billions of dollars on soft power, it lags behind the U.S. and Europe. This is caused, in part, by a repressive political system and in part by a nationalism that is seen as threatening in the eyes of its neighbors. It does no good to set up a Confucius Institute in Manila if your ships are chasing Philippine fishing boats out of places like Scarborough Shoal.


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Joseph S. Nye Jr. is a professor at Harvard University and the author of “The Future of Power.”

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