“The Future of Power” by Joseph Nye


Joseph Nye is one of the most recognized experts in terms of political power and its application. His works are mainly devoted to the analysis of different types of power and their prospects in the context of the changing global environment. “The Future of Power,” for instance, throws lights on such critical aspects as military, economic, soft and smart powers. In addition, it elucidates the important problem of power diffusions and transitions. It would be fair to state that the book has already turned into a sort of a manual that is widely discussed and cited in political studies all around the world.

Thus, the paper at hand is aimed at analyzing the most significant ideas that Joseph Nye discusses in “The Future of Power.” It is considered reasonable to put a particular emphasis on the following aspects: the power balance, the transformation of military power, the transition of power, the role of economic power, and the concept of hegemonies.

Smart Power or Finding a Reasonable Power Balance

The first critical idea that should be necessarily discussed in the framework of this analysis is Nye’s assumption that none of the existing types of power can be beneficially applied in case it is employed separately – thus, military power will not bring the maximum of potential results unless it is accompanied by soft power.1 Otherwise stated, the author shows the inefficacy of a one-sided approach to the application of power in international policy. This point is critical as the ability to find a reasonable balance between soft and military powers defines the success of a country’s international policy.

History shows that those governments that focus on the application of only military power are apt to lose the battle. Thus, for instance, the Soviet Union that possessed one of the most powerful military forces in the world lost the Cold War due to the fact that its image was highly unpopular in the global society contrary to that of the USA. In other words, the Soviet Union neglected the importance of soft power which led to the deplorable consequences –the Soviet Union finally collapsed.

Another example of the lack of ability to combine military and soft powers rationally refers to the modern version of the Soviet Union, the Russian Federation. Hence, political expert, Nicu Popescu, believes that the outcomes of the “Orange Revolution in Ukraine”; videlicet, the country’s choice in favor of the Western ideology and its core values regardless of the historically established relations with Russia, signifies that the latter failed crucially in terms of applying soft power.2 In other words, the West turned out to be more skillful and persuasive in formulating its basic principles in comparison to the Russian Federation the ideology of which might still seem vague and unclear to its neighbors.

From this perspective, it seems that Joseph Nye has a very acute perception of the changes that take place in the global politics. Thus, according to experts’ opinion, more and more governments now realize the necessity to find a balance between military and soft powers in order to reach the targeted aims. Thence, for example, Meliha Benli Altunişik describes a positive shift in the Turkish diplomacy that has helped the country enhance its positive image in the region. According to the author, the country would carry out quite an aggressive international policy that made it unattractive in the perception of the global society. Now that the situation has changed, it is the successfully employed soft power that has enabled the country to become one of the most important players in the Middle East region.3

It is essential to note that Joseph Nye does not only put a particular emphasis on the importance of reasonable combining military and soft powers but also introduces the relevant term that describes this approach – smart power. Hence, the author believes that the key political goal of a country resides in establishing a balance between the two powers with due regard to the initial resources that this country has at its disposal.4

It should be added that this term is now widely applied by political experts that try to develop its interpretation each in an individual manner. Thus, Christian Whiton, for instance, suggests his vision of this concept stating that soft power is something that “governments do when they bring multiple forces to bear on challenges from abroad.” 5 “From abroad” is a critical remark in this context as it illustrates that soft power is mainly aimed at resolving external problems. From this perspective, it becomes clear why the concept of soft power is relatively new in comparison with military power. The point is that the latter is essential for assuring both internal and external security so that it was the first to appear.

The New Vision of Military Power

The second important idea elucidated in “The Future of Power” implies the need for a new vision of military power. Thus, Joseph Nye suggests abandoning the traditional interpretation of military power that infers regarding it as the armed potential that a particular country possesses. The author puts an emphasis on the fact that the concept of military power has changed in accordance with the character of wars that take place in the modern world. Thus, he refers to the examples of cyber-attacks that cannot be addressed with a well-prepared army and high-quality weapon.

Moreover, Nye puts a particular emphasis on the fact that military power today is almost indistinguishable from soft power. Thus, for instance, if a state provides military assistance to other countries by locating its military block at its territory for security it is hard to define which type of power it employs.6

A closer analysis of the hypothesis Nye advances shows that the author’s opinion is justified. Thus, presuming that military power is aimed at protecting a country’s security, it should be, consequently, aimed at protecting the country from cyber-attacks as well, because they represent a critical danger to the security. From this perspective, it cannot be argued that it is impossible to militate against this phenomenon with the help of armed troops. Moreover, the described impossibility of distinguishing between soft and military powers is also reasonable.

On the one hand, locating military blocks can be classified as applying military power. On the other hand, it can be, likewise, interpreted as soft power as it refers to the attempt to influence the domestic policy of a state without a direct military intervention. As a result, it can be concluded that enlisting the traditional tools of military power is currently insufficient to describe this concept, and some alternative solutions are required.

The need for alternative solutions in terms of military power is widely discussed in the experts’ community. Hence, for instance, Michael Horowitz, introduces the term “military innovations” that can be applied to any new technology or approach in military power implemented in respond to the changes in the environment. According to the author, such innovations are critical for assuring the consistent security of a country.7 In fact, Horowitz’s idea is aligned with Nye’s assumption that military power today requires a constant search for alternative tools and approaches to meet the challenges of the new world.

Prognosis regarding Power Diffusion

The next important question that Joseph Nye discusses in his book is the problem of power diffusion and transition. Whereas the latter is not a novelty, and it has been described by dozens of experts, the former is a new phenomenon. The author interprets power diffusion as a case when states lose the control over some critical aspects due to the information revolution that changes “the nature of power” today.8 Otherwise stated, the new computing power is capable of acting independently from the governments’ will, which means that decision-making can now be performed more freely and productively because of the high speeds at which digital information travels.

It is essential to note that this part of the book is the most ambiguous. Contrary to all the other chapters that describe current phenomena, the idea elucidated above refers to the prognostic field. In other words, Joseph Nye speculates upon the possible reshaping of the world order under the impact of the global information revolution. However, it should be noted that Nye is not the only expert concerned about the challenges that the informational revolution is likely to bring.

Hence, Michael Horowitz describes how the simplified access to data can influence the spread of the international terrorism and the kinds of power essential to resist it.9 In the meantime, Nye’s vision of the future power diffusion, especially the assumption that states are likely to transmit their power to the independent communities, might sound unrealistic as long as there is currently no historical precedent that could support this idea.

The Significant Role of Economic Power

A considerable part of the book is devoted to the analysis of economic power. It would be fair to claim that this part of the book is the most significant as the author offers a reasonable resolution to the eternal question of political debates concerning which power is more useful: economic or military. Joseph Nye suggests a different vision of the problem. He proposes to treat economic power as the integral element of both military and economic powers without which none of them can be developed to the maximum.10

This idea seems to be highly reasonable as it is problematic to imagine a country that could afford to contribute to its army forces without sufficient economic resources. Likewise, it is impossible to think of a country that is able to carry out international politics based on soft power without essential financial investments. From this perspective, the following conclusion might be drawn – economic power is one of the most efficient influential tools in the global environment.

In the meantime, there is an opposite point of view that offers a reversed vision of the problem. Thus, Craig Hayden suggests that economic power is the result of the skillful application of soft power. The author refers to the example of China that, according to his opinion, has assured consistent economic growth due to the wise international policy based on soft power.11 This assumption is also justified and can hardly be disputed. Therefore, on the one hand, the lack of economic power can prevent a country from developing its military and soft powers. On the other hand, it can signify the poor decision-making in terms of applying soft power. As a result, it turns out that economic power is the essential basis of international politics independently on the type of power it employs.

The Future of Hegemonies

Finally, Joseph Nye focuses on the problem of hegemony determined by the consolidation of power in a particular state. According to the author, such hegemonies are doomed to meet the resistance on the part of a rising power at a certain historic point. Thus, Nye refers to the examples of the Roman Empire and Germany of the twentieth century.12 In other words, the author predicts an inevitable decline of the American dominance.

It should be admitted that his assumption is justified and supported by the relevant historic examples. Indeed, it is hard to image a state that would be capable of holding the dominant positions forever. In the meantime, it seems that the concept of hegemony is undergoing consistent transformations due to the changes in the global environment. Craig Hayden, for instance, offers a peculiar vision of the hegemony concept in the modern world. Thus, the author assumes that soft power is an equivalent of the so-called “hegemonic power.” 13 Otherwise stated, the author insists on the fact that a country that exercises soft power essentially wants to establish its hegemony. Presuming that this assumption is true, every state might be called hegemonic to a larger or smaller extent.

Thus, at the current point, it is almost impossible to perform an accurate estimation of the power potential of a particular state. Moreover, the economic environment is so unstable that rising powers might at once turn into declining ones due to the influence of external factors. The most vivid example is the recent crash in the Chinese stock market or the stagnation of the Russian economy caused by the imposed sanctions. As a result, it might be concluded that the examples provided by Nye refer to the historic periods when the development of different types of powers did not reach its maximum yet so that it was easier to distinguish a singular hegemony in the global environment.


In conclusion, it is essential to note that Nye’s “The Future of Power” throws light at a series of critical questions. First and foremost, the author elucidates the importance of finding a reasonable balance between military and soft powers that can be characterized as smart power. Secondly, Nye points out the necessity for reshaping the approach to the interpretation of the military power concept. Moreover, “The Future of Power” addresses the critical problem of power diffusion and offers some prognosis for its development in the future. In addition, the book provides an explicit analysis of the importance of economic power as the determinant of a state’s influential capacity. Lastly, Nye speculates upon the hegemonies and the factors that underpin their failure.

All things considered, “The Future of Power” offers a consistent analysis of the phenomena and challenges that currently exist in the global political environment. Joseph Nye addresses the problem of power complexly, explaining each type in details and providing a rationale for its application to international policy. The complicated political concepts are described in a simple style, supported by the relevant arguments and examples from the history.

Works Cited

Altunişik, Meliha Benli. “The Possibilities and Limits of Turkey’s Soft Power in the Middle East.” Insight Turkey 10.2 (2008): 41-54. Print.

Hayden, Craig. The Rhetoric of Soft Power: Public Diplomacy in Global Contexts, Plymouth: Lexington Books, 2012. Print.

Horowitz, Michael. The Diffusion of Military Power: Causes and Consequences for International Politics, Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2010. Print.

Nye, Joseph. The Future of Power, New York, New York: PublicAffairs, 2011. Print.

Popescu, Nicu. “Russia’s Soft Power Ambitions.” Policy Brief 115.1 (2006): 1-3. Print.

Whiton, Christian. Smart Power: Between Diplomacy and War, Dulles, Virginia: Potomac Books, 2013. Print.


  1. Nye 20.
  2. Popescu 1.
  3. Altunişik 43.
  4. Nye 23.
  5. Whiton 2.
  6. Nye 26.
  7. Horowitz 22.
  8. Nye 114.
  9. Horowitz 168.
  10. Nye 52.
  11. Hayden 284.
  12. Nye 154.
  13. Hayden 38.