I have read a book a day for several decades, and consequently it has been my subjective experience that about one out of every 100 books is a gem, an absolutely wonderful gift to the reader. This book is that gem, and one simply has to read it with an open mind to gain an understanding of how the world works. Regardless of what side of the political fence you find yourself on, the left or the right, you will find The Future of Power to be INTENSE, PROVOCATIVE, and NECESSARY.
One can choose to maintain their preconceived notions about power, but after reading this book, it becomes clear that such people will be swept aside by the future that Nye describes so clearly. Your understanding of power will never be the same. We are at an inflection point in world history, and our traditional understanding of extrapolating the past into the future will not be a guide for what is coming next, but this book will be such a guide. If I had to use single words to describe what is in this book, I would say:
Nye comes to us with extraordinary credentials. The fact that he was Dean of the Harvard School of Government (JFK School) for several years, I do not hold against him. His work in government including high positions at the National Security Council, National Intelligence Council, and the Defense Department have allowed him both influence, and the ability to evolve on a real world basis.
ORGANIZATION OF THE BOOK
The book is divided into 7 chapters spread over 235 pages divided into three parts:
Part I Types of Power
Part II Power Shifts - Diffusions and Transitions
Part III Policy
Of the 7 chapters, I found four to be so original that they are completely unique, and Nye's understanding or framework as to how the world works is not to be missed. They are:
Chapter 2) Military Power
Chapter 3) Economic Power
Chapter 4) Soft Power
Chapter 6) Power Transition: The Question of America's Decline
WHAT NYE IS TELLING US?
Nye is telling us what the future holds, we merely have to grasp onto it, and absorb it. This book is in the same league and influence, as Carroll Quigley's Tragedy and Hope. Quigley, the Georgetown University master historian who influenced Bill Clinton and his thinking more than any other scholar in Clinton's career.
Nye believes that those who think America is in a serious state of decline are mistaken because the traditional tools used to measure such a statement are no longer applicable. Power is no longer measured in nuclear missiles, military forces, or pounds of steel produced by an industrial economy. Power as Nye defines it now has to do with soft power, smart power, influence, persuasion and trust. Smart Power is a combination of the hard power of coercion and partly with the soft power of persuasion.
Joseph Stalin the Soviet dictator once asked how many divisions does the Pope have? Fifty years later, Russia and Stalin are relegated to the ash heaps of history and the Pope survives. The Defense Department spends $650 billion per year on Hard Power while the State Department spends $36 billion per year on Soft Power. David Hume the 18th century philosopher once said that "No human is strong enough to dominate all others acting alone". Today we can say the same thing about countries. India two centuries ago with 300 million was dominated by 100,000 British soldiers. In the 1800's France conquered Algeria with 34,000 troops. In the 20th century 600,000 members of the French Foreign Legion could not hold Algeria together.
We must no longer measure power in resources, or units of production. We must begin to measure it in terms of preferred outcomes. Our country represents only 5% of the world's population but 25% of the world's production. We shall probably maintain our position versus the world for the rest of this century, but only if we learn to understand the new dimensions of Power and how to evolve with them. This book unlike any other will begin to show us how, if we want to.
IS NYE OPTIMISTIC ABOUT AMERICA?
There have been 9 world wars since 1500, and what Nye is looking for now is the reemergence of China as a world power which it once was from 500 AD to 1500 AD before declining in the face of Western power from 1500 AD to this century. What Nye so wisely points out is that an economy equal in total size to ours does not mean EQUALITY.
America does not have to lose power, hard or soft. In fact the rest of the world is years behind our hard power. By ourselves we represent 45% of the entire world's defense expenditures - too much by any standard.
It is time to dramatically increase our soft power expenditures, to continue to maintain our edge, and perhaps expand upon it. As China continues to grow, they will have to consume themselves with the more than 1 billion have-nots in their society. They have over a billion people with less than 85 million doing well. There is no health care to speak of, and all of this has to change and be factored into what will happen to their economy and nobody, certainly not American economists are getting it right.
This book demands to be read, and analyzed, and thought over. Nye is perhaps unique in his understanding of power. To read this book is to be transformed, and enlightened, and certainly to see things differently than you thought they were. I loved it and believe you will too, and thank you for reading this review.