Belfer Center Home > Publications > Academic Papers & Reports > Journal Articles > Taking Soft Power Seriously

EmailEmail   PrintPrint Bookmark and Share

"Taking Soft Power Seriously"

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton addressing an international conference promoting democracy in Krakow, Poland, July 3, 2010.
AP Photo

"Taking Soft Power Seriously"

Journal Article, Comparative Strategy, volume 29, issue 5, pages 412-431

November 2010

Authors: Matthew Kroenig, Former Research Fellow, Project on Managing the Atom/International Security Program, 2007–2008, Melissa McAdam, Steven Weber

Belfer Center Programs or Projects: International Security



The term soft power is entrenched in the theory and practice of American foreign policy, yet scholars have not yet developed, or empirically tested, a theory about the conditions under which governments can use soft power to their advantage—and that makes good policy hard to design. Drawing on research from the fields of communications, social psychology, and international relations theory, we develop a theory about the conditions under which state efforts to employ soft power will be most likely to succeed. We argue that to apply soft power effectively states must communicate to an intended target in a functioning marketplace of ideas, persuade the target to change its attitude on a relevant political issue, and ensure that the target's newly held attitude influences international political outcomes. We probe the plausibility of our theoretical claims through an examination of U.S. attempts to use soft power in the Iraq War, the war on terror, and democracy promotion. In conclusion, we set forth an agenda for future research on soft power and provide insights for policymakers interested in using soft power as a tool of foreign policy.


Continue reading (log in required):



For more information about this publication please contact the ISP Program Coordinator at 617-496-1981.

For Academic Citation:

Kroenig, Matthew, Melissa McAdam, and Steven Weber. "Taking Soft Power Seriously." Comparative Strategy 29, no. 5 (November 2010): 412-431.

Bookmark and Share

Events Calendar

We host a busy schedule of events throughout the fall, winter and spring. Past guests include: UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, former Vice President Al Gore, and former Soviet Union President Mikhail Gorbachev.