"Recent Events Call Attention to Nye’s New Book: The Future of Power"
Newsletter Article, Belfer Center Newsletter
Author: Sharon Wilke, Associate Director of Communications
“As authoritarian Arab regimes struggle with Twitter and Al Jazeerainflamed demonstrations, Iran tries to cope with the cyber sabotage of its nuclear enrichment program, and American diplomats try to understand the impact of WikiLeaks, it is clear that smart policy in an information age will need a more sophisticated understanding of power in world politics,” Joseph S. Nye wrote in his inaugural post to the Belfer Center’s new blog “Power and Policy” in early February.
A Harvard distinguished service professor and member of the Belfer Center’s board of directors, Nye offers an insightful analysis of the changing nature and use of power in his new book, The Future of Power. In the book, he describes two types of power shifts occurring in this century—power transition and power diffusion.
“Power transition from one dominant state to another is a familiar historical event,” Nye argues, “but power diffusion is a more novel process. The problem for all states in today’s global information age is that more things are happening outside the control of even the most powerful states.”
In The Future of Power, Nye notes that previous markers of power—such as numbers of nuclear missiles, industrial capacity, and the lineup of tanks—are now obsolete. These changes in power require longestablished power relationships to be remapped.
While a number of analysts are decrying a decline in American power worldwide—and comparing it to the fall of Rome—Nye points out that Rome remained dominant “for more than three centuries after the apogee of Roman power, and even then, it did not succumb to the rise of another state, but died a death of a thousand cuts inflicted by various barbarian tribes.”
“For all the fashionable predictions of China, India, or Brazil surpassing the United States in the next decades,” he writes, “the greater threats may come from modern barbarians and nonstate actors. In an information based world of cyber insecurity, power diffusion may be a greater threat than power transition.”
Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright praises his contribution: “If your goal is to understand world affairs in the twentyfirst century, there could be no better guide than The Future of Power.”
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