America’s Original Sin
Slavery and the Legacy of White Supremacy
The Rise of Illiberal Hegemony
Trump’s Surprising Grand Strategy
The China Reckoning
How Beijing Defied American Expectations
Autocracy With Chinese Characteristics
Beijing's Behind-the-Scenes Reforms
The End of the Democratic Century
Autocracy's Global Ascendance
Perception and Misperception on the Korean Peninsula
How Unwanted Wars Begin
The Myth of the Liberal Order
From Historical Accident to Conventional Wisdom
When China Rules the Web
Technology in Service of the State
The New Arab Order
Power and Violence in Today’s Middle East
Lessons From a Failed State
Has a New Cold War Really Begun?
Why the Term Shouldn't Apply to Today's Great-Power Tensions
The United States’ Perpetual War in Afghanistan
Why Long Wars No Longer Generate a Backlash at Home
Reeducation Returns to China
Will the Repression in Xinjiang Influence Beijing's Social Credit System?
How Artificial Intelligence Will Reshape the Global Order
The Coming Competition Between Digital Authoritarianism and Liberal Democracy
The Remarkable Scale of Turkey's "Global Purge"
How It Became a Threat to the Rule of Law Everywhere
The Pentagon's Transparency Problem
Why Accurate Troop Levels Are So Hard to Find
Stop Obsessing About China
Why Beijing Will Not Imperil U.S. Hegemony
Is Trump a Normal Foreign-Policy President?
What We Know After One Year
How Sharp Power Threatens Soft Power
The Right and Wrong Ways to Respond to Authoritarian Influence
Is Going It Alone the Best Way Forward for Europe?
Why Strategic Autonomy Should Be the Continent’s Goal
Washington has been wrestling with a new term that describes an old threat. “Sharp power,” as coined by Christopher Walker and Jessica Ludwig of the National Endowment for Democracy (writing for ForeignAffairs.com and in a longer report), refers to the information warfare being waged by today’s authoritarian powers, particularly China and Russia. Over the past decade, Beijing and Moscow have spent tens of billions of dollars to shape public perceptions and behavior around the world—using tools new and old that exploit the asymmetry of openness between their own restrictive systems and democratic societies. The effects are global, but in the United States, concern has focused on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and on Chinese efforts to control discussion of sensitive topics in American publications, movies, and classrooms.
In their National Endowment for Democracy report, Walker and Ludwig argue that the expansion and refinement of Chinese and Russian sharp power should prompt policymakers in the United States and other democracies to rethink the tools they use to respond. They contrast sharp power, which “pierces, penetrates, or perforates the political and information environments in the targeted countries,” with “soft power,” which harnesses the allure of culture and values to enhance a country’s strength. And democracies, they argue, must not just “inoculate themselves against malign authoritarian influence” but also “take a far more assertive posture on behalf of their own principles.”
Today, the challenge posed by Chinese and Russian information warfare is real. Yet in the face of that challenge, democratic governments and societies should avoid any temptation to imitate the methods of their adversaries. That means taking care not to overreact to sharp power in ways that undercut their true advantage. Even today, that advantage comes from soft power.
THE STAYING POWER OF SOFT POWER
In international politics, soft power (a term I first used in a 1990 book) is the ability to affect others by attraction and persuasion rather than through the hard power of coercion and payment.
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