English-Video.net comment policy

The comment field is common to all languages

Let's write in your language and use "Google Translate" together

Please refer to informative community guidelines on TED.com

TEDGlobal 2010

Joseph Nye: Global power shifts

Filmed
Views 966,899

Historian and diplomat Joseph Nye gives us the 30,000-foot view of the shifts in power between China and the US, and the global implications as economic, political and "soft" power shifts and moves around the globe.

- Diplomat
The former assistant secretary of defense and former dean of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, Joseph Nye offers sharp insights into the way nations take and cede power. Full bio

I'm going to talk to you
00:15
about power in this 21st century.
00:17
And basically, what I'd like to tell you
00:19
is that power is changing,
00:22
and there are two types of changes
00:25
I want to discuss.
00:27
One is power transition,
00:29
which is change of power amongst states.
00:32
And there the simple version of the message
00:35
is it's moving from West to East.
00:38
The other is power diffusion,
00:41
the way power is moving
00:44
from all states West or East
00:46
to non-state actors.
00:48
Those two things
00:51
are the huge shifts of power
00:53
in our century.
00:55
And I want to tell you about them each separately
00:57
and then how they interact
01:00
and why, in the end, there may be some good news.
01:02
When we talk about power transition,
01:06
we often talk about the rise of Asia.
01:09
It really should be called
01:13
the recovery or return of Asia.
01:15
If we looked at the world
01:17
in 1800,
01:19
you'd find that more than half of the world's people
01:21
lived in Asia
01:24
and they made more than half the world's product.
01:26
Now fast forward to 1900:
01:29
half the world's people -- more than half -- still live in Asia,
01:32
but they're now making
01:35
only a fifth of the world's product.
01:37
What happened? The Industrial Revolution,
01:39
which meant that all of a sudden,
01:42
Europe and America
01:44
became the dominant center of the world.
01:46
What we're going to see in the 21st century
01:49
is Asia gradually returning
01:52
to being more than half of the world's population
01:55
and more than half of the world's product.
01:58
That's important and it's an important shift.
02:02
But let me tell you a little bit about
02:05
the other shift that I'm talking about,
02:07
which is power diffusion.
02:09
To understand power diffusion
02:11
put this in your mind:
02:14
computing and communications costs
02:16
have fallen a thousandfold
02:19
between 1970
02:22
and the beginning of this century.
02:24
Now that's a big abstract number.
02:26
But to make it more real,
02:28
if the price of an automobile
02:30
had fallen as rapidly
02:32
as the price of computing power,
02:34
you could buy a car today
02:36
for five dollars.
02:38
Now when the price of any technology
02:40
declines that dramatically,
02:42
the barriers to entry go down.
02:45
Anybody can play in the game.
02:48
So in 1970,
02:50
if you wanted to communicate
02:52
from Oxford to Johannesburg
02:54
to New Delhi
02:56
to Brasilia
02:58
and anywhere simultaneously,
03:00
you could do it.
03:03
The technology was there.
03:05
But to be able to do it,
03:07
you had to be very rich --
03:09
a government, a multinational corporation,
03:11
maybe the Catholic Church --
03:14
but you had to be pretty wealthy.
03:17
Now, anybody has that capacity,
03:19
which previously was restricted by price
03:22
just to a few actors.
03:25
If they have the price of entry into an Internet cafe --
03:28
the last time I looked, it was something like a pound an hour --
03:31
and if you have Skype, it's free.
03:34
So capabilities
03:37
that were once restricted
03:39
are now available to everyone.
03:41
And what that means
03:43
is not that the age of the State is over.
03:45
The State still matters.
03:49
But the stage is crowded.
03:51
The State's not alone. There are many, many actors.
03:53
Some of that's good:
03:56
Oxfam,
03:58
a great non-governmental actor.
04:00
Some of it's bad:
04:02
Al Qaeda, another non-governmental actor.
04:04
But think of what it does
04:07
to how we think in traditional terms and concepts.
04:09
We think in terms of war
04:12
and interstate war.
04:14
And you can think back to 1941
04:16
when the government of Japan
04:19
attacked the United States at Pearl Harbor.
04:21
It's worth noticing
04:24
that a non-state actor
04:26
attacking the United States in 2001
04:28
killed more Americans
04:31
than the government of Japan did in 1941.
04:33
You might think of that
04:36
as the privatization of war.
04:38
So we're seeing a great change
04:40
in terms of diffusion of power.
04:43
Now the problem is
04:46
that we're not thinking about it in very innovative ways.
04:49
So let me step back
04:52
and ask: what's power?
04:54
Power is simple the ability
04:56
to affect others
04:58
to get the outcomes you want,
05:00
and you can do it in three ways.
05:02
You can do it with threats
05:04
of coercion, "sticks,"
05:06
you can do it with payments,
05:08
"carrots,"
05:10
or you can do it by getting others
05:12
to want what you want.
05:14
And that ability to get others to want what you want,
05:16
to get the outcomes you want
05:19
without coercion or payment,
05:21
is what I call soft power.
05:23
And that soft power has been much neglected
05:26
and much misunderstood,
05:29
and yet it's tremendously important.
05:31
Indeed, if you can learn
05:34
to use more soft power,
05:37
you can save a lot
05:39
on carrots and sticks.
05:41
Traditionally, the way people thought about power
05:43
was primarily in terms of military power.
05:46
For example, the great Oxford historian
05:50
who taught here at this university, A.J.P. Taylor,
05:52
defined a great power
05:55
as a country able to prevail in war.
05:58
But we need a new narrative
06:02
if we're to understand power in the 21st century.
06:04
It's not just prevailing at war,
06:06
though war still persists.
06:08
It's not whose army wins;
06:11
it's also whose story wins.
06:13
And we have to think much more in terms of narratives
06:16
and whose narrative is going to be effective.
06:19
Now let me go back
06:23
to the question
06:25
of power transition
06:27
between states
06:29
and what's happening there.
06:31
the narratives that we use now
06:33
tend to be the rise and fall
06:35
of the great powers.
06:37
And the current narrative is all about
06:39
the rise of China
06:41
and the decline of the United States.
06:43
Indeed, with the 2008 financial crisis,
06:46
many people said this was
06:48
the beginning of the end of American power.
06:50
The tectonic plates
06:52
of world politics were shifting.
06:54
And president Medvedev of Russia, for example,
06:57
pronounced in 2008
06:59
this was the beginning of the end
07:01
of United States power.
07:03
But in fact,
07:05
this metaphor of decline
07:07
is often very misleading.
07:09
If you look at history, in recent history,
07:11
you'll see the cycles of belief
07:14
in American decline
07:16
come and go every 10 or 15 years or so.
07:18
In 1958,
07:22
after the Soviets put up Sputnik,
07:24
it was "That's the end of America."
07:26
In 1973, with the oil embargo
07:28
and the closing of the gold window,
07:30
that was the end of America.
07:33
In the 1980s,
07:35
as America went through a transition in the Reagan period,
07:37
between the rust belt economy of the midwest
07:39
to the Silicon Valley economy of California,
07:42
that was the end of America.
07:45
But in fact, what we've seen
07:48
is none of those were true.
07:50
Indeed, people were over-enthusiastic
07:53
in the early 2000s,
07:56
thinking America could do anything,
07:58
which led us into some disastrous
08:00
foreign policy adventures,
08:02
and now we're back to decline again.
08:04
The moral of this story
08:06
is all these narratives about rise and fall and decline
08:08
tell us a lot more about psychology
08:11
than they do about reality.
08:14
If we try to focus on the reality,
08:16
then what we need to focus on
08:19
is what's really happening
08:21
in terms of China and the United States.
08:23
Goldman Sachs has projected
08:27
that China, the Chinese economy,
08:29
will surpass that of the U.S.
08:32
by 2027.
08:35
So we've got, what,
08:37
17 more years to go or so
08:39
before China's bigger.
08:41
Now someday,
08:43
with a billion point three people getting richer,
08:45
they are going to be bigger than the United States.
08:47
But be very careful about these projections
08:50
such as the Goldman Sachs projection
08:52
as though that gives you an accurate picture
08:54
of power transition in this century.
08:57
Let me mention three reasons why it's too simple.
09:00
First of all, it's a linear projection.
09:03
You know, everything says,
09:06
here's the growth rate of China, here's the growth rate of the U.S.,
09:08
here it goes -- straight line.
09:10
History is not linear.
09:12
There are often bumps along the road, accidents along the way.
09:14
The second thing is
09:17
that the Chinese economy
09:19
passes the U.S. economy in, let's say, 2030,
09:21
which it may it,
09:24
that will be a measure of total economic size,
09:26
but not of per capita income --
09:29
won't tell you about the composition of the economy.
09:31
China still has large areas
09:34
of underdevelopment
09:36
and per capita income is a better measure
09:38
of the sophistication of the economy.
09:40
And that the Chinese won't catch up or pass the Americans
09:42
until somewhere in the latter part,
09:45
after 2050, of this century.
09:47
The other point that's worth noticing
09:50
is how one-dimensional
09:53
this projection is.
09:55
You know, it looks at economic power
09:57
measured by GDP.
09:59
Doesn't tell you much about military power,
10:01
doesn't tell you very much about soft power.
10:04
It's all very one-dimensional.
10:06
And also, when we think about the rise of Asia,
10:08
or return of Asia
10:11
as I called it a little bit earlier,
10:13
it's worth remembering Asia's not one thing.
10:15
If you're sitting in Japan,
10:18
or in New Delhi,
10:21
or in Hanoi,
10:23
your view of the rise of China
10:25
is a little different than if you're sitting in Beijing.
10:28
Indeed, one of the advantages
10:31
that the Americans will have
10:33
in terms of power in Asia
10:35
is all those countries
10:37
want an American insurance policy
10:39
against the rise of China.
10:41
It's as though Mexico and Canada
10:43
were hostile neighbors to the United States,
10:46
which they're not.
10:48
So these simple projections
10:50
of the Goldman Sachs type
10:52
are not telling us what we need to know
10:54
about power transition.
10:56
But you might ask, well so what in any case?
10:57
Why does it matter? Who cares?
11:00
Is this just a game
11:02
that diplomats and academics play?
11:04
The answer is it matters quite a lot.
11:06
Because, if you believe in decline
11:09
and you get the answers wrong on this,
11:11
the facts, not the myths,
11:14
you may have policies which are very dangerous.
11:16
Let me give you an example from history.
11:19
The Peloponnesian War
11:22
was the great conflict
11:24
in which the Greek city state system
11:26
tore itself apart
11:28
two and a half millennia ago.
11:31
What caused it?
11:34
Thucydides, the great historian of the the Peloponnesian War,
11:36
said it was the rise in the power of Athens
11:39
and the fear it created in Sparta.
11:42
Notice both halves of that explanation.
11:45
Many people argue
11:48
that the 21st century
11:50
is going to repeat the 20th century,
11:52
in which World War One,
11:54
the great conflagration
11:57
in which the European state system
11:59
tore itself apart
12:01
and destroyed its centrality in the world,
12:03
that that was caused by
12:05
the rise in the power of Germany
12:07
and the fear it created in Britain.
12:09
So there are people who are telling us
12:12
this is going to be reproduced today,
12:14
that what we're going to see
12:16
is the same thing now in this century.
12:18
No, I think that's wrong.
12:21
It's bad history.
12:23
For one thing, Germany had surpassed Britain
12:25
in industrial strength by 1900.
12:27
And as I said earlier,
12:29
China has not passed the United States.
12:31
But also, if you have this belief
12:34
and it creates a sense of fear,
12:36
it leads to overreaction.
12:39
And the greatest danger we have
12:41
of managing this power transition
12:43
of the shift toward the East is fear.
12:46
To paraphrase Franklin Roosevelt
12:49
from a different context,
12:51
the greatest thing we have to fear is fear itself.
12:53
We don't have to fear the rise of China
12:56
or the return of Asia.
12:59
And if we have policies
13:01
in which we take it
13:03
in that larger historical perspective,
13:05
we're going to be able
13:07
to manage this process.
13:09
Let me say a word now
13:11
about the distribution of power
13:13
and how it relates to power diffusion
13:15
and then pull these two types together.
13:18
If you ask how is power distributed in the world today,
13:20
it's distributed much like
13:23
a three-dimensional chess game.
13:26
Top board:
13:29
military power among states.
13:31
The United States is the only superpower,
13:33
and it's likely to remain that way
13:36
for two or three decades.
13:38
China's not going to replace the U.S. on this military board.
13:40
Middle board of this three-dimensional chess game:
13:43
economic power among states.
13:46
Power is multi-polar.
13:48
There are balancers --
13:51
the U.S., Europe,
13:53
China, Japan
13:55
can balance each other.
13:57
The bottom board of this three-dimensional,
13:59
the board of transnational relations,
14:02
things that cross borders outside the control of governments,
14:04
things like climate change, drug trade,
14:08
financial flows,
14:11
pandemics,
14:13
all these things that cross borders
14:15
outside the control of governments,
14:17
there nobody's in charge.
14:19
It makes no sense to call this unipolar
14:21
or multi-polar.
14:23
Power is chaotically distributed.
14:25
And the only way you can solve these problems --
14:27
and this is where many greatest challenges
14:29
are coming in this century --
14:31
is through cooperation,
14:33
through working together,
14:35
which means that soft power becomes more important,
14:37
that ability to organize networks
14:40
to deal with these kinds of problems
14:42
and to be able to get cooperation.
14:44
Another way of putting it
14:47
is that as we think of power in the 21st century,
14:49
we want to get away from the idea
14:52
that power's always zero sum --
14:54
my gain is your loss and vice versa.
14:56
Power can also be positive sum,
14:59
where your gain can be my gain.
15:02
If China develops greater energy security
15:05
and greater capacity
15:08
to deal with its problems of carbon emissions,
15:10
that's good for us
15:12
as well as good for China
15:14
as well as good for everybody else.
15:16
So empowering China
15:18
to deal with its own problems of carbon
15:20
is good for everybody,
15:23
and it's not a zero sum, I win, you lose.
15:26
It's one in which we can all gain.
15:29
So as we think about power
15:31
in this century,
15:33
we want to get away from this view
15:35
that it's all I win, you lose.
15:37
Now I don't mean to be Pollyannaish about this.
15:40
Wars persist. Power persists.
15:43
Military power is important.
15:45
Keeping balances is important.
15:47
All this still persists.
15:49
Hard power is there,
15:51
and it will remain.
15:53
But unless you learn how to mix
15:55
hard power with soft power
15:57
into strategies that I call smart power,
15:59
you're not going to deal with the new kinds of problems
16:02
that we're facing.
16:04
So the key question that we need to think about as we look at this
16:07
is how do we work together
16:10
to produce global public goods,
16:12
things from which all of us can benefit?
16:15
How do we define our national interests
16:18
so that it's not just zero sum,
16:20
but positive sum.
16:22
In that sense, if we define our interests,
16:24
for example, for the United States
16:26
the way Britain defined its interests in the 19th century,
16:28
keeping an open trading system,
16:31
keeping a monetary stability, keeping freedom of the seas --
16:34
those were good for Britain,
16:37
they were good for others as well.
16:39
And in the 21st century, you have to do an analog to that.
16:41
How do we produce global public goods,
16:44
which are good for us,
16:47
but good for everyone at the same time?
16:49
And that's going to be the good news dimension
16:51
of what we need to think about
16:53
as we think of power in the 21st century.
16:55
There are ways to define our interests
16:58
in which, while protecting ourselves with hard power,
17:01
we can organize with others in networks
17:04
to produce, not only public goods,
17:07
but ways that will enhance our soft power.
17:10
So if one looks at the statements
17:13
that have been made about this,
17:16
I am impressed that when Hillary Clinton
17:18
described the foreign policy
17:20
of the Obama administration,
17:22
she said that the foreign policy of the Obama administration
17:24
was going to be smart power,
17:27
as she put it, "using all the tools
17:30
in our foreign policy tool box."
17:32
And if we're going to deal
17:36
with these two great power shifts that I've described,
17:38
the power shift represented by transition among states,
17:41
the power shift represented
17:44
by diffusion of power away from all states,
17:46
we're going to have to develop a new narrative of power
17:49
in which we combine hard and soft power
17:52
into strategies of smart power.
17:55
And that's the good news I have. We can do that.
17:58
Thank you very much.
18:01
(Applause)
18:03

▲Back to top

About the speaker:

Joseph Nye - Diplomat
The former assistant secretary of defense and former dean of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, Joseph Nye offers sharp insights into the way nations take and cede power.

Why you should listen

From the window of his living room, Joseph Nye looks out on the battle green in Lexington, Massachusetts. There, just before dawn in April 1775, American minutemen and British regulars squared off, firing the first shots of the American Revolution. It's a perfect locale for Nye, whose ideas on how the struggle for power shapes the lives of nations are required reading for diplomats worldwide.

His views on the blending of hard and soft power into what he calls smart power have relevance in the day of non-state political forces (like Al-Qaeda). Nye has done much writing on how the age-old diplomatic methodologies of hard power (military force and economic payments) and soft power (persuasion and attraction) have fused into smart power and a cogent and usable diplomacy. It's the subject of his newest work, The Future of Power in the 21st Century, which provides a pragmatic roadmap for a country's foreign policy to deal with the challenges of a global information age.

More profile about the speaker
Joseph Nye | Speaker | TED.com