The end of the Cold War gifted the world with a new World Order. This new beginning has been described differently by different authors. Many debates concentrate on the question of how such an emergent international environment reflects the leading position of the US. Dr. Joseph Samuel. Nye, Jr.’s work represents a valuable contribution to this debate. Through five chapters Nye offers a broad overview of the new globalized world order; examines the power position of the US within this order and offers recommendations for US foreign policy in other to preserve its primacy.

The author points out, in the aftermath of September 11, the policy issues this book addresses are magnified rather than diminished in importance.

This reasoned and timely essay on the uses of power makes a valuable contribution to American public discourse. Following are the detailed summaries of chapters and finally the last section of this article deals with the critical analysis of the book.

 The American Colossus

This chapter is predicated on the hegemonic status of America, how is it a colossus that bestrides the whole globe, and a speculation about who can be the potential challengers to the ascendancy of America in the 21st century. To deal with these seminal queries, the author has divided this chapter into four sections.

The first section propounds that the United States is the pivot of the contemporary times that inundates the world in terms of economy, military, culture, language, lifestyle and currency that not only fascinates its aborigines but its enemies as well.

Modern trends of globalization appear to be an extension or a disguise for American imperialism. This American unilateralism, on the one hand for some pundits will be momentous while for some triumphalists, this unilateral moment will transform into a unilateral era.

The declinists reside with some realist liberals and conservatives who prescribe a natural law in international politics of nations balancing against the strong power. Contrary to the declinists and triumphalists, the author emphasizes preventing the fallacies of these approaches and directs the Americans neither to be over-cautious nor too arrogant and unbridled. To draw a careful picture to avoid common mistakes and predict the future, Joseph Nye starts his analysis with America’s sources of power.

The second section is concerned with the roots of American power. By power, the author is referring to affect the outcomes and change the behavior of the other party to get the desired outcomes. There is an addition to this basic idea of power and that is related to the possession of resources such as territory, population, natural resources, political stability, and military capabilities. Historically, the sources of power have changed. Traditionally, population was the determining element in the 17th and 18th centuries tested through war. Then the critical power base in the 19th century shifted to a robust industry, administration, and railways that benefited Britain and Germany.

The succeeding century brought the nuclear jinni and military technological sophistication as the foundations of power. Today’s sources of power have transformed due to the societal changes inside the States, the rise of nationalism, and less acceptability of war due to its detrimental impacts on the economy of the States. Nevertheless, military force, or “hard power” as the author describes it, is like oxygen but in a globalized economic world where the boundaries between geo-economics and geo-politics have blurred and market forces are beyond States control, the “soft power” clearly is the most consequential player. By soft power, the author is referring to the means that can get others to want what you want or in other words to set the political agenda in a way that shapes the preferences of others.

This ability to entice, attract, and influence others is associated with intangible resources such as attractive culture, values, ideology, and institutions. America in view of these tangible and intangible resources is best endowed and has created an empire ruled by American soft power on which the sun never sets.

Both hard and soft power are related to one another and they reinforce one another as well so, if United States want to continue with this American Century, it has to avoid falling prey to one dimensional analysis of power.

In the next section, the author elaborates on the tale of hard and soft power by adding the crucial ingredient of people’s reactions across the globe for the stability and peaceful governance of the superpower in a globalized information age. Does the balance of power or unipolar hegemonic world order the guarantor of world peace and order? The world has witnessed wars during the multipolar balance of power system therefore adherence to such a narrow framework can be dangerous.

Inequality of power can also act as a stabilizer or a moderate hegemon but it depends on the behavior of the hegemon, in this case, America. If its policies are arrogant and unilateral, the countries can follow the realist rule of bandwagoning against the hegemon but if America adopts strategic restraint, co-operation, participation, and an attractive culture complemented by an unmatched military power, only then its preponderance can last.

Interlinked to the preceding section, this section extrapolates major challenges that can pose a threat to American dominance in the case of maladaptive policy orientation. The first and foremost threat is considered to be China which is routinely represented as Enemy No. 1. Joseph Nye presents various obstacles in the path of its development and is of the view that whether China is not likely to become a peer competitor of U.S on the global stage but can be a potent contender in East Asia and it will more likely be over Taiwan.

Another challenger according to Nye is Japan with an extraordinary history of reinventing itself. However, the author believes in the alliance of the United States and Japan as a more likely outcome than Japan as a potential threat to its hegemony. Likewise Russia, in view of Nye has a long way to go to be a global challenger for the U.S. because of its residual military capabilities and economy, albeit it can be a troublemaker by alliance formation with China and India. India is also unlikely to become a global contender as she will be more occupied with balancing China. Lastly, Europe in the garb of the European Union appears to be a potential threat but it depends on American behavior that can either reduce the opportunities of cultural, economic, and social ties or become a prime antidote for the loneliness of U.S superpowerdom.

The distribution of power in the current information age is the last section of this chapter. For now, the disparity of power between the U.S. and the other major powers is colossal but this is a three-dimensional chess board. On the top of this chessboard is military power which is unipolar, the middle chessboard is economic power which is hybrid unipolar-multipolar and at the bottom of the chessboard is the realm of transnational actors which is multipolar, unipolar, or hegemonic.

America undoubtedly is the sole predominant superpower of present-day dynamics but it needs the respect and help of other nations as well.

The Information Revolution

In this chapter, Joseph Nye puts forward the significance of the Industrial Revolution in the modern age and its influence on the foreign policy of countries specifically the United States of America. The world has been a witness to disparate waves of information revolutions bringing about remarkable breakthroughs in the course of history such as paving the way for American democracy, the French Revolution, or the modern e-campaign helping to create a treaty banning anti-personal landmines.

These episodic information revolutions have been a crucial element in altering the nature of governments and sovereignty, enhancing the role of other supra-state and sub-state actors abridged with the increased role of soft power in the foreign policy domain of States. The author categorizes these waves of information revolution into three phases transforming the building blocks of world politics, economy, government, and society. The first Industrial Revolution, occurred at the turn of the 19th century (the use of the steam engine and landmark transformation in transportation), the Second Industrial Revolution at the turn of the 20th century preceded by the Third Industrial Revolution of the current century (the most cost-effective), compelling the States to adjust their policies and interests accordingly.

The second revolution has a more politically centralizing tendency like the one embodied by the Soviet Union’s Joseph Stalin, which will be reversed in the 21st century where states because of the modern information revolution, will witness neither centralization nor decentralization but rather diffusion of government activities in several directions simultaneously. Though, in view of the author this information revolution is still in its early stages, the diffusion it will generate within the states will vary depending on their nature, size, or other factors.

Still, the governments will find it more difficult to maintain their traditional sovereign control over the massive flux of information producing uneven effects on the economy and politics. The role of the market will be increased and the process of globalization that preceded this revolution will in turn be greatly enhanced by it. It will bring an end to the hierarchal bureaucratic organizations symbolized by the former two revolutions and the formation of a cyber-feudalistic structure with multi-layered communities’ identities and allegiances.

The role of the nation-state system promulgated by Peace of Westphalia will remain the dominant relevant pattern but they will be less contained and more porous.

National security, national governance, sovereignty, and politics, all these essentialities have to be redefined in the contemporary context of the global information age. Information revolution also affects power among the States, albeit poor states poor in education and infrastructure will lag behind the powerful like the U.S because of dominant popular American cultural content, lack of major investment in disseminating information, and the U.S being the standard/trendsetter. In this age of information where the portrayal of hard power remains incomplete without soft power, all the trends lie in the favor of the U.S. and to sustain this America has to share the stage crowded with newly emerged actors.


This chapter deals with globalization, its advent, and transformation. Globalization is not a new process. According to the author, it is as old as human history. The only difference is that contemporary globalization is thicker and quicker and comprised of a nexus of more people, regions, and social classes. Globalization does not mean universalization, modernization, homogenization, or equity. A truly globalized world implies the free flow of commodities and people accompanied by low-interest rates. This, however, does not imply that nation-states or boundaries have become irrelevant. Globalization also yields certain reactions among them nationalism and fundamentalism are important stimulations.

Modern-age globalization is misleadingly equaled to Americanization, but this idea is too myopic. The United States itself is a product of globalization of the 17th and 18th centuries, albeit the United States is a giant of contemporary globalization. There are multifold characteristics of the United States that make her the center of current age globalization for instance U.S syncretic culture. By constituting a large part of the content of current global information networks, contributes to enhancing the soft power of the United States.

Disparate dimensions of globalization are hence also dominated by Americans but it also influences America as it does other countries.

One of the oldest globalization dimensions is environmental globalization; others include military globalization, social globalization, political globalization, and economic globalization. These dimensions can run in parallel or in counter direction with respect to each other making this process of globalization a mixed blessing.

As mentioned earlier, however, contemporary globalization is U.S.-centric but to adopt a unilateralist and hub and spokes view can be detrimental and can blind Americans to various changes and challenges. The best way for the United States or the world is to embrace a world system that consists of thick networks of governance crisscrossing and co-existing with a world formally divided into sovereign States.

Unilateralism is not the solution, instead, coordination, and cooperation are either bilateral or multilateral. As for the Americans when they shape their foreign policy for this century, they will have to respond to issues that involve greater complexity, more uncertainty, shorter response times, broader participation by groups and individuals, and an uneven shrinkage of distance through the establishment of multilateral institutions and governance into a broader conception of their national interest.

The Home Front

This chapter puts forth the major challenges that can damage the American colossus. For the author, the most seminal challenges for the United States are not from outside but they can be from within the State. For instance, if their society and institutions appear to be collapsing, they will be less attractive to others or if their economy fails, they will lose the basis for their hard power as well as soft power. Power conversion and American exceptionalism also appear to complicate matters for the United States.

For some scholars, Americans are undergoing a severe cultural divide and moral decay that is in turn reducing the soft power of the United States. On the other hand, for some scholars (Joseph Nye as well) United States has made progress in many important respects for the past four decades but they are not doing as well as they can do. Though these issues are not an anomaly rather a prevalent universal phenomenon having made comparisons can erode the soft power of America.

To deal with the above-mentioned perceptions, the author explicitly explores the areas of immigration, the confidence of her people and the World in her institutions and concludes that significant decay in social institutions could erode their power by diminishing both their capacity for collective action and the overall attractiveness of their society but it does not see that it has been done. The real problem that can threaten to weaken American power depends on the performance of its economy.

To the satisfaction of the author, America leads in this domain and the public also is not isolationist. If the United States were to turn in a more protectionist direction, it would not only reduce the economic growth that underpins its hard power but set an unfortunate example that would reduce its soft power as well.

Redefining The National Interest

In this chapter, author Joseph Nye attempts to define the contemporary contours of American policy and what can be the necessary additions. The first warning that Nye informs the United States policymakers is that they need to formulate a broad definition of national interest that takes account of the interests of others, and it is the role of the leaders to bring this into popular discussions.

Certainly, national strategic interests are vital and deserve priority, because if the U.S. fails to protect them, their very survival would be at stake. Survival is the necessary condition of foreign policy, but it is not all there is to foreign policy and national interest in a democracy is simply what citizens, after proper deliberation, say it is. So, it is upon U.S. leaders how use their hard power in a way that does not undermine the country’s soft power.

One of the prescriptions propounded by the author is the adoption of a strategy based on global public goods. This strategy includes; maintaining the balance of power in important regions, promoting an open international economy, preventing international commons, maintaining international rules and institutions, assisting economic development, and acting as convener of coalitions and mediator of disputes.

In the next section of the chapter, the author presents the notions of promotion of human rights and democracy that had been a seminal tenant of American foreign policy. But the author boils down five rules that make human intervention justifiable by the U.S. and also enhance the soft power of the State. A) Distinguish degrees of intervention and proportionality. B) Determine that there is just cause and probable success. C) Reinforce humanitarian interests with other interests. D) Give priority to other regional actors. E) Be clear about genocide. F) Be wary of civil wars over self-determination. Since the creation of the U.S., there has existed a debate between isolationism, unilateralism, and multilateralism, as various modes through which the U.S. can engage with other countries.

Joseph Nye emphasizes the importance of multilateralism at the expense of the other two modes but also suggests that sometimes it becomes crucial to employ a unilateralist approach mixed with multilateralism.

There is no lethal and eminent threat to destroy the lead of the United States. For instance, it is highly unlikely that terrorists can destroy American power. European Union appears to be a challenger but if the United States plays its card well, combining the two, hard power and soft power in pursuit of national and global interests, then as the author quotes, “Pax Americana can become more like Pax Romana or Pax Britannica.”

Critical Analysis:

This book is a complete package to understand both the dynamics of power in International Relations; hard power and soft power. The question that the author poses in the very title of this book is explicitly extrapolated in four chapters of the book with an additional icing of the fifth chapter elucidating a multidimensional way forward for the United States.

Why America Cannot Do It Alone is critically analyzed by the writer by incorporating every aspect of the modern age information revolution and globalization. Subjective interpretations regarding the American power paradox and policy courses of diverse scholars, statesmen, theoreticians, and writers are complemented and strengthened by quantitative facts and figures that leave no lacuna for critique.

This masterpiece penned in 2001 makes its reader eulogize the author because of its victorious futuristic speculations that are still relevant even in 2018. For instance, when the author talks of the lethal implications of protectionism and limiting migrations which is the crucial substance for the American cultural laboratory in the growing thicker and quicker age of globalization, it still is highly relevant. As we see in the case of Donald Trump, such policies are eroding the leading image of America and hence its soft power, thus making this book a publication for all times.

Though despite all the successful interpretations there is an extant bias towards China that is visible in this work. As is the case with almost all Oriental knowledge, this book presents an undying image of American power. Though death is viewed in strict unilateral policies a discriminatory attitude towards rising China is evident. However, the author talks very little about China therefore this lacuna is inconspicuous.

Another contribution by Nye is that he rightly emphasizes the rise of non-state actors in the international arena. The best way to lead the way the U.S. has been leading since the end of the Cold War is through the sharing of power.

Conclusively, this work significantly contributes to post-Cold War international relations scholarship. Nye offers valuable perspectives on both power politics and global interdependence. With well-developed arguments, Nye supports the multilateral engagement of the US for achieving “global goods” though not for ensuring benefits for all but as a way of ensuring the core national interests of the US.

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