Joseph S. Nye of Harvard University testified about the vital role soft power should play in restoring American’s reputation in the world before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on March 4, 2010.

As defined by Nye, soft power is “the ability to affect others to obtain preferred outcomes by the co-optive means of framing the agenda, persuasion and positive attraction.” Over the past twenty years, the term has been widely used by world leaders and the media. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has been a recent outspoken advocate for investing more in soft power tools, such as diplomacy and economic assistance, and for improving integration of America’s soft power tools with our military’s hard power.

Nye specifically spoke of international education as a powerful tool of soft power. He said:

Research has consistently shown that exchange students return home with a more positive view of the country in which they studied and the people with whom they interacted, and foreign educated students are more likely to promote democracy in their home country if they are educated in democratic countries. The results can be dramatic. For example, at the end of the Cold War, Gorbachev's embrace of perestroika and glasnost was influenced by ideas learned in the U.S. by Alexander Yakovlev when he was an exchange student. Although it took two decades to materialize, that was a huge return on a small investment.

In his testimony, Nye said that a wide variety of a country’s basic resources can be converted into soft power by skillful conversion strategies. These resources include “culture, values, legitimate policies, a positive domestic model, a successful economy, a competent military and others.” Nye said that sometimes these resources are specially shaped for soft power purposes, such as “national intelligence services, information agencies, diplomacy, public diplomacy, exchange programs, assistance programs, training programs, and various other measures.”

To read Nye’s full testimony about the value of soft power, read yesterday’s post by Matt Armstrong on, a leading blog on subjects related to global engagement.