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Joseph S. Nye, Harvard University

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"In the near term, I worry most about terrorists getting hold of nuclear weapons. In the medium term, I worry about cyber disruption of our vulnerable societies. In the long terms I am concerned about climate change."

Interview with Prof. Joseph S. Nye, Harvard University, February 07, 2012.

By Ofir Kafri

Joseph S. Nye is University Distinguished Service Professor and former Dean of the Kennedy School at Harvard University. He has served as Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs, Chair of the National Intelligence Council, and Deputy Under Secretary of State for Security Assistance, Science and Technology. His numerous publications include: Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics; Understanding International Conflict (5th edition); The Powers to Lead; The Future of Power.

Do you think that IR research is helping making the world a better place?

Slightly. I believe that better understanding can prevent some of the worst excess of hubristic policy making. It can also warn us of some of the largest perils we face. But the world consists of multiple complex cultures, and non-states as well as states, and our understanding lags far behind the scale of the problems we face.

In your opinion, what is the main problem with IR research today?

Much IR research is so enamored with theory and measurement that it loses contact with the real world. I have written an article in the Oxford Encyclopedia of International Relations that goes into considerable detail about the relation of theory and policy.

What are the major trends that are likely to be on your research field in the coming years?

Rational choice theories are a very popular trend, but so also is the development of the broad approach called constructivism that looks more at the origins and boundaries of the concepts with which we frame the world. In principle the two approaches should be complementary, but instead they waste a lot of time on theological disputes. An under-attended area is the field of regional studies in which one is able to cross disciplinary boundaries to see how the relationship among culture, economics and politics plays out in greater detail.

What is the biggest challenge or principal debate in your research field? What is your response to this challenge?

I have been interested in the study of power in international affairs for some time, and one of the biggest challenges in the field is to go beyond the simplistic identification of hard power resources (military and economic) with power defined in behavioral terms of affecting others to obtain the outcomes one wants. Obviously, when push comes to shove, hard power resources are important, but much power behavior occurs before that in the form of agenda setting, and preference setting through attraction and persuasion (which I call soft power). AJP Taylor once defined a great power as a country able to prevail in war, but in an information age it is also crucial to prevail in the legitimacy and attractiveness of one's narrative. My response to this challenge was to try to clarify these concepts in my recent book The Future of Power. We will have a difficult time coping with the problems of this century unless we develop a more sophisticated understanding of power.

Please tell us about your current research project?

I have just finished a set of lectures on American presidents of the 20th century and whether the theory of transformational/ transactional leadership explains the development of the American era (In my view it does not). I am also interested in exploring the role of cyber power in international politics, and my recent work includes a chapter on cyber in The Future of Power as well as an article on "Nuclear Lessons for Cyber?" in the Winter 2011 issue of Strategic Studies Quarterly.

What are the greatest threats to international security/ humanity today?

In the near term, I worry most about terrorists getting hold of nuclear weapons. In the medium term, I worry about cyber disruption of our vulnerable societies. In the long terms I am concerned about climate change.

It is reasonable to assume that the more cyber attack is severe, so the chances to deter it conventionally will rise respectively. In contrast, cyber espionage utilizes cyberspace distinct features (i.e. lack of International agreements, problem of attribution and "lives for Bites tradeoff"). Should it be in order to consider revision in cyber threats discourse towards a better understanding of the strategic threat lays in cyber espionage?

I argue in my book that there are five phases of cyber threat in terms of their current prevalence. If we treat hactivism as primarily a nuisance, the next level is cyber crime which is very costly. Above that is cyber espionage which can expedite the transfer of intellectual property, including some that affects the defense industrial base. Above that is cyber terrorism in which terrorists use cyber for destruction. And finally there is cyber war which has effects similar to kinetic war and can be an adjunct to kinetic war. Right now, crime and espionage are doing us the most damage. Ten years in the future, I fear it may be terrorism. We have enough difficulty dealing with other states, but it is much harder to deter non-state actors.