Date of Award

Spring 5-7-2021

Document Type


Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


International Affairs

First Advisor

Pushkala Prasad


Since the end of the cold war, the world of politics and international relations has seen China grow its power and influence tremendously. Much of this growth has been fueled by strategies and initiatives focused on smart power, a term coined by Joseph Nye in 2003,[1] through large economic projects such as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Meanwhile, the backbone of the United States smart power is within institutions, most notably the United Nations (UN), which have begun to show their age and weaknesses. 1) Should smart power strategies be known as stronger power building initiatives than hard power strategies? 2) How much does the US and China's current international strategies for power rely on smart power vs hard or soft power initiatives? This paper will address these questions with an increased focus and awareness on the legacy of the Trump administration and existence of the Belt and Road Initiative.

To properly answer these questions, this paper embarks on a multi-step process. First, critical theory is utilized to question academia’s accepted definitions of smart power and to better understand the real benefits of hard power in a contemporary world. From this questioning, this paper presents a new more detailed and, perhaps, de-mystified definition of smart power. Next, this paper explores the benefits of smart power compared to hard power. Analyzing how hard powers, especially more traditional ones, operate in a contemporary context is an important aspect of this section. Then this paper analyzes what types of power the US and China’s international power strategies have relied on. This section continues in its use of critical theory to question common narratives, most notably that surrounding which power is most important to the US.

[1] Nye, Joseph S. "Get Smart: Combining Hard and Soft Power." Foreign Affairs, 88, no. 4 (2009), 160.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 4.0 International License.