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An exploration of the role of soft power in hegemony: the USA and China

Meyer, Marius (2007-03)

Thesis (MA (Political Science. International Studies))--University of Stellenbosch, 2007.


How much emphasis is afforded to the role of soft power has significant implications for the study of hegemony and predictions regarding the future of US hegemony and the rise of China as a hegemon. The fact that much mainstream work (particularly neorealism) continues to neglect the role of soft power in international relations is seen as a disturbing shortcoming. This study wishes to address this perceived shortcoming by exploring the role of ‘soft power’ as an integral non-material aspect of hegemony by focusing on the perspectives of selected authors (Cox, Nye, Waltz, Keohane), and applying them to the cases of the United States of America and China. It is contended that there is a need for a shift of emphasis in International Relations (IR)- away from the hard power centric analysis towards a ‘soft power’ analysis that focuses on ideas. This study further argues that recognising the importance of the role of ‘soft power’ will result in a more effective analysis and understanding of hegemony in the international system. This is not to disregard ‘hard power’ as an aspect of hegemony, but rather to emphasise ‘soft power’ as it is often neglected or underscored by scholars in their analysis of hegemony and power structures within international relations. The United States of America is a prime example of how ‘soft power’ can help a state to prevent decline through consensus and alliance formation. The Chinese on the other hand have become increasingly aware of the importance of soft power– whilst the US have recently neglected it as a sustaining capability for hegemony. Thus China is growing and nurturing its ‘soft power’ capabilities in order to create an image of a benevolent super power, whilst the US is increasingly being perceived as malevolent- which is not conducive to hegemony in the international system. It is argued that if the Chinese can attain ideological dominance within the global structure, they could become the new hegemon.

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