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Nye: Resistance to cooperation could hinder American leadership

By Feng Daimei | 2015-11-09 | Hits:
(Chinese Social Sciences Today)

Joseph Nye at his Boston office


With the primaries for the 2016 US presidential elections only months away, a CSST reporter sat down with renowned political science professor Joseph Nye to discuss his predictions for the race as well as its implications for the future of the country and the world.


CSST: Professor Nye, today I would like to hear some comments on the American election and the political system in general. In the American presidential campaign, we can see the influence of money everywhere. Is that true?


Nye: Money plays a big role in American politics. There is no denying it. Republican candidate Scott Walker dropped out because he ran out of money and made decisions about how he spent his money that were not wise.


CSST: If money is not the only determining factor, what else do you think is important?


Nye: I think on the Republican side, in the end the contest will be between Bush, Rubio, and Kasich probably, and I doubt that Trump, Carson and Fiorina are going to be the candidate in the end.


CSST: Princeton professor Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page from Northwestern University argued that “economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have a substantial independent impact on US government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence.” If this is the case, will the influence of elites broaden the wealth gap?


Nye: I think that it would be nice to see money play a less important role. But on the other hand, one of the arguments is that money allows one faction to balance another. So if money comes in from one side, it would produce too much influence. If you have countervailing groups with the same amount of money, then it helps to maintain some balance, and it means money alone does not determine the outcome. So for example, in the 2012 election, you had large billionaires for the Republicans, but you also had billionaires giving money to Democrats. That tends to help to cancel each other out.


CSST: What kinds of candidates normally win voters’ support?


Nye: The candidates who are doing best are candidates who have not been with the establishment. So the three leading candidates in the polls now are Trump, Carson, Fiorina, who have not had experience with government and have not been part of the Republican political establishment. But I think they sometimes are called populist candidates because they are appealing to popular views. I think, though, they are not likely to be the final nominees, because I don’t think they have worked out enough programs to receive the final nomination from the party for president. That’s why I said minutes ago that I thought it would be more likely to be somebody like Bush, Rubio or Kasich who would be the nominee.


CSST: So you think in the end it will be policy that determines the outcome?


Nye: It always is combination of these things, but I don’t think people who are at the top of the polls now are likely to win the nomination.


CSST: It seems some candidates like to play the “China card.” Why is that? Does China really matter very much?


Nye: I think what’s most interesting is that there were not a lot of attacks in the Democratic debates. On the Republican side, the statements about China were made by those who are least informed on foreign policy. But the idea of blaming foreign countries for current problems is not unique to China. In the 1980s, when people thought Japan was taking jobs from American workers, there were strong attacks on Japan. So I think that is not unprecedented in the debates.


CSST: In your new book Is the American Future Over?, you express confidence in the notion of the American century. Is there something that may impair the American system? What would that be?


Nye: I think if the American system is not able to act responsively in regard to international issues, that would undercut American leadership abroad. I think America made a severe mistake in invading Iraq in 2003, and I think the whole question of how to deal with international issues is going to require more cooperation among countries.

The American century isn’t over, but because the rest of the countries are becoming stronger—like China, India, Brazil and so forth—the United States has to work with these countries to be able to deal with new issues, such as climate, pandemics and trans-boundary terrorism. These cannot be solved alone. They require working with others. If Americans don’t see it is important to work with others, that could impair the American leadership. 

If domestic American politics prevent the president or leaders from working with other countries, that would hurt the nation’s credibility. Sometimes, if you have too much nationalism, it can hurt and restrict the ability of the president to work with other countries, and that too could be damaging.



Feng Daimei is a reporter at the Chinese Social Sciences Today.