For the past three years, US President Donald Trump has put forward budget proposals for deep cuts to diplomacy and development. Each time, the most alarmed responses have come from military leaders who argued that military might alone could not solve America’s conflicts. And each time, Congress has rebuffed the president’s evisceration plans.
The budgetary wrangling brought into sharp focus the president’s disdain for the civilian agencies that make up ‘soft power’, chiefly the Foreign Service and the United States Agency for International Development, or USAID. Applied skilfully, soft power helps persuade others to do what a government wants without force or coercion. Coined in the late 1980s by the Harvard political scientist Joseph Nye, the term soft power also covers cultural and educational exchange programmes meant to improve the image of the United States and reinforce the influence of American popular culture, from McDonald’s to Hollywood films.