By Lori Komshian
Staff Writer

Recently, we have seen a world emerge in which nations compete to balance the power of the United States as the use of both diplomatic and military power has led to US dominance after the Cold War. Even though Russia’s power has diminished since the era of the Cold War due to its commitment to sheer military force, the use of smart power – both diplomacy and military force – would likely empower Russia. I will first determine the prevalence of liberal democracy and United States’ power by examining the difference between the “end of history” and the “return to history” viewpoints. While Russian foreign policy is consistent with the use of military force, in order to be influential, states should focus on smart power instead of either just military force or just diplomacy. That is to say, smart power’s remedy to an international crisis must be necessarily flexible – asserting itself with a proper balance of coercive force and ideological legitimacy. This is significant because Russia has a large sphere of influence and exerts power by shaping foreign policy in parts of the former Soviet State, consequently, we must determine whether this is potentially a threat to US dominance.

Although the United States is dominant today in a total hegemonic sense, there is still a struggle for power in the international arena. The concept of the “end of history” incorrectly implies that the United States has been dominant in dictating history since the end of the Cold War. According to Fukuyama, the “end of history” is “the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.” While liberal democracy may have won the Cold War, that is not to say there is no alternative to this narrative. The United States’ dominance is not necessarily unwavering and irrefutable, as the theory of the “end of history” implies. The concept of the “return to history” more accurately implies a return to the power struggles and competition of the Cold War era. Power once again matters because one narrative has not won yet, allowing for competition.

The reality is that Russia has its own idea of democracy, which involves the authoritarian power of Vladimir Putin. “Authoritarian capitalist states, today exemplified by China and Russia, may represent a viable alternative path to modernity, which in turn suggests that there is nothing inevitable about liberal democracy’s ultimate victory or future dominance” (Gat). Although the ultimate victory of liberal democracy may not be inevitable, that does not mean that the hegemonic power of the United States is fading. The United States is still the world hegemon and is likely to stay dominant. Nye argues that America is not in decline and claims that no state can fully surpass American power (203). No power can currently balance the United States.

While some nations such as Brazil, Russia, India and China may have the ability to frustrate American foreign policy goals, no state actually has the capability or the incentive to challenge the United States. Gelb claims there is evidence of a return to idea that power matters, and that idealism does not matter as much in terms of regional conflicts. According to Gelb there is a return to history because “power struggles continue to rule the international arena, and because the fate of nations and peoples still hangs in the balance” (73). Despite Russia’s decline and the United States’ dominance since the Cold War, there has, in fact, been a “return to history” because liberal democracy has not prevailed around the world as promised by the “end of history”.

Smart power is more effective than either soft power – diplomacy, or hard power – military force – in achieving any outcome, especially with the “return to history”. According to Nye, “power is the capacity to do things and in social situations affect others to get the outcomes we want” (6). Both soft and hard power strive to gain influence, the only difference is the method they use to achieve influence. Soft power is the use of diplomacy, culture and history to persuade others to adopt your goals. Nye defines soft power as“. . .the ability to affect others through the co-optive means of framing the agenda, persuading, and eliciting positive attraction in order to obtain preferred outcomes.” Hard power on the other hand is the use of military and economic means to make others follow your will. Lastly, and most importantly, is smart power, the combination of both soft and hard power into effective strategies (Nye 23). As Nye eloquently elucidates, “Smart power is the combination of the hard power of coercion and payment with the soft power of persuasion and attraction” (xiii).

This strategy is the most effective in becoming influential. The reason why the United States is dominant today, and why Russia is not as powerful, is because the United States uses smart power whereas Russia only uses hard power. In the case of Russia’s invasion of Georgia in 2008, Russia attempted to demonstrate its military superiority. “Russia’s use of hard power undercut its claims to legitimacy and sowed fear and mistrust in much of the world” (Nye x).The United States uses smart power because it uses methods such as diplomacy and military action in different circumstances. “Dominant states also have incentives to combine hard and soft power resources. Empires are easier to rule when they rest on the soft power of attraction as well as the hard power of coercion” (Nye 212).

In the “end of history” characterization, only soft power is utilized since there is no need for hard powersince the “end of history” implies peace. In the balance of powers struggle characterized by the “return to history”, soft, hard and smart power are all used but smart power is the most effective in achieving any goal.

Russia’s greatest goal is to restore its power and influence, especially in its near abroad. Russia wants to create a sphere of influence with states that were previously part of the Soviet Union. “Russian foreign policy pursues the goal of preserving the country’s power position and offsetting the influence of other powerful states.” (Beasley 100) Yet, the United States is the greatest external factor shaping foreign policy in Russia. There are some issues that the United States and Russia cooperate on, such as counterterrorism. This alliance in combating counterterrorism came about not because of a common ideology but because of shared fundamental interests. Russia does not share the same interests of the United States and NATO over other issues such as nuclear non-proliferation, NATO expansion and U.S. involvement in the domestic affairs of former Soviet states (Beasley 100).

These actions seemingly lessen Russia’s influence and sovereignty in world politics and threaten its security. However, such tensions have resulted in the strained relationship between the United States and Russia. The United State erred from the beginning by treating Russia as a defeated enemy after the Cold War, according to Dimitri Simes. Russia did not see itself as defeated merely because the United States had won. On top of this national self-perception the United States did not cooperate or try to make Russia a strategic partner during the Clinton and Bush administrations. Russia still wants to be treated as the superpower it was during the Soviet Union, which it must do by asserting its influence in its near abroad.

Russia’s relationship with China is another external factor. Cooperation between Russia and China is potentially the greatest threat to balancing the power of the United States, however this sort of cooperation is unlikely to happen. “A full-fledged alliance of Russia with China has been out of the question as both countries have strong disincentives for breaking their ties with the United States.” (Beasley 101) Russia is more likely to assert its power in its “backyard territory” – or near abroad.

Russia’s ambition for power is shown through the power of its president. The greatest internal factor to Russia’s foreign policy is the authoritarian power of President Vladimir Putin. Although Russia is a democratic state according to the 1993 Constitution of the Russian Federation, it is commonly referred to as a developing democracy because it has authoritarian tendencies. Political power in Russia has been highly centralized with the president since the presidency of Vladimir Putin (Beasley 105). This power followed Putin to the seat of the Prime Minister in 2008, and later, back to the seat of the Presidency in 2012. Institutions such as the military and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs lost political clout after the Cold War.

Another internal factor is Russia’s natural energy resources. Energy is seen as a very valuable tool in strengthening the country and raising its international status and influence, particularly regarding Europe and former parts of the Soviet Union (Beasley 102). Oil and gas hold political weight because of the income they provide Russia and the international power they command via their monopolization. Indeed, monopolization of natural resources sector has “resulted in the merger of wealth and power in Russia and the creation of the ‘Kremlin, Inc.’” (Beasley 107). Russia has the power to either cut off gas supplies to countries, as it did to Ukraine and Belarus in 2006 and 2007, or provide lower prices to countries who have a special relationship with Russia. The rising and lowering of gas prices can have political implications for countries that are reliant on Russia for energy. In this way, Russia has been most successful in asserting its power in its near abroad. .

Russia’s use hard power in its foreign policy, such as its attack on Georgia in 2008, hinders its influence. Russia is already in decline in almost all areas, especially militarily. Its economy is dependent on its natural energy resources which are diminishing, and further corruption within the government has inhibited economic growth. If Russia was to strengthen its soft power, by using diplomacy, culture and history in achieving its means, alongside the hard power of its military and economy to coerce, it could potentially become much more powerful. However, Russia’s commitment to sheer military force, like so many other countries, prevents it from seriously threatening United States dominance in the world sphere.



Beasley, Ryan K. Foreign Policy in Comparative Perspective: Domestic and International Influences on State Behavior. Washington, D.C.: CQ, 2002. Print.

Fukuyama, Francis. “The End of History?” The End of History? – Francis Fukuyama. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Dec. 2012.

Gat (Foreign Affaire-July/August 2007)

Gelb, Leslie H. Power Rules: How Common Sense Can Rescue American Foreign Policy. New York: Harper, 2009. Print.

Kagan (End of Dreams):

King (Foreign Affairs-November/December 2008)

Nye, Joseph S. The Future of Power. New York: PublicAffairs, 2011. Print.

Sestanovich ((Foreign Affairs-November/December 2008)

Simes (Foreign Affairs-November/December 2007)

Photo by World Economic Forum

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