Thursday, February 22, 2007

International Educational Exchange as a Vehicle of Soft Power

Many scholars in the Social Sciences fail to address the role of education in their scholarship and how it connects with their discipline. This is not to say that education has a place in all social science scholarship. In a recent article by Joseph Nye Squandering the U.S. ‘Soft Power’ Edge he highlights the importance international education and cultural contacts played during the Cold War. Nye describes the three ways a nation can achieve power: “by using or threatening force, by inducing compliance with rewards, or by using soft power.” He provides examples from Yale Richmond’s work Cultural Exchange and the Cold War highlighting the significant role that academic exchanges played in enhancing American soft power. One example is that "between 1958 and 1988 fifty thousand Soviets visited the U.S. as writers, journalists, officials, musicians, athletes and academics and an even larger number of Americans went to the Soviet Union during this time period. For example, Aleksandr Yakovlev studied under political scientist David Truman at Columbia University in 1958, became a Politburo member and had much influence on Mikhail Gorbachev. Additionally, Oleg Kalugin who was a high official in the KGB is quoted as saying 'exchanges were a Trojan Horse for the Soviet Union. They played a tremendous role in the erosion of the Soviet system…They kept infecting more and more people over the years.'"[1]

A question I pose for debate is: Why is education so often left out of the discussion on the rise and fall of nations and do you agree or disagree with the importance that Nye and Richmond place on education, in this case academic exchanges, in contributing to the fall of the Soviet Union?

[1] Quotes and description taken from Joseph S. Nye. (2007) Squandering the U.S. ‘Soft Power’ Edge. International Educator, (16) 1, 4-6. Joseph S. Nye is Distinguished Service Professor at Harvard University.

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