Joseph Nye’s Reflections on Current International Relations: Public Diplomacy, Space Exploration and Artificial Intelligence

Jorge Marinho

Ph.D in Communication Sciences, BA in International Journalism

Miguel Fonseca

Ph.D in International Economics, BA in Economics, Professor at the University of Porto (Portugal), researcher at the University of Lisbon (Portugal) Centre for African and Development Studies

Júlio Ventura

BA in Law, MA student in Political Science and International Relations at the Portuguese Catholic University (Lisbon, Portugal)

Email: marinho.mediaanalysis@gmail.com



This piece, which is essentially based on an exclusive interview with Professor Joseph Nye, focuses on a few aspects related to current international communication, particularly Public Diplomacy / Soft Power. Within this context, Nye points out certain characteristics which, from his standpoint, a good foreign affairs analyst should have, while addressing issues such as disinformation, intelligence services and covert operations. The interviewee also provides reflections regarding the challenges raised by space exploration and by Artificial Intelligence (A.I.).


Keywords: Artificial Intelligence; disinformation; Joseph Nye; public diplomacy; smart power.


Brief introduction

Joseph Nye is a world-renowned authority that International Relations experts look up to. Nye, Harvard University Distinguished Service Professor, Emeritus and former Dean of the Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, was regarded as the most influential academic in the field of American Foreign Policy and, in 2011, “Foreign Policy” magazine considered him one of the top 100 Global Thinkers (Joseph Nye).

The term Soft Power was coined by Nye, in the late 1980s (Ikenberry May / June 2004). This scholar is also credited with the concept of Smart Power, which he introduced in 2003 (Dargiel June 21, 2009 / Nye July/August, 2009).

In the United States (U.S.), from 1977 to 1979 and from 1993 to 1995, Joseph Nye served in the following capacities:

- Deputy to the Under Secretary of State for Security Assistance, Science and Technology

- Chair of the National Security Council Group on Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons

- Chair of the National Intelligence Council

- Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs (Biography: Joseph S. Nye).

Nye is regarded as an expert in various spheres, namely, among others:

- Afghanistan War

- Asia & the Pacific

- China & security

- Europe

- cyber security

- military strategy

- terrorism & counterterrorism

- Democracy (Joseph S. Nye April 27, 2020).


Public diplomacy and disinformation

The topic of disinformation is on the international agenda. For instance, recently, U.S. President Joe Biden, in a speech before the United Nations General Assembly, stated that his Administration is paying and will pay particular attention to the problem of disinformation (Remarks by President Biden Before the 76th Session of the United Nations General Assembly September 21, 2021). This, among other aspects, reveals the importance of communication in strategic terms.

In the field of international relations, sometimes it's hard to make out shadows, appearances, diversions, simulations and disinformation from what truly matters. In this regard, Joseph Nye considers that good analysts in said field should be able to place themselves in the mind of someone from a foreign country. Nye adds that, given that we see the world through our own cultural lenses, it is essential to travel, read and learn foreign languages in order to gain a cultural understanding on the international stage (“Exclusive Interview with Joseph Nye” September 17, 2021).  Thus, said analysts should be multidimensional; that is, they should have comprehensive training, even if it is compatible with some degree of specialization.

The relative ease with which messages are currently sent and received over the Internet, using various devices for such purpose, boosts the number of players in the field of local, national and international communication. Presently, disinformation / fake news is often attributed to private players via social media. However, what does Nye think of deliberate disinformation / misleading information, by federal authorities or covert state-sponsored organizations, regarding international affairs, disseminated through the mainstream media and social media? According to this expert, with regard to the 2016 U.S. election, two situations occurred: the Russian Government disseminated disinformation over the Internet while prodding U.S. groups to get involved in the conflict (“Exclusive Interview with Joseph Nye” September 17, 2021). 

As concerns relations between intelligence services and public diplomacy, in contexts such as that of the U.S. and of other countries, Nye maintains that it’s better to keep both domains separate (“Exclusive Interview with Joseph Nye” September 17, 2021). Joseph Nye explains that, if it is perceived that said type of diplomacy is linked to intelligence operations, there is a loss of credibility that renders it impossible to generate soft power (“Exclusive Interview with Joseph Nye” September 17, 2021). This is why, according to the interviewee, there should also be a separation between public diplomacy and covert psychological warfare (“Exclusive Interview with Joseph Nye” September 17, 2021). It should be added that, in principle and by definition, while said covert operations are not easily recognized as such by the vast majority of people, counterintelligence services should investigate the possible occurrence of this sort of activities.


Soft / smart power

Public diplomacy is not used solely by civilians. According to Nye, when, in the military sphere, in strategic and tactical terms, hard and soft power are combined, while mutually reinforcing each other, we then have smart power, which enables saving in terms of carrots and sticks while turning attraction into a multiplying force (“Exclusive Interview with Joseph Nye” September 17, 2021).

As for the possibility of, chiefly in the medium or long term, public diplomacy, that is, influence-related initiatives, serving to, preemptively or preventively, neutralize duly identified potential threats, for instance, initially of an ideological nature, Nye acknowledges that attracting other people can be an important means of reducing their hostilities and threats ("Exclusive Interview with Joseph Nye” September 17, 2021). However, this academic stresses that proper public diplomacy includes knowing that the attracting ability varies with the target culture (“Exclusive Interview with Joseph Nye” September 17, 2021).

With regard to the importance of storytelling in public diplomacy, Nye states that human beings live by narratives and, by taking this into account, success in international politics does not depend solely on knowing which are the victorious armies, but also which are the stories that prevail (“Exclusive Interview with Joseph Nye” September 17, 2021). Persuasive competence is crucial. This includes bringing together know-how from professionals in several areas: screenwriters, advertisers and Public Relations practitioners, as an example. These communications professionals need to know and do their work according to the dual dimension of human being / receiver: rational and emotional. Effectiveness and efficiency are related to knowledge of the target public that is as in-depth as possible. To this end, gathering and processing information are essential.

Obviously, it is necessary to have the ability not only to create the narratives, but also to accurately get them to the target public using the appropriate channel. A high number of people concentrated in a country or scattered among several continents can be aimed for, just as a single individual can be reached.

The media are used by a variety of entities, so that, externally, a country exercises attraction while projecting its influence. This somehow depends on the contexts for receiving the messages: receivers can either be in a situation where they receive content freely or there can be restrictions, as is the case with censorship or cyber / electronic warfare.


Space exploration

1. “La Fusée” (“The Rocket”)


The ability to communicate at international level is linked to infrastructures such as satellites. To this end (among others), the Space Force exists within the U.S. military context. According to Joseph Nye, space can be used for many things, including the field of communications, but, currently, for the Internet, undersea cables are more relevant than satellites (“Exclusive Interview with Joseph Nye” September 17, 2021). For this purpose, geostrategically, we should point out, for instance, transatlantic links and, as such, the importance of air and sea surveillance, including submarines, in the Atlantic Ocean, which concerns various countries and, collectively, NATO. Protecting information, in general, both that which circulates via undersea cables and through satellites, also goes by way of encryption.

The interviewee believes that the growing reputation of a country’s competence related to space exploration and space tourism can contribute toward developing soft power (“Exclusive Interview with Joseph Nye” September 17, 2021). For such purpose, we need to pay attention to dissemination, throughout the media, of space conquests and their link to space economy. Nye points out that public diplomacy, by increasing a country’s attractiveness, can be the driving force for trade and investment (“Exclusive Interview with Joseph Nye” September 17, 2021). Leading, being at the forefront, on the international stage, among several aspects, implies being able to create and innovate in the technological sphere, including space technology.


Artificial Intelligence

Machines, such as computers, and Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) are increasingly present in various domains in our society. A.I., when duly applied, can entail repercussions in terms of decision-making by various kinds of organizations, including governments.

As part of international relations, Joseph Nye feels that, depending on a certain computer programming, A.I. can look into foreigners’ perspectives, while it remains necessary to have an interpretation conducted by human beings where emotions and creativity are involved ("Exclusive Interview with Joseph Nye” September 17, 2021).  Also to this end, Nye stresses that an algorithm badly put together can cause bias in machine learning (“Exclusive Interview with Joseph Nye” September 17, 2021). 

Regarding to what extent A.I. is or isn’t able to change the international geopolitical balance, such as in Sino-American relations, Nye is aware that there are those who think that China will prevail because it will have more data (“Exclusive Interview with Joseph Nye” September 17, 2021). However, this academic argues that data is not the same as oil; we need to differentiate the value of data according to its origins, which is why, both quality and quantity need to be considered, without overlooking the importance of computer programming (“Exclusive Interview with Joseph Nye” September 17, 2021). In the future, several countries will entail various advantages relative to multiple domains (“Exclusive Interview with Joseph Nye” September 17, 2021). Human resources training and management will continue to be decisive for the progress of society, by creating and using opportunities to advance…



In this interview, Professor Joseph Nye presents his perspective regarding a few challenges and even current risks that concern communication / international relations.

This occurs with the possible loss of credibility / effectiveness in public diplomacy, due to interferences from intelligence services, and with disinformation / fake news that can originate in private or public organizations.

Nye acknowledges the use of public diplomacy to preventively and preemptively attract certain people, thereby lessening the problems that they may cause. In this regard, narratives, with their power of attraction, have a role to play. The Armed Forces can combine hard and soft power and, thus, develop smart power.

In a society where new technologies are present in everyday living, while increasingly highlighting A.I. and space exploration, in relation to the field of communication / international relations, the interviewee values the human factor, that is, creativity and emotions.

As a communications / international relations analyst, Joseph Nye was and remains at the forefront.

(This interview was conducted, via email, on September 17, 2021).



Biography: Joseph S. Nye. Retrieved 27.9.2021 from https://2009-2017.state.gov/s/p/fapb/185594.htm

Dargiel, J. (June 21, 2009). Smart Power: A change in U.S. Diplomacy Strategy. Retrieved 18.09.2021 from https://www.e-ir.info/2009/06/21/smart-power-a-change-in-us-diplomacy-strategy/

Ikenberry, J. (May/June 2004). Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics. Retrieved 18.09.2021 from https://www.foreignaffairs.com/reviews/capsule-review/2004-05-01/soft-power-means-success-world-politics

Joseph Nye. Retrieved 18.09.2021 from https://www.hks.harvard.edu/faculty/joseph-nye

Joseph S. Nye (April 27, 2020). Retrieved 18.09.2021 from https://www.belfercenter.org/person/joseph-s-nye

Nye, J. (July/August, 2009). Get Smart: Combining Hard and Soft Power. Retrieved 18.09.2021 from https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/2009-07-01/get-smart

Remarks by President Biden Before the 76th Session of the United Nations General Assembly (September 21, 2021). Retrieved 24.9.2021 from https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/speeches-remarks/2021/09/21/remarks-by-president-biden-before-the-76th-session-of-the-united-nations-general-assembly/

Photo 1 by: Remi Dargegen

(This photo courtesy of the TILSITT Gallery / Porto, Portugal)

Sculpture: “La Fusée” (“The Rocket”)

Sculptor: Antoine Dufilho


Published by Marinho Media Analysis / October 26, 2021



This piece was also published on the following site:


International Affairs Forum - Center for International Relations (Washington D.C., United States of America) / November 16, 2021