“In Gilbert and Sullivan’s terms, Joe Nye is the very model of a modern public intellectual,” says Graham Allison, Douglas Dillon Professor of Government and founding Dean of the present-day Harvard Kennedy School. “Over a distinguished career, Joe has chosen to wrestle with major challenges in international relations, from interdependence and nuclear ethics to soft power, and to speak truth about important issues of public policy, not only to fellow academicians, but to the powers that be and the public.”

A world-renowned authority on foreign policy and power, Joseph Nye received his bachelor’s degree from Princeton and completed his master’s as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford. He has been a member of the Harvard faculty since completing his PhD in 1964; he is currently Harvard University Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus. Through decades of leadership at Harvard—as Associate Dean for International Affairs, Director of the Center for International Affairs, and Dean of the Harvard Kennedy School—he has fundamentally shaped our University and the means by which we educate students and world leaders.

During his deanship from 1995 to 2004, Nye strengthened the School’s academic faculty and curriculum and its commitment to developing public leaders. He helped establish two cornerstones of the School’s educational programming—the Women and Public Policy Program and the Center for Public Leadership—and made the School what it is today: both aligned with the public interest and invested in preparing students for public leadership as well as policy analysis.

Nicholas Burns, Roy and Barbara Goodman Family Professor of the Practice of Diplomacy and International Relations and executive director of the Aspen Strategy Group, which Nye co-founded, calls him “a model of the kind of public servant, public intellectual, and citizen that we at Harvard should want to see in our students. He is highly ethical. He is unfailingly polite and courteous and respectful to people, undergraduates and prime ministers alike. And in his prolific writing, he continues to be an insightful, very wise voice of reason as to how the United States should act in the world.”

Nye is the author of 14 academic books, including The Powers to Lead, The Future of Power, and Is the American Century Over? In the 1970s, he and his Harvard classmate Robert Keohane established the international relations theory of neoliberalism and developed the concepts of asymmetrical and complex interdependence, anticipating the rise of globalization that would follow the end of the Cold War. Later, Nye famously formulated and popularized the concept of “soft power.” He recognized that a country’s power resides not merely in its ability to coerce, using the hard power of its military or economic influence, but also in its ability to persuade, through the attractiveness of its cultures and ideals to the rest of the world. Nye subsequently developed the concept of “smart power,” a combination of hard and soft power that characterizes the dynamics of contemporary politics. In 2011, Foreign Policy magazine named him one of the world’s top global thinkers, and policymakers have ranked him as the modern world’s most influential scholar of international relations.

Nye has put these concepts into practice through years of government service. Recognizing his wide-ranging strengths, Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton invited him to join their administrations. Nye has served as assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs; 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; and chair of the National Intelligence Council. He has received Distinguished Service medals from the Department of State, the Department of Defense, and the Intelligence Community. In addition to holding influential positions in US national security, he has been actively engaged in Asia, especially Japan. In 2014, the Japanese government awarded him the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Star, in recognition of his diplomacy.

David Gergen, Public Service Professor of Public Leadership and founding director of the Center for Public Leadership, cites Nye as his principal reason for coming to the Harvard Kennedy School decades ago. He observes, “Joe Nye has been a pillar of strength at Harvard for 55 years, earning universal praise for his scholarship, his influence upon international relations, his leadership of University institutions, his service to country, and critically, his high standards of ethics and integrity. He has become a living embodiment of all that Harvard aspires to be.”

Joseph Nye, for your profound thinking and vast expertise as a theorist of international relations, and for your valiant efforts to help governments and national security leaders work toward a more harmonized world, we are proud to award you the 2019 Centennial Medal.

read about the 2019 centennial medalists

Joseph Nye: 2019 Centennial Medal Citation