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Azerbaijan: What awaits beyond sticks and carrots

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The country`s power in international relations rests upon various things and the principal distinction into hard and soft power displays particular means to influence the behavior of others.

Essentially, power applies to country`s ability to obtain the desired goals in international community, the main difference is therefore in the means to acquire them. In hard power, the name of the game is coercion; tactics and applied mechanisms include military and economic power, manifesting in threats to oblige to certain policy or succumb to undesired actions. Soft power applies to attracting others to co-opt specific goals and it rests on three different resources: country`s culture, its political values and its foreign policies. Soft power therefore depends on ability to create certain attraction to presented actions and stated goals. Many argue that whereas coercion has credible means to force compliant behavior, the means of soft power can be more long- lasting and cost efficient. As with propaganda, the best power is when you feel no power at all.

We can also connect both concepts to two prevailing blocks of theories on international relations: realism and liberal, constructivist (whereas there are clear distinctions to both when it comes to theoretical basics, we can apply soft power tactics to both of them). Realism emphasizes on the inevitable struggle of one country and its national security vrs the other, citing states as rational actors pursuing and acting in their self interest. Main means to achieving the ends are material resources such as rough military might, energy resources and population quota. Clearly, this is a nod to hard power and its role in the global political system. Liberal theories enunciate cooperation between different countries as the main characteristic of the international system and the benefits of such behavior for all the involved players, for increased interdependence supposedly eliminates the danger of resorting to aggressive means; on the other hand, constructivists indicate that people give means to different institutions and instruments by their compliance, aspiration to, defiance or ignorance to certain rules or institutions. We can see how soft power is synchronized with the latter two theories, emphasizing cooperation, attraction and struggle for similar interpretation of goals.

International community is a very dynamic entity, not comprising anymore just from nation states but also other players (multinational organizations, corporations, NGOs…) and at the same time exercising very strict codes of conduct when it comes to applying hard military power; (although arguably some conveniently like to forget that part in the US vrs them strategies) therefore, there is a vast scale of different means and different attitudes one player can adopt when it comes to reciprocal relations. Smaller actors often resort to soft power mechanisms, whereas great powers also often apply hard power in their grand strategies, which complies to the fact that one can only make use of what one has.

When it comes to Azerbaijan, the country has many different aspects of applicable power tactics. Since hard power relies on displays of military might and economic strength, we can argue that Azerbaijan displayed both in the armed conflict over the Nagorno- Karabakh region with neighbouring Armenia (at this point solely pointing out to the use of power, not the wider implications and causes of the conflict). The fighting officially ended in 1994 and the OSCE Minsk Group is now responsible for the peaceful resolution of the conflict. Although officially a frozen issue, in 2014 alone as many as 60 people were killed in border clashes, making it the worst annual record in two decades and evidently the matter far from over.

Azerbaijan also displayed hard power when it imposed full economic embargo on Armenia together with Turkey and closed the borders to the country. In 2012, Azerbaijani leadership expressed their desire to upgrade the army according to NATO standards, which would present a significant increase of country`s hard power, especially in the light of decades long unsuccessful peace talks with Armenia over the Nagorno- Karabakh region. Therefore, arguably, Azerbaijani military hard power relates to the conflict over Nagorno- Karabakh region and is standing at a little over 65 000 men strong navy, land and air forces. Otherwise, it is composed of economic strength, gained from energy- related profits, which are able to open a wide range of possibilities when it comes to various economic incentives, also part of the hard power repertoire.

Arguably, we could also interpret Azerbaijani pipeline diplomacy as a sort of hard power tactic, because it significantly decreases the economic gains for targeted players, mainly Armenia (with BTC and BTE oil and gas pipelines also Russia), another such project that diminishes the prospects of Armenia is the Trans- Anatolian pipeline. Undeniably helpful in this application of power is Azerbaijani strategic positioning in the Caspian region, sandwiched in the midst of Russia, Iran and Turkey.

Azerbaijani hard power was therefore applicable to neighboring Armenia in the past however, when thinking globally, the possibility spectrum of hard power diminishes to economic incentives, such as development aid, reduced tax policies, FDI etc. We could say that Azerbaijan offers mostly carrots, almost never sticks. When dealing with the broader international community, Azerbaijan is prone to think soft, presenting ways to co-opt their goals and attracting other countries with set of examples and agendas. With appeals such as a strong secular government, religious tolerance, orientation towards open, democratic society and independent energy, economic and security policies, Azerbaijan makes a strong case for a soft power spill- over to other countries, striving to achieve the same level of development. Surely so, Azerbaijan has also become a prominent model for Muslim- majority countries seeking to manage religious, cultural and ethnic differences in a productive and harmonious manner. Thanks to its secular policies and an embracing approach towards religious and ethnic diversity, the country has gathered substantial soft power as a role model for other (Muslim) countries to follow suit.

Besides setting the example, Azerbaijan is also very active in promoting its culture, education and people. With many student and university staff exchange programs, promotion of major cultural events (such as the first Islamic opera and first Islamic ballet in the US), hosting international conferences and round tables, Azerbaijan is following in the footsteps of other world countries. One of the latest significant public diplomacy efforts of the country was also participation in the Eurovision song context, most widely- watched non sporting event in the world, that awarded Azerbaijan victory in 2012 and consequently brought the competition to Baku in 2013. After successfully hosting the contest, Azerbaijan was prepared for another big undertaking: inaugural European Olympic Games, which will be held in Baku this June. Azerbaijan has taken this task very seriously and over the past two years, many state- of-the-art sporting venues were build in the country, to fit the requirements of top European athletes coming to the Games. When thinking about Azerbaijan, embracing the many cultural and ethnic differences as much on paper as in real life, arguably, Baku is the best place to host the first European Olympics Games.

Additionally, the hosting of games is aligned with Baku`s desire to successfully put Azerbaijan on the map of Europe and the world and surely, culture and sporting events are the best and most efficient way to do so. Baku is hoping to build an economic, political and diplomatic capital in the eyes of the global community and prepare for its future beyond just gas and oil sells. Accordingly, all will not be over after the European games; Azerbaijan is also set to host the first Baku Formula one race and four matches in the 2020 UEFA European Football Championship.

We can conclude that Azerbaijan is successfully implementing various soft power tactics to win the hearts and minds of world countries. Besides just setting examples, it is also very active with its cultural and public diplomacy, hosting away important events from many different specters of contemporary life. By continuously doing so, we can expect Azerbaijan to fix its position as a country to reckon with, expanding its activity from regional to global aspirations.

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