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Reforming the Universal Organization

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Europe, and especially its smaller nations and their prominent leaders, could play a decisive role in ending the ‘dysfunction, discord and disagreement’ that has turned reform of the UN Security Council so intractable, argues Mark Malloch Brown, a former UN Deputy Secretary General; and Minister of State at the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office responsible for Africa, Asia and the United Nations, and friend of MD.

 

If two middle-aged singles were to re-tie the marital knot, the likely reason would be to share their lonely old age. Yet there might be altogether more dynamic reasons for the EU and the UN to consider renewing their vows. They could, at a stretch, become the world’s new power couple.

As a policy brief by the European Council on Foreign Relations entitled “Why Europe Needs a New Global Strategy” argued recently, despite the despondency that grips its politicians and publics, Europe achieved several decades of dynamic diplomacy that slumped into failure only in recent years. That success centred on the soft power successes of the EU’s own enlargement strategy, still arguably the single most significant geopolitical shift of our times, and on building up regional partner institutions like the African Union, where Europe has largely bankrolled improved peacekeeping and conflict resolution capabilities. Europe has made a much bigger contribution to peace on the African continent, for example, than has the U.S. creation of its Africa Command.

But now the ‘Big Rises’, notably of China and its fellow BRICs, and the ‘Big Fall’ of President Obama’s America leave Europe apparently naked and middle-aged, a far greater symbol of Western decline over the last decade than the United States itself. Europe’s failure to apply to its Arab neighbours the same soft power skills of economic inducement and political smooth talking that brought Eastern Europe into its fold has reinforced a growing perception that Europe has lost its way.

Consumed by the internal crisis of the euro and lacking political will, resources and vision, Europe has watched its Arab neighbours slump back into instability and authoritarianism. Nowhere is Europe’s failure, and in this that of the wider world as well, more evident than Syria. Feckless diplomacy, a divided UN Security Council, and empty threats of intervention all amount to a casebook study of how not to handle a crisis. Russia and the U.S. deserve the major share of the blame, but Europe is left wringing its hands; Russia and America have been powerful meddlers, while Europe was just impotent.

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Europe’s diplomats need to rediscover how to work the UN’s corridors, and the EU needs to become a more imaginative leader of UN reform

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Within the bowels of this disaster, though, lie the clues to a way back for Europe, and perhaps even Syria. The first lesson is that the only forum in which EU member countries can make their views heard in a situation such as Syria is the UN. Public opinion in Europe won’t countenance, at least for now, sabre rattling by NATO or the creation of coalitions of the willing, let alone military intervention. The vote in the British Parliament against even limited punitive air strikes after the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime made that very plain.
Like it or not, Europeans in this day and age expect their governments to pursue their international objectives through the rule of law, international institutions and through the sometimes rather elusive concept of soft power. They are increasingly wary of the projection of force unless all other means of dispute resolution have been exhausted. In other words, Europeans imbue the core approach of the United Nations since its founding. Although British and French governments may sometimes hanker after the gunboat diplomacy of bygone times, more cautious governments like those of Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden better represent long-term European public sentiment. The last decade has seen a 20% fall in Europe’s military budgets, an even greater fall in military R&D spending and an increasingly deep-seated wariness about foreign adventures. A recent U.S. Secretary of Defense noted with concern that Europe is in danger of “demilitarising”.

For most Europeans, any military deployments must be with the authorisation of the UN Security Council. The sad examples of Iraq and Libya are now etched into the political consciousness of Europe. In the UK, this is carved deeper every time former prime minister Tony Blair speaks up in favour of another intervention. It is a history of personal and national political vanity that most Britons want to forget.
Europe is not necessarily on a path to unilateral disarmament, where the value of the UN would be only as a debating chamber for Europe’s powerless armchair warriors. Quite the opposite, because the EU’s enlargement along with other assertions of European leadership show that ‘Big Values’ and a ‘Big Market’, combined with modest force projection under a UN banner and an activist multi-lateral diplomacy, can bring sweeping gains for Europe. Most recently, the European Council did discuss defence for the first time in five years at their December summit, although not very convincingly.

For an EU pairing of diplomatic charm backed by the reluctant use of force to be effective, however, Europe’s diplomats need to rediscover how to work the UN’s corridors, and the EU needs to become a more imaginative leader of UN reform. If it is to put its faith in a UN dimension to its foreign policy, Europe needs a UN that can deliver.

From the decade since Iraq in 2003, Europeans at the UN have been a house divided. Too often, Britain, and latterly France, have either followed their own star or that of America. For a time, Germany’s ambition for permanent Security Council membership put it at odds with Italy. And at times the different economic and neighbourhood interests of northern and southern Europe created their own strains.
Europe has tried to address these divisions through laboriously negotiated common positions, and by lots of prickly protocol about who gets to speak for Europe on what. Missing, though, is a strong EU policymaking process that would give Europe real leadership and a powerful voice in multi-lateral deliberations. For now, Europe remains less than the sum of its parts.

There is an important proviso to this. The further down the list of individual member states priorities an issue is, the better the common position. It’s easier to get consensus on Congo than China, or on Rwanda than Russia.

Syria is now driving home the need for two key UN reforms where EU leadership could be decisive: humanitarian action and Security Council reform. On the first, the UN has allowed its relief operations for Syria to be ‘captured’ by the Assad regime. It cannot significantly expand cross-border feeding and health programmes to communities that are either controlled by rebels or under siege from the government. This has allowed the regime to make relief a weapon of war. It reflects how UN humanitarian work has become subject to Security Council approval rather than being governed by independent ‘Red Cross’ principles of humanitarian need. In the days of the Cold War, when the Security Council was routinely deadlocked, it never occurred to me as a young UN relief worker to seek express Security Council approval. My colleagues and I operated under a higher authority, so to speak, by claiming the mantle of international ethics and humanitarian law.

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For the gridlock to be broken the Security Council must be reborn as a forum for co-operation and dialogue that existing members such as Russia and China can trust and invest in

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Europe is the biggest collective funder of UN humanitarian work, and a champion of these activities. It should seek to restore the principle of political independence for that work. And behind this European interest there lies a growing attention to human rights as against state rights. One expression of this may be detaching humanitarian action from political control, but ultimately the very European re-calibrating of the rights of the individual versus the state requires a much bigger make-over.

Over the last 68 years, the greatest change in the UN has been the trend giving more weight to individual rights and less to sovereign rights, with Europe in the forefront of this. As my old boss Kofi Annan wrote back in 1999, “state sovereignty, in its most basic sense is being redefined – not least by the forces of globalisation and international co-operation.” To that should be added the forces of mass communication because there is a journalist in every war zone and a television screen in every living room.

At the UN’s founding in 1945, the principle of state sovereignty prevailed. The UN Charter represented small concessions of sovereignty to the UN, but ultimately was more about preventing a return to war than enshrining the rights and protection of individuals. In the writing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights there were considerable differences between the 18 delegates on the nature of these rights and the proper relationship between the individual and the state. But it wasn’t just non-democratic powers like the Soviet Union that resisted turning the UN into an international arbiter that could overrule national sovereignty in favour of individual human rights. Historians like Mark Mazower record that “the British, embarrassed by the colonies, the USA, embarrassed by segregation and civil rights” sought also to ensure that the Universal Declaration was non-binding.

Sixty years later, after the rights revolution of the 1970s, the end of the Cold War and tragedies in Biafra, Rwanda and Bosnia, the tide turned. In 2005, the UN’s General Assembly endorsed the responsibility of each individual state to “protect its population from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.” Should a state fail to do so, that responsibility to provide such protection would devolve to the international community, acting through the Security Council and on a case by case basis ‘to take collective action, in a timely and decisive manner’ including the use of force pursuant to Chapter VII of the UN Charter. In short, sovereignty was declared to be conditional on a state’s discharging its primary responsibility to protect; it is not absolute without regard to its behaviour.

The introduction of this doctrine of the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ or ‘R2P’ was one of the most important reforms of Kofi Annan’s term as Secretary-General. Although it was really a clarification in international law regarding state sovereignty, it was accompanied by such institutional reforms as the creation of the Peacebuilding Commission and the replacement of the UN Commission on Human Rights with the Human Rights Council.

Yet it is these institutions, particularly the Human Rights Council, together with an unreformed Security Council, that have disappointed. The Human Rights Council started out as a farce, devoting almost all of its meeting time to Israel and passing eight resolutions of condemnation. Things have not improved – it has been described as a ‘theatre of the absurd’. Most recently, China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Algeria and Vietnam were all elected to the Council despite significant evidence of human rights violations and having denied access to UN human rights monitors. Just four years after the Peacebuilding Commission was set up to encourage post-conflict reconciliation, justice, reform and investment, an official assessment described its deficiencies and it is often described as ‘unwieldy’, though these failings are not terminal.

But it is the Security Council that is truly broken. And where it is broken, dysfunction, discord and disagreement trickle down into other parts of the UN. Samantha Power, the current U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, wrote in an article in 2004 that the UN’s reputation “rises and falls these days based on the performance and perceived legitimacy of three of its most visible components – the Security Council, the Commission on Human Rights and the peacekeepers in the field”. The latter of these were at least addressed in some part by the reforms of 2005, but then as now, Security Council reform proved too intractable.

I have previously described Security Council reform as institutional chiropractice. If only this critical piece of the organisation’s spine was properly aligned around members that are thought to represent the world as it is today, then the alignment would fall down through the lower spine, arms, and legs as the whole body politic recalibrates itself. Where there is disagreement or gridlock in the Security Council over such pressing issues as the crisis in Syria, or worse where vast swathes of the UN’s 193 member states feel utterly disenfranchised, the entire co-operative underpinning of the United Nations is compromised.

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The veto’s use is not nearly as widespread as is thought; the Council does most of its business without a veto. It is wielded, though, when the stakes are high

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To lead on security or any other issue, and to hold convening power, the UN and its Secretary-General must be able to act with moral authority. Yet authority is derived from legitimacy and representativeness. Where the Security Council has twin deficits in both, the UN is weakened and wider reform is frustrated. The Security Council’s dysfunction is toxic, in itself.
The current Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon, is often criticised for not doing enough to press member states for comprehensive reform, or to institute reforms in the secretariat. But although the Secretary General can enable and advocate reform, ultimately the power to implement wide-ranging change lies primarily with UN member states. Without permanent membership or representation on the Security Council, countries like India, Brazil and South Africa as well as many other smaller countries, will engage less with the UN and look to regional bodies like the African Union and the Arab League as forums for co-operation and communication.

Members of the General Assembly continue to feel disenfranchised on key issues, without leadership on the Security Council and without much of a say on the appointment of the Secretary-General. They therefore see empowerment of the Secretary-General and the Security Council as a power grab by the large countries that make up the P5, and refuse to acknowledge that across the board reform is about strengthening the institution as a whole rather than diminishing the role of the General Assembly.
Security Council reform is needed to underpin wider UN reform, and in truth it is more than this. Not only does the spine of the Security Council facilitate the working of the rest of the UN, but the Security Council deals with the most important issues relating to peace and intervention and is thus also its most vital organ. If the Security Council is powerless to stop atrocities in Syria, as it was during the Srebrenica massacre or the genocide in Rwanda, it is, as Hillary Clinton described it in 2012, ‘neutered’.

Barack Obama, who in part won the Nobel peace prize for his “emphasis on the role that the United Nations and other institutions can play”, similarly dismissed the Security Council’s resolutions as ‘hocus pocus’ as recently as last September. Then, in October, Saudi Arabia announced that it would not take up its hard-won, non-permanent seat on the Security Council, and accused it of ‘double standards’ while demanding its reform before it would participate. The recent past has nevertheless seen some Security Council breakthroughs; two and half years of diplomatic deadlock were broken last September when a deal on Syria’s chemical weapons emerged, and most recently the Security Council authorised an African-led and French-backed peacekeeping force to quell spiralling violence in the Central African Republic. The recent nuclear agreement with Iran was a Security Council-plus exercise, a rare but important success too for Europe and Catherine Ashton, its foreign affairs chief.

But friction remains, and in the words of France’s foreign minister Laurent Fabius, “these positive outcomes cannot hide the fact that, for a long time, the Security Council, constrained by vetoes, was powerless in the face of the Syrian tragedy.” As seen with Libya and UN Resolution 1973, even when the Council reaches a decision, its implementation can be the cause of dispute. In Syria, although an agreement was reached on chemical weapons disarmament, the Security Council has not been able to force peace negotiations or protect civilians. The distrust sowed by the action taken in Libya has led to inaction in Syria, with non-Western Security Council members seeing any action as the thin end of the wedge.

For the gridlock to be broken the Security Council must be reborn as a forum for co-operation and dialogue that existing members such as Russia and China can trust and invest in. This will only happen when the Security Council is more representative of the balance of power in today’s world.
In the seven decades since 1945, membership of the UN has almost quadrupled from 51 to 193 states. The number of permanent members is the same today as when it was created, and the number of non-permanent members has increased from only six to ten. The basic proposal, which remains stuck on the drawing board since the Annan reforms of 2005, is to add six or seven more permanent members – Germany, Japan, India, Brazil and South Africa, plus one more African country. But what exactly would happen to the veto under such a plan is not agreed.

In November 2010, President Obama endorsed India for a permanent seat, and as Security Council reform is only realistic with the full backing of the United States, this was an important step. As a UK minister, I myself came enticingly close in 2009 to getting all the permanent members to commit publicly to Security Council reform, but then the new Obama Administration, fresh in office, pulled back and wanted more time to think about it.
Beyond the U.S., the UK supports widening permanent representation on the Security Council to Germany, Japan, India and Brazil. At least one, and I would say two, representatives from Africa must surely also be appointed, given that a majority of the items on the council’s agenda deal with Africa, and yet the continent has no voice equivalent to a permanent member.

Expanding the Security Council’s permanent membership is not enough. To make the Council work, veto and procedural reform is also needed. The veto’s use is not nearly as widespread as is thought; the Council does most of its business without a veto. It is wielded, though, when the stakes are high. Last October, France’s Laurent Fabius proposed a significant alteration – that the P5 would “voluntarily regulate their right to exercise their veto” in the face of a ‘mass crime’. This crime would be determined by the secretary general at the request of at least 50 member states. This ‘Responsibility Not to Veto’ (RN2V), pushed by human rights advocates is in the eyes of some “subjective, vague and open to interpretation”. Crucially, it doesn’t involve France or any other of the P5 giving anything up in favour of new or non-permanent members.
Requiring two vetoes rather than one may one day be a more realistic approach as it will preserve the balance of power in the Security Council – a prerequisite for the U.S., the UK and other western powers – while enhancing the institution’s legitimacy and representative character. The core objection today would be America’s concern that it alone could no longer veto anti-Israeli resolutions. But if joined by Germany, that might give some reassurance given the latter’s long post-1945 history of single-mindedly protecting the status of Israel in international forums.
But adding Germany may be a bridge too far for the rest of the world, which already considers Europe to be over-represented. This is the calculation Europe needs to make, because making Germany another European power with full privileges, veto and life membership is a deal-breaker for many other countries.

Instead, Europe may want to lead on a different proposal to create a new class of regional members, initially including the current P5, who would enjoy 10-year renewable memberships. The criteria for candidacy (say share of regional GDP, aid and defence spending, etc.) would favour a region’s leading members, even though who those are may shift over time. For instance, there was talk in 1945 of admitting Brazil, and now, it would again deserve membership. But for the decades in between it would not have done. China and the U.S. are unlikely to be unseated, as to do so would leave a large part of global power unrepresented at a fatal cost to the Council’s legitimacy.

So a rotating, renewable regional membership offers greater legitimacy and flexibility of representation. For Europe, such a Council might start with the two incumbents, Britain and France, but come the first election Germany would probably elbow one of them aside. And no doubt Italy or Poland, and perhaps Sweden at the head of a Nordic bloc, will one day press their own claims. It would make for a dynamic, accountable – and democratic – international governance, and an end to the P5 sinecures of representation without accountability.
It takes people to make a marriage and a moment may come when there is new leadership in Brussels and New York. A new European Commission in Brussels will be followed in 2016 by the election of a new UN Secretary General. Many argue it is Europe’s turn to nominate a candidate, and a better UN is surely a good cause for Europe and what it stands for. It might also give Europe and the UN a second honeymoon.

(First published by the Europe’s World, article re-posted per author’s permission.)

Diplomacy

The Dilemma of Science Diplomacy: Between Advancement of Humanity and The Source of Rivalry

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In the past decades, science and technology have gained more ground in foreign affairs decision making processes. The emergence of more complex global problems has raised awareness that policymakers need to collaborate with researchers and scientists to create effective solutions. This is where the term science diplomacy has become increasingly noticeable over the years. The complicated challenges are faced by numerous countries simultaneously; therefore, both inter-state collaboration and scientific evidence are considered indispensable to overcome those challenges, thus, bringing science to the foreground of policy-making. Science diplomacy is then expected to close the gap by presenting a contemporary approach to global challenges. The existence of science in diplomacy conveys two important promises: scientific advice and networks that could help build the world better amid the complexity of transnational issues and leverage that international actors can use to strengthen their foreign policy.

However, these two promises contradict each other as bestowing political power in science makes it laden with interests. By using science diplomacy, states will be confronted with the dilemma of either using science to improve the life of people or using science to pursue their national interests. This article will further analyze this dilemma on how science and technology are imperatively needed to resolve global challenges. Yet, at the same time, its existence becomes one of the sources of power that create a rivalry between states.

The Extent of Science Diplomacy in International Affairs

The development of science and technology is pivotal in solving complex human issues at both national and international levels. However, innovative inventions resulting from scientific evolution need to be acknowledged by policymakers and put into policy implementation first before they can be advantageous for overcoming global challenges. In this case, diplomacy could be one field of policy and decision-making where science can appear both as transformative solutions for international issues or as leverage tools for states to achieve domestic gains, which then refers to as science diplomacy. Simply put, science diplomacy is the use of scientific collaborations among nations to address common problems facing 21st-century humanity and to build constructive international partnerships. According to Legrand and Stone, science diplomacy is not limited to exchanges only between states, but the practice has been unfolded to have wider global policy ramifications.

Over the last 15 years, the involvement of researchers as transnational actors in public policy and global governance are increasingly visible and making a distinguishable impact in various dimensions, including social, political, and economical. The increasing entanglement of science in diplomacy is caused by three main factors as follows:

  1. The growth of transnational challenges. Recent international issues tend to spread and transgress national borders. For instance, concerns about cyber security, the transmission of disease, labor migrations and digital communities indicated how states had developed higher levels of interdependency towards each other. These are all matters that demand the implementation of sophisticated scientific knowledge.
  2. The disaggregation of transnational policy-making. Although powerful sovereign actors are still considered the most important actors in the international arena, non-state actors’ emersion started gaining influence as significant players in managing policy challenges. This creates an opening where new subjects can be integrated into transnational relations, necessarily science and technology.
  3. The turn to science diplomacy. The science paradigm is rarely contested when disputes over transnational issues occur. This circumstance started shifting when the rationalist traditions within public policy were ascending. As a result, scientific advice in understanding government challenges becomes matters to create policy responses related to economic inequality, social unrest, or depletion of natural resources.

The extent of science diplomacy’s contribution to international affairs ranges in countless essential issues. Cross-border partnerships and multinational research networks have accomplished consequential scientific discovery: from gene-edited plants that could endure climate change to the identification of SARS Coronavirus and the formulation of its vaccines in less than two years. Recently, the involvement of science in diplomacy has made a significant impact in improving global health. Cooperation between governmental and non-governmental public health experts with diplomats and political leaders successfully assisted the dealing with some health challenges such as HIV/AIDS, the spread of the infectious Ebola Virus and MERS, as well as managing swine flu through coordinated global response.

Further, science diplomacy has also been impacting economic dimensions. Initiatives conducted by governments and foundations along with United Nations have successfully employed technology to reduce extreme poverty. The rapid growth of digital technology also fortuitously generates new opportunities for people in the least developed countries. In environmental dimensions, The Paris Agreement was another accomplishment facilitated by science diplomacy and considered a game changer in dealing with climate change. The successful narratives above show how scientific research could eliminate major global challenges and save human lives. Undeniably, the integration of science in diplomacy become imperatives approach currently in improving humanity.

Science in Diplomacy: Creating Rivalry

Away from its contribution to solving major global challenges, the existence of science could also be the source of power which function to leverage states in international relations. According to Royal Society, science for diplomacy enables actors to conceive science as a means to cultivate or even improve international relations between states. However, the usage of science in diplomacy could not be separated from political objectives. This is in line with Nye’s argumentation which stated that the strategy of using science is pursued with genuine scientific interest, yet strategic political goals clearly champion the approach. Consequently, science in and for diplomacy drew a paradox, for it can be seen only as a way to exploit science in international political affairs to achieve national interests.

Science is inherently neutral and perceived as a force for good. Royal Society also claimed that science offers a non-ideological setting for interaction and free idea exchange, regardless of ethnic, national, or religious roots. The integration of science in policymaking has inflicted a political dimension into it; hence their neutrality is questionable. Nevertheless, by bestowing political objectives upon science, it can become a powerful tool to leverage states’ bargaining power. In this case, science becomes a source of contested power that creates rivalry. This was clearly seen during the Cold War Period when the United States and Uni Soviets attempted to attain nuclear and space capacities to maintain their hegemony.

The current trajectory of science in international relations is internalized much the same way, particularly when science and technology are growing at a breakneck speed. Looks at the Technology War between the United States and China, where both countries compete to increase their science capacity. As China gains more ground in technological developments, Xi Jinping Government is increasingly being reckoned in global political affairs. Its presence is welcomed progressively in Global South as a key player in building a digital backbone. China is even considered a systemic threat by the US following its increasing domination over science and technology. This narrative showed how science became a contested power which could leverage states’ position in the international arena. Thus, science diplomacy should be understood as something other than a contemporary approach to resolving the complex global issue. It also needs to be addressed as the source of rivalry among states.

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Feminist Foreign Policy: A moment of introspection

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Those who are aware of Feminism would understand that it is not just a cozy club of women, where only conversation related to women’s issues talks place. Some would even contest that it is a club, feminism is like a school with a different department, focusing on a different area of research. Liberal, Radical, Ecofeminism, Standpoint, Structural, and Black feminism are a just few schools within feminism that approach issues from different perspectives. On the one hand, the diversity within Feminism is its strength. But this can also become a challenge if not handled properly. However, in today’s geopolitical climate where we see rising insecurities due to global challenges like migration, climate change, populism, inflation, and threat to women’s autonomy, we need an approach that addresses these complex challenges through a contextual, incremental, and culturally based perspective. We need a global approach with local solutions that deal with both domestic and international simultaneously. Hence, Feminist Foreign Policy (FFP) is likely to play an important role in the contemporary uncertain political atmosphere, by creating a sense of solidarity, sisterhood, and inclusiveness among global citizens.

Feminist Foreign Policy

FFP is not just a foreign policy that aligns itself with selective feminist values, but a way of conducting foreign policy via diplomatic relations that respects feminist principles such as human rights, diversity, inclusive governance, non-discrimination, anti-colonialism, anti-racism, indigenous rights, climate justice, and anti-militarization. It is not just about representation, but equally about principles of equity and agency, which unfortunately is neglected in the practice of contemporary foreign policy.

But before addressing the dilemma associated with the questions, it’s vital to explain one major issue that will essentially come when we talk about Foreign Policy, that is ‘National Interest’. Many conversations become redundant about foreign policy when National interest comes into the picture, it is the bottom line or the only religion that states are allowed to follow. Heresy is not an option that states are privileged enough to practice in what they see as an anarchic international system. Many scholars have debunked the masculine perspective of international politics. Feminist scholar like J. Ann Tickner have argued in favor of the feminist narrative in International Relations for ‘constructing an ungendered or human science of international politics which is sensitive to but goes beyond both masculine and feminine perspectives.’ FFP shifts the idea of national interests by emphasizing what feminist scholar like Soumita basu states ‘gender as a national interest’. This essentially brings forth the inequalities that different gender experience during conflict and war. FFP had redefined how peace, security, and power are perceived by challenging existing perspectives in foreign policy and diplomacy, such as the domination of patriarchy via skewed gender representation, and values that privileges masculinity over feminine characteristics. Focusing on positive peace, human security, and power as a social good is how feminists have challenged the status quo, at all levels; society, national, and international. This becomes possible by working closely with activists, academia, and INGO networks.

FFP in practice: Focusing on representation, resources and rights

We have seen FFP making some progress in the field of Nuclear Disarmament and Non-Proliferations which are heavily dominated by men propagating statist-discourse of Nuclear Weapon States (NWS). Scholars like Conway and Minami have argued for adopting FFP because it deconstructs the notion of masculinity like strength, violence, and aggression from the field of Nuclear security. Due to this, the process of nuclear disarmament has been seen as feminine, weak, and emasculated for the norms and ideals it upholds. FFP here helps to promote gender perspective in multilateral forums, where negotiations and discussions takes place. It focuses on the issue of nuclear disarmament by emphasizing increasing women’s representation, and norms mainstreaming. Women diplomats try to influence the process, be it in the form of better negotiations, essential deals, more checks, or even creating an environment of trust. This was seen during the JCPOA deal with Iran, where women representatives were involved. One prominent example was the role of women diplomats like Wendy Sherman for the U.S., Helga Schmid, and Federica Mogherini from Europe in finalizing the JCPOA deal with Iran, adding to the work of their successor Catherine Ashton from the EU. This was a case of women trying to get the best deal to ensure sustainable peace. Furthermore, FFP also emphasizes on ‘inclusion’ of small states, particularly Non-Nuclear Weapons states(NNWS) and Civil society organizations(CSO) which stresses on the gendered impact of nuclear weapons, and the humanitarian perspective, influenced by feminist characteristics. A treaty like the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) has been used by NNWS to maximize their interests at forums, for them, these forums act as a resource. Butale emphasizes that treaties such as TPNW is more gender-sensitive as compared to Nuclear Ban Treaty, NPT, and other nuclear policies. Since the TPNW entered into force on 22 January 2022, it has been ratified by 91 states, and 68 state parties. It adds to the existential nuclear disarmament regime but without the existing P5 states, and helps to delegitimize nuclear weapons through moral and political means. This is a long struggle of activists and NGOs where feminists worked together, and now through FFP, we have a renewed focus on women’s representation not only in diplomatic negotiations, but even in INGOs and civil society to ensure gender equality, equity, and diversity in social and political movements. Representations among CSO has seen progress, where out of 143 CSOs, we see equal representation in 17 CSO, more female than men in 42 CSOs, and 29 CSOs with all female.   

On the one hand, we have seen encouraging signs with increasing countries following FFP or adopting feminist perspectives, mainly countries from the global north, and some in the global south such as Mexico adopting FFP. However, we have also seen the pioneer of the FFP, Sweden under its right-wing government scraping FFP. There still remains many contradictions while pursuing FFP, the recent abstention of Mexico from the vote on the expulsion of Iran from Commission on the Status of Women points towards a dissonance when it comes to following the policy to the words. Challenges will rise with the current global scenario becoming more polarised, where we would see culture, and politics intermingling together both at the domestic and international level. This trend has already manifested itself on social media leading to exaggerated and accelerated clash between conservatives and feminist values, between political parties and interests groups domestically, and liberal-democratic and conservatives government across the world. Any movement across the globe now is seen threatening the stability of a regime. The revolution led by the brave women of Iran against the Hijab and supported by governments of democratic states is now seen as a symbol of destabilising countries, rather than solidarity.

The way forward

There exist some negatives within FFP that needs to be addressed to make it more acceptable without compromising its basic principles. Taking a skewed approach, essentializing gender as the category of prominence and institutionalizing this category at the center of policy and decision-making has not been marketed well. The current approach projects a reality of binaries between men and women, which essentially creates a backlash. FFP must move beyond this binary, towards greater inclusion.  Unfortunately, it brings the existing problems that feminists have faced in ‘Peacebuilding’ with the domination of western narratives, funding, and implementation of liberal values bereft of indigenous connection. To address this FFP need to engage with local and indigenous culture’s knowledge systems that give agency to local actors and stakeholders, and avoid imposing ‘North’s’ FFP framework as a template for the Global south. FFP can work on sharing best practices, funding, and giving a platform to marginal voices at International Institutions. Mainstreaming voices in diplomacy and foreign policy that are traditionally neglected, focusing on two E’s and one ‘D’ and ‘I’ should be the focus going forward; Equity, Equality, Diversity, and Intersectionality. This will help bridge the existing conversation and create a foreign policy-making process holistic and fair.

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Commercial Brands as a Soft Power Tool

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A state’s international image is its main “soft power” attribute. By developing this well-known concept, countries can create prospects for national investment, and therefore wealth for their country. Nowadays, commercial brands may constitute a powerful tool in the hands of diplomats, who bet on using soft power as a means to exert their nation’s ideological influence onto other states and their people.

The concept of soft power is often used today in the sphere of international relations as a public policy tool. The term was coined by American researcher Joseph Nye in 1990 in his book, “Bound to Lead: The Changing Nature of American Power”. Nye claims that culture plays an important role in foreign policy, which is not surprising because while it is possible to change the economy and political course of a country, it is quite difficult to change its culture. The cultural nature of conflict is a source of global contradictions. In “The Clash of Civilizations and Remaking of the World Order”, renowned political scientist Samuel Huntington concludes that the clash of civilizations will be the main cause of international confrontations based on differences in culture, religion and traditional values.

Through the concept of soft power, an “attractive” image of a secular and prosperous state is promoted in order to “tactically” influence other countries and their people. As Joseph Nye simply explained, soft power is the ability “to make others want what you want.”

An engaged and educated society, advanced technology, developed infrastructure, protected cultural heritage, high level of social support for the state, and active country involvement in tackling global issues on the sustainable development agenda are the strongest elements of a country’s soft power.

The commercial sector is heavily influenced by this concept, and corporations and states have the potential to control the masses through major brands as leverage.

Not Everyone Benefits from Globalization

The phenomenon that is “globalization” can also be used by some governments as an excuse to violate the sovereignty of other states. They play the “globalization” card and use it as an argument against any country that is not prepared to cooperate on an issue in their unipolar sphere of interest.

Countries interested in spreading their production without considering the national needs and values of other cultures and perceive the world as a “one featureless market”, are the first to benefit from globalization and the blurring of cultural boundaries. Many countries therefore limit the impact this has on their citizens, trying to protect them from an imposed value system that wipes out historical memory and cultural identity, that is so emphatically defended by UNESCO as “living heritage”. China’s internet policy, “The Great Firewall of China”, is a clear example of such protection measures in practice. Considering the uncomfortable technological sophistication that China has achieved for several countries, internet policy has become primarily a matter of security.

Additionally, Chinese national television focuses on broadcasting picturesque landscapes and the beauty of its great culture, encouraging the Chinese population to value nature, as well as domestic tourism, rather than simply showing endless commercials for industrial products. China is the only civilization in the world that has not interrupted its development by succumbing to other, notably Western, soft power influences. Today, China strives to carefully pass down its world-view ideas across generations, one of which being “āntǔ-zhòngqiān (or love of homeland and unwillingness to leave it).

Almost Everyone Today is a customer

Today, the big commercial brands are geared towards a global community in which almost everyone has purchasing power. Year after year, despite a myriad of global challenges, the world population is making tremendous progress in terms of living standards.

In April 2022, the World Bank updated its global poverty estimates for 2018 (prior to the Covid-19 pandemic) on the new Poverty and Inequality Platform (PIP), showing that global poverty rates (those living below a daily income of $1.90) was 8.6%, down from 2017’s 9.1%. In other words, this is equivalent to 28 million people pulled out of poverty in over two years. Comparing earlier periods, the global poverty rate fell by 4.3% between 2012 and 2018.

People today live better than have before, which means they buy more. However, the impact commercial brands play in shopper purchases goes far beyond the numbers.

Brand with a Human Face

Today we are witnessing brand humanization with 24/7 customer feedback. No longer is the aim of big trading companies to enter into a money-for-good relationship with its customers, but rather it is to gain customer loyalty and, if necessary, change political and social attitudes.

According to the American psychologist Abraham Maslow’s pyramid of needs, people need to belong to a social group through which they can feel valued. Commercial brands don’t miss a chance to take advantage of that.

Major sportswear companies are offering free membership to a community of brand enthusiasts, encouraging them to become a part of a global community that is recreating the future of sport. But beyond this noble goal, there is a purely commercial one: successful sales are the foundation of any company’s development.

What’s more important is that every major brand has digital platforms. Brand social media pages are turning into full-fledged media outlets, engaging major magazines that produce news and set the agenda for the brand. Commercial brands are trying to focus on sensitive global issues in a bid to appeal to different social groups, from exclusively female audiences to devout environmentalists.

For example, the American brand “Dove” is developing a “Self-Esteem Project” with the slogan “Stop the Beauty Test”, which works with issues of self-perception and anxiety reduction that cannot but find support among today’s women.

Major retail chains are creating clothing lines out of recycled plastic. Certainly, some companies are keen to contribute to the environment, but commercial brands exist on sales and by creating a line based on recycled plastic, brands mentally reinforce customers the belief that they are not just consuming a good, but saving the planet, even if the recycled plastic makes up 5% of the item; that matter takes a back seat.

Commercial Brands Polish the Soft Power of States

It is not so much the products that the big commercial brands are capturing audiences with, but rather the lifestyle; they offer comfortable terms of purchase, instant delivery and generous discounts, which is difficult for local businesses and local manufacturers to compete with, affecting the country’s economy. The authentic “made in” products of a strong brand produce positive perceptions of the country and vice versa. When we buy water, food, a car, or clothes from a country, we create an association with the country where they are produced.

In this way, big brands turn the country itself into a brand, attracting investors, businessmen, and immigrants, among them promising scientists and young minds, whose work shapes the country’s economy and its status as a world active leader, desirable partner, and ally.

Additionally, company websites collect user data in thematic surveys that are used to analyze the lifestyles and purchasing power levels of people in other countries in order to subsequently adapt products. Public demand influences import and export policies of states, and commercial brands play into that.

The international image of any state is the main attribute of its “soft power”. The market research company “FutureBrand”, a brand-transforming business, developed the “FutureBrand Country Index”, which measures the “attractiveness” quotient of a country in terms of public perception, examining consumer or corporate brands through surveys and scientific data analysis techniques. The top three in 2020 are Japan, Switzerland and Norway. According to respondent country brand associations, the top performers in Japan were “Toyota” and “Uniqlo”; “Tissot”, “Rolex”, and “Swatch” in Switzerland; and “Neutrogena” and “Statoil” in Norway.

Country as a Brand

The UN’s 2022 annual World Happiness Report, Denmark earned second place for home to the world’s happiest people, with Finland taking first. Human happiness cannot be measured by quantitative methods, but Mike Wiking from Denmark founded the Happiness Research Institute, which studies people’s quality of life and satisfaction with their daily lives using scientific methods. According to the Institute, governments and civil society organizations are eager to collaborate in order to apply collected data to public policy, and make the lives of their citizens better.

A few years ago, the world seemed obsessed with the Danish concept of “Hygge” (happiness in Danish), which became the basis for many business ideas for Danish decor, furniture, and clothing brands. The country even became an attractive destination for potential immigration. This is just one example of how people do not buy a product, but a lifestyle.

National Branding Can Help Developing Economies

The pandemic has particularly weakened the economies of countries with tourism as their main source of income. Turning a country into a brand can help countries with dwindling economic potential and save jobs at a time of crisis, as digital technology allows countries to create successful PR campaigns.

At the “World Conference on Tourism Cooperation and Development”, organized by the World Tourism Cities Federation as part of the “China International Fair for Trade in Services” forums in September 2022, representatives from Africa and the Caribbean outlined strategies for recovering tourism after the pandemic. One successful example of country branding were the Seychelles Islands, which during lockdown created a platform with the slogan “Dream Now and Experience Later.” The resource contained high-quality photos and videos introducing the country online and, once the lockdown was over, the creators invited people to visit the islands to experience the real thing.

Power Is Also Like Love

As Joseph Nye puts it, “Power is also like love, easier to experience than to define or measure, but no less real for that.” Nowadays, corporations and brands boost economies and attract investment, cultivating the potential for that very soft power that countries will continue to work hard for, to attract financial flows and initiate various forms of intercultural cooperation.

When you hear about Switzerland, even if you have never been there, you get an image of a safe country with amazing natural beauty and a strong economy; a place where you can confidently keep your savings, which is why it attracted the world’s wealthy elite.

However, in today’s world, sanctions show quite well how fragile and politicized the commercial sector is, and the notion of a “free market” is a highly idealized concept.

From our partner RIAC

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