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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.)
International Relations Amid the Pandemic
We could rest assured that COVID-19 will be defeated, sooner rather than later. The excessive angst and fear we currently feel will gradually subside, while our science will find effective antidotes so that people could look back on the pandemic years as a ghastly dream.
At the same time, it is also clear that a post-pandemic world will be quite different to the world we knew before. The argument that the world needs a massive shake-up to move to the next stage of its development has been quite popular ever since the end of the Cold War. Some prophesied that this would come as a result of a profound economic crisis, while others argued that a large-scale war may well be on the cards. As often happens, though, what turned the world on its head came as if out of nowhere. Within a short span of just a few months, the COVID-19 pandemic shed a light on all the many contradictions and setbacks of our age. It went on to outline the trajectory for economic prosperity, scientific breakthroughs and technological advancements going forward, opening up new opportunities for self-realization and fulfilment. The question pertinent today is: Who will be able to best exploit the new reality and take advantage of the opportunities that are opening up? And how?
COVID-19 has also left its mark on the current architecture of international relations.
At the turn of the century, it was mired in crisis. The end of the Cold War towards the late 20th century effectively signaled the beginning of the transition from the bipolar world order established in the wake of the Second World War to a model that had yet to be created. A bitter struggle would unfold as to what the new world order had to be, with the issue still unsettled today. A number of states, as well as non-state actors, willing to take advantage of this uncertainty in global affairs and redistribute the spheres of influence in the world is what it ultimately boils down to. In a sense, such a scenario should have come as no surprise since the contradictions between the profound changes encompassing the public domain and the rigid model of international relations established in the mid-20th century by the powers victorious in the Second World War had continued to grow in recent decades.
The COVID-19 pandemic has proved to be a stern and unprecedented test of strength that has revealed the limits of the current architecture of international relations. Previous crises—be they financial turmoil, struggle against terrorism, regional conflicts or something else—were, in fact, temporary and rather limited in their implications, however severe they were. The COVID-19 pandemic has affected each and every country in the world, regardless of their political regimes and social conventions, economic prosperity and military might. The pandemic has exposed the fragility of the modern world as well as the growing risks and challenges; and if ignored, they could plunge the world into a descending spiral of self-destruction.
The pandemic continues, which means we are yet to draw a final conclusion on its consequences for the system of international relations. That being said, a number of tentative conclusions are already taking shape.
Point 1. Globalization, despite its obvious side effects, has already changed the face of our world, irreversibly making it truly interdependent. This has been said before; however, the opponents of globalization have tried—and continue to try—to downplay its consequences for modern society. As it happens, they would like to think of globalization as little more than an episode in international life. Although it has been going on for quite some time now, it is nevertheless incapable of changing the familiar landscape of the world. The pandemic has lifted the curtain on what the modern world truly looks like. Here, state borders are nothing more than an administrative and bureaucratic construct as they are powerless to prevent active communication among people, whether spiritual, scientific, informational or of any other kind. Likewise, official borders are not an obstacle to the modern security threats proliferating among states. The waves of COVID-19 have wreaked havoc on all countries. No nation has been able to escape this fate. The same will also happen time and again with other challenges unless we recognize this obvious reality to start thinking about how states should act amid the new circumstances.
Point 2. The international system withstood the initial onslaught in spite of the incessant fearmongers prophesying its impending collapse. Following a rather brief period of confusion and helplessness, the United Nations, the World Health Organization, the World Bank, G20 and other global and regional organizations got their act together (albeit some better than others), taking urgent action to contain the pandemic. This proves that the system of international relations that was constructed after the Second World War still functions, although it is far from perfect or devoid of shortcomings.
In a similar vein, the fight against the pandemic has demonstrated that many international structures are increasingly out of step with the modern reality, proving incapable of mobilizing quickly enough to make a difference in our ever-changing world. This, once again, pushes to the fore the issue of a reformed United Nations system (and other international institutions), while the issue is progressively getting even more urgent. Moving forward, the international community will likely have to face challenges no less dangerous than the current pandemic. We have to be prepared for this.
Point 3. As the role of international institutions in global affairs weakens, centrifugal tendencies gain momentum, with countries—for the most part, global leaders—starting to put their national interests first. The global information war surrounding various anti-COVID-19 vaccines is a prime example of this. Not only has it seriously upset successes in the fight against the pandemic, but it has also added a new dimension to mutual distrust and rivalry. The world has effectively fallen back to the “rules” of the Cold War era, when countries with different socio-political systems were desperate to prove their superiority, with little regard for common interests such as security and development.
Pursuing such a policy today is fraught with grave consequences for every nation, since new security threats care little for borders. The recent events in Afghanistan should serve as a lesson for us all, showing that any serious regional crisis, even in a most remote corner of the world, will inevitably have global implications. Therefore, we are all facing a stark choice: either unite against these new challenges or become hostage to the various extremists and adventurers.
Point 4. Some political leaders have been quick to use the challenges of the pandemic as a pretext to strengthen the role of the state at the expense of fundamental democratic principles and binding international obligations. This may be justified or even necessitated at a time of the most acute phases of a severe crisis, when all available resources need to be mobilized to repel the threat.
However, one gets the impression that some politicians are increasingly in the groove for these extended powers and would very much like to hold onto them, using the likelihood of new crises as a justification. This line of thinking could prove to be an insurmountable obstacle to a new model of international relations to be established in accordance with the modern reality, where states would be expected to pool their efforts in the interests of global security and development.
Point 5. As always happens in times of profound crises, the international community is looking to major powers and their leadership for guidance. The future course of history in all realms of life, naturally including international relations, will hinge on what these countries choose to do, deciding whether solidarity prevails over national egoism. President Putin’s initiative to hold a meeting of the heads of state of the permanent UN Security Council members could be a good starting point to foster understanding and seek new ways of moving forward. We cannot keep putting off a frank and thorough conversation about the future world order, as the costs of new delays could be too grave for everyone to handle.
From our partner RIAC
Relevance of the Soft Power in Modern World
In modern days, the relevance of Soft Power has increased manifolds. At times, the COIVD-19 has hooked the whole human race; this concept has further come into the limelight. The term, Soft Power was coined by the American Scientist Joseph Nye. Soft Power is the ability of a country to get what it wants through attraction rather than coercion. By tapping the tool of Soft Power, a country can earn respect and elevate its global position. Hard Power cannot be exercised exceeding a territory, and if any country follows this suit, its image is tarnished globally. However, it is Soft Power that can boost the perception and create a niche of a nation. Soft Power is regarded as the essential factor of the overall strength of a country. It can increase the adhesion and the determination of the people in a realm to shape the foreign relations of any nation. Nye held that the Soft Power arsenal would include culture, political values, and foreign policy.
After the Cold War, many nations pumped billions of dollars into Soft Power initiatives, and the US mastered this concept. The US has sailed on the waters of Soft Power by harnessing the tool of media, politics, and economic aid. The US boasts globally recognized brands and companies, Hollywood, and its quest for democratic evangelization. Through movies, the US has disseminated its culture worldwide. American movies are viewed by a massive audience worldwide. The promotion of the US culture through films is a phenomenon (culture imperialism) where the US subtly wants to dominate the world by spreading its culture. Through Hollywood films, the US has an aspiration to influence the world by using Soft Power tools. Hollywood is considered as the pioneer of fashion, and people across the globe imitate and adopt things from Hollywood to their daily life. Such cultural export lure foreign nations to fantasize about the US as a pillar of Soft Power. Educational exchange programs, earthquake relief in Japan and Haiti, famine relief in Africa stand as the best example of the US initiatives of Soft Power. Now, the American political and cultural appeal is so extensive that the majority of international institutions reflect US interests. The US, however, witnessed a drop from 1st place to 6th on the Global Soft Power Index. This wane can be attributed to the attack on the US Capitol Hill sparked by former US President Donald Trump. In addition, his dubious decisions also hold responsibilities that curtailed the US soft power image, that is, particularly the US withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement.
Beijing is leaving no stone unturned to ace this area. China, rich in culture and traditional philosophy, boasts abundant sources of Soft Power. China is contemplating and exploring an innovative strategy in its rise in international politics. There have been notable elements in the Chinese diplomatic practice, including softer rhetoric, promotion of its culture abroad, economic diplomacy, and image building. Beijing, amid an ongoing pandemic, has extended vaccine help to 80 countries. Such initiative taken by China has elevated its worth globally during difficult times of the pandemic. According to the Global Soft Power index 2021, China stands in the 8th slot. China is an old civilization with a rich culture. China has stressed culture as a crucial source of Soft Power. In a bid to enhance its cultural dominance, Beijing has built many Confucius Institutes overseas. However, this has not been whole-heartedly embraced by the Chinese neighbors due to territorial disputes on the South China Sea. Moreover, International Order, dominated by the West, is wary of Beijing. China’s authoritarian political system is not welcomed in Western democracies. Therefore, China finds it hard to generate Soft Power in democracies. In recent times, Beijing has witnessed tremendous extension in its economy; thus, it focuses on harnessing economic tools to advance its Soft Power. Consequently, Beijing has driven its focus on geoeconomics to accelerate its Soft Power.
Unfortunately, Pakistan, in this sphere, finds itself in a very infirm position -securing 63rd position in the Global Soft Power Index. In comparison with Pakistan, India boasts a lot of Soft Power by achieving the 36th position in the Global Soft Power Index. Its movies, yoga, and classical and popular dance and music have uplifted the Indian soft image. In the promotion of the Indian Soft Power Image, Bollywood plays a leading role and it stretches beyond India. Bollywood has been projected as a great Soft Power tool for India. Bollywood stars are admired globally. For instance, Shahrukh Khan, known as Baadshah of Bollywood, has a fan following across the world. Through its Cinema, India has attracted the attention of the world. Indian movies have recognition in the world and helped India earn billions of dollars. However, the Modi government has curtailed the freedom of Bollywood. Filmmakers claim that their movies are victim of censorship. Moreover, the anti-Muslim narrative has triggered in India, which has tarnished the Indian image of secular country and eventually splashing the Indian Soft image. Protests of farmers, revocation of article 370 in Kashmir, and the controversial Citizen Amendment Act (CAA) have degraded the Indian Soft Power.
Pakistan is not in the tier of the countries acing the Soft Power notion. In Pakistan, expressions of Soft Power, like spiritualism, tourism, cinema, literature, cricket, and handicrafts, are untapped. Pakistan is on the list of those countries having immense tourism potential and its culture is its strength. Unfortunately, no concrete steps are taken to promote the Pakistani culture and tourism. The Pakistani movies are stuck in advancing Pakistan’s narrative worldwide due to lack of the interest of successive governments in this sphere. In addition, these movies lack suitable content, that’s why people prefer watching Bollywood or Hollywood movies. It is the job of the government to harness the expressions of Soft Power. Through movies and soap operas, we can disseminate our culture, push our narrative, and promote our tourism. Government-sponsored campaigns on electronic media can help greatly in this sphere. Apart from the role of government, this necessitates the involvement of all stakeholders, including artists, entrepreneurs, academics, policymakers, and civil society.
Planetary Drought of Leadership
The Tokyo Olympic Games, just concluded, were a spectacular success and grateful thanks are owed to our Japanese hosts to make this event so, at a time when we were in the middle of a global pandemic. There were many doubts expressed beforehand by many people over the Games going ahead during the pandemic, but the precautionary measures put in place were well handled and not obtrusive.
For anyone who had the opportunity to watch the Games via TV they must have been struck by the wonderful sportsmanship and friendship shown by the competitors of all nations taking part, whatever race and ethnicity. It prompted me to think and ask why the countries of the world cannot exercise some of the same degree of friendship when dealing with one another rather than push forward with agendas that are antagonistic. The world holds a number of dysfunctional states as well as oppressive dictatorships where the resident population is subjected to mental as well as physical torture. Belarus is a typical example, where the leader of the country stole the election to give himself yet another term, and quashes any dissent, with some paying the ultimate price. He has the arrogance to divert a commercial flight so that he can arrest someone who opposes him and then beats him up, before parading him in front of the cameras to say an apology, which everyone can see was forced out of him.
The Middle East is a complex problem and has been for centuries, the home of some of the oldest civilisations and the divergent monotheistic religions, which add a complicating factor. It surprisingly has been relatively quiet for the last period. Until the next flare up.
Myanmar has also been quiet, or so it seems. The military patrols across the country, particularly in states that offer some resistance and tough guerrilla opposition. The military behave badly, continuing the practice of killing, rape and pillage if not total destruction of small communities which cannot offer any resistance. Corruption is thriving. The military government have ‘promised’ fresh elections next February, 6 months hence, but it is most unlikely that these will be ‘fair and free’. The troubled conditions will continue. It will be an issue of continuing concern for ASEAN and more widely. A recent visit for a documentary had to be carried out illegally in case the military had discovered that the local people had been welcoming and helpful. The repercussions would have been appalling.
The latest situation that has arisen is the Afghanistan blitz takeover by the Taliban, a medieval group promoting the fundamental sharia doctrine, which is out of date and treats women as ‘non-persons’. They have also harboured terrorists, one group pulling off the infamous 2001, 9/11 strike on the NY Twin Towers, which awakened the US to take strong retaliatory action in Afghanistan, and forcing the Taliban out for 20 years. Their 5-year, 1996-2001, rule of Afghanistan was brought to a close after the NY happening, when the US with Allied forces took charge and ousted them.
But now the Taliban are back following a direct meeting with the then president Trump in 2017, no Afghan government present, and they saw him coming! Shades of North Korea. He said he would withdraw completely without proper assurances, leaving the country’s development less than half finished. President Joseph Biden completed the task of withdrawal, somewhat hasty, upsetting nearly all Americans in the process. The British were caught flat-footed and there is considerable anger expressed by MPs, not least because they realise that they no longer have the ability to resolve such issues themselves. They feel embarrassed and rightly so.
As one of the Afghan luminaries and most quoted intellectuals, prof. Djawed Sangdel, reminds us: “Afghanistan is a graveyard of empires. Even Alexander the Macedonian realised – 2,300 years ago – ‘it is easy to enter the country, but lethal when exiting it’. This especially if you do not respect domestic realities.” Indeed, the situation on the ground is chaotic.
The leader, Ashraf Ghani, of the weak ‘legal’ government has fled, not without rumours about bags full of cash, and that is one reason that the country has not progressed as well as it should, endemic corruption. Women, quite rightly, are fearful, as to what lies in store, as the Taliban’s record on treatment of them is brutal. They have promised to give emancipation within sharia law – which in their case was the combination of twisted and oversimplified Islamic teachings with the tribal nomadic pre-Islamic culture of the central Asian hights.
Looking at the country as a whole, one worries about its future; the Taliban have no track record of governing a country, particularly not one as complex as Afghanistan. They would have to greatly modify their approach to life, separate religion from state (affairs). However, there are credible doubts; once more the Northern Alliance will get together and the country will lapse into civil war. Will the Chinese see an opportunity and risk what others have failed to do? My heart goes out to the people of Afghanistan.
In reviewing the past few decades, it would seem that western led democracies, when they have engaged with a country, which is in trouble, have only entered it without full humanitarian understanding of the problems and not sought a proper sustainable solution. Inevitably it takes longer than one thinks, and there are not strong enough safeguards put in to avoid financial losses to development projects, sometimes major.
The UN has a major part to play, but one must ask if today’s remit is fit for purpose, or should they be reviewed, and the countries that make up the UN should look at and ask themselves if they are fair in what they give and expect, not just monetarily.
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