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Celebrity diplomacy

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A celebrity icon and promoter of humanism; Aphrodite’s child, but this time not Irena Papas, but Angelina Jolie…

Ever since experts acknowledged the presence of celebrity personas in the field of politics, different theories on how to classify their role in international relations appeared. In the last few decades numerous, mostly western celebrities began taking part in various development and humanitarian campaigns, focusing on eradication of poverty, expanding knowledge of such subjects and spreading awareness of the global issues. These positive effects are the reason celebrity diplomacy is getting increasingly more attention from the experts, as well as from the general public.

Despite the apparent positive role, there is always a certain amount of doubt amongst people: Whether celebrities are qualified political characters or not; are their campaigns doing more harm than good; are celebrities getting involved in diplomatic activities because of their ethical principles, to contribute in solving a particular issue, or solely in an attempt to self-promote? However, there is no doubt. Whether or not we like seeing celebrities in such positions, their endeavours are visible to everyone, as the role and the influence of the entertainment business, advertising, media and people in designing and organising society, its values and meanings play a huge part in today’s changing democracy and citizenship.

A whole number of reasons regarding the emergence of celebrity diplomacy exists. The world’s politicians, the media and the public see the existence of numerous places or even entire countries struck with poverty, famine, bloody wars and other global problems, as something self-evident and common. And because of the silent and numb political elite, a demand for an additional, different kind of approach in dealing with global and moral issues emerged.

 

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It is worth asking ourselves, how we see the whole process of solving certain serious global problems, due to celebrities getting involved with their actions. Politicians do of course discuss these global issues and inequality. They talk of an ideal world, which needs to be created. But no one asks, what hides behind the mask of all this charity of ours? Are the words of the international community just an imaginary plaster, whilst the real medicine is the philanthropy from celebrities? All of us show a certain amount of solidarity when it comes to global issues, poverty and disease. We all discuss the rights and the injustice happening to people all around the globe. We all support fighting poverty. But who are the ones who are truly ready to switch from words only, to actions? Who actually helps with donations? Today, actions speak louder than words. Celebrities getting involved with tackling the world’s problems face issues of famine, disease, poverty, violence, war and concentration camps. They are not the ones looking away from the problems and are not just initiating humanitarianism, but they become fully involved with their actions. That is where their added value lies. They become some sort of diplomats, helping the international community in solving those matters. They themselves know best what humanitarian work really means, furthermore, they get an overview of how countries’ political leaderships function which makes their words worth considering.

It is because of that, many of us have recognised celebrities as a new type of means for resounding activism and intervention. Public’s addiction to celebrity world, the famous individuals and their behaviour, all play a factor here. This became even more evident with the appearance of smart phones and technology advancements in recent years. It allows celebrities a lot greater interaction with the public, with more ways of creating public discourse than before, when that happened through literature, civil society and social groups. We praise celebrities as a much needed “tool” carrying enormous potential to alarm us all of the biggest global issues and show us their genuine desire for a change. That in a way is a vision on how to tackle the unjust forces of the world and trigger the sense of kindness and a wish for world peace throughout the mankind. To achieve that, the celebrities rely on their power of persuasion, influence and publishing, as they wish to bring order and righteousness to international relations. Their goal is humanitarian protection, including tracking and reporting on how countries deal with issues of human rights, pressuring the offenders, legal assistance and cooperation in creating the mechanisms to prevent people’s rights to be violated in the first place. In that sense, it is mostly about ethical and moral actions involving support of all kinds of values.

In order to get rid of the scepticism around the celebrity diplomacy completely, we need to specifically define and understand the activities of celebrity diplomats. Current definitions of these are out-dated, leaving out (perhaps intentionally) certain key elements. Celebrity diplomats pursue their political and humanitarian causes. Because of their recognition and status, they happen to have an excellent chance at addressing the major issues in the world, in a global information environment. Due to an unprofessional means of dealing with global issues, they appear as informal diplomats. Their involvement in the process of cooperation within the international community helps in developing and changing of that fact.

The Phenomenon of Angelina Jolie
One of the world’s most renowned celebrity diplomats is Angelina Jolie. In the past years an increasing number of celebrities are getting involved in politics and with that, their relations have progressively become more formal, intense and nevertheless more significant. But what makes Angelina Jolie stand out?

It is clear that her looks are what predominantly gets a huge deal of attention – her exotic beauty combined with specific elegance and femininity she radiates are the reason why she has been chosen multiple times by the media as the most attractive woman in the world. But is it her beauty, or in fact only her beauty, becoming exposed in her work? The luscious figure and full lips charm most people and get the media attention. But for a permanent attention of the public, the media and nevertheless the politicians, more is required. You need to be charismatic and have grace, things you either have, or you don’t. Angeline has both. The charisma and boldness, adventurous mischievousness and her self-sacrificing humanitarian work are something to admire. She has certainly shown she understands and is aware of her own fame, looks and how extremely photogenic she is. She has made good use and took advantages with these attributes, which helped her get the world’s media attention for global causes she stands for. Nevertheless, it is not all about being a pretty icon, it’s the substance that matters just as much. The beauty attracts and appeals, but still, it is transient. You get an initial interest and if the substance is good, success is assured.

Angeline, the Aphrodite of our time, a Greek goddess of femininity, beauty and love, first showed her concern with the issues of global development before the filming of the movie Lara Croft – Tomb Raider in Cambodia, back in 2000. Soon after, she became an ambassador, travelling in the name of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to various crisis areas. Her concern, interest and determination to help refugees, bring awareness to the global public of their struggle, whilst also lobbying for international aid, have become her passion and she has set herself very high standards of operation.  Since 2001, when she was declared a Goodwill ambassador she has been on over 40 different field missions in some of the world’s most remote regions of the planet, all with the intention of bringing awareness of the refugee status and their protection. In large part those consisted of visits of the refugee centres across the globe, in particular the ones in Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Cambodia, Haiti, Namibia, Congo, Russia, Jordan, Egypt, United States of America, Darfur, Lebanon, Pakistan, New Delhi, San Jose, Chad, Syria, Iraq, Kabul, Sri Lanka and Thailand; and many others UNHCR visits, in places like Kosovo, Kenya and Lebanon. It is assumed many were left wondering at the beginning of her humanitarian activities about how much luggage she was going to bring on her missions to the endangered zones, whether she would ask for special treatment, expensive hotels etc. But it was nothing like that at all – on these missions she covered her own expenses and lived in the same basic working and living conditions as the rest of the UNHCR workers. This shows her in an entirely different light and exposes the quality and greatness she has, which are so rare to find in people. And if someone like Angelina Jolie possesses those, then the response to her activities and the mission she is on becomes very significant and noble.

In 2012, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres appointed Angelina Jolie as Special Envoy, for her years long cooperation with the UNHCR, and sacrificing her time trying to solve the refugee issue. In her newly assigned and extended role, Angelina Jolie focuses on the worst of crisis, which cause massive emigration. She became a proponent and a representative of the UNHCR and Guterres in diplomatic circles, whilst also debating the topics with people who have the most power to change things regarding world’s emigration problems. With such activities, she gets involved in the processes of finding solutions for people, who were forced to emigrate because of conflicts.
Amongst her UNHCR missions, her goal is to defend the rights of refugees and emigrants and prompt the political elite worldwide to play a bigger, more active role. Since 2001, she has donated more than 5 million dollars to these causes, using some of the funds to build schools in locations like Kenya and Afghanistan, whilst also using money to raise the quality of living for people who have been forced to flee. Furthermore she continues to visit places around the globe, to fight for people’s rights and to ensure people receive aid in case of natural disasters, in vulnerable communities where predominately children live, and in environment protection. In 2003 she launched the Maddox project called “Jolie – Pitt Foundation, focusing on agriculture, education, healthcare, profession training, infrastructure and rural planning in Cambodia. She has also opened a National centre for refugees and their children, which provides free legal aid to young asylum seekers. In a partnership with Microsoft, she founded an organisation Kids in Need of Defence, which also provides free legal aid to children who came to the United States of America without their parents or legal representatives. In its first two years, the organisation itself donated 500 000 USD, apart from also paying numerous expenses created to help the refugees and children in the third world countries.

She continued with her humanitarian work by joining Council on Foreign Relations, where she took part in creation of different kinds of reports, as well as taking the initiative to increase actions leading to prevent genocide from occurring amongst other mass atrocities. After visiting Haiti a number of times in 2010, she then founded the Jolie Legal Fellows Program, to enhance government capacity around the rule of law. The programme places young lawyers within the existing structures in Haiti to support the government’s child protection efforts. The foundation Jolie-Pitt has meanwhile provided funding for juvenile centres in Cambodia and Ethiopia, where they use innovative and thorough treatments on children infected with the HIV virus and tuberculosis. It is evident Angelina donated large sums of money. But does money truly rule the world? It definitely is life saving in some hardships life throws at people worldwide, however it does not solve the world’s issues completely. It contributes to small and subtle changes through daring and active celebrities. Kind deeds and values are things that mean something. Maybe today, money’s importance is being undermined by time or even knowledge – we could even say that knowledge rules the world, and that money is just another product of knowledge.

Humanitarian work as a moral obligation
At this point, it is clear that the humanitarian work and activities have become somewhat of a moral obligation, and an indicator of how important solidarity between people all around the world is. This is widely being used by numerous international organizations, which challenge traditional discourse of power in ways that encourage the power of moral awareness, something often not present in politics. Angelina Jolie has moral and ethical values, which she believes in and fights for, separating her from other politicians and giving her an extra amount of credibility worldwide. If avoiding taboo subjects is common among politicians, Angelina Jolie daringly exposes those, even in her movies. In her movie “In the Land of Blood and Honey«, she focused on the events in the Balkans, systematic rape, concentration camps and the question of a possibility of an romance between the victim and the officer. With it, she wanted to point out the crimes against women worldwide, not just in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the mistakes of the international community, which failed to react just when they were supposed and expected to. It is also about a reflection of the horrid and brutal way of living in that period. For those reasons, she was made an honorary citizen of Sarajevo in 2012, whilst also receiving the Heart of Sarajevo, a special award in 2011 at the Sarajevo Film Festival, for her active engagement in the complexities of the real world. These days, the most recent of her movies “Unbroken” has caught public attention, which she directed herself and describes a story of Louis Zamperini. Zamperini was a participant of the 5000m race, at the Berlin Olympic Games in 1936, a mid-distance runner, who as an American WWII soldier in the Pacific, got captured by the Japanese. It is an adventure that goes from the highs of Olympic glory to the lows of life in a prisoner of war camp. The movie describes the athlete’s fate, his every day struggle of living in Japanese concentration camps, where he was put through some truly difficult situations. The Japanese authorities have already protested against it, claiming the movie is full of exaggeration.

Many of us have probably thought that the celebrities are too pretty, too “perfect”, famous and rich for anyone to take them seriously – but looking at Angelina Jolie negates all of that. Wherever she appears, she gets the attention of the entire world, being it Afghanistan, Iraq, America or Bosnia and Herzegovina. Because of her influence and recognisability she has access to world leaders and other significant and influential people, whilst at the same time having an important effect on the development of politics and founding programs for different global issues. In 2005, she travelled to Pakistan where she met up with refugees from Afghanistan. She also met the Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf and the country’s Prime Minister, Shaukat Aziz. When she was in Syria for the first time, she also went to visit the American troops located there. The most resounding of her visits, as far as visits in our region go, was the one in Bosnia and Herzegovina in year 2010, when she wanted to meet the victims of the war who were forced to emigrate. Four months later, she returned and met with two members of the federal Bosnian presidency, Haris Silajdžić and Željko Komšić. It is definitely worth mentioning that she regularly attends events at the World Refugee Day, taking place in Washington; in 2005 and 2006 she also made public speeches at the World Economic Forum in Davos. She started lobbying for humanitarian work in Washington, where she, in year 2003 met with the members of the Congress. Universal values, ethics and morality are things celebrities have and which get built through dialog. Therefore, cooperation with the world’s leaders is extremely significant in order to make changes in the international community.
 
“Aphrodite’s Child” – living up to the fame of Irena Papas
Her dedication to humanitarianism has not gone unnoticed. In 2003, she became the first person to be awarded the Citizen of the World Award, by the United Nations Correspondents Association and in year 2005, she received the Global Humanitarian Award by the UNA-USA Organisation. The Cambodian king, Norodom Sihamoni awarded her with Cambodian citizenship on the 12th August 2005, for her conservative work in the country. Later, in 2007 she was awarded a Freedom Award from the International Rescue Committee. All of these prizes, awards and exceptional popularity scores, are a definite indicator of how significant, important and sophisticated her work really is. Diplomatic celebrity actions, which in Angelina’s case are long-term, influential and successful, are therefore gaining importance, by filling the gaps created by some of the weaknesses of traditional diplomacy.
It is time for different players of the international community to unite and act together in a fight with global issues and react in a unified spirit of a renewed multilateralism.

It is necessary to trigger conscience and a sense of joint responsibility when confronting problems, striving for universal ethics and moral beliefs as our guidance and a measurement of our political functioning regarding human rights as being our most fundamental matters.
There is something about celebrity diplomacy that makes it provocative and allows it to support aforementioned subjects. Through social networks, a simple celebrity tweet affects the global public far more, than a well-planned campaign.
Do we really need the celebrities to face global issues, which nevertheless appear far from the field of their primary work? We could say that we do. People with influence and power, who get worldwide attention, are in a unique position to affect the world’s issues themselves and the ways, in which they get solved. It is also true that celebrities, in the same way as politicians, get their power from the public. With the difference here being, that celebrities already have an established name, a recognisable and attractive face, and experience in public performance. Most importantly, the public trusts them more than they trust the politicians.
Could we say that the celebrities compromise their primary profession with their participation in politics and diplomacy? Most certainly not, in fact, it is quite the contrary. Angelina Jolie is not only the prettiest but also the best living proof of that not being the case at all.

 

First published by www.ifimes.org under the title: Angelina Jolie – a celebrity Aphrodite and a promoter of humanitarianism

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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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