The Syriza-dominated government is a loner in the EU. However, not far away, there is Russia, a country that is ready to give an unconditional support to the fresh force in Athens. That makes this puzzle interesting: The new Greek government is a leftist and very secular one. The Russian Federation is a legal but not ideological successor of the late Soviet Union. So, what is the link missing here? Well, following lines could shade some light on the peculiarities of less visible, though ancient, links.
It was the African playwright, Wole Soyinka, who said that “what politics demonizes, culture humanizes”. In regions like the Middle East and South-Eastern Europe; which, with no doubt, have complicated sociopolitical particularities, politics are often overrun by cultural forces; and Religion always falls within the realm of culture. Since the dawn of human civilization, religion and politics are inextricably interwoven; with the religious leaders having often the last saying, due to the fact that they are holding an inter-temporal sociocultural power. Or, as prof. Anis H. Bajrektarevic remarkably concludes on causalities in his ‘Quantum Buddhism’ manifesto: “reality must result from some elaborate interaction of consciousness with its environment”.
This is often so, especially in the Middle East, Euro-Mediterranean, South-Eastern Europe and of course in Greece – where religious politics were always playing a cardinal role in intra and inter-state affairs. A special case that deserves attention is the diplomatic role of the Greek Orthodox Church (GOC) as an interfaith mediator in the region through the course of history and in contemporary times.
Before getting to the merits, let me to clarify that when I refer to the GOC Christianity, I aim at the Greek Orthodoxy (GO) as a spiritual and cultural manifestation, which is channeled through Her various Institutions across Europe, the US, North Africa and the Middle East.
Among the most important and most influential of those institutions are the three Eastern Patriarchates (Jerusalem, Alexandria and the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople) and the Monastic communities of Mount Athos, of St. Aikaterini in Sinai and of Jerusalem.
Those institutions have been highly influential throughout the centuries and shaped the face of today’s GO. They survived and upheld the Greek Orthodox traditions and values for centuries, in places seemingly alien or even hostile to religious pluralism. Despite all odds, and despite the ever shifting geo political circumstances, the GO managed to secure the respect and the acceptance of different faith traditions, and was therefore able to broker numerous political deals employing interfaith dialogue as a diplomatic tool.
The GOC was forced to develop and perfect interfaith dialogue as means of communication with Her friends and enemies. It was necessary for Her survival.
The skills and channels established through centuries remain useful until this day and can be used to shape and transform the political landscape in Middle East and Europe.
During my research, I came to the conclusion that the GO bares several characteristics of a successful international mediator. I identified five of those characteristics that I would like to share with you.
The first characteristic is legitimacy. Legitimacy is crucial for a mediator, because it helps him to be accepted as such by the conflicting parties. The GOC derives Her legitimacy from her familiarity with the respective cultures and from her knowledge of the political and social dynamics of the countries where she resides. Let me explain.
Every political negotiation is necessarily a cultural event, and as such it always bears the self-evident, commonsense perceptions that people have about their world and about themselves. Therefore a conflict situation or a negotiation is driven and defined by the by sociocultural identities; which, those who participate in the conflict or a negation, construct. The Understanding of how these identities are formed is essential for conducting a conflict transformation process.
The GOC has a broad understanding of the national and regional history and culture and more importantly of the negotiating language of the respective societies. This is only possible because the GO is in an underlying relationship with the different faith traditions and sociocultural identities, especially due to Her longstanding, respectful and discrete presence in the societies in which She is imbedded. Hence, She is considered as a legitimate intermediary, when she acts within the realm of interfaith diplomacy.
The element of legitimacy consequently, functions as the source of trust building, which is another essential feature of the GOC as an interfaith mediator. Without trust the GOC could never be accepted by the conflicting parties as mediator, and trust is not established over months, it needs centuries to grow and manifest. Trust is the key to the GOC diplomatic power.
Furthermore the GOC presents itself and is perceived as neutral and impartial; that is because the Orthodoxy’s survival largely depended and depends in the maintenance of a certain status quo; hence, the GCO has developed as a neutral observer and impartial interlocutor.
Another aspect of the diplomatic power of the GOC is Her ability to advance the political standing of others (a good example for that is the use of Athonite Monks in the last election campaign of V. Putin, who utilized them, in order to appeal to the religious and ethno-nationalistic sentiment of the voters.)
Furthermore the GO also possesses a wide network of contacts: mainly through the Diaspora and the respected Metropolises. That is why She can easily serve as a “back channel” for state officials, especially when the political relations are burdened with problems.
In order to understand the GOC’s role as an interfaith mediator, I believe it is necessary to see the history of the GOC’s engagement in interfaith diplomacy. There are many countries in which the GOC played an influencing mediating role. I would like to illustrate some of the most prominent examples.
In recent modern history the GOC played an essential role during the Cold War. To begin with, She was promoted by the Western states as a cultural and spiritual counterweight to the Soviet Union and the Russian Orthodoxy. Indicative of the GO’s influential position, is the fact that after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the Orthodox post-Soviet states chose to submit to the spiritual leadership of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople; not the Patriarchate of Moscow. It was important, for those states and for their western interlocutors, that they cut the cord from the ROC and the Soviet politics.
The GOC was an actor of diplomacy that could achieve both pulling those nations towards Europe, and keeping the ROC from moves that could further regional tensions. That was in particular the case, because the GOC had close ties and positive history of cooperation with the Churches of Western Christianity (let s not forget that the GOC was founding member of the World Church Council and passionate advocate of the Ecumenical Movement); while, Mount Athos, on the other hand, had good communication channels with the Russian Religious and political leadership.
These same properties of GO interfaith diplomacy have the potential of playing a positive role towards the stabilization of the current overwrought diplomatic relations between Russia, Ukraine, EU and US.
Another example of GO interfaith diplomacy is Egypt. The monastic community of St. Aikaterini in Sinai, along with the Patriarchate of Alexandria, has been playing for centuries the role of mediator in intra-state conflicts between the Muslim and Coptic communities. That is because GO is considered as legitimate and trusted facilitator, due to the fact that the Egyptian people recognize the GO as part of their history and culture. For example, during periods of peace, the Greek community in Egypt was fasting along with the Muslims during Ramadan. At the same time, Mount Sinai is protected in times of turmoil by local nomads. The mediating legitimacy of the GOC remains strong in Egypt; even after the recent revolution and the continuous changes of regimes.
One of the biggest bearers of the GO interfaith diplomacy potential in the Middle East is the Patriarchate of Jerusalem. The Patriarchate has upheld the Greek Orthodox character for over 1700 years. It is one of the most accepted mediators in the Jew-Arab conflicts, not only because it bears moral legitimacy and neutrality; But because it is one of the biggest owners of land across Jerusalem. Both the Israelis and the Palestinians prefer the Patriarchate to own the land, than to fight over it between each other, allowing it to be an equalizing power in the region.
Besides any material leverage, it is of crucial importance to illustrate further reasons why the GO is considered as a legitimate, credible and impartial interfaith mediator in the Middle East in general. First, the GO has a positive place in the collective unconscious of the people in the Middle East, regardless of faith; because the GOC never participated in Crusades and because the Greek state was never a colonial power.
Furthermore, the Arab-Muslim world views the GO as part of their glorious Golden Age; She participated in and witnessed the development of the Arabic culture, especially through the preservation and advancement of the ancient Greek philosophy and science. As a matter of fact, the majority of the Church reconstruction works across Middle East and North Africa are largely funded by Arab Royal Families. And interestingly enough, in the beginning of the Greek financial crisis, the first move of the GOC was to travel in Qatar and negotiate Arab investments to the ravaged Greek economy. This shows how deep the understanding and mutual respect between the two cultures and faith traditions is and how good of a political network the GOC has in the Muslim world.
The Jewish people on the other hand have always been in a positive and productive cultural dialogue with the Greek civilization throughout centuries. Moreover, even when the global public opinion towards Israel was not favorable, the Greek state’s diplomatic approach towards the Jewish state never changed; thus, creating a sense of trust between Israel and the GO.
Last but not least, I would like to make a special reference to the case of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople and its role in the relations between Turkey, Europe and Greece. One would expect the Patriarchate to act as a major facilitator of communications between the Turks and the Greeks, for the purposes of constructive conflict management and reconciliation of the peoples; however, historically the Patriarchate has demonstrated neutrality and a position of passive observation!
Nonetheless, thanks to the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the great diplomatic cooperation that had developed with the Turkish government throughout centuries, Turkey permitted the reopening of several GO monasteries in her territory. This facilitates the proliferation of GO pilgrims that besides the boosting of local Turkish economies, also contributes to the interaction with the local populations and enables the building cultural bridges and hopefully an even greater understanding of the two nations.
Moreover, the Ecumenical Patriarchate acts consistently as Diplomatic organ of the Turkish Foreign Policy. For instance, it is the main religious mediator in Brussels promoting the European future of Turkey; also, having in mind as well, the advancement of its own legal status within the EU. In conclusio it is legitimate to say that the Ec. Patriarchate promotes a positive view of Turkey and the Islam in Europe.
As illustrated throughout all the references of interreligious activities of the GO, it appears that there is huge potential of the GO in international diplomatic affairs. Unfortunately the Greek state is not being consistent regarding the strategic approach towards the GO outside its borders. That is because there were always more urgent political issues to devote her political attention. It is, however, shortsighted, as the GO, through her interfaith and interstate diplomatic network, can give Greece a strategic advantage in international diplomacy. It would be wise for the present and the upcoming governments to finally develop a consistent- long term policy regarding the GO, that it is not conceptualized only for the next years but at least the next decades to come.
*This text is based on a speech given at the conference organized by the Universal Peace Federation (UPF), on the occasion of the World Interfaith Harmony Week, 06 February 2015, UN Vienna, Austria.
The Dilemma of Science Diplomacy: Between Advancement of Humanity and The Source of Rivalry
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Feminist Foreign Policy: A moment of introspection
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.
Commercial Brands as a Soft Power Tool
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.
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South Africa’s government has finally shown its colours by inviting Russia and China for war games next month, London’s ‘Daily...
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The status of Crimea is a contentious issue between Russia and Ukraine. In 2014, Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine, a...
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