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Azerbaijan: What awaits beyond sticks and carrots

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A new world system, or a world without a hegemon

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The state of the world and, frequently, the course of history depended on the foundation on which peace on Earth was based – either on international balance or on omnipotence of another hegemon. Today, the Atlantic circles of different levels have adopted another propagandist mantra: international relations would be disrupted catastrophically or, worse still, slide into global chaos if the United States moves away (or forced to move away) from global domination.

We have already learned from history that any world order is relative and comparatively short. Starting with Antiquity, the best minds have been dreaming about an ideal world order, perpetual peace on Earth and harmonious relations between states. Reality was and remains different. The history of the world order was written by the bloodshed in big and small wars, the “game of the thrones” for domination, the never-ending replacement of leaders, triumphs of victors, and tragedies of the vanquished.

One cannot but wonder: how come that after so many years of deliberations mankind has not arrived at a common opinion? The variety of historical situations, relevant examples and rich historical experience means that there is no “magic formula” of an ideal world order accepted by all.

World history has clearly demonstrated that peace established under the aegis of a state that claims hegemony is never firm and never long-lived because the potential hegemon pursues plundering and occupation of its neighbors and rivals. The Roman Empire that, having defeated Carthage, knew no rivals in the pre-Christian world but nevertheless collapsed several centuries later under the burden of internal contradictions and external wars.

THE EUROPEAN BALANCE established at the Vienna Congress in 1815 by the powers that had defeated Napoleon turned out to be amazingly long-lived: for nearly 100 years, the Old World lived in peace. It looked as if the Europeans, who still called the tune in world politics, had finally found the key to a firm world order and entered the new age brimming with optimism. They learned the lesson of their past: balance of power should be maintained while disagreements should be resolved on time by diplomatic means.

FOREIGN POLICY of the United States changed to a much greater extent than the foreign policies of all states that had fought in the war.

According to American historiography, the results of World War II transformed the United States, a prewar regional power, into a global power.

In retrospect, the Soviet-American bipolarity in the nuclear age looked as a sustainable variant of the world order despite the risks and the situations in which mankind came too close to a nuclear catastrophe (during the Caribbean Crisis of 1962).

The Cold War was buried with a lot of pomp; America’s foreign policy acquired such new pillars as triumphalism, the liberal world order, the “Washington Consensus,” and globalization under the U.S. aegis.

Very much like many times before, the victor immediately acquired a crowd of enthusiastic supporters convinced that the “benevolent” American guidance would make the world a much safer place.

Very soon, however, many of them realized that the “benevolent hegemon” was in fact egotistical and unmanageable. The old truth – power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely – perfectly fitted domestic and foreign policies and was reconfirmed in the unipolar world. At the early stages (especially under the Clinton Administration), the United States had demonstrated moderation and the readiness to rely on “soft power.” With time, however, Washington was consolidating its domination and tightening its policies.

At the turn of the 21st century and very much in line with the logic of politics based on strength, the United States started using military force in the Balkans, Afghanistan, in the Middle East, and North Africa under the pretext of establishing liberal order and relying on the right to humanitarian intervention.

As could be expected, the unipolar world was becoming increasingly vulnerable: America’s military, financial and economic capabilities proved to be inadequate to keep it safe and intact; meanwhile, new rivaling power centers appeared and were consolidating their strength.

WITH THE HEGEMON prepared to take into consideration the interests of its partners and to trim, to a certain extent, its ambitions for the sake of greater aims shared by all humanity, unipolarity could have developed into a foundation of a new sustainable world order. However, this is an ideal and, therefore, imaginative picture. In real life, the winner is never inclined toward self-restriction; it is guided by the right of the strongest that by definition “takes all.”

Today, nearly thirty years after the Soviet Union’s disintegration, when sovereign Russia as its descendant replaced it on the international arena, we have accumulated enough facts to say that Washington’s shortsighted approach to its relations with Russia was a grave strategic error the repercussions of which have not yet been fully comprehended.

THE 21ST CENTURY is neither an apotheosis of the unipolar world nor triumph of the liberal world order predicted by Washington when the Cold War became history. The U.S. has obviously overestimated its potential and underestimated the progress of other players involved in world politics.

The end of a certain epoch, that at the dawn of American history Franklin compared with sunset, is not the end of the world.

First published in our partner International Affairs

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Diplomacy

World Youth Forum: A Reflection of Egypt’s Strong Diplomacy

Abraham Telar Kuc

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photo: wyfegypt.com

It was my pleasure to join and met with  more than five thousand youth leaders from around the globe, thousands of Egyptian youth and hundreds of world leaders, UN, regional,  international affiliated bodies and governments officials, academia, innovators, entrepreneurs, experts,  journalists, public figures  and other influential people including ministers from Egypt and other foreign nations, ambassadors and some  heads of states  who gather at the “World Youth Forum 2018” held in Sharm El-Sheikh city,  Sinai Peninsula, Arab Republic of Egypt from the 3rd to the 6th of November 2018; for the second year the Egyptian government and youth succeed to organize the most successful and one of the world largest international youth conventions hosted and funded by a single country.

Under the auspices of President Abdel Fatah Saeed Hussein El-Sisi the President of the Arab Republic of Egypt and the next coming chairperson of African  Union; the second edition of the World Youth Forum was held under three important themes (Peace, Development and Creativity), were the world youth, experts, policy and decision makers use the forum as a common world platform to discuss and tackle topics, share their experiences, exchange diverse  views and invert new ideas related to building and sustaining peace, the role of world leaders in achieving peace, cooperation and partnership between nations, Euro-Mediterranean collaboration , fighting and countering ideological extremism and terrorism, humanitarian efforts and responsibilities, rebuilding societies and states in post conflict, energy providing, water security and climate change.

Apart from the sideline MAAS summit or Model of Arab and African Summit where youth participants from 67African and Arab nations representing their countries; the world biggest youth gathering also discussed and debated throughout its panel sessions on issues of development, the 2063 African development agenda, enhancing cooperation opportunities between countries, employment opportunities, issues related to women empowerment and how to reduce the gender gap and inequality in the labor market, the rights, empowerment and integration of people with disabilities, role of volunteerism work in societies, building future leaders, role of innovators and  entrepreneurs in global economic growth, the role of arts and cinema in shaping communities, creativity, e-sports and games, the effects of social media, digital technology and citizenship.

The Egyptian visionary president, innovative government, friendly people and its active youth did not only succeed in organizing the biggest international youth convention; but they manage creatively and diplomatically to influence the thinking of the forum foreign attendees, where the organizers introduced “The Seven Pillars of the Egyptian Identity” which is a book written by Dr. Milad Hanna who is an Egyptian author also, the book descript the influential diversity of Egyptian nation and how Egypt manage throughout the different eras  to be a linking point between different world civilizations. And the seven pillars are the Pharaonic pillar, the Greco-Roman pillar, the Coptic Pillar, the Islamic Pillar, the Arabian pillar, the Mediterranean Pillar and the African pillar, in this book the late Egyptian author came through different reasons of why Egypt belong to all this pillars and the connection between the Egyptian and other world most influential civilizations, religious, languages and geopolitical regions.

During the regime of late President Gamal Abdel Nassir Egypt use to be strong and influential country specially in  Islamic, Arabian, African and other third world regions as its political and diplomatic strongest circle, but decades of negligence and ignorance  has changed the geopolitical and diplomatic influence role of Egypt specially in the African continent and Asia;  starting with the regime of late President Anwar El-Sadat and continued during the regimes of  President Hosni Mubark and President Mohamed Morsi whom give up and turn their back to Africa and the third world only to focus their foreign relations to North Africa, Middle East, Arabian, US, Europe and Islamic regions.

The coming of President Abdel Fatah El-Sisi to the power in Egypt was a major turning point for the Egyptian foreign policy to regain its political and diplomatic influence in the global arena, African continent, Islamic world, Arabian region, Asia and in the Mediterranean basin countries as it used to be for many centuries; a  country call itself (the mother of the world or umm al-donya-مصر أم الدنيا in Arabic)Egypt under the leadership of President El-Sisi the is increasingly regaining its world political and diplomatic influence once again.

Through their new foreign policy goals and soft diplomacy strategy  president El-Sisi and his government are repositioning and marketing Egypt regionally and internationally as a strong economy, trade and investment destination, commercial partner, cultural and religious linking point, tourism attraction,  educational and learning hub; Apart from organizing a lots of regional and international conferences and other influential gatherings El-Sisi Egypt’s is hosting thousands of foreign students on his  government scholarships, fellowship and private sponsoring from different countries around the world, visited by millions of tourists and adding to all this the success of Egypt to bring together world youth to its Annual World Youth Forum an initiative which recognize and proof Egypt’s influential and strong diplomacy.

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The role of social media in authoritarian leaders’ nation branding and public diplomacy strategies

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How can Erdogan’s Facebook posts of him holding a baby or shaking hands enhance Turkey diplomatic relations? Why Chechnya strongman Ramzan Kadyrov constantly share photos on Instagram while cuddling animals or working out? Scholarly literature has thoroughly addressed the democratic potential of digital diplomacy as a tool both for citizens to streamline social protest and for national diplomatic services to mediate and multiply the messages to reach the wider masses. Nonetheless, a vacuum still exists on the examination of how digital diplomacy – as Aronczyk suggests – can provide authoritarian leaders with a new tool for engaging foreign public in  a “communication strategy […that] allows governments to better manage and control the image they project to the world.”(‘Nation branding’)

We will see – complementing the debate on how social media may serve as a tool of autocratic stability- how digital diplomacy may be an important tool in furthering a nation’s foreign policy”especially for non-democratic regimes by enabling direct interaction and engagement with foreign publics.

As Hanson argued, the technologic changes involving public diplomacy gave politicians and national diplomatic services (NDS) “the opportunity to influence and speak directly and more frequently to large audiences”.Nevertheless, such ability, alongside the capability to segment audiences may be a double-edged sword since it could boost ‘Digital Bonapartism’– a populist rhetoric aimed at marginalizing the opposition and manipulate public opinion in a subtler manner – of authoritarian leaders.Hence, resorting also to empirical data provided by social media analytics, we will provide a snapshot of authoritarian governments’ engagement and assertiveness in digital diplomacy.

Finally, it is worth recalling that the size and emotional preference of international online public determines to a good share the digital diplomatic strategies of non-democratic regimes.

Digital Diplomacy and Nation Branding

As Hocking and Melissen emphasized in their seminal work, “the propensity towards ‘hype’ in responding to technological change” alongside the tendency to resort to vague and amorphous conceptualizations provides little help in analysing ‘diplomacy in the digital age’.

Accordingly, to shed light on the concept,we will define ‘digital diplomacy’ as “solving foreign policy problems using the internet”, id est, as “conventional diplomacy through a different medium”.On the one hand, some critics held that ‘digital diplomacy’ is not diplomacy but ‘listening and dissemination’.Digital diplomacy is indeed a pivotal element of public diplomacy and traditional diplomacy latusensu, sharing with the latter mechanisms, networks and, most importantly, the task of promoting the States’ interests at the international level.

Firstly, the growing usage of social media is instrumental for countries to achieve foreign policy goals while proactively managing their image and reputation abroad. Furthermore – enlarging Szondi’s analysis of the relationship between public diplomacy and nation branding – we emphasize how digital diplomacy may also prove a useful tool in nation-branding without necessarily accounting for the full range of State’s activities to further its image abroad. Nation branding activities through social media involve an effort to develop and spread “a national discourse for global context”.Therefore, digital diplomacy may be deeply interweaved with ‘public diplomacy’: social media may be serve as the medium to convey messages to international audience, enhance a country’s international image in a broader public diplomacy discourse.In fact, as Fouts argued, “for social media, virtual world and physical interactions […] are part of a broader tapestry of interactions that a country should employ to manage its brand”.

Despite the capability of social media to disrupt the top-down political communication and their potential in harnessing countries’ exposure to nation brand-damaging event,their use in diplomacy could bolster the legitimacy of authoritarian regime by framing the discourse and winning credibility among foreign public.

Authoritarian digital narratives: Liars and Outliers?

Unlike the Juan Linz’s authoritarianism Idealtypus, modern ‘competitive authoritarian regimes’ resort to more subtle mechanisms of repression than their counterparts in authoritarian regimes: the engagement of foreign public through social media fits in a broader strategy aimed at winning credibility on the international stage, mainstreaming ‘digital bonapartism’.

Therefore, framing the foreign policy discourse may help authoritarian regimes’ credibility and boost relationships with third countries in the long run.Whereas several studies have underscored that leaders in democratic countries are more likely to adopt social media, nonetheless no further research has been carried out on the features of autocrats’ use of social media to attain foreign policy purposes.

Moreover,the increasing involvement of Head of States’ in digital diplomacy further shrinks the role of foreign ministries as gatekeepers for other government actors.

This phenomenon is particularly evident when contrasting the digital audiences of the most followed authoritarian leaders with that of the respective MFAs. (Ministry of Foreign Affairs)While MFAs are more prolific in delivering messages, their effectiveness in achieving visibility is limited. The claim that the “stimulus to centralization in foreign policy making […] is not evident in the case of digitization” may be revaluated when tackling authoritarian regimes.  In this form of government strong leaders may rely on their pivotal position to convey narratives aimed at offering the international public partisan explanation of complex events.

Twitter, thanks to its brevity and its intuitive interface quickly imposed has the most widely communication tool for diplomacy, allowing world leaders to broadcast short, poignant messages to millions of followers.These inherent features of social medias give leaders an edge: being the digital realm an ‘emotional space’, the rising prominence of emotional expression may clash with the diplomatic tradition with an international public increasing demand for emotional and visual connections.

Furthermore, as clearly shown in Table 1, the ‘digital audience’ of most-followed authoritarian leaders in every region is mainly located abroad, thus increasingly the value of Twitter as a tool for convey foreign policy messages and signals.

Table 1. Followers and Tweets of non-democratic leaders as of February 2018

The data gathered clearly display a massive divide in terms of the number of followers among leaders –communicating through personal accounts – and their respective MFAs.

Furthermore, through social platforms leaders may tailor messages matching contrasting narratives to target different foreign constituencies: the sheer size of messages delivered by MFA accounts -acting as simple sounding boards –  may be instrumental in amplifying the leaders’ messages spreading the ‘official’ narrative set up by the Head of State/Government. Faced with the need for addressing different audiences at different levels, authoritarian leaders are enhancing their effectiveness in delivering through different social platform, resulting more effective where the message is framed in an epigrammatic or visual manner (Twitter and Instagram, respectively) than the more ‘discursive’ Facebook posts.

Table 2. Most Effective World Leaders on Instagram

Conclusion: Emotional Digital Diplomacy?

Digital modes of communication provide a new dimension and challenge to ‘framing’ issues”. As Manor emphasizes, narratives may be particularly important in digital diplomacy since they offer a clear explanation of complex events.

We argued that the very issue of authoritarian leaders’ engagement in social media concerns digital diplomacy’s values as a powerful tool to expand soft power reach in public diplomacy”.

Moreover, digital diplomacy offer a whole new device to convey narratives. The centralization trend allows leaders to play a crucial role in nation branding, in which the authoritarian structure enabling– as Surowiec has illustrated in his case-study – a “commitment to unification and synergy of collective identity projection [that] is hardly viable in any democratic political field”.

Finally, the narrative storytelling framework of social media – characterised by ‘the predominance of emotional content’ – enables non-democratic leaders to resort to a full range of emotional solutions offered, exploiting the tailoring and timing of the communication.

In a radical overturn of social media promise of a more enlightened politics, as accurate information and effortless communication,digital tools represent nowadays a powerful device for spreading biased narratives and influencing the foreign public appealing to the emotional sphere. Therefore, digitally-empowered autocrats are increasingly carving themselves a niche in the ‘attention economy’ of international arena imitating and learning from digital diplomacy strategies of their democratic peers.

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