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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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Diplomacy

Multilateralism Without the USA

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Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz

It has already done so for a long time. As I have described earlier: “Nobody waits for Biden” (or the USA). The World is everywhere moving fast around the USA – leaving an ever more bewildered USA behind. US President Biden doesn’t get it. Biden still lives in his inner past experiences of the Cold War and the subsequent American World Order – both gone worlds.

Developments of the past three years

Here are some recent events, which highlight this strategic development:

1. The CPTPP was driven through by the other countries in 2018, after Trump putting “America First” jumped it. This now leaves Biden in a dilemma with his Trump mimic of Buy American (first).

2. The EU-MERCOSUR trade agreement was agreed in June 2019. A true multilateral agreement, not between countries, but between blocks of countries, two of the World’s Mega-Regions.

3. The Brazil-China trade pact in 2019, a result of over 10 years of strategic partnership. Brazil-China is an indicative case of a growing Mega-Region to Mega-Region multilateral cooperation as it involves most of South America. For example, it drives ambitious transcontinental South American infrastructure plans, which include to connect Brazil, Paraguay, and Bolivia with the growing Pacific shipping between Peru and China. Speak of “BRI Latino”.

4. The RCEP was initiated and in 2020 driven to conclusion by the ASEAN – not by China. The US is out. RCEP unites a complex of relationships between ASEAN, China, Japan, Korea, and Australia.

5. The Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI) was driven through by the EU with China in the very last days of 2020, on 28 December – directly against the USA. China opens opportunities with the CAI agreement, while the USA diminishes with “Buy American”. Cars are a good illustration. China is a far bigger car market than the USA. With 25 million cars sold in 2019, China’s car market is nearly 50% bigger than the US car market. This perfectly illustrates China’s trade potential vs. the USA. China’s car market is not only so much bigger – China may double. In contrast, the USA car market completely stagnates. No, China did not just “drive a wedge” between the EU and the USA with the CAI agreement – the EU wants it. To be competitive in products like cars, the EU needs to be in China. The US loses out by staying out. The EU wants factories in China.

6. China, Russia, and Turkey make big agreements without the USA. Russia and Turkey decide on peace and the whole future of places like Syria and Nagorno-Karabakh, leaving the USA in the cold. They deal with Iran very much as they want.

7. India this year presses harder for an EU trade agreement. That the EU recently made the CAI agreement with China does not keep India away from seeking business with the EU. We see complex multilateral relations develop, not involving the USA.

8. The EU just decided (with China surely agreeing) to make the Euro a world-currency everywhere outside the USA. Here, the EU acts in direct contradiction to the American “Longer Telegram” which is clearly US President Biden’s China strategy. In Biden’s “Longer Telegram” China strategy, Biden wants a supreme dollar hegemony. Biden also wants dollar hegemony to run mammoth US deficits. Nobody else needs that. The EU wants to protect itself financially against the USA, including the possible US takeovers of leading EU tech companies. China is on – USA falls off.

More examples – a long-term trend

On top of the recent eight examples above, there is a range of multilateral developments which for several years have been running, fully independently of the USA. A good example is the complex EU-Russia-China cooperation the past decade which has created an exceptionally efficient railroad corridor of over 11,000 km from Chongqing to Duisburg. Not just without the US – even against the US. The Eurasian Landbridge railroad system is a great example of the emerging new multilateralism not involving the USA. It started in the early 2010’s and a decade later, it now involves more than the Mega-Region to Mega-Region level of EU, Eurasia, and China. It spreads out to individual EU and Central Asian countries. It furthers sprawling public as well as private business. And it is increasingly multitiered, involving Mega-Regional, Regional, national, and subnational authorities like Chinese province governments. We also have the Nord Stream gas cooperation Germany-Russia. Even against US sanctions. Imagine US reactions, if the EU for “climate-security” had tried to sanction against the US-Canada Keystone XL pipeline. Coming up, we have the strategic multilateral Africa-Europe partnership between the EU and the African Union (the AU). This is a growing multi-sectoral Mega-Regional cooperation involving trade, jobs, security, immigration, digital development, green transition etc. The USA is not involved. These examples all confirm the fast proliferation of successful multilateral agreements, cooperation, and understandings actively involving several of the World’s Regions – except the USA.

North American developments

The deepening of Canada’s multilateral cooperation to EU with the CETA trade deal in 2017 is also indicative of global cooperations increasing all the way round the USA – leaving the US rather alone. Instead of strengthening North American relations, the USA repeatedly sinks relations with its only two neighbors. The new North American free trade agreement USMCA has harder “local content” requirements and is thus substantially less favorable to Canada and Mexico than the NAFTA which is replaced. For instance, auto parts must now have 75% North American content. The USMCA also widely mandates a minimum wage in Mexico and Canada of 16 dollars/hour – the current US minimum wage is only 7.25 dollars. Even President Biden’s proposed minimum wage of 15 dollars/hour will still be one dollar less than what the USMCA mandates US neighbors – making unskilled Mexican workers uncompetitive. Canada’s steel exports are the biggest victim of US steel-sanctions aimed at China, ostensibly for “security reasons”. A hard hit on Canadian (and S.Korean) steel workers, which are military partners with the USA. And there is no sign that President Biden will reverse US protectionism. Recently, US President Biden with the stroke of his pen on a presidential order, unilaterally makes lost money out of 30 billions which Canada has at stake in the Keystone XL pipeline to the USA. Biden delivers a gut punch to Canada. President Biden’s “Buy America” order forbids not only allied EU, Japanese and Korean suppliers, but also Canadian and Mexican companies to supply the US government. Biden breaks multilateral commitments to the Government Procurement Agreement (GPA) under the WTO. Canada and Mexico are consistently being alienated by the USA and will increasingly need multilateral ties with others: The EU – and China.

Theoretical underpinnings

Multilateralism without a hegemonic power (USA) has not only been happening for a long time – it even accelerates enormously, independently of the USA. The World is NOT waiting for newly elected US President Biden and his national security advisor Jake Sullivan with his “Longer Telegram” misconceptions. We see the emergence of the Mega-Regions, which I identified and described last year.

The World’s Mega-Regions integrate internally – and they make deals with each other externally. The USA is a single exemption to the development of Mega-Regions. Instead of integrating North America into a Mega-Region of shared governance, a “Buy America First” USA continues to consistently split itself from its two neighbors Mexico and Canada. The World of Regions is much-much more geopolitically complex than the bipolar or unipolar World ever were. The rules have changed – again. It is an entirely different reality from the obsolete imaginations of US President Biden and his team. As I stated in an interview of 7 January, published 21 January 2021 – Biden and the USA have much narrower space for maneuver than Biden and his team understand. The previous examples demonstrate how the new Regional World structure is radically more composite and multitiered than the bipolar or unipolar worlds were. Inside Mega-Regions you have other Regions. And in them even smaller Regions (sometimes criss-crossing). It is like the dolls inside dolls of the smiling Babushka nesting dolls, which I used in the picture with the USA marching off to its own perfect storm. (correctly, Matryoshka dolls, see picture below).

Africa, for example, is a Mega-Region. But inside, Africa’s Mega-Region is organized into 8 official Regional Economic Communities (RECs), generally with regional parliaments under the Africa Union (AU) Parliament. And most of these 8 African Regions are criss-crossing each other. Africa illustrates the fractal World structure (regions-within-and-across-regions) which we see today. In the Mega-Region of the EU, Spain with its own internal Regions is also an example of fractal geopolitical structures of regions-within-regions.

Expect to see a growth in multilateralism not only between Mega-Regions (ref. above) but also inside Mega-Regions and across tiers (levels of authority).

I saw these tendencies and wrote on them more than 5 years ago – see my 2016 paper The Future of Security

My work-paper 2016 on the Future of Security concludes with a chapter on China. Countries around China must increasingly find their own modus-vivendi with China, as US power there inexorably recedes. President Biden believes he can reverse that long-term trend – he cannot. The Future of Security is a work-paper still in progress. Mega-Regions add to my theory, and the examples in this paper add more pieces for a whole theory. We need that – to manage the World. We must intensely observe structures as the Multilateral Regional World develops – increasingly structures not involving the USA.

From our partner RIAC

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Diplomacy

Chinese-style soft power

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US soft power once meant that the rest of the world dreamt of living like Americans. Recently, soft power is something attributed to China as well, but as much as all of us use Chinese-produced goods, no one really wishes to live in China. Upon closer inspection, China’s soft power is nothing more than lazily hidden strong power, i.e. attempts to achieve economic, political and military dominance through the use of force.

In response to China’s rapid economic growth, the establishment of networks of economic cooperation and its increased role on the global political stage, many political experts are tempted to talk about China’s soft power. However, most often they must talk about aggressive tactics employed by China that has nothing to do with the true meaning of soft power.

The wealth acquired by the Chinese through hard work began to worry the West when it became clear that China has aspirations to become a global superpower. China has the second largest defense budget, although it makes up only a third of that of the US. China has many trade partners, but they often complain that China tries to force unfair rules. Former US president Donald Trump began a trade war with China, and the EU has also accused China of favoring protectionism instead of a competition-based system. When in 2018 Canada, after a request by the US, detained Huawei’s chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou, China responded by detaining several Canadians, although Huawei denied having any ties to the Chinese government.

China has territorial claims in the South China Sea, of which it reminds by holding military exercises and causing tensions in the region.

What concerns China’s soft power, the usual suspects are the Confucius Institutes, which have been established all over the globe, and the Belt and Road Initiative. Another soft outlet of influence is China’s participation in international organization. However, if we look closer at each of them, none can be considered soft power instruments.

The Confucius Institutes teach not only the Chinese language, but also the Chinese government’s worldview. Professors in the US, Canada and Europe have urged to close the Confucius Institutes that operate in their universities, saying that they restrict academic freedom.

There have also been allegations that the Chinese Embassy has attempted to disrupt meetings between Latvian and Tibetan representatives. Former head of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Latvian Saeima (parliament) Ojārs Ēriks Kalniņš revealed that in 2015, after a protest phone call from the Chinese ambassador, he tried to convince his colleagues not to welcome the Tibetan delegation in the Saeima. In 2013, after “instructions from higher authorities” posters advertising Dalai Lama’s lectures were removed from Riga International Airport, and since 2010 Latvia’s highest officials – president and the prime minister – have not officially met with Dalai Lama. The Latvian Ministry of Foreign Affairs advises officials not to meet with Dalai Lama or ministers of the Central Tibetan Administration, as confirmed by Latvian Minister of Foreign Affairs Edgars Rinkēvičs.

Many nations cooperate with China, but quite often they complain about China enforcing unfair conditions. This is a state-level policy – to further economic relations with numerous countries, at the same time imposing different restrictions and obstacles against them in order to tip the scales economic benefit in China’s favor.

Nevertheless, none of this can hide the ugliness of China’s communist regime in the eyes of other nations, especially at a time when China is suspected of withholding information on the true extent of the Covid-19 pandemic in the country, after the outbreak in Wuhan in 2019. Moreover, China is also being accused of Uyghur genocide, with more and more information on this issue coming to light in recent years.

Authoritarian regimes in their essence are incompatible with true soft power, as it’s three main pillars are an attractive culture, political values and a morally just foreign policy, and the only thing China has is an attractive culture. To compensate for the lack of benign political values and foreign policy, China employs means that cannot be considered part of the arsenal of soft power.

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Diplomacy

Cutting Distances with a Cricket Stump

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Sports are the common threads that bind people and countries together. The interlocking rings of the Olympics rings symbolize the coming together of all nations. The former US President Nixon successfully used “ping-pong diplomacy” to open the US-China relationship leading the US to lift embargo against China on June 10, 1971. Cricket has been used in a similar manner to bring together the people of different countries, especially South Asians. Sport in South Asia is a significant part of culture. For South Asians, it is not only a sport but part of their collective identity. Some legends of Cricket in South Asia like Imran Khan, Sachin Tendulkar, Waseem Akram, Sunil Gavaskar, Kumar Sangakkara, Shahid Afridi, Shakaib Al Hasan, Shoaib Akhtar and Virat Kohli are the household names. Though, Pakistan is known as the manufacturer of the official FIFA World Cup ball, football is not popular in Pakistan. Pakistan has remained world champions in Squash, Hockey, Cricket, Snookers, Kabaddi and many other individual events of athletics, yet cricket is the most sought-after sport in Pakistan despite bottlenecks like terrorism and COVID-19.

While the overall sports spectrum went down, Pakistani cricket maintained its presence in cricketing world. Since last few years, Pakistani cricket team has been able to revive and reinvent itself internationally. I remember one of the slogans during Independence Cup 2017 in Lahore that said “It is not Pakistan vs. World, it is Pakistan vs. Terrorism”. In Pakistan, cricket is also a measure of national strength. Pakistan’s cricket teams take part in domestic competitions such as the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy, the Patron’s Trophy, ABN-AMRO Twenty-20 Cup, and the ABN-AMRO Champions Trophy. In 2015, Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) organized a franchise based T20 cricket league known as the Pakistan Super League (PSL). The two seasons of PSL, 2020 and 2021 are held entirely by PCB. Additionally, Mr. Imran Khan, incumbent Prime Minister of Pakistan has conceived the new basic structure of the game in country.

Pakistan-World Champion

Pakistan has won international cricket events, which include the 1992 Cricket World Cup, the 2009 ICC World Twenty20 and the 2017 ICC Champions Trophy besides finishing as runner-up in the 1999 Cricket World Cup and the 2007 ICC World Twenty20. Women’s cricket is also very popular, with KiranBaluch holding the current record of the highest score in a women’s test match with her innings of 242. Mr. Imran Khan has the honour of leading Pakistan national cricket team which won the 1992 Cricket World Cup. In 2010, he was also inducted into International Cricket Council’s Hall of Fame.

Hitting Balls not Borders

In South Asia, cricket and politics are interwoven. Wars have been fought and conflicts have been de-escalated alongside the bat hitting ball. The history of India-Pakistan relations did not inspire confidence in rebuilding relations through non-political means. However, the cricket matches between them are loaded with deeper political and diplomatic meaning.

From 1947 to 1965 only three test series were played between India and Pakistan. The 1965 and 1971 wars led to complete stoppage of cricket exchanges between two countries and there was a very little window to use cricket as a tool to maintain goodwill. After a gap of 17 years, cricket was resumed between them in 1978. The first instance of cricket diplomacy was in 1987 when General Zia-Ul-Haq visited India to attend a test match in Jaipur, and the resulting diplomatic dialogue cooled relations. In 2004, Prime Minister of India, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, went to Pakistan to attend the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit. He also allowed Indian cricket team to visit Pakistan to play and advised the cricketers to not only win the matches, but also the hearts of Pakistani public. Over the next three years, the two countries played each other three times. Cricket diplomacy again emerged when then-Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Pakistani counterpart, Yousuf Raza Gilani, met each other for the World Cup 2011 semifinal between India and Pakistan. Peace talks started again and Pakistan toured India in December 2012 for a T20 and three One Day Internationals (ODIs). The efficacy of cricket diplomacy in Indo-Pak relations can also be gauged from the fact that it brought both states to the negotiating table to manage the issue of Jammu & Kashmir (J&K).

All for One and One for All

Any major international sporting event like a World Cup gives one a sense of belonging to a larger global community. Sportsmen have always been successful goodwill ambassadors for any country and have admirers across borders. Fans’ love for cricket break all barriers that is why the peacekeepers see cricket as a tool to bind people together. Despite tensions, Pakistani fans recently celebrated India’s historic win over Australia. Nelson Mandela also believed that “Sport can create hope where once there was only despair. It is more powerful than government in breaking down racial barriers.”In short, a link between international cricket’s revival and national resilience need to be established. Restarting international cricket in South Asia would enhance the opportunity to establish aspired will of peace and prosperity.

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