Some days ago, I achieved historical continuity between Hungary and Indonesia — well, at least in connection to my father and me. How so? In the early 1960s, my father was assigned to set up the Indonesian Embassy in Budapest. Indonesia had already established diplomatic relations with Hungary in 1955, but did not actually have a physical embassy.
During my father’s time there as chargé d’affaires, he met with many high-ranking officials. Among the old photos from those times, there is one of him shaking hands with János Kádár, Hungary’s prime minister at the time. Kádár was PM from 1956 to 1988. Thirty-two years, just like Indonesia’s Soeharto.
As dad’s daughter, I was invited to a luncheon at the State Palace on Feb. 1 — hosted by President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo naturally — in honor of Victor Orban, the current Hungarian prime minister who was here for an official visit. I had my photo taken with him. Cut-to-cut: in 1962 my dad with the then Hungarian PM, in 2016, me with the current Hungarian PM.
While 54 years have lapsed, my fond memories of Hungary have not. My father passed away in 2006, so unfortunately he could not witness the historical continuity his daughter created, albeit only as a snapshot (pun unintended!).
When we lived there, we first stayed at the famous Gellert Hotel, built between 1916 and 1918 in Art Nouveau style. Situated at the foot of Gellert Hill and on the right bank of the River Danube, it was probably one of the most beautiful places to start our life in Hungary.
Indeed, it’s still one of the most famous historic hotels in Europe.
We eventually moved to a house in Lepke Utca (Butterfly Street) on the Buda side of the city, which had a huge garden, two swimming pools and about 100 apple trees. Our household staff consisted of Mariko and Ibolya, and their families became our Hungarian family. The embassy chauffeur, Mr. Bologni, was my favorite because his taste in dolls and clothes that my mum would sometimes ask him to buy for me and my sister was great.
One day, while driving my mother, he pointed to a beautiful mansion. “Madam, that used to be my house”. A former aristocrat, after the Hungarian revolution of 1956, his property and wealth were seized by the Communist government that came into power. Changes in political power unfortunately do tend to have their victims. Sometimes, lots.
What do Indonesia and Hungary have in common? It’s mostly an exercise in contrasts: one is archipelagic, the other landlocked, Indonesia’s population is 256 million, Hungary’s is less than 10 million; geographically, Indonesia is more than 20 times the size of Hungary; Indonesia predominantly consists of Muslims while Hungary of a variety of Christian denominations.
Indonesia has lots of natural resources, Hungary has some, but nothing compared to Indonesia.
In terms of social indicators, Hungary is way above Indonesia. It has a Human Development Index of 44, while Indonesia’s is 110. Hungary’s maternal mortality rate and infant mortality rate are, respectively, 17/10,000 live births and 5/1,000 live births, while Indonesia’s is 126/10,000 and 24.29 /1,000 live births. Last but not least, Hungary has 13 Nobel Prize winners, and Indonesia — none!
Being in the presence of the two leaders at the luncheon, and even chatting with them briefly, I couldn’t help thinking of their leadership styles. Both are close in age —Jokowi being born in 1961 and Orban in 1963, but like the countries they lead, they too are a study in contrasts.
Jokowi is sometimes said to be a karbitan (artificially ripened) leader. Karbit is Indonesian for calcium carbide, which produces acetylene gas used to artificially ripen fruit. His meteoric rise from mayor of Surakarta (2005-2012), to governor of Jakarta (2012-2014), then (narrowly) winning the 2014 presidential elections is the reason for this epithet.
After the initial euphoria, indeed it was often painful to watch him in his first year. So far he has survived, still with his “mild and gentle” leadership style, except when it comes to the death penalty.
The recent disbanding of the Red-and-White Coalition (KMP), led by Prabowo Subianto’s Gerindra party certainly helps, giving Jokowi a majority in the House of Representatives.
Orban is anything but karbitan – he’s a seasoned, skilled and consummate politician. At age 14-15 he was secretary of the communist youth organization KISZ. In 1988, he was founding member of the Fidesz party (Alliance of Young Democrats), rising up the ranks until in 1993 he became the first president of the party. Under his leadership, Fidesz gradually transformed from being a radical liberal student organization to a center-right people’s party.
Those were turbulent years and fall of communism, in Eastern Europe – region that my friend prof. Anis H. Bajrektarevic calls “the world’s last underachiever”.
However, every rule has an exception. Orban was only a remarkable 35 years old when he became prime minister, serving between 1998 and 2002. From 2002 to 2010 he was in opposition, and won his second premiership in 2010, winning 53 percent of the popular vote and a two-thirds majority of seats.
In the media Orban has been described as right wing and populist, even fascist. In July 2014 he announced his plans to make Hungary an “illiberal state”, citing Russia and China as examples. He also stated that it was important to secure his nation’s borders from mainly Muslim migrants “to keep Europe Christian”.
Orban is said to be the new brand of politics in Europe, i.e. right-wing veering to ultra nationalist: France’s National Front, Poland’s new conservative leaders, and the Tories in Britain.
Even in Nordic countries, extreme right wing political movements are also emerging. Denmark and the Netherlands are examples of ultra-liberal societies having a backlash.
Love him or hate him, Orban is a force to be reckoned with. He’s had a long and winding career, “Orban shapes as much as fits the European Zeitgeist,” as the Politico news website states, with migration being just one example.
Jokowi, reckon you can pick up a few leadership tips from your Hungarian counterpart?
Civilizationism vs the Nation State
Many have framed the battle lines in the geopolitics of the emerging new world order as the 21st century’s Great Game. It’s a game that aims to shape the creation of a new Eurasia-centred world, built on the likely fusion of Europe and Asia into what former Portuguese Europe minister Bruno Macaes calls a “supercontinent.”
For now, the Great Game pits China together with Russia, Turkey and Iran against the United States, India, Japan and Australia. The two camps compete for influence, if not dominance, in a swath of land that stretches from the China Sea to the Atlantic coast of Europe.
The geopolitical flashpoints are multiple. They range from the China Sea to Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, Turkey, Iran, and Central European nations and, most recently, far beyond with Russia, China and Turkey supporting embattled Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro.
On one level, the rivalry resembles Risk, a popular game of diplomacy, conflict and conquest played on a board depicting a political map of the earth, divided into forty-two territories, which are grouped into six continents. Multiple players command armies that seek to capture territories, engage in a complex dance as they strive for advantage, and seek to compensate for weaknesses. Players form opportunistic alliances that could change at any moment. Potential black swans threaten to disrupt.
Largely underrated in debates about the Great Game is the fact that increasingly there is a tacit meeting of the minds among world leaders as well as conservative and far-right politicians and activists that frames the rivalry: the rise of civilisationalism and the civilizational state that seeks its legitimacy in a distinct civilization rather than the nation state’s concept of territorial integrity, language and citizenry.
The trend towards civilisationalism benefits from the fact that 21st century autocracy and authoritarianism vests survival not only in repression of dissent and denial of freedom of expression but also maintaining at least some of the trappings of pluralism that can include representational bodies with no or severely limited powers, toothless opposition groups, government-controlled non-governmental organizations, and degrees of accountability.
It creates the basis for an unspoken consensus on the values that would underwrite a new world order on which men like Xi Jinping, Vladimir Putin, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Victor Orban, Mohammed bin Salman, Narendra Modi and Donald Trump find a degree of common ground. If anything, it is this tacit understanding that in the shaping of a new world order constitutes the greatest threat to liberal values such as human and minority rights. By the same token, the tacit agreement on fundamental values reduces the Great Game to a power struggle over spheres of influence and the sharing of the pie as well as a competition of political systems in which concepts such as democracy are hollowed out.
Intellectually, the concept of civilisationalism puts into context much of what is currently happening. This includes the cyclical crisis over the last decade as a result of a loss of confidence in leadership and the system; the rise of right and left-wing populism; the wave of Islamophobia and increased anti-Semitism; the death of multi-culturalism with the brutal crackdown on Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang as its most extreme expression; the Saudi and Russian alliance with ultra-conservative Christian groups that propagate traditional family values; and Russian meddling in Western elections.
Analysts explained these developments by pointing to a host of separate and disparate factors, some of which were linked in vague ways. Analysts pointed among others to the 2008 financial crisis, jihadist violence and the emergence of the Islamic State, the war in Syria, and a dashing of hope with the rollback of the achievements of the 2011 popular Arab revolts. These developments are and were at best accelerators not sparks or initiators.
Similarly, analysts believed that the brilliance of Osama Bin Laden and the 9/11 attacks on New York’s World Trade Towers and the Pentagon in Washington was the killing of multi-culturalism in one fell and brutal swoop. Few grasped just how consequential that would be. A significant eye opener was the recent attack on the mosques in Christchurch. New Zealand much like Norway in the wake of the 2012 attacks by supremacist Andre Breivik stands out as an anti-dote to civilisationalism with its inclusive and compassionate response.
The real eye-opener, however, was a New Zealand intelligence official who argued that New Zealand, a member of the Five Eyes intelligence alliance alongside the United States, Britain, Australia and Canada, had missed the emergence of a far or alt-right that created breeding grounds for violence because of Washington’s singular post-9/11 focus on what popularly is described as Islamic terrorism. That remark casts a whole different light on George W. Bush’s war on terror and the subsequent war against the Islamic State. Those wars are rooted as much in the response to 9/11, the 7/7 London attacks and other jihadist occurrences as they are in witting or unwitting civilisationalism.
“The global war on terror has become a blueprint for violence against Muslims. When there isn’t a shooting at a mosque, there’s a drone strike in Somalia. When one Friday prayer goes by without incident, an innocent Muslim is detained on material support for terrorism charges or another is killed by law enforcement. Maybe a baby is added to a no-fly list,” said human rights activist Maha Hilal. Scholars Barbara Perry and Scott Poynting warned more than a decade ago in study of the fallout in Canada of the war on terror that “in declining adequately to recognize and to act against hate (crimes), and in actually modelling anti-Muslim bias by practicing discrimination and institutional racism through “‘ethnic targeting,’ ‘racial profiling,’ and the like, the state conveys a sort of ideological license to individuals, groups and institutions to perpetrate and perpetuate racial hatred.”
The same is true for the various moves in Europe that have put women on the frontline of what in the West are termed cultural wars but in reality are civilizational wars involving efforts to ban conservative women’s dress and endeavours to create a European form of Islam. In that sense Victor Orban’s definition of Hungary as a Christian state in which there is no room for the other is the extreme expression of this trend. It’s a scary picture, it raises the spectre of Samuel Huntington’s clash of civilizations, yet it is everything but.
Fact is that economic and geopolitical interests are but part of the explanation for the erection of a Muslim wall of silence when it comes to developments in Xinjiang, the Organization of Islamic Countries’ ability to criticize the treatment of Muslim minorities in various parts of the world but praise China for its policy, Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu’s alliance with a man like Victor Orban and his joining the right-wing chorus that has turned Jewish financier and philanthropist George Soros into a bogeyman or the rise of militant, anti-Muslim Buddhism and Hinduism. In fact, the signs of this were already visible with the alliance between Israel and the evangelists who believe in doomsday on the Day of Judgement if Jews fail to convert to Christianity as well as the recent forging of ties between various powerful Islamic groups or countries like Saudi Arabia and the UAE and the evangelist movement.
Civilisationalism is frequently based on myths erected on a falsification and rewriting of history to serve the autocrat or authoritarian’s purpose. Men like Trump, Orban, and Erdogan project themselves as nationalist heroes who protect the nation from some invading horde. In his manifesto, Brenton Tarrant, the perpetrator of the Christchurch attacks, bought into the notion of an illusionary invader. Muslims, he wrote, “are the most despised group of invaders in the West, attacking them receives the greatest level of support.”
He also embraced the myths of an epic, centuries-long struggle between the white Christian West and Islam with the defeat of the Ottomans in 1683 at the ports of Vienna as its peak. Inscribed on Tarrant’s weapons were the names of Serbs who had fought the Ottomans as well as references to the battle of Vienna. To Tarrant, the Ottomans’ defeat in Vienna symbolized the victory of the mythical notion of a world of inviolable, homogeneous nations. “The idea that (medieval societies) are this paragon of unblemished whiteness is just ridiculous. It would be hilarious if it weren’t so awful,” said Paul Sturtevant, author of The Middle Ages in the Popular Imagination.
Much like popular perception of the battle for Vienna, Tarrant’s view of history had little relation to reality. A multi-cultural empire, the Ottomans laid siege to Vienna in cooperation with Catholic French King Louis XIV and Hungarian Protestant noble Imre Thokoly as well as Ukrainian Cossacks. Vienna’s Habsburg rulers were supported not only by Polish armies but also Muslim Tartar horsemen. “The Battle of Vienna was a multicultural drama; an example of the complex and paradoxical twists of European history. There never has been such a thing as the united Christian armies of Europe,” said historian Dag Herbjornsrud. Literary scholar Ian Almond argues that notions of a clash of civilizations bear little resemblance to the “almost hopelessly complex web of shifting power-relations, feudal alliances, ethnic sympathies and historical grudges” that shaped much of European history. “The fact remains that in the history of Europe, for hundreds of years, Muslims and Christians shared common cultures, spoke common languages, and did not necessarily see one another as ‘strange’ or ‘other,’” Almond said.
That was evident not only in the Battle of Vienna but also when the Ottomans and North Africa’s Arab rulers rallied around Queen Elizabeth I of England after the pope excommunicated her in 1570 for breaking with Catholicism and establishing a Protestant outpost. Elizabeth and her Muslim supporters argued that Protestantism and Islam were united in their rejection of idol worship, including Catholicism with its saints, shrines and relics. In a letter in 1579 to Ottoman sultan Murad III, Elizabeth described herself as the “most mighty defender of the Christian faith against all kind of idolatries.” In doing so, she sought to capitalize on the fact that the Ottomans had justified their decision to grant Lutherans preferred commercial treatment on the basis of their shared beliefs.
Similarly, historian Marvin Power challenges the projection of Chinese history as civilizational justification of the party leader’s one-man rule by Xi Jinping and Fudan University international relations scholar Zhang Weiwei. Amazon’s blurb on Zhang’s bestselling The China Wave: Rise of the Civilizational State summarizes the scholar’s rendition of Xi Jinping’s vision succinctly: “China’s rise, according to Zhang, is not the rise of an ordinary country, but the rise of a different type of country, a country sui generis, a civilizational state, a new model of development and a new political discourse which indeed questions many of the Western assumptions about democracy, good governance and human rights.” The civilizational state replaces western political ideas with a model that traces its roots to Confucianism and meritocratic traditions.
In his sweeping study entitled China and England: The Preindustrial Struggle for Justice in Word and Image, Powers demonstrates that Chinese history and culture is a testimony to advocacy of upholding individual rights, fair treatment, state responsibility to its people, and freedom of expression rather than civilisationalism, hierarchy and authoritarianism. Powers extensively documents the work of influential Chinese philosophers, writers, poets, artists and statesmen dating back to the 3rd century BC who employed rational arguments to construct governance systems and take legal action in support of their advocacy. Powers noted that protection of free speech was embedded in edicts of the Han Emperor Wen in the second century BC. The edicts legitimized personal attacks on the emperor and encouraged taxpayers to expose government mistakes. The intellectuals and statemen were the Chinese counterpart of contemporary liberal thinkers.
In a lot of ways, Russia and the Russian Orthodox Church have understood the utility of civilisationalism far better than others and made it work for them, certainly prior to the Russian intervention in Syria. At a gathering several years before the intervention, Russia achieved a fete that seemed almost unthinkable. Russia brought to the same table at a gathering in Marrakech every stripe of Sunni and Shiite political Islam.
The purpose was not to foster dialogue among the various strands of political Islam. The purpose was to forge an alliance with a Russia that emphasized its civilizational roots in the Russian Orthodox Church and the common values it had with conservative and ultra-conservative Islam. To achieve its goal, Russia was represented at the gathering by some of its most senior officials and prominent journalists whose belief systems were steeped in the values projected by the Church. To the nodding heads of the participating Muslims, the Russians asserted that Western culture was in decline while non-Western culture was on the rise, that gays and gender equality threaten a woman’s right to remain at home and serve her family and that Iran and Saudi Arabia should be the model for women’s rights. They argued that conservative Russian Orthodox values like the Shariah offered a moral and ethical guideline that guarded against speculation and economic bubbles.
The Trump administration has embarked on a similar course by recently siding in the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women with proponents of ultra-conservative values such as Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Iraq and several African countries. Together they sought to prevent the expansion of rights for girls, women, and LGBT people and weaken international support for the Beijing Declaration, a landmark 1995 agreement that stands as an internationally recognized progressive blueprint for women’s rights.
The US position in the commission strokes with efforts by conservative Christians to reverse civilizational US courts decisions in favour of rights for women, minorities, members of the LGBT community, Muslims and immigrants and refugees. It is what conservative historian and foreign policy analyst Robert Kagan describes as the war within traditionally liberal society. It is that civilizational war that provides the rationale for Russian meddling in elections, a rational that goes beyond geopolitics. It also explains Trump’s seeming empathy with Putin and other autocrats and authoritarians.
The US alignment with social conservatives contributes to the rise of the civilizational state. Putin’s elevation of the position of the church and Xi’s concentration of absolute power in the Communist Party strengthens institutions that symbolize the rejection of liberal values because they serve as vehicles that dictate what individuals should believe and how they should behave. These vehicles enable civilisationalism by strengthening traditional hierarchies defined by birth, class, family and gender and delegitimizing the rights of minorities and minority views. The alignment suggests that the days were over when Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov trumpeted that the West had lost “its monopoly on the globalization process” because there was a “market of ideas” in which different “value systems” were forced to compete.
Similarly, conservative American author Christopher Caldwell asserted that Orban’s civilizational concept of an authoritarian Christian democracy echoed the kind of democracy that “prevailed in the United States 60 years ago” prior to the civil rights movement and the 1968 student protests. Orban’s Hungary epitomizes the opportunism that underlies the rise of the civilizational state as a mechanism to put one’s mark on the course of history and retain power. In Orban’s terms, civilizational means not Christianity as such but those Christian organizations that have bought into his authoritarian rule. Those that haven’t are being starved of state and public funding.
Civilisationalism’s increased currency is evident from Beijing to Washington with stops in between. Trump’s and Steve Bannon, his former strategy advisor’s beef with China or Russia is not civilizational, its about geopolitical and geo-economic power sharing. In terms of values, they think in equally civilizational terms. In a speech in Warsaw in 2017, Trump declared that “the fundamental question of our time is whether the west has the will to survive” but assured his audience that “our civilization will triumph.” Bannon has established an “academy for the Judeo-Christian west” in a former monastery in the Italian town of Collepardo. The academy intends to groom the next generation of far-right populist politicians.
It is initiatives like Bannon’s academy and the growing popularity of civilizational thinking in democracies, current and erstwhile, rather than autocracies that contribute most significantly to an emerging trend that transcends traditional geopolitical dividing lines and sets the stage for the imposition of authoritarian values in an emerging new world order. Interference in open and fair elections, support for far-right and ultra-conservative, family-value driven Western groups and influence peddling on both sides of the Atlantic and in Eurasia at large by the likes of Russia, China and the Gulf states serve the purpose of Bannon and his European associates.
Civilizationalists have put in place the building blocks of a new world order rooted in their value system. These blocks include the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) that groups Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. The grouping is centred on the Chinese principle of non-interference in the sovereign affairs of others which amounts to support for the region’s autocratic regimes. The SCO’s Tashkent-based internal security coordination apparatus or Regional Antiterrorist Structure (RATS) has similarly adopted China’s definition of the “three evils” of terrorism, extremism, and separatism that justifies its brutal crackdown in Xinjiang.
Proponents of the civilizational state see the nation state and Western dominance as an aberration of history. British author and journalist Martin Jacques and international relations scholar Jason Sharman argue that China’s history as a nation state is at best 150 years old while its civilizational history dates back thousands of years. Similarly, intellectual supporters of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) project India as a Hindu-base civilization rather than a multi-cultural nation state. Modi’s minister of civil aviation, Jayant Sinha, suggests that at independence, India should have embraced its own culture instead of Western concepts of scientific rationalism. Talking to the Financial Times, Sinha preached cultural particularism. “In our view, heritage precedes the state… People feel their heritage is under siege. We have a faith-based view of the world versus the rational-scientific view.”
Arab autocracies like Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt have stopped short of justifying their rule in civilizational terms but have enthusiastically embraced the civilizational state’s rejection of western notions of democracy and human rights. One could argue that Saudi Arabia’s four decade long global propagation of ultra-conservative strands of Islam or the UAE effort to mould an Islam that is apolitical and adheres to the principle of obedience to the ruler is civilizational in nature.
Islamic law scholar Mohammed Fadel argues that one reason why Arab autocracies have not overtly embraced civilisationalism even though they in many ways fit the mould is the absence of a collective memory in post-Ottoman Arab lands. To explicitly embrace civilisationalism as a concept, Arab states would have to cloak themselves in the civilizational mantle of either pan-Islam or pan-Arabism, which in turn would require regional integration. One could argue that the attempt by Saudi Arabia and the UAE to impose their will on the Middle East for example with the boycott of Qatar is an attempt to create a basis for a regional integration that they would dominate.
The rise of the civilizational state with its corporatist traits raises the spectre of a new world order whose value system equates dissent with treason, views an independent press as the ‘enemy of the people’ and relegates minorities to the status of at best tolerated communities with no inherent rights. It is a value system that enabled Trump to undermine confidence in the media as the fourth estate that speaks truth to power and has allowed the president and Fox News to turn the broadcaster into the United States’ closest equivalent to state-controlled television. Trump’s portrayal of the media as the bogeyman has legitimized populist assaults on the press across the globe irrespective of political system from China and the Philippines to Turkey and Hungary. It has facilitated Prince Mohammed’s effort to fuse the kingdom’s ultra-conservative interpretation of Islam with a nationalist sentiment that depicts critics as traitors rather than infidels.
In the final analysis, the tacit understanding on a civilisationalism-based value system means that it’s the likes of New Zealand, Norway and perhaps Canada that are putting up their hands and saying not me instead of me too. Perhaps Germany is one of the countries that is seeking to stake out its place on a middle ground. The problem is that the ones that are not making their voices heard are the former bastions of liberalism like the United States and much of Europe. They increasingly are becoming part of the problem, not part of the solution.
Edited remarks at Brookings roundtable in Doha
You can’t ask Trump not to use Twitter
Oleg Shakirov, expert of the Center for strategic research and Russian International Affairs Council expert, tells PICREADI about digital diplomacy and how social media affects international relations.
Military Diplomacy as a Hybrid Instrument of National Power
Today’s complex security environment requires the United States to use all of its instruments of power to maintain its status in the world, as well as to protect its own interests and the interests of its allies. Traditionally, the instruments of power are separated into Diplomacy, Intelligence, Military, Economic, Financial, Information, and Law Enforcement, abbreviated as DIMEFIL in nearly every United States military Professional Military Education (PME) school. In almost all cases, the Military is considered the strongest of those instruments of power while Diplomacy is too often give short shrift. However, the continued use of Military Diplomacy offers a hybrid instrument of power to help connect with allies across regions while advancing the interests of the United States. This article will look at military diplomacy as a potential hybrid instrument of national power and how the Office of Security Cooperation-Iraq (OSC-I), under the U.S. Embassy Baghdad and U.S. Central Command utilized military diplomacy to reconnect Iraq with its neighbors in the Middle East.
The current United States National Security Strategy (December 2017) lays out the importance of continuing to engage with our partners and potential allies. It states, “Diplomacy catalyzes the political, economic, and societal connections that create America’s enduring alignments and that build positive networks of relationships with partners.” The Diplomacy and Statecraft section goes on to identify three different types of diplomacy: Competitive Diplomacy, Tools of Economic Diplomacy and Information Statecraft.
Similarly, the Military instrument of national power is mentioned throughout the 2017 National Security Strategy. From protecting the American people to defeating Jihadist terrorists, the military instrument of power is weaved throughout the document. However, there is a gap within the 2017 National Security Strategy. The article attempts to draws a cleaner line between the use of the United States military and its diplomatic efforts. The use of military diplomacy is an important tool not addressed in the National Security Strategy and one that can help bridge this gap.
What is military diplomacy
There is not a standard definition of military diplomacy. Erik Pajtinka defines military diplomacy as,
“A set of activities carried out mainly by the representatives of the defense department, as well as other state institutions, aimed at pursuing the forcing policy interests of the state in the field of security and defense policy, and whose actions are based on the use of negations and other diplomatic interests.” He goes on to define military diplomacy as “a specific field of diplomacy which focused primarily on the pursuit of foreign policy interests of the state in the field of security and defense policy.”
Amy Ebitz, in her paper from the Brookings Institute titled, “The Use of Military Diplomacy in Great Power Competition: Lessons Learned from the Marshall Plan,” states Military diplomacy can also be referred to as “defense diplomacy,” soft power,” “military public diplomacy,” and “strategic communication. Her terms of either defense diplomacy or military public diplomacy align well with the above definition of military diplomacy. However, use of soft power and strategic communications do not. Soft Power, as originally coined by Joseph Nye, refers to, “the ability of a country to persuade others to do what it wants without force or coercion.” This often is accomplished by projecting soft power through companies, foundations, universities, churches, and other institutions of civil society. I would argue soft power falls more in the information instrument of national power and not within the military instrument.
Strategic communications is defined in the International Journal of Strategic Communications as,
“The purposeful use of communication by an organization to fulfill its mission. Six relevant disciplines are involved in the development, implementation, and assessment of communications by organizations: management, marketing, public relations, technical communications, political communication and information/social marketing campaigns.”
Using this definition as a base, military diplomacy does not fit well into these categories of strategic communications.
For the purpose of this paper, Erik Pajtinka’s definition, “A set of activities carried out mainly by the representatives of the defense department, as well as other state institutions, aimed at pursuing the forcing policy interests of the state in the field of security and defense policy, and whose actions are based on the use of negotiations and other diplomatic interests,” will be used to guide this article.
There are three main parts of Pajtinka’s definition of military diplomacy. First, “The activities are carried out mainly by the representatives of the defense department.” This is a critical difference between traditional diplomacy. Rather than traditional diplomats in the lead, different representatives from the Department of Defense are leading these efforts.
Next, the activities are, “Aimed at pursuing the foreign policy interests of the state in the field of security and defense policy.” As with most actions at the strategic level, the activities of military diplomacy must focus on the foreign policy interests of the government. However, a key difference is these foreign policy interests are in the fields of security and defense policy. The focus on these two traditionally military related fields helps clarify where traditional diplomacy ends and military diplomacy begins.
Finally, those implementing military diplomacy conduct their activities, “Based on the use of negotiations and other diplomatic interests.” Unlike other traditional military activities to work with partner nations, military diplomacy leads through negotiations and other diplomatic interests before entering back into traditional military endeavors. This will be explained further in the example of the Office of Security Cooperation-Baghdad’s efforts.
The Department of Defense has a variety of tools available to promote military diplomacy. First and foremost are the Combatant Commanders themselves. These four-star General Officers are responsible for specified geographic regions across the globe. Within each combatant command, the leadership interacts with numerous countries across their footprint. For example, U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) has an area of responsibility of more than 4 million square miles, populated by more than 550 million people from 22 ethnic groups speaking over 18 languages. Equally important, CENTCOM partners with 20 nations from Kazakhstan to Egypt. Each United States combatant command has similar footprints, getting to interact with nearly every nation on the globe in some capacity.
The Commander of a combatant command interacts with all of the nations within their footprint. When visiting one of the countries in their area of operations, they coordinate with both the U.S. Ambassador responsible for the country team and the security cooperation office within the host nation. The result is a high ranking military diplomat, synchronized with the leading Department of State person in country, and bringing a massive capability to work with partner nation security forces.
Combatant commands have a large tool kit from which to pull from to help move U.S. interests forward. This includes all branches of the military (Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines) as well as the ability to serve as a coordinator between nations who may not have the friendliest of histories. Each branch of the service under the combatant commands carries with it leadership, units and expertise within their respective regions. The result is a massive amount of capability to conduct military diplomacy.
Military diplomacy in Iraq 2017-2018
As Iraq achieved success against Islamic State (IS) forces in 2017, there was a palpable shift from the use of military power to military diplomacy. After decades of isolation brought by previous Iraqi actions, United Nations sanctions and violence following the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the Government of Iraq only had one neighbor to turn to for help within the region: Iran. Sharing a major border of nearly 875 miles, these two countries have always been and will always be neighbors. As a result, there is a massive amount of legal and illegal trade crossing their borders. Additionally, the commonality of the Shia religion in both countries connects them on another level. The two have been, and will be tied together due to their proximity and shared backgrounds.
However, Iraq needed other partners in their region besides Iraq. As a result, the Office of Security Cooperation-Iraq(OSC-I), located within the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, focused on using military diplomacy to help Iraq break out of its isolation. Traditionally, Security Cooperation offices focus on the sale of U.S. military equipment to a host nation. OSC-I works for both for the U.S. Chief of Mission in Iraq, and for U.S. CENTCOM. This placed it in a perfect position to facilitate military diplomacy.
In mid-2017, OSC-I had two main lines of effort. The first was traditional security assistance: the sale of equipment and parts to the Iraqi government. The second, defense institution building, focused on security sector reform and the building of the necessary institutions to sustain their security forces. Eventually, the priority of effort shifted to the important work of ensuring the sustainability of defense institutions. However, as the ISIS fight within Iraq concluded, senior leadership within both Department of State and Defense realized Iraq needed local partners to break out of its isolation. As a result, OSC-I developed a third line of effort: Regional Engagements (see Figure 1).
The regional engagement effort became a classic case of implementing military diplomacy to help a partner nation, Iraq. Knowing Iraq was isolated with only Iran as a local partner, the use of military diplomacy became a critical component of reconnecting Iraq with their other neighbors more friendly to the United States. The goal was to reconnect Iraq with its neighbors through military-to-military engagements to encourage a confident, independent Iraq and reduce Iraq’s isolation. As a result, military diplomacy became a major effort between the United States and Iraq.
OSC-I, working with the Department of State and CENTCOM, reached out to surrounding neighbors and their militaries to increase military-to-military cooperation. This was the first step of military diplomacy. The initial plan was to engage at the Chief of Defense level between neighbors. With direct access to the Iraqi Chief of Defense, OSC-I was perfectly positioned to use military diplomacy.
First and foremost, this effort was coordinated through and approved by both the U.S. Ambassador and the CENTCOM Commander. The coordination between the two leads for both the diplomacy and military instruments of national power already had a solid relationship OSC-I was able to benefit from.
Getting the process started was not as easy as a phone call. The military diplomacy process began by coordinating invitations through the Department of State and the Iraqi’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Additionally, CENTCOM was able to leverage its “power to convene” through its Commander at the time, General Joseph Votel. He and his staff served as the coordination link between the U.S. Embassy, OSC-I and the Iraqi Chief of Defense. Once coordinated, formal invitations were sent from the Iraqi Ministry of Foreign Affairs to their corresponding Ministries of Foreign Affairs in both Jordan and Saudi Arabia. Once the invitations were received, and confirmed by the Security Cooperation offices in both Jordan and Saudi Arabia, CENTCOM contacted both Chiefs of Defense to emphasize the importance of the upcoming meeting, and added the CENTCOM Commander would serve as the host.
The first result of this military diplomacy effort was a tri-lateral engagement in July 2017. The Chiefs of Defense of both Jordan and Saudi Arabia met with the Iraqi Chief of Defense in Baghdad. This initial meeting set the groundwork for future bi-lateral meetings between the Chiefs of Defense, and their respective staffs to improve communications and coordination between the neighboring countries. For OSC-I, this successful tri-lateral engagement demonstrated the power of military diplomacy when properly coordinated and supported by both Department of State and Department of Defense.
Another meeting rapidly followed, this time a bi-lateral between the Iraqi and Jordanian Chiefs of Defense. Discussion focused on the reopening of the Treybil border crossing between Iraq and Jordan. Closed during the Iraq War in 2003, the Treybil Highway served as a main trading route between Baghdad and Amman. A similar process occurred: coordination between embassies, the security cooperation offices and CENTCOM. Invitations were coordinated through the U.S. Embassy then the Iraqi Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The invitation went to the Jordanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and once the Security Cooperation office confirmed receipt, CENTCOM connected with the Jordanian Ministry of Defense to offer their support for the conference. A meeting soon followed. As a result of this meeting between the Jordanian and Iraqi Chiefs of Defense, staff working groups were established. Their work resulted in the Treybil border crossing reopened in August 2017, serving as a main trade route between the two nations and taking a major step towards normalizing relations.
Next, the Saudi Arabian and Iraqi Chiefs of Defense met in a bi-lateral engagement hosted by CENTCOM and coordinated by the Office of Security Cooperation-Iraq. The result of this military diplomacy effort was the reopening of the Arar border crossing for the first time in 27 years. This key border crossing was closed in 1990 after the countries cut ties following Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait. The reopening assisted Iraqi religious pilgrims headed to Mecca during the Haj season. The governor of Anbar province, Sohaib al-Rawi said, “This is a great start for further future cooperation between Iraq and Saudi Arabia.” Again, coordination occurred between both U.S. embassies in Iraq and Saudi Arabia, between the Security Cooperation offices overseen by CENTCOM made this important military diplomacy success story a reality.
After the September 2017 Kurdish referendum, tensions between Iraq and Turkey were extremely high. Turkey moved additional forces to the Iraqi border in response to the Kurdish vote for independence. Conflicts flared up between Iraqi troops and Kurdish fighters. The need for military diplomacy was needed more than ever.
Again, through military diplomacy, a tri-lateral discussion between the Iraq, Turkey and the United States was set up. Senior leaders in attendance included European Commander, General Curtis Scaparrotti, Turkish Chief of Defense General Hulusi Akar, Iraqi Chief of Defense, General Othman al-Ghanimi and U.S. Central Command Commander General Joseph Votel. The meeting occurred in Ankara, Turkey on December 14, 2017. This was again coordinated across both U.S. embassies, and in this case, two Combatant Commands to make this example of military diplomacy occur.
The result of this meeting was the reopening of communications between the Turkish and Iraqi Chiefs of Defense. This was both extremely important and timely as Iraqi and Turkish troops faced off against one another on their border. The two Chiefs of Defense, shepherded by their U.S. combatant command counterparts, were able to meet face-to-face and reestablish a civil dialogue. The result was an increase in positive communications between the two military Chiefs and a reduction in tensions between the two neighboring militaries.
With a taste of success, the Iraqi Chief of Defense then asked through the Office of Security Cooperation-Iraq to meet with his Kuwaiti counterpart, a meeting that had not happened between the two countries since the invasion of Kuwait in 1990. Again, coordination between the Iraq and Kuwait embassies started the process. Invitations followed and the meeting was set up.
The meeting between the Kuwaiti Defense Minister and the Iraqi Chief of Defense occurred on January 23, 2018. U.S. Central Command Commander, General Votel hosted the historic meeting, helping to reopen the lines of communication between these two former enemies. The result was an agreement for both militaries to continue to work together and begin developing longer-term security cooperation arrangements, an important step to normalizing relationships between two former enemies. This and the other examples demonstrate what can be accomplished by military diplomacy when coordinated properly.
Key to these military diplomacy successes was ensuring the Department of State Chief of Mission was tied into all discussions and approved of these efforts. In Iraq, there were weekly video teleconferences between the CENTCOM Commander and the U.S. Ambassador where current issues were discussed. Prior to any visit to Iraq, the CENTCOM Commander coordinated with the Ambassador to better, understand the priorities of the Department of State, and ensure CENTCOM was on the same message as the Chief of Mission.
Combatant Commands also have the ability to host regional ambassador conferences, such as the one hosted in Qatar by CENTCOM on October 19, 2018. The conference included chiefs of defense from the Gulf Cooperation Council for the Arabian States of the Gulf Region Countries: Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia ad United Arab Emirates, as well as Jordan and Egypt. The respective U.S. Ambassadors from each country attended and the U.S. CENTCOM forward headquarters in Qatar was a perfect spot to host the meeting. These conferences are another great example of military diplomacy in action.
Principles of Military Diplomacy
The examples above highlight the capabilities of using military diplomacy to further the interests of a country, in these cases the United States. Based on the previous definition of military diplomacy and the actions of the Office of Security Cooperation-Iraq, this article recommends four principles of Military Diplomacy.
First, the Chief of Mission/U.S. Ambassador/Chief Diplomat is in the lead. Within a host nation, it is the Chief of Mission responsible for all U.S. actions. Coordination through the Embassy is a necessity and must be paramount for any military diplomacy effort to be successful. Efforts at military diplomacy without this coordination at the highest levels will not only result in failure, but also sour the critical relationship between State and Defense elements on the ground.
Second, military diplomacy requires the support of the military. While this may sound like an obvious principle, military diplomacy requires elements of the Department of Defense to be involved, and to have something to offer. As mentioned earlier, Defense elements have a large toolkit to tap into. From traditional security cooperation efforts to hosting military to military engagements, military diplomacy requires the military. Militaries throughout the world have common experiences and shared languages. They are most adept at working with fellow militaries.
Third, any military diplomacy efforts must work through the host nation process. In the case of Iraq, invitations to bring in senior ranking military members from neighboring countries required an invitation from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It was the same for when the Iraqi Chief of Defense was invited to other nations: the inviting nation would send an invitation through its Ministry of Foreign Affairs to the Iraqi MFA. These efforts took time, and sometimes resulted in frustration on the American side as invitations were lost, or caught up in bureaucracy. That being said, the U.S. State and military members were able to keep tabs on the status of the invitations and query to the status.
Fourth and finally, set small goals. Sometimes just having the two senior leaders meet is an accomplishment in itself. Many involved in military diplomacy expected rapid results from all the coordination efforts. However, this often is not the case. Goals are not often met in the first or second meeting of these senior leaders. However, as demonstrated above, sometimes just having those two senior military leaders meet results in positive press, increased dialogue and the thawing of long cold relationships.
When properly coordinated with the Chief of Mission, military diplomacy is an effective instrument of national power. The combatant commands have the leadership, the staff, and resources to enforce their “power to convene” utilizing military diplomacy. Bringing key military leadership from different nations together is one of the important components of military diplomacy. This is not limited to the United States. Recent tensions between North Macedonia and Greece were reduced by military diplomacy between the two nations. Most militaries have the capacity, with the support from their diplomatic branches, to successful utilize military diplomacy.
More studies and research needs to look at the advantages and disadvantages of utilizing military diplomacy to help the United States achieve its stated policy goals, especially as we move back into an era of great power competition. The use of military diplomacy as a hybrid instrument of national power for the United States has provided tangible achievements in achieving foreign policy goals in the past. It must continue to do so in the future.
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