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Choosing ‘the better evil’? The contrast effect and the relative nature of soft power

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It is an established article of faith in the discipline of international relations that in formulating their foreign policies, in selecting certain courses of action over others, and especially when it comes to the business of forming allies and selecting trading partners, states do so through a rational analysis of costs and benefits to be obtained from selecting one “partner” over another (Diego, 2010: 265).

States broaden their appeal not only through coercive means such as military or economic power, but also through means of persuasion; what is termed soft power. This paper deduces from this that there exists what may be called a contrast effect that renders one state more favourable to another as a choice of ally or partner than another specific state. Therefore, in line with such a logic, soft power can be said to be relative as well as relational; it is, in other words, a foreign policy instrument that should not be looked at as an absolute phenomenon but by way of comparing, and denoting that each state’s soft power advantage comes about due to the soft power of another state being diminished in the subjective perception of the appraising state. Observed in these terms, we can go so far as to deduce that the negative image of one state can help benefit that of another. Thus the concept of soft power can be said to include at least three actors at any given moment: the appraising actor, as well as at least two actors being actively compared to one another in terms of their appeal, or soft power, qua being a potential ally, a trading partner or any other relational role than can be entered into with the appraising state.

In order to make its case, the paper will conjure up the concept of soft power as articulated by Joseph Nye and as elaborated on by subsequent commentators, and then articulate the concept as it may pertain to the theses laid out in this paper. Secondly, the paper will explicate what may be said to be a contrast effect in the observed tendency of states to weigh their options and pursue, or abandon, one course of action over another, and therefore select some allies/partners over others. The paper will then synthesise these two notions and seek to show instances in history, and contemporary international affairs, that may be said to be proof of the argument being made. Finally, the paper will evoke and subsequently incorporate some possible scenarios that can be said to not fit within the thesis. By way of conclusion, the paper will offer discuss methods through which the thesis can be evaluated.

Soft power in context

Apart perhaps from the description of the international arena as anarchic, the concept of soft power has become one of the mainstays of international relations scholarship – and practice. Though there is some debate over the idea (Paruk, 2014: 57), it has enjoyed a near-unanimous acceptance amongst scholars. Soft power is a concept developed by Joseph Nye in the wake of the end of the Cold War to describe the usage of diplomacy to attract and co-opt as opposed to coercion, what is traditionally understood to be hard power – military, economic sanctions and isolation. In Bound to Lead (1990), Nye wrote that “when one country gets other countries to want what it wants might be called co-optive or soft power in contrast with the hard or command power of ordering others to do what it wants.” The concept was further developed in his subsequent Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics (2004). In other words, soft power is the ability to shape the preferences of other states by appeal and attraction to one’s cause. Sources of soft power may include the attractiveness of a particular culture, the political ideals of the country or international policies, such as democracy and human rights championing, or indeed “policies that include the interests of others” (Nye, Creehan and Rahman, 2003: 46). Others have elaborated on this concept and added such phenomena as developmental models and trajectories as possible sources of soft power. Thus it may not be the wealth of a state that makes it more likely to get its way (that would be hard power), but the manner in which it has garnered it as well as the potential application of that model to other states’ own domestic settings. This is particularly said to apply to China, which has been lauded as a source of inspiration for the “global South”, which is in search of development along the lines of China (Monsoon, 2009).

Though the US and Europe are the soft power centres of the world (Nye, 2003), in The Charm Offensive (2008), Joshua Kurlantzick painstakingly details the manner in which China has been using its soft power to garner trade partners the world over. In the past twenty-five years China has increasingly harnessed and spread its cultural appeal in its places as diverse as Thailand and Africa. Through an investment of over a billion dollars, such media outlets as Language Exchange programmes, the Beijing Review magazine and the CCTV network have been established in order to foster foreign consumption of news and narratives from a Chinese political and economic perspective.

South Korea has also been on an active path to heighten and make the most of its soft power around the world. Among the most prominent of its moves is perhaps the usage of ‘gastro-diplomacy,’ through which South Korea has literally vied for “access to mouths” in places such as the US, Canada and Europe. Perhaps the Korean pizza waffle is the most salient exemplar of this; in under a decade, between 2000 and 2016, about 2,000 Korean pizza waffle restaurants have been opened in the US and Europe, as well as Africa. This has helped export a bit of Korea to the rest of the world. And it has had the added benefit of bringing in more tourists who want to see more of the country’s vibrant culture (Harthone, 2016).

There can be such a notion as “too much soft power”, however. As Nye, Creehan and Rahman (2003: 46-47) elaborated “Soft power, however, is not without its costs. It can create a backlash if there is a feeling of cultural domination or imperialism, and…it is worth noticing that US culture is not attractive in all parts of the world. For instance, in conservative Islamic states, there is much about Hollywood that is unattractive.”

There have since been criticism of Nye’s theoretical framework of soft power. For example, the historian Niall Ferguson discounted it as being “well, soft” (in Nye, 2003: 74). But one of the more sound criticisms came in Mingjiang Li’s 2009 book, Soft Power: China’s Emerging Strategy in International Politics. Li paid particular attention to Nye’s conceptualization of soft power, making the case that “soft power does not exist in the nature of certain resources of power but rather it has to be nurtured through a soft use of power” (2009: 3), and adding further that soft power “has to be intentionally cultivated through prudent use of all sources of power available in certain social relationships” (2009: 3). There has also been criticism that “Nye did not provide a clear line between the two, which leaves the definitions blurred. By way example they indicate that “if country A provides economic aid to country B without explicitly or implicitly asking for any favor in return, is that soft power or hard power for country A?”” (Paruk, 2014: 57). But these criticism, and almost very self-consciously, do not discount the existence of soft power but rather are perplexed as to how it may be said to work. The first point of criticism may be said to expand the concept of soft power and in no way disproves it, but rather, in much the same fashion as the present paper, looks into various other means through which soft power is incarnated. In responding to the latter point, Nye has stated that soft power is not a substitute for soft power, but the two may coexist and complement one another. For example, hard power was necessary in pushing back against the Taliban in Afghanistan, but attraction of moderate Muslims to the US’s course can only take place through soft power means (Nye, 2003: 76).

The contrast effect

Israel is lauded as the only true democracy in the Middle East. South Korea is seen in high esteem in its sharp distinction from its bellicose neighbour to the north in the form of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Germany has gained an image as a welcoming society since taking in the hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees which its European Union counterparts turned away. And neutral Switzerland is much celebrated in light of the historically war-prone neighbours which surround it in continental Europe. The negative image of one state, or indeed more states, can make another seem rather more positive. That is the thesis of this paper. In selecting allies, for example, states do so through a continuous measuring and assessment of their present partner vis-à-vis a potential alternative. This is the case made by Henrickson, in a contributory chapter to the edited volume, The New Diplomacy (2005), when stating that “public diplomacy should therefore be thought of as a form of engagement – intellectual engagement, as well as political and social engagement. Minds, as well as hearts, must be won. The ‘power of the better argument’ should thus be considered integral to the concept of public diplomacy” (Henrikson, 2005: 71; italics added). And while it is indeed true that we live in an era of multilateralism, in which states tend to maintain diplomatic relations with all other states, and in the wake of the United Nations states tend to cooperate with almost all other states in the world, even if indirectly, nevertheless, there is also the inescapable reality that multilateralism has its limitations and global landscapes sometimes present scenarios in which states have to select one partner over another. For example, in pursuing regime change in Iraq, the United States found that that notion did not enjoy universal appeal, and was forced to go at it with minimal support from a “coalition of the willing”. Indeed, scarcely has the world ever agreed upon anything – from the Kosovo Question, to lack of cooperation in the Syrian crisis we are reminded of this even in our own modern world with its monuments to common ground. The United Nations is, apart from being a wishful notion, a kind of oxymoronic expression.

Pursuing the better of two (or more) evils…

In the late eighteenth century, the Russian Empire was engaged in several wars against Persia, in which among Russia’s allies were the small kingdoms of Georgia. In 1783, the chief kingdom of Georgia placed itself under Russia, and by 1881 its sovereign, King George XIII, reached the decision that Russia annex his territory (other Georgian principalities were soon taken over by Russia through conquest). With it being clear that domination by an external party was imminent, King George made the decision that he would rather have his territory be taken over by the Russians rather than by the Persians; a decision which may have been driven by Russia’s comparative appeal over Persia – the Russians, like the Georgians were Christian, and had a longer history of engagement and cultural confluence with Georgia, as opposed to the Persians who were Shiite Muslims (Seton-Watson, 1961:19).

The Cold War was an international order sublimely self-aware in its being characterised by the question of soft power as the two superpowers were looking to not only outspend, outwit and ultimately outshine each other so as to attract allies at the expense of the other, but also to out-embarrass the other for the same ends. Each sought to obtain new allies based not only on its own merits, what we may today refer to as soft power, that it thought itself to have, but also on the failings of the opposition. The anti-Soviet propaganda associated with McCarthyism was not only restricted to the US domestic front but also exported to other parts of the world, and even the USSR’s backdoor and satellite regimes, in Eastern Europe through the construction and sponsoring of radio stations such as Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty (Urban, 1997).

It is clear from this that a state or any other international actor may see itself obtain soft power, or make gains in its soft power standing, without making any change to its own behaviour, but by there instead taking place a decline in the soft power of a competitor state or organisation. Indeed, some nations were founded on basis of the “contrast effect” and the relativity of soft power. For example, in the nineteenth century, in 1861, King Moshoeshoe of baSotho, predecessor to the present-day Lesotho, repelled by the prospect of annexation by the Dutch-settler republic of Orange Free State (Davenport, 1981: 105), asked that his territory be annexed by the British. The request was initially refused by the British High Commissioner Sir Philip Wodehouse, but in time events necessitated the incorporation of Basutoland and the kingdom gained protectorate status in 1868; while eventually all around it, the white supremacist South African regime enclosed and formed the eventual apartheid Republic of South Africa. Interestingly, and speaking to the significant soft appeal that the apartheid regime lacked but an ideal democratic South Africa possessed, plans were allegedly made for a union of Lesotho and South Africa after the dismantling of apartheid, but for various reasons these never came to fruition (Lemon, 1996: 263).

In the sections to follow, the paper will provide instances in contemporary international relations, which serve as examples of the relative nature of soft power. Each section will present the triadic relationship (A: X v Y) necessitated by the nature of soft power – the subheadings denote the appraiser actor as well as the two actors being weighed.

BRICS: Nigeria v South Africa

The African continent is on the main dominated by two economic giants – South Africa and Nigeria. When the decision was made to add an African country to the BRIC associaiton, then the four-state grouping of the fastest growing economies in the world, it was these two states which were obviously up for incorporation. No doubt, South Africa’s political openness, redistributive policies, human rights record, voluntary abandoning of nuclear programme and peaceful transition from apartheid to democracy were key contributors in the inclusion of the republic as opposed to its West African counterpart which at the time had a still lacklustre human rights record and was characterised by unpredictability and the memory of military involvement in political life. The choice of South Africa over Nigeria, or any other Sub-Saharan African country, as a BRICS partner was therefore motivated by “the soft power bequeathed by its peaceful transition to democracy” as well as strong institutions which gave it the mantle of being the “go-to partner in Sub-Sahara Africa” (Draper, 2011: 209).

Africa: EU/US/West v China/BRICS/East

If there is any continuity for Africa relating to trade between the Cold War and post-Cold War era, it is that Africa continues to sees itself as being in a position of dependency. Africa accounts for only about 2.4 per cent of global production and trade (Brazil alone in 2014 accounted for 2.8 percent [Roux, 2014: 178]), and most of this trade is from imports. Through the asymmetrically-determined architecture of international trade, African states are denied external markets. Since “the West” determines and sets the rules, African states have been goaded into accepting terms of trade that are unfavourable to their growth (Sasaoka 2006). For example, the increasing pursuit of self-preservation closed off any prospect that the July 2008 Doha Development Round negotiations of the WTO would conclude in a manner that would be beneficial to Africa – and it did not, as agricultural tariffs were only removed for one good, bananas, imported to EU countries and the US from Africa, Asia and the Caribbean (Shah 2013). Added onto this reality is the fact that EU and US governments subsidize the agricultural sector, in which Africa has a natural niche (or comparative advantage to use World Bank and IMF parlance [Shah 2013]). This means that diversifying the African economy will prove very difficult; indeed it already has because African producers find that they cannot compete with the much cheaply-produced Western products in the Western markets (Brass 2008). Furthermore, European and American multinational corporations also come to have a crowding out effect in domestic African markets (Wilkinson, 2014).

Through partnership agreements such the Cotonou Partnership Agreement which was signed in 2000, the European Union provides African countries with access to some of its markets and “asks for compliance with a given set of good governance norms and procedures” (Gokcekus and Suzuki 2013). The relations are asymmetrical as African countries quite clearly need the partnership more than Europe needs concessions from African countries. The asymmetric relationship has thereby given the EU the power to impose on African countries what they deem better governance practices; as did the World Bank and the IMF through structural adjustment programmes (Gokcekus and Suzuki 2013).

Such realities have made the continent’s leaders seek to pursue an alternative route, towards partners who would provide trade while not at the same time “enforcing” structural adjustments, which are deemed to represent an interference akin to “neo-colonialism”. The perceived alternatives have been BRICS, especially India and China. Who have increasingly come to become major players in the African scene. And in terms of soft power, “by contrasting their motives of ‘solidarity’, ‘mutual-benefits’ and a fairer international trade system with a more negatively viewed West with neo-imperialist intentions China and India have been able to portray themselves in a positive light whilst validating their rhetoric of ‘mutual gains’, ‘respect for sovereignty’ and ‘equality’ between recipient and donor” (McCarthy, 2011: 16; italics added).

The anti-West and anti-Bretton Woods turn in Africa is particularly salient of soft power because these states and institutions have more in their financial coffers, physical capital, and are clearly willing to dish it out to African states, and yet due to historical experiences with the Washington-based financiers, sub-Saharan African countries are increasingly opting to pursue a course quite intentionally meant to distance themselves from the organisations for the less financially-studded but clearly more attractive route of BRICS, and even regional organisations such as the African Union, ECOWAS and SADC (Roux, 2014).

Other considerations

Why do states pursue amicable relations with organisations and states that are not doing good for them as opposed to pursuing alternative allies as our understanding of soft power would suggest? Such a dilemma – as seen for example in the tendency of former colonies to pursue asymmetrical trade relations with their former colonisers (Miller, 1966), as opposed to arranging more balanced and mutually beneficial ones with other states with whom such a history does not exist – may prove anathema to the very concept of relative soft power, if not the idea of rational choice theory itself.

Nevertheless, we should note not only the informational paucity that may be at work, but also the subjective nature of the act of weighing options on the part of the appraiser state, as well as the expense of abandoning one course of action over another. Equally significant is the fact that the path from conception to action is a rather gradual one, whose outcomes are not usually constant; made more so by the asymmetrical nature of information. It is also possible that the variables external observers such as scholars take note of are in fact only a small portion of the calculus being performed by the policymakers of appraiser state.

There have also been cases of mixed appraisals of external states by different sections within the population, as well as among the policymakers themselves. This is true of the US-Iran relationship under the Obama Administration during which the President is argued to have had a divergent view on the Iran nuclear deal and indeed pursued a settlement with the Middle Eastern country in spite of opposition from Congress. Another is when the IMF loans which received considerable opposition from the Greek public were accepted by the government regardless; or indeed in the Philippines where the Duterte government has sought to propound a substantially more pro-China policy, whilst polls continue to show that the US enjoys the most favourable ratings in that country than any other populace in the world (Pew Global Indicators Database, 2016). The first lesson to be gleaned from this is the extent to which soft power is not a straightforward phenomenon, and one with many areas in wait for further elaboration and study, and the second speaks to the dilemmas presented by the confluences and divergences between domestic considerations and international aspirations as part of the great ongoing (and probably irresolvable) debates in international relations scholarship.

Sometimes states have seemed to have no preference between one state or an alternative; something which may prove contrary to the argument being made in this paper. For example, after coming into power, Ayatollah Khomeini came to the conclusion that his newly declared Islamic Republic of Iran would uphold an alliance with neither the communist Soviet bloc, nor the capitalist West. Declaring them both to be “Satans”, he chose to pursue the policy of non-alignment. Do moves such as this – of states choosing none of the so-called options available to them – disprove the concept of relative soft power? No. To further elaborate on the Iran case, it is worth noting that the Cold War was between more than just two actors, but really between three; the excesses of both the communists and the capitalists proved unappealing to some and thereby bred a third actor in the Cold War struggle, the Non-Alignment Movement. This is an example of an instance wherein there is more than two actors being weighted in terms of relative soft power by the appraising actor. And it is also worth noting that in speaking of the two “Satans”, the Ayatollah, in precisely the relativistic outlook spoken of in this paper, differentiated between them and offered differential rankings with the US being the “greater Satan” and the Soviet Union being the “lesser Satan”. And is this outlook, this weighing of degrees of compromise that each relationship may bring as opposed to another, not the way that states – African states towards the US and China, Bangladesh towards India and Pakistan, or Turkey towards the US and Russia – are want to think of, though not necessarily go so far as to label, their potential allies and partners?

Conclusions

Conceptualising the war on terror as being really a war between moderate and extremist Muslims, Joseph Nye himself long stated that “the United States must adopt policies that appeal to moderates and must use public diplomacy more effectively to explain common interests to would-be allies in the Muslim world” (2003: 75), in other words it must heighten its appeal vis-à-vis the moderate Muslims who stood to gravitate towards the extremists if the US appeared too “hawkish” in its conduct of the campaign against terrorism; especially if the US invaded (as it was then still planning to invade) Iraq. In essence, much of what this paper has done is elaborate on the obvious. Realists have long argued that economic and military – that is to say hard – power is to be looked at in relative as opposed to absolute terms; such is the root of the security dilemma in many ways. The thesis argued here, that there exists such a thing as the relative nature of soft power, is one that is quite elemental in many scholars’ understanding of power in international relations; it has taken this paper to only articulate and raise some of the dilemmas it poses as well as explicates. To be sure, in showing that soft power is a dynamic and nominally a tripartite relationship, it has also raised the important dilemma of at what point can we state that an actor has lost its soft power appeal. In other words, what is the threshold point of soft power loss? A way, if only perhaps a complicated one, of resolving the dilemma would be for a set of indices which would measure the relative soft power of one actor in relation to another in the outlook of a given state.

Bhaso Ndzendze is the Research Director at the University of Johannesburg-Nanjing Tech University Centre for Africa-China Studies (CACS). His research interests include international economics, security studies, and International Relations methodology and he has taught and written on Africa-China relations, the politics of the Middle East, soft power, and the war on terror among other topics at the University of the Witwatersrand. His work has appeared in numerous journals and in the popular press including Business Day, Mail and Guardian, The Sunday Independent and The Mercury among others. His most recent publication is the Beginner’s Dictionary of Contemporary International Relations.

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Diplomacy

Corona Vaccine: A Diplomatic Tool

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Photo: Xinhua

Covid-19 has exposed the vulnerabilities of prevailing governance set ups but it also brought the bright face of so called failure systems. Covid-19 has hit across the world and damaged political, social and economic life of entire globe but very few of them used their leadership and technical skills to overcome the catastrophe and succeeded. The most victim of covid-19 was china but few western and Asian states also faced the traumatic situation. New Zealand was the first state which declared it corona free zone under the leadership of NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and later on at somehow china controlled the epidemic spread while Pakistan under the leadership of Imran Khan also used effective Smart lock down policies to save the valuable lives and reduced economic shocks. On contrary to this, the largest democracy India and U.S completely failed to cope up with the situation. During the 2020, major powers like china and Russia provided its medical and technical support to the far distant poor states particularly African and Asian nations and win hearts of the people. Now, 2021 is a year for vaccines and hope of a return to normalcy.

China, the first and foremost state hit by the coronavirus a year ago, just approved its first homegrown vaccine for general use and have endeavors to inoculating 50 million high priority people before early February. According to the centers for disease control and prevention, more than 4.8 million people in the United States have received vaccine dose. In the same way, states like china, Russia and U.S are going to use it a diplomatic tool. Vaccine makers are boosting their productions to produce it on large scale to fulfill the other state’s requirements. Due to outbreak of Covid-19, china had to face the bad music in international affairs but Chinese efforts reflect a desire to revamp its international image.

In May 2020, during a speech Chinese president Xi Jinping positioned Chinese vaccine development and deployment plans as a’’ Public Good ‘’health and further he added that it will be china’s contribution to ensuring vaccine accessibility and affordability in developing countries. In the result of this, Chinese vaccine trials have been conducted in different African, Middle East and Asian states.  The covid-19 pandemic has clearly offered a golden opportunity to china to advance itself as a reliable and inevitable actor of global governance. The Chinese government eventually is going to use vaccine doses as a strategic tool to strengthen their international relationships. A senior researcher for global health at the Washington-based council, Yanzhong huang expressed his views that

‘’The vaccine could be used by an instrument for foreign policy to promote soft power and project international influence’’

The African governments are expressing interests in Chinese vaccine, BBIBP-CorV, developed by the china national pharmaceutical group and china could use vaccine access to bolster economic and political influence in Africa and other regions which are securing enough vaccines. Thus, the vaccine diplomacy would help china to frame itself as the solution to the outbreak rather the cause of it. China’s vaccine diplomacy in Africa serves to be a high reward venture. It sinopharm’s vaccine bore fruits and restores the normalcy of life across the region, china will be praised.  Recently, Sinovac biotech,drug Maker Company based in Beijing, has signed deals with Brazil and Turkey to provide respectively 46 million and 50 million doses. Sinopharm a state owned company is also active to provide the vaccine but deals are less open. China’s global vaccine campaign is in stark contrast to the ‘’America First ‘’ approach which just focuses on vaccinating its own citizens. So, china is in better position to use the vaccine to serve its foreign policy interests. The role of leaders in projecting vaccine as diplomatic tool is vital and Chinese leaders have repeatedly stressed that china’s vaccines are for sharing particularly with the poor nations. It is very evidently that how much china is interesting to build its trust among those states that are part of the development projects like BRI. Most of the countries including Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Malaysia, Afghanistan and Pakistan are in the priority list. In addition to this, Beijing also offered $ 1 billion dollar loan to Latin America and the Caribbean for access to its corona virus vaccine. Indonesia is another state which received 1.2 million vaccine doses from Chinese pharmaceutical firm Sinovac. Chinese state owned media played very significant role in projecting vaccine a diplomatic tool and showed china as a responsible player leading global efforts to fight the pandemic.

The ambitions of china in projection of soft image are very evident as it wants to realize the world that how much china has capabilities to perform its duties to govern the world affairs. Undoubtedly, the role of Chinese leadership, state owned media and drug maker companies in the pandemic is very influential to shape the pro-Chinese narrative.

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American soft power as an instrument of global hegemony

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Christian Harbulot, director and founder of the Paris School of Economic Warfare, has devoted much of his work to the study of economic warfare and the role it has played in the conflict dynamic of this century. But alongside the economic war, an instrument of similar importance that has allowed the achievement of American hegemony in the so-called multipolar world is certainly soft power.

Posing as the flagship country of free competition, the United States has achieved the best influence operation of the twentieth century. They were able to disguise their economic aggression by calling attention to the denunciation of European colonial empires. This rhetorical trick worked well. The stigmatization of the major ruling powers allowed them to disguise their own conquest initiatives as happened with the colonization of Hawaii. It is in the same spirit that they were able to trivialize their multiple external military interventions for operations to protect their citizens during the crucial period between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

America’s economic soft power was built around this misconception. The United States supported the emancipation of people from colonial oppression and, at the same time, supported the “open door” and free trade. One of their main criticisms of European colonial empires was the privileged exchanges between those empires and their metropolises. The Commonwealth was particularly targeted during the GATT negotiations (1947) and Washington refused to sign the Charter of Havana (1948) which it had desired but which maintained the principle of “imperial preferences” between European countries and their colonies.

By presenting itself as the guarantor of the discourse on free competition and open markets, the United States has built an image of itself as a “justice of the peace” in international trade. This cognitive advantage allowed them to mask their conquest initiatives. The US grip on oil fields in the Middle East and Iran has been the most visible illustration of the US economic war machine. The State Department, intelligence agencies and oil companies have worked together to impose their will on interested countries and potential competitors. The means of action used were often based on the use of force (indirect and then direct participation in armed conflicts in the Middle East, coups d’etat such as the overthrow of Mossadegh in Iran in 1953, destabilization of regimes that supported Arab nationalism.).

The economic soft power of the United States took shape in the aftermath of World War II. Armed with its decisive military superiority, the United States seeks to establish a process of domination in some vital markets. The Marshall Plan planners encouraged European agriculture to buy American soybeans for animal feed. This desire to establish a relationship of dependence on the United States will later spread to other key sectors such as the computer industry and then information technology. Data storage (Big Data) is one of the areas in which the American system is most determined to maintain its primacy and dominance. To “mask” these logic of domination and dependence, the American elites have resorted to two types of action.

1) The formatting of knowledge. Major American universities have gradually imposed their views on how world trade works, taking great care not to talk about geo-economic power struggles. This omission was fraught with consequences as it deprived European elites of a critical view of the nature of American corporate aggression in foreign markets. Academic disciplines such as management sciences or economics have banned any analysis of the phenomenon of economic warfare from their field of vision, which the United States nonetheless practiced with discretion.

2) The capture of knowledge. To avoid being overwhelmed by competing innovation dynamics, the United States has over time developed a very sophisticated monitoring system to identify the sources of innovation in the world in order to contact foreign researchers and engineers as soon as possible and offer them expatriation or financing solutions. through private funds. If this type of knowledge acquisition fails, the use of espionage is not excluded.

3)  Misinformation  and manipulation

The rise to power of the European and Asian economies since the 1970s has forced defenders of American economic interests to adapt their economic warfare techniques to the post-Cold War context. The allies of the main opponents faced before the decisive phase of the emergence of the Chinese economy.

In the 1990s, the United States opened several fronts. The most visible was the economic security policy implemented by Bill Clinton under the pretext that overseas companies were victims of “unfair competition”. Europeans were the first targets. Exposing corruption has become a favorite weapon of US economic diplomacy. But behind this principle there were much more offensive operations. In 1998 the Alcatel group suffered a series of information attacks carried out on the Internet, through media rumors regarding the lack of financial transparency of the general management. This campaign led to the historic fall of a share on the Paris Stock Exchange. To address this question, American industrialists financially supported the creation of NGOs such as Transparency International. These advocates of business moralization stigmatized countries that did not abide by global rules. On the other hand, no subject of this movement was interested in the opacity of the payment methods of the main players of the large auditing firms heavily involved in the signing of large international contracts. The exploitation of a moralizing discourse is now experiencing its operational peak with the extra-territoriality of law.

But the main transformation of American soft power in the last twenty years is the total exploitation of the information society. Everyone remembers the importance of the Echelon system or Snowden’s statements about the size of American espionage through the Internet and social media. By contrast, information warfare techniques applied in economics are still unfamiliar to the general public. The United States is now at war over how to use civil society actors to destabilize or weaken their adversaries.

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Diplomacy

The Modernity of Climate Diplomacy

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Proposition of Modernity

International climate diplomacy may appear to the observer as a newly forged and unknown process compared to other well-established diplomatic affairs. Still as with other diplomatic pursuits of the sovereign state, at its core it must address the need to reach global goals through logical, fair and international legal argument. Given the tremendous scope and complexity of the enterprise this would only be possible through incremental negotiation and compromise among key actors and stakeholders. Incremental progress can only be achieved within a set of global goals, which are designed to codify the relations among states with respect of management and remediation of a new and growing peril – the continuously increasing variability and presence of extreme patterns in global climate.  Although the manifestations of this global peril are predictable their exact occurrences and their magnitudes in our physical reality are chaotic in nature.  This very attribute of the extreme climatic peril makes the propagation of impacts in our economic, financial and social networks highly uncertain and viable to assume the nature of systemic shocks.  The modernity of climate diplomacy is expressed in two proposed aspects of its character.  Firstly, it is presented as a philosophically virtuous policy, fully motivated by the general public good.  Secondly it is presented as the balance of two opposing forces – one of inaction and objection to engagement, and a second of constructive drive to outcomes clearly defined in the best societal interest in its most international scope.  These two forces and the outcomes of their interaction are subject to contagion by the fundamental threat of extreme climate variability.  Their interaction creates uncertainty and volatility of outcomes.  Such attributes are well suited to be reviewed in the mathematical theory of chaotic process.

A Newly Forged Framework

A traditional, well-studied and fundamental diplomatic framework such as the Westphalian system is based on three central propositions. Firstly, international diplomacy has a currency of its own – and this is the power of states.  Secondly, the diplomatic system has a measurable equilibrium among actors, which is achieved with the help of this currency, and this is the balance of power.  The system is highly procedural and not substantive.  Instead of engaging in a clash of ethical and cultural principles, competing actors concern themselves purely in both competing and collaborating in transactions of power, without interference of ideologies.  They will outperform and challenge each other at times and thus create instability and systemic change.  Then through settlement and negotiation the system will return to its equilibrium – the balance of power among sovereign actors.

The propositions of the Westphalian system most closely describe the current diplomatic framework of international security and its arrangements.  It is immediately evident that the Westphalian system of balance of power, and hence of international security, would differ with an effective framework of climate diplomacy in significant and principled manner.  While within the framework of international security, sovereign state power is indeed the currency of balance and stability, the same would not be true within the premises of climate diplomacy.  State power and influence will still allow actors to pursue and accomplish their goals in this field, however it cannot guarantee by itself equilibrium in the task of managing the emerging risk of climate change.  This equilibrium is not found in transactions among states, it is not achieved in gains and losses across the diplomatic table, but it is to be pursued in managing a global, physical threat, which originates not from the actions of a single state, but from the cumulative activity of all human civilization, where certainly not all participants contribute equally.  Fundamentally, unlike in traditional balance of power diplomacy, by projecting state power in international affairs, an actor cannot gain advantage over others. The nature of the threat is such that it depends entirely on geography, locality and physical processes, whose impacts are extremely hard to forecast.  The losses of one state, emanating from the damage of extreme climate, are not the gains of another.  The balance, if at all and if ever achieved is not between states or alliances, but between the whole community of states and a growing global threat. This balance will be evidently expressed in a stable physical and global environment, which allows for the secure and prosperous development of all states and societies. The framework of balance of power diplomacy, even within a multilateral setting, is clearly not appropriately conditioned, or more accurately, it is not adequately equipped to shape and bring about a manageable and survivable balance of the climate threat.

The Philosophy of Public Good

Multilateral diplomacy preserves the same principles as Westphalian system, while the technical setting of the exchange is a forum, transparent to multiple actors, rather than the more traditional one-to-one diplomatic endeavors of sovereign states.  The substance of the process – the currency of the exchange among actors yet remains the power of states.  To create a more effective thought paradigmnew intellectual forces will need to be mobilized to motivate a sense of immediacy and inevitability of desirably positive diplomatic action.  Once this process is awake, however, such forces or streams of thought do not necessarily always need to be in supportive manner of constructive proposition.  They may very well be in opposition to effective action and productive outcomes. In many other areas of social and political life, the original state of public thought and hence of international diplomacy has been that of conservative inaction.  Then in reality and by principles of origin there must be two intellectual and philosophical forces or traditions behind the execution of international climate diplomacy, representing two actual political forces and types of action, those of disruption and balance.

We can trace the philosophical roots of these two forces to ancient Greek philosophical thought. One tradition is of inaction and disengagement; and a second of positive, public good-motivated action.  The philosophical tradition of Epicureanism justifies an absolute materialist view of personal and social life, without a higher and universal set of shared values, without the tenets of common humanism. The pursuit of pleasure, of satisfaction of all material appetites and needs of the individual becomes a primary objective, a primary reason of existence.  Epicureanism is not only an individualistic philosophy, it has a political and social stance.  It sees society as built out of necessity, with individuals striving for success and their existence commandeered by proto Darwinian forces. Furthermore, a political life for the citizenis not needed or desirable.  Privacy, private friendships, and private relationships and contracts rather than social contracts are the desirable mode of social engagement.

In the opposing direction, the Stoic tradition of Greek philosophy can be traced as the force of equilibrium, as the stream of thought which justifies positive, engaged and decisive action.  Stoicism sees order, reason and balance in the world and the cosmos, and these states are definable in precise mathematical terms.  It sees order and reason in a chaotic universe.  Thus, in Stoic thought exists the concept of natural justice.  In a system of balance and order, there must be a force of justice, and this force must be working on the premises of universal humanistic principles.  The supposition is that values of common and cosmopolitan humanity do exist, and they are universal and shared.

A civic and international regime of positive action, of duty and commitment with meaning and purpose of serving the community virtuously is fundamentally existent in Stoic philosophy. A utilitarian streak could add some strength to this stream of thought by defining active climate diplomacy making to be in the best interest of the public good, and hence being perceived as a virtuous act.  Such public perceptions should give public service of this kind additional degree of veracity. The utilitarian aspect comes in the perception of a virtuous policy as always seen to be a just policy.  On an international stage among many actors and under the observant eye of many and various societies of experts just and honest diplomacy acts are always the best policy.  Hence it is always rational and prudent to be honest and just in dealings of international affairs and diplomacy. 

This argument itself exhibits an underlying streak of the Machiavellian tradition, which is not necessarily a disadvantage in this case.  This tradition has been interpreted more often to promote a degree of calculated cynicism.  A closer examination however, may lead to redefine this attitude as practical and working realism, which is effectively conditioned to produce results for the common good of society. The Machiavellian reinforcement of the argument of the benefits of a just and fair climate diplomacy is justified on the premise that these actions are in fact taking place on a stage, and thus political actors are always on display, always being studied and judged by local and foreign societies and groups.  If he were a contemporary of ours, Machiavelli would very likely maintain that on such a stage of the grandest and broadest making, the legitimacy of climate diplomacy can only be derived from its established essence of being a political action designed in the best interest of the whole of the people.  Thus, the process must be perceived as a true instrument for social justice with a highest order of purpose to produce the common good.

These two opposing forces – one of inaction and disengagement, and a second searching for equilibrium in the promise of the public good, which shape the process of climate diplomacy making require a more technical and systemic analysis.  Such analysis is needed to better evaluate the shaping of balance between these forces, to define the constructive and deconstructive tendencies of their interaction. If such exploration contributes to clarity of understanding, to more granular visualization of detail and process, then it would be well worth the investment. The various modern theories of the mathematical sciences are well suited to provide tools and insights to set some foundation for such type of analytical review.

Forces of Mathematical Chaos

Independent and parallel risk factors of economic, security and social nature coexist in physical reality.  At times of smooth and undisturbed operations of the international financial, security and political networks the interdependence between such risk factors does not seem evident.  At such times this interdependence is generally not observed by actors of international diplomacy, simply because it is not a source of systemic tension.  Such interdependence however is revealed at times of extreme and catastrophic events of natural and man-made origin.  At such times of systemic stress networks’ interconnectedness serves as a source for risk contagion and becomes a point of political and public debate and oftentimes contention.

Global crisis such as the current pandemic serve to increase the comprehension of interconnectivity among global actors and nodes.  The speed and magnitude of propagation of political and economic risk across seemingly otherwise independent networks is affected by inherent properties, which facilitate branching and cascading of climate risk into other socio-economic and security forms of risk. Hence to properly design effective diplomatic practice to address such global and agile threat a mechanism and function of solid theoretical nature needs to be developed and formalized. Systemic properties of interconnectedness are key to facilitating the propagation of climate risk across security and socio-economic networks – a process defined as chaotic contagion. Then the task for international diplomacy practitioners and researchers is to understand the properties of interconnectedness of economic, financial, insurance, social networks, such that diplomatic practices, tools and continuous processes are developed and validated.

From first principles of the mathematical theory of chaotic processes one expects that there is order within every seemingly chaotic system. This sense of order is maintained by comprehensive and measurable patterns and rules of behavior of processes and explainable trends in outcomes. The very physical nature of the underlying global peril, and the corresponding diplomatic tasks and actions for states, which arise from this peril, dictate and define the nature of climate diplomacy.  Thus, there are rarely repetitive and regular activities in this sphere of international relations. An international diplomatic system of this nature, a system which can be described as driven by chaotic processes, which govern the interaction among its actors, would be characterized as a complex and dynamic system, with inherent capacities to adapt. Such a framework of diplomacy would be naturally conditioned to perpetuate turbulent and significant changes, much more so, and much more often than a traditional security diplomatic framework.  At the same time such a system is capable to bring order in an irregular environment, all be it, a sense of chaotic order.

Chaotic systems in theoretical sciences are the subject to two contradicting and counter-positioned forces. One force and its characteristic expressions work towards increasing unpredictability, complexity and constant disruption.  The main attribute of these forces of unpredictability is non-linearity of direction.  This is coupled with excessive contagion and propagation of risk and peril, enabled by interconnectedness of nodes, which further brings about systemic uncertainty in general. A second trend and set of systemic attributes balances the chaotic framework by exercising continuous transformation towards self-organization, self-control and innovation towards equilibrium. This vigilance of state of actors and of nodes, combined with diversity of state of the entire system has a positive balancing effect on the most extreme trends of excess shock and of uncertainty of the chaotic framework.

Volatile Outcomes

Compared to traditional security challenges, climate change is a more complex threat – it involves more actors and more nuanced trade-offs.  Still the existing general diplomatic order prevents undesirable collapse of climate diplomacy networks at times of excessive stress and tension.  At its core international diplomacy is as much about statecraft and leadership as it is about institutions and protocols.  The chaotic and uncertain nature of policy moves and of the policy positions of sovereign states provide a clear opportunity for execution of precisely such statecraft by actors with the needed invested interest, resources and capabilities.  A sense of urgency and a sense of pending crisis, which always accompany climate change discussions, would further support actors seeking constructive outcomes.  Once more the need for timeliness – itself the pressing requirements of action in the immediate present, provides another chance to display leadership in diplomatic action. 

At time of severe crisis, as the current experience of the pandemic shows, the first reaction of states was to protect their own borders and to ensure equipment for their own citizens.  This is a rational reaction of self-defense and self-preservation.  However, it is against the norms, treaties and agreements of multi-lateral collaboration, and particularly so within communities and organizations such as the European Union, where such inter-state relations are the ethos and mode of operation.  Furthermore, if the institutional and statist instinct of self-preservation is combined with an identifiable and already existing lack of confidence and suspicion ofmulti-lateral frameworks of collaboration and of treaty making, the effect would be only further disruption and unpredictability.

The same conclusions and experiences are transferable and applicable to the climate risk crisis, which is unfolding at a much slower pace and thus its physical impacts are measurable over longer periods of time.  On the other hand, because of the network and contagion properties between climate risk and socio-economic networks, a propagation of climate risk to these networks is expected to have a much more dramatic and sudden impact.  A most evident case in point is the impact of rising temperatures and draught intensities in the Maghreb and Sahel regions of Africa on armed conflict and thus on population migrations.  Here a gradual and slow unfolding risk factor through propagation and projection into socio-economic realities causes a measurable event of new and completely different nature. 

Such a socio-economic shock is expected to have dual impact on both the philosophical and onthe mathematical theory of chaos planes.  In one of its expressions, the shock will have disruptive and divisive effect on diplomatic networks, triggering state actions of self-insurance and of defending of one’s own interests and assets, which overshadows and takes precedence over existing practices and networks of multi-lateral collaboration.  In the theory of chaos this will be the arrival of a disruptive, unpredictable and turbulent event, which has the potential to change the regime of operation of clearly otherwise independent socio-economic networks.  The duality of expected expression may come in the second phase of self-organizing and remediating action towards achieving equilibrium and balancing out the effects of the initial shock.

This action of self-balance, with a degree of innovation, toward systemic equilibrium may become effective only if it is driven by actors of international diplomacy and presented asa contribution to the common good. On a global scale it is very hard to define the concept of the common good even in areas of international relations, where states have much longer experiences of engagement, of defining norms and treaties, such as security, crisis management and peace keeping. Such a task is further complicated by the general and evident abandonment of the moral vocabulary of the interest of the people and of the common good.International diplomacy such as climate diplomacy would manifests itself in most confident and unequivocal manner when it is executed in the name of the public good.

The predominant methodology of traditional international diplomacy is that of the balance of power,of zero-sum games.  The vision and practice of climate diplomacy must be that of non-zero-sum game, of the alternative – of a positive sum game. At the same time this vision needs to be directed by informed and innovative pragmatism, which evaluates and directs streams of unilateral and collaborative behavior by states on the merits of their outcomes. Such diplomatic action needs to emphasize that false belief leads to failure of reasoning and this in turn may lead to counter-productive unilateral action.Such enlightened pragmatism will need to establish the link between diplomatic action and scientific and statistical facts.  Reality outside and underneath many common perceptions needs to be uncovered.  Policy and diplomacy engagement would become more than a mere accumulation of facts and actions.  At the same time, it is logical to see opposition to climate diplomacy.  In a time of crisis, people retract to basic values and known quantities and entrench to defend them. 

The objective of all diplomatic activity, and that of climate change included, is to achieve its end goals.  This is much more important than the preservation of its virtuous nature, at all time, in all engagements, and among all actors.  It is acceptable that most of the time, on the big scenes of international relations, it is perceived to be virtuous. This is only possible if there is a single or few sovereign authorities behind these endeavors, which will gain from success, and will gain from the public perception of being seen to act in the common good, being directed by virtuous principles of common humanitarian nature.  At times the classical thesis of political morality may prove to be naïve. Then the use of social, economic and environmental justice must be seen to be effective, instrumental and inevitable to balance the unveiling of this naiveté. In the rhetorical tradition we see that it is possible to excuse vices by presenting them as neighboring virtues.  Naivete is one of these a borderline attributes of international climate diplomacy, liable to be interpreted either way, depending on the skill of the actors and the circumstances of the engagement. Despite the perception of naivete, on the technical level, the diplomatic actors will need to feel skillfully the temper of the big stakeholders – the major sovereign powers of the day, almost at once as the diplomatic engagement of the day takes shape.  Then the task of the proponent, of the power behind the constructive engagement is to drive this sentiment, refining the movement of the argument, refining the pace of collaborative and multilateral events.  For the diplomatic engagement to be effective, it needs to constantly evolve and improve.The message of climate diplomacy needs to cover from the deepest and technically most sophisticated argument to the most accessible level of common and simple moral grounds.  Thus, the engagement of climate diplomacy will seamlessly fit into the needed pattern for any relevant audience.  A truly strategic diplomatic engagement would be able to score well and make big gains from small premises.

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