Connect with us

Diplomacy

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

Bhaso Ndzendze

Published

on

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.

Continue Reading
Comments

Diplomacy

COVID-19 Diplomacy and the Role of the United Nations Security Council

Published

on

On 30th January 2020 World Health Organisation declared COVID-19 a Public Health Emergency of International Concern, soon after on 11th March 2020 it was declared Pandemic i.e. a worldwide spread of a new disease. As of today, COVID-19 is having a foothold in more than 195 countries, with 28,377 mortalities and 617,288 confirmed cases, while at the same time no specific treatment and vaccine have been developed so far. 

To address the pandemic effectively, countries have started considering and offering bilateral and regional cooperation, with a much recent example is a SAARC COVID-19 Emergency Fund proposed by Prime Minister of India Shri Narendra Modi, along with G-20 nations pledging USD 5 trillion. This pandemic is not only ruthlessly claiming the lives of innocent people but has brought the entire world to an economic halt. Kristalina Georgieva, chief of the International Monetary Fund, has given an indication that the world has entered into recession. To address this grave situation, a much stronger response is needed by all the nations to consider it as a global public health challenge in the form of a security threat.

This article deals with the aspect of international diplomacy in global cooperation to tackle the menace of COVID-19. The role of the United Nations Security Council in health governance is important to mention as the recent COVID-19 crisis not only emerged as the global health challenge but also it poses a threat to international peace and security.

The spread of infectious diseases is more prevalent in the globalized world, where members of the world community are interdependent to tackle such pandemic. To overcome this challenge, a robust and comprehensive global health framework is required, which inevitably involves cooperation and coordination amongst states, international organizations, civil societies, and other relevant actors. The primary inter-governmental body in global health coordination and cooperation is the World Health Organisation but the ongoing crisis has made it clear that the world has to look beyond WHO and there is a need for intervention of the UN Security Council as it did before during the Ebola crisis.

Considering the unprecedented extent of the COVID-19 virus across the globe, it arguably constitutes a threat to international peace and security. During the Ebola outbreak, the Security Council adopted resolution 2177 (2014) calling for immediate action and resolution 2439 (2018) condemning attacks by armed groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Looking at the current development of events, all these situations are prevailing in this pandemic. The world needs an accelerated response from the World Health Organization to strengthen its technical leadership and operational support to governments and other partners in that effort. There is a pressing need for quarantine, treatment, and public education, which the WHO is undertaking. However, to make it more effective, an obligatory resolution has to be passed by the United Nations Security Council. There is a possibility that Security Council resolution may help in easing the process of global cooperation, with having equal probability of making the entire process apolitical.  

The efforts taken by international health and humanitarian relief workers are praiseworthy, provided their efforts have to be properly channelized, with necessary arrangements, such as medical evacuation capacities and their immediate deployment to the affected countries, must be put in place. As said by then Secretary-General of the United Nation – Ban Ki-moon – in the UNSC resolution 2177, that “The gravity and scale of the situation now require a level of international action unprecedented for an emergency.” The current situation is more grave and of high magnitude affecting almost all the countries of the world. The United Nations launched a major humanitarian appeal to keep COVID-19 from circling back around the globe and to mitigate its impact on fragile countries with a weak health system.

Much has been expected from the United Nations in this trying time, to establish an emergency health mission aimed at stopping the outbreak, treating the infected, ensuring essential services, preserving stability and preventing further outbreaks by passing a resolution. The world needs to race ahead of the outbreak and curb it through the coordinated actions of the United Nations.

The UN Security Council has condemned the “heinous and Cowardly” terrorist attack on a gurdwara in Kabul, where over 25 worshippers were killed and 8 injured during this epidemic. The Security Council said that  “The members of the Security Council underlined the need to hold perpetrators, organizers, financiers, and sponsors of these reprehensible acts of terrorism accountable and bring them to justice, and urged all states, in accordance with their obligations under International law and relevant Security Council resolutions, to cooperate actively with the Government of Afghanistan and all other relevant authorities.”

Considering the prevailing pandemic where the whole world is going through such tough times, what has stopped the UN Security Council from adopting a resolution for the aforesaid situations? When it has adopted two resolutions in the past for such situations, can we put an onus on China’s diplomacy? Much recently China has rejected Estonia’s proposal to hold a UNSC meeting to discuss the coronavirus and loss of lives across the world as per media reports. It is believed that COVID-19 emerged from the Wuhan province of China and currently China is the President of the UNSC till March 31. All the countries are silent over China’s role, arguably, because in the worst-case scenario the countries affected have to import medical equipment from China. Looking at all the developments concerning COVID-19, the United Nations Security Council must step in and take control of the situation to repost faith of nations in it.

Continue Reading

Diplomacy

Reforms of diplomatic agencies

Published

on

The Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC) has played host to a round table the participants of which discussed a report by senior expert of the Center for Advanced Governance (CAG), RIAC expert Oleg Shakirov.

In the introductory part of the report the expert stated that diplomatic agencies are very conservative and are rarely subjected to fundamental reform. This is due, firstly, to their special status, and secondly, to their elitism.

According to Shakirov, there is a need to systematize international experience and analyze diplomatic organizations’ reforms.

The author of the report said that to perform such an analysis they selected countries by two criteria. Firstly, the country had to have completed a comprehensive modernization of its diplomatic service – an integrated process known as modernization, transformation or reform. Secondly, they examined reforms the progress on which could be obtained from open sources of information.

While preparing the report, experts considered the experience of reforming the diplomatic agencies in eleven countries, four reforms were analyzed in detail (Great Britain, Germany, the Netherlands, Uzbekistan), and seven were analyzed in brief (Australia, Denmark, Kazakhstan, Canada, New Zealand, France and the USA).

The report identifies two reasons for reform – national and global. The first type was demonstrated by the example of Uzbekistan. After a change of president, the country launched a large-scale modernization strategy which envisaged foreign policy changes and the Foreign Ministry’s new agenda: the reform was the result of political reforms at home.

As for the global causes that are common to all countries, the participants singled out the three main ones: the growing influence of economic factors on world politics (economization), a change in the communication environment, and the tightening of ties between states.

Speaking about economization, O. Shakirov made it clear that at present foreign affairs agencies are adapting to an increasingly greater role of economic factors in world politics. In most cases, this adaptation boils down to expansion of powers of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This means a new agency springs up, or the old one has been strengthened to address economic issues, or an agency or department in charge of economic issues is transferred to the foreign affairs department. For example, at the end of 2018, the Investment Committee was included in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan.

Amid the increasing role of economic factors, there may occur changes in the configuration of the diplomatic network, as happened in Denmark. Denmark closed some embassies in Europe, while opening new agencies in a number of developing countries in order to expand economic ties. In addition, in the conditions of economization, there appears a need to create new mechanisms of cooperation between diplomats and business. Often, external observers want more tangible results from diplomacy: not only a victory in negotiations, but, for example, specific advantages for companies.

Under the current conditions there are expectations that diplomacy should function as a service. For example, in the Netherlands, not only the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but various departments within the government provide assistance to Dutch companies if they operate abroad. Among the most innovative measures is the creation of special mobile applications that would ease interaction with government agencies.

The second global reason is associated with a change in the communication environment diplomats live in. The speaker emphasized that since the Internet is becoming the main source of information for an increasingly larger number of people, the changes are most noticeable in the Internet as ministries and individual diplomats regularly use their pages on social networks and experiment with formats. The Russian Foreign Ministry has been repeatedly named one of the leaders in the field of digital diplomacy. Another feature of the communication challenge is declining public trust in government agencies, which explains why some diplomatic agencies are trying to establish a dialogue with the internal audience as part of reform. Germany has set a good example: its diplomats make public speeches in different cities and hold seminars on foreign policy with the participation of the public.

The third reason is the strengthening of relations between states. There are many channels of cooperation, not only through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but also via other departments – the ministries of economics, the “digital” ministries, the ministries of agriculture, etc. The researcher noted that non-governmental agencies are also joining in. In general, foreign policy is acquiring the qualities of a network. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has traditionally been an “interpreter” or “translator” from the local to international. Today, it no longer enjoys the monopoly in this area.

O. Shakirov remarked that even though in some countries reforms pass fairly quickly, in most cases they take long. In France, during the presidency of Nicolas Sarkozy, the 2015 reform was autonomous but incorporated the previous experience. The arrival of Emmanuel Macron marked a new stage of public service reforms, so the Foreign Ministry reform acquired a new quality.

For any bureaucratic organization, reform is not an easy process. That is why it is very important how reform preparation is carried out. There are two imaginable scenarios to this effect. The first scenario – the new government provides guidance on what kind of transformations need to be implemented. In this case, this will come more than stressful for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The second scenario envisages taking into account the various wishes of the lower and middle level diplomats. However, in both cases, the instruction for reform comes from above – from top leadership.

The report draws two main conclusions. The first is that reforms of foreign ministries occur more often than commonly believed. And although changes are not always immediately noticeable, they are plentiful. This process can be perceived as part of the evolution of diplomacy and government. Changes in diplomatic agencies take place all the time. But reforms are an attempt to set the boundaries of these changes and systematize them, to make them more focused. What is important is that changes in the foreign policy environment have become faster and more intensive.

The second conclusion is that it is vital to keep reforms afloat. It is essential that a reform goes on regardless of political leadership. For example, in the United States, a project launched by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson went into oblivion after Mike Pompeo took over.

The participants in the discussion pointed out the relevance of the issues raised, their seriousness. There were also critical remarks, the main one being that the report is based solely on documents, without “live” connection with employees of foreign affairs agencies.

From our partner International Affairs

Continue Reading

Diplomacy

Public Diplomacy Via Twitter

Saurav Raj Pant

Published

on

Historically, after the invention of the printing press in Europe; the communication with the foreign publics was potentially altered. At the end of the Middle Ages, the Venetians had already introduced the systematic dissemination of newsletters inside their own diplomatic service. Under ancient regimes, the French started rebuilding their country image abroad than other European powers.  Identity creation and image projection as well as nation branding became peak under Louis XIV and similarly in other countries like Turkey had also followed it aftermath of the Ottoman Empire.

Public diplomacy (PD) is a ever expanding field. PD doesn’t have a one line definition. However, according to Nicolas Cull; he had mentioned 5 elements of PD: Listening, Advocacy, Cultural Diplomacy, Exchange diplomacy and International Broadcasting (IB). According to Center on Public Diplomacy PD has been widely seen as a transparent means by which a sovereign country communicates with publics in other countries aimed at informing and influencing audiences overseas for the purpose of promoting the national interest and advancing its foreign policy goals.”

These 5 elements has been now effectively conducted via use of internet; famously known as digital diplomacy. When British Prime Minister Palmerston had reported reaction of “My God, this is the end of diplomacy” after receiving the first telegraph message in  1850’s from Foreign Ministry. Such reaction was obvious when diplomatic letters used to travel manually from country to country in longer period. And, Telegraph invention had made long distance transfer of textual message easier rather than physical exchange of an object bearing the message. PD from the time of Telegraph to the time of Social Media; it has changed drastically. Before the audience was generally a specified person of foreign service but today PD has been targeted to pro-grassroots overseas. These grassroots are probably a university graduates, local entrepreneurs or veteran who get influenced and impressed by the specific country’s image and ultimately wants to visit, study, work, or migrate there.

Underlining these realities, today digital platforms are widely used to conduct PD. It is being used because it has a wider coverage and message can be transmitted within a second-minute than traditional PD method like meeting people, organizing cultural show, events. PD implementation via digital platforms is cheap and very less time consuming than traditional PD conduction method.  In the case of Nepal, the US Embassy is using Social Media(Twitter & Facebook) widely comparing to any Embassies based in Kathmandu, Nepal to conduct PD.

PD by the US Embassy in Nepal via Twitter

The US Embassy in Nepal is forefront in conducting PD via use of digital tools. The US Embassy in Nepal regularly uses Embassy’s Facebook page, Twitter and Ambassador’s Twitter handle to conduct PD. The US Embassy in Nepal has around 4.1 Million Likes on Facebook (till date)whereas Indian Embassy in Nepal has around 100k likes(till date). Also, British Embassy in Nepal has around 76,000 likes(till date) on Facebook. Similarly, the US Embassy in Nepal has 402.5k(till date) followers on Twitter, and Indian Embassy in Nepal has 67.4K(till date) followers. The US Ambassador to Nepal Randy Berry personal Twitter handle has 187.8k(till date) followers whereas Chinese Ambassador to Nepal personal Twitter handle has 22.3k(till date) followers.  Interestingly, the Facebook likes of Nepali Embassy USA has 4956 likes(till date) and 850 followers(till date) on Twitter. This shows, the US PD implementation via digital tools is very much effective comparing to Nepali Embassy in DC. The one who engages more on PD gets more chance to promote its national interest. And, in this front the US is getting more grounds than Nepali Embassy in DC. Despite the fact that, developing world like Nepal should have to engage more on digital platforms to promote its national interest in the Washington D.C(which is the apex location for formulating the US foreign policies affecting globally).

American Ambassador/Embassy in Nepal not only promoting PD via Twitter but also showing  indirect symbol of proxy war in Nepali land between the US & China. After Chinese president Xi visit to Nepal on Oct 12, 2019;  American Ambassador(Amb.) had Tweeted It’s almost been a year since I’ve returned to Nepal, & along with amazing culture & natural beauty, Nepali food never disappoints! My two faves are momos in Boudha and DalBhat in Mustang! #WorldFoodDay.

Interestingly, Amb. Randy Berry rightly pointed the names of these two places which has a geopolitical importance for Nepal. These are the places where there is the strong secretive presence of China and America—whether it is a perceived CIA backed Khampas movement of Mustang in 1960’s or Free Tibet Movement protestors arrested in Boudha, Kathmandu. Both places are interest area of the US & Chinese foreign policies.  Amb.  Randy Berry had used Twitter in multiple occasions to conduct PD in Nepal. His Tweet is generally from promoting Nepali culture, festivals, Traditions, the US signature strategy known as Indo-Pacific Strategy(IPS) to the issue of women empowerment. He had even started communicating with general public in Twitter despite reservation from Nepal’s foreign ministry. He acts like a Nepali political leaders who visit places of Nepal and receives public warm welcome. Being a political man from Washington; he had hit the right nailed on PD to impress and influence Nepali public.

His few popular Tweets are as mentioned below:

I joined my team to prepare a Mandala at our home & it looks radiant with all the colorful lights & flowers. May you all receive blessings throughout this year, #HappyDeepavali ! #Nepal

What is the Indo-Pacific Strategy? It is our broad approach to economic, security  & governance engagement in this region. In short, it’s our way of saying that we’re  committed to this region & that we will always uphold & support a free, fair, & rules-based international order.

What was the best part of my Nepalgunj trip? Tough question! But the most delicious part was definitely my visit to Mubarak Biryani!

To support the #VisitNepal2020 campaign, I announce a month-long initiative across all @USEmbassyNepal social media platforms to promote tourism in Nepal through pics/stories of US staff & families traveling across the country, joining 78K Americans who visited during Jan-Oct 19.

I really enjoy interacting with you all on social media, but I realized that I will probably never meet all 4 million of our  @USEmbassyNepal social media followers…so I am beginning “राजदूतसँग गफगाफ” to hear from & answer questions from you all. Stay tuned

I joined Nepali & American women from the US Mission family to experience the excitement of Teej festival celebrations! Wishes for an exciting, happy, colorful & empowering Teej to all of you! #HappyTeej

Way forward

The US Embassy in Nepal has been using Twitter to promote its PD. Its Social Media presence in Twitter & Facebook is much more larger than UK, China or India. Even Foreign Ministry of Nepal(MOFA) Twitter handle has a 130.2k followers(till date), Nepali foreign Secretary has 1918 followers(till date) and Nepali Foreign Minister has a 248.9k followers(till date). This means, MOFA has been less engaging comparing to the US Embassy Twitter handle whereas Nepali Foreign Secretary is lagging behind in promoting Nepali diplomacy comparing to the US Ambassador. Nepali Foreign Minister has less Twitter followers than the US Embassy Twitter handle. This openly says, Nepal’s institutional and dignitaries Social Media presence is negligible comparing to the US. In this hyper digital age, Nepal is lagging behind to promote its diplomacy via digital platforms—which is not so much expensive and doesn’t require expert human resource. At this time, Nepali Foreign Ministry doesn’t need a radical shift but very simple renovation.  

This simple renovation can be digitalizing Nepali foreign affairs. Overall these signifies that; the US wants to engage with Nepali public in much more comprehensive way.  Pivotal Example is : The Amb. Randy Berry “ Chat with Ambassador” shows that, he is using the soft power to influence and impress Nepali public ultimately to promote the US vested interest in Nepal. Whether it is the case of Tweeting/posting on any Nepali festivals or promoting IPS—all proves that the US wants to counter influence of immediate neighbors of Nepal i.e. India & China. PD promotion(digitally) by super power countries in developing country like Nepal is not new. It is an enlarged strategies in the form of soft power to gain, retain and expand their influence. So, the key message is: Nepal need a win-win strategy by altering this perceive American zero-sum strategy conducted via digital platform.

Continue Reading

Publications

Latest

New Social Compact2 hours ago

Covid-19 Might not be the End

The world seems to be oblivious when it comes to the non-traditional security paradigms hence certain natural cycles repeat overtime....

Newsdesk3 hours ago

Peru Will Receive US$ 50M from the World Bank to Strengthen Key Social Protection

The World Bank Board of Directors today approved a US$ 50 million loan to strengthen key policies and strategies to...

Newsdesk5 hours ago

AIIB To Scale Up Public Health Infrastructure in Wake of COVID-19

Recognizing that countries with fragile infrastructure have less capacity to handle health crises, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) is...

South Asia7 hours ago

Pakistan is striving enthusiastically to quell the COVID-19

International cooperation has become necessary for the nations across the globe, to defeat the Coronavirus pandemic -an invisible enemy. For...

Americas9 hours ago

Coronavirus is Trump’s most important electoral rival

The Earth is intertwined with space in various group, ethnic, religious, national, and other forms. National spaces within countries are...

Tourism11 hours ago

Calling on Innovators and Entrepreneurs to Accelerate Tourism Recovery

In the face of an unprecedented challenge, the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), with the support of the World Health Organization...

Diplomacy13 hours ago

COVID-19 Diplomacy and the Role of the United Nations Security Council

On 30th January 2020 World Health Organisation declared COVID-19 a Public Health Emergency of International Concern, soon after on 11th...

Trending