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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.

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

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

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

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

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

Digital Diplomacy and Nation Branding

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

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

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

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

Authoritarian digital narratives: Liars and Outliers?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Table 2. Most Effective World Leaders on Instagram

Conclusion: Emotional Digital Diplomacy?

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

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

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

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

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

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How national diplomatic missions are adapting to a fast-changing environment

Rodrigo Vaz

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Diplomacy at a crossroads

The impact of technology in diplomacy cannot be overstated. If “twenty years ago, telegrams from embassies would arrive in paper form”, in the past years an avalanche of technological breakthroughs forced diplomatic representations to adapt. Embassies are increasingly making use of social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, even if that embrace is still made with reluctance by practitioners. Moreover, the phenomenon of big data suggests that the role of diplomatic missions as ‘gatherers’ of information will be enhanced, provided national diplomatic systems make good use of the ever increasing amount of data available.

Even if it is still looked with suspicion by diplomats, the role of digital diplomacy paves the way for another important shift in diplomacy, which is the rise of non-state actors that “present a formidable challenge to state primacy in the diplomatic world”. These new digital platforms give non-state actors a much easier way to reach and influence bothlocal and global audiences. Indeed, as Shaun Riordan puts it, “the sheer range of new actors – governmental and non-governmental – in international relations is truly staggering, as is their exponential growth”.

All this comes at a time when domestic circumstances are also undergoing deep change. MFAs are increasinglypressuredto cut expenditure as many countries, particularly across Europe, seek to balance their public budgets. This has led to a rationalisation of costs where possible, often with allied countries deciding to pool their resources together. This has in turn set the scene for the rise of commercial diplomacy. Increasingly “governments encourage home firms to trade, as well as seeking to make their countries an attractive destination for foreign direct investment (FDI), research and development (R&D) and knowledge”.

One example that seems to have attempted to meet all these new challenges was the period that Tom Fletcher spent as British Ambassador to Lebanon. The Ambassador chose to adopt a direct and informal communication style to reach out to his host country that included tweeting and blogging frequently. During his tenure, Mr Fletcher actively promoted trade between the United Kingdom and Lebanon by sponsoring several trade fairs and showcases of British products, while facilitating defence trade deals between the UK and Lebanon.

The impact seems to be have been highly positive. UK-Lebanon business doubled in the space of three years and the “Lebanese Armed Forces are now using British-supplied vehicles and a string of British-built watchtowers”. The period of Mr Fletcher as UK Ambassador seems to suggest a new way of diplomacy-making, with added roles for the Ambassador: perhaps more informal in style, but undoubtedly with greater public exposure and a vocal promoter of the country on cultural and commercial terms.

“The news of my death have been greatly exaggerated”: Diplomacy lives on

Despite all the changes and the lively discussion around the changes-in-waiting in the diplomatic world, it is worth pondering whether the excitement over the future of diplomatic missions is not without some hyperbole. After all, many of the novelties discussed are but means to the primary goals diplomatic missions have since time immemorial served: the advancement of a country’s interests and the protection of its citizens abroad.

Moreover, as ‘digital’ as diplomatic representations may eventually become, the role of the embassy as a building is and will remain a potentially key instrument of a country’s foreign policy. Here, the exile of Julius Assange in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London since 2012 provides a clear – if unlikely – example. After being accused of crimes of sexual nature in Sweden and declaring himself a political prisoner, Mr Assange was granted asylum by Ecuador. As at the time he was in London, he took refuge in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, which he has not left since. Even if this is an admittedly unusual example, it nonetheless shows that embassies remain irreplaceable; indeed, diplomacy can never be fully uploaded onto a ‘cloud’. When Tom Fletcher writes that the model diplomat in 2025 will not “see the embassy as a building, but as an idea”, that idea cannot in any case be disassociated from the building itself.

Conclusion

Embassies will remain essential assets of a country’s national diplomatic system. They retain replaceable function in terms of a country’s power projection worldwide and in protecting its citizens abroad in emergency situations.

However, the tectonic shifts we are witnessing will force the structure of embassies to change radically. There is a multiplication of available information due to issues such as big data and the emergence of new digital platforms and social media networks. Thus, embassies are likely to be, in the words of Tom Fletcher, “managers” instead of “creators” of information when communicating with their national Foreign Offices.

Naturally, this is not a model that will necessarily fit the realities of all states in the world. First of all, there is a high degree of agency in the diplomacy envisioned by Mr Fletcher. Not all diplomats are or will ever be “authentic, flexible, connected and influential”. Moreover, the economic, social and cultural particularities of each country will always define the priorities it sets out for its diplomatic representations to achieve. It thus follows that national diplomatic systems were always highly asymmetric among each other and will undoubtedly remain so – in number, size and scope. For instance, the United Kingdom has 226 diplomatic missions abroad; Estonia, at 45, has far less. Nevertheless, both countries have issues they will want their diplomatic missions to tackle, and both have political, economic and cultural agendas they will seek to project abroad. Those topics will often interact: Portugal’s economy diplomacy agency AICEP’s work in projecting the country as being at the forefront of digital innovation was certainly a key factor in convincing Egypt to buy Portugal’s public administration innovation technologies. In this kind of synergies lies the key to overcoming the challenges diplomatic representation will face in the future.

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Diplomacy

Kofi Annan: A Humane Diplomat

Shariful Islam

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I was deeply shocked whenever I heard that Kofi Annan is no more. A noble peace laureate, a visionary leader, an intellectual and scholar, a ‘global statesman’who led the United Nations two times as Secretary General will never be forgotten by the world. Especially, I cannot forget him. When I taught the United Nations to my students, his works always motivated me. I was a great fan of him. I regularly followed his write-ups, published in LinkedIn. I deeply admired his thoughts for the voiceless, marginalized people in theworld. Today, tens of thousands voiceless, powerless people in the world lost their ambassador.Its an irreparable loss to the world, particularly to the poor.In fact, there are very few people in the world, who talks, thinks about the poor. Annan is well known as a UN Secretary-General. I will not focus his works as Secretary General. RatherI intend to remember him through his writingsand speeches delivered around the world for a better, peaceful world.

Towards A Fairer, Peaceful World

If one goes through the writings of Kofi Annan, he always wrote and spoke for a fairer, for a more peaceful world. According to him, there are three pillars of a fairer, more peaceful world, i.e. sustainable development, peace and human rights. He contends that ‘these pillars are interconnected and interdependent, for there can be no long-term security without development, and there can be no long-term development without security. And no society can long remain prosperous without the rule of law and respect for human rights’ (Annan, May 13, 2015).He believed that if everyone comes forward in one way or another, then this fairer and peaceful world is possible to establish for everyone. In this regard, in a speech at Columbia University in 2015, Annan urged that ‘I encourage each and every one of you, in your own way, to join our struggle for a fairer and more peaceful world’.He believed in cooperation rather than competition, believed in engagement rather than separation. He writes that ‘My long experience has taught me that, whatever our background, what unites us is far greater than what divides us’.

Writings for the Poor, Voiceless People& Their Everyday Challenges

The last article that Annan published in LinkedIn was about Snakebiteon June 28, 2018. Annan urged that snakebites need to be addressed seriously by the world community as a public health crisis which is highly neglected in the world arena. He mentioned that it is poor people who become affected by snakebites and thus it is still neglected by the world community. But in terms of significance, in the piece, he mentions that ‘snakebite kills between 81,000 and 138,000 people globally every year, with many more suffering lasting mental and physical impairments. By comparison, the mosquito-borne Dengue fever claims roughly 20,000 lives annually worldwide. Despite its huge impact, snakebite is the biggest public health crisis you have likely never heard of. To date, it has been largely overlooked’. He concludes his piece by urging that ‘By working together to tackle snakebite, we can save the lives of tens of thousands of our fellow human beings in some of the poorest and most marginalised parts of our world’.

He strongly raised his voice against the genocide of Rohingyas. Notably, if the Myanmar government would follow the suggestions given by the Kofi Annan commission led by him, then, the world would not witness today’s Rohingya genocide. To resolve the global refugee crisis, Annan questioned that why are only poor countries taking refugees? Why not the developed one? He identifies that ‘Yet the sad truth is that for many, especially in the prosperous Global North, refugees have slipped from the minds of citizens. When they do appear, it’s often because of irresponsible political rhetoric designed to stoke fears rather than foster genuine debate. Quasi-populist politicians have all too often exploited these fears — when what is needed is responsible leadership shaped by facts, principles and values’ (Annan, June 27, 2017).

In a speech given on 25 June 2018 at the World Meteorological Organisation in Geneva, Switzerland, Annan talks about the water challenge that the world faces and its solutions. Annan points out that ‘Water scarcity currently affects more than 40% of the global population, and this figure is projected to rise. Millions of people, most of them children, die every year from diseases linked to poor hygiene and unsafe water. Climate change is adding to these pressures: in water-scarce regions, the increasing and competing demands for water are leading to instability, forced migration and conflict’. Against this backdrop, he urges the worldto take effective actions immediately. In the speech, he emphasizes that ‘Water is critical for human health, food security, the environment, stability and prosperity; we therefore have to put water at the core of all of our peace and development efforts’ (Annan, June 25, 2018).

Dreaming for poverty, hunger and malnutrition free world

Kofi Annan dreamed for a hunger-free world. Notably, he significantly contributed to the UN Millennium Development Goals, consisting of eight ambitious goals. He writes that ‘[t]he first goal — to cut extreme poverty and hunger in half by 2015 — was especially important to me, because it was crucial to achieving all the others. Talk led to action, and action to results. Between 2000 and 2015, nearly every African country improved childhood nutrition, especially in reducing stunted growth caused by malnutrition’ (Annan, March 20, 2018).

Annan links stability and peace with food security. He writes that ‘we need to recognise that stability and peace are necessary conditions for agricultural development, food security and the long-term sustainability of food systems.In parts of the Sahel and the Horn of Africa, millions of people are at risk of starvation due to violent conflict, radical extremism and insecurity’ (Annan, April 20, 2018). Thus, he reiterates on peace and stability in the world to achieve sustainable food security for all.In addition, Annan focuses on the nutritional aspects of food security which is very often overlooked by the policy world. According to him, ‘Nutrition is one of the best drivers of development: it sparks a virtuous cycle of socio-economic improvements, such as increasing access to education and employment. Eradicating malnutrition is crucial to delivering on the Sustainable Development Goals’ promise of “leaving no one behind” (Annan, March 20, 2018).

On January 29, 2018 he published an article on malnutrition in Africa in LinkedIn, titled ‘Five Steps to End Malnutrition in Africa’.These steps are: ‘both the public and private sector need to champion nutrition and mobilise more financial commitments on nutrition to deliver socio-economic and health returns; governments have to adopt a nutrition-sensitive lens to new policies; need to create new partnerships and promote solutions that come from all sectors – governments, the private sector, and civil society; need to make sure that we put in place a nutrition accountability mechanism; and finally a focus on data is critical to helping countries reduce malnutrition. Timely, relevant, and reliable data are essential to defining problems, diagnosing root causes, and making informed policy decisions’ (Annan, January 29, 2018).In fact, he is quite optimistic to end malnutrition if ‘sustained and bold leadership from every sector can be ensured’.

Annan emphasized the transformation of our food systems through delivering healthy diets in all communities and countries across the world (November 6, 2017). He warns to the world that ‘Famines are the most visible signs of today’s global nutrition emergency, but child stunting is an even bigger – and hidden – crisis that will stunt entire societies in the long term if not addressed’ (November 6, 2017).

Creating positive changes in the world

Kofi Annan believed that it is possible to bring positive changes in the world though there are complex challenges like climate change, growing inequalities. For a positive change in the world, he makes three recommendations, i.e. to make sure that business does not forget the poorest; to build alliances and partnerships to increase equitable growth and opportunity for all; businesses need to ensure the decisions they make will deliver sustainable and ethical development (Annan, November 10, 2017). In this context, Annan writes: ‘There are many challenges to overcome, but I am confident that through leadership, partnership, and vision, positive change is possible. So let us all start living up to this responsibility today and lay the foundation for a brighter tomorrow’ (Annan, November 10, 2017).

Finally, it can be said that from politicians to practitioners, teachers to students, writers to journalists, businessman to general masses, all need to study Kofi Annan and his philosophy to make a fairer and a more peaceful world.In fact, a humane world is a crying need which needs to be realized by all stakeholders and materialized. And for the materialization, leadership crisis needs to be addressed as Annan has argued ‘the world has a leadership crisis, not a knowledge crisis’. There is in fact, enough food for thought for the world.

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