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Military Diplomacy as a Hybrid Instrument of National Power

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Today’s complex security environment requires the United States to use all of its instruments of power to maintain its status in the world, as well as to protect its own interests and the interests of its allies.  Traditionally, the instruments of power are separated into Diplomacy, Intelligence, Military, Economic, Financial, Information, and Law Enforcement, abbreviated as DIMEFIL in nearly every United States military Professional Military Education (PME) school.  In almost all cases, the Military is considered the strongest of those instruments of power while Diplomacy is too often give short shrift.  However, the continued use of Military Diplomacy offers a hybrid instrument of power to help connect with allies across regions while advancing the interests of the United States. This article will look at military diplomacy as a potential hybrid instrument of national power and how the Office of Security Cooperation-Iraq (OSC-I), under the U.S. Embassy Baghdad and U.S. Central Command utilized military diplomacy to reconnect Iraq with its neighbors in the Middle East. 

The current United States National Security Strategy (December 2017) lays out the importance of continuing to engage with our partners and potential allies.    It states, “Diplomacy catalyzes the political, economic, and societal connections that create America’s enduring alignments and that build positive networks of relationships with partners.”  The Diplomacy and Statecraft section goes on to identify three different types of diplomacy: Competitive Diplomacy, Tools of Economic Diplomacy and Information Statecraft.

Similarly, the Military instrument of national power is mentioned throughout the 2017 National Security Strategy.  From protecting the American people to defeating Jihadist terrorists, the military instrument of power is weaved throughout the document. However, there is a gap within the 2017 National Security Strategy.  The article attempts to draws a cleaner line between the use of the United States military and its diplomatic efforts.  The use of military diplomacy is an important tool not addressed in the National Security Strategy and one that can help bridge this gap.

What is military diplomacy

There is not a standard definition of military diplomacy.  Erik Pajtinka defines military diplomacy as,

“A set of activities carried out mainly by the representatives of the defense department, as well as other state institutions, aimed at pursuing the forcing policy interests of the state in the field of security and defense policy, and whose actions are based on the use of negations and other diplomatic interests.” He goes on to define military diplomacy as “a specific field of diplomacy which focused primarily on the pursuit of foreign policy interests of the state in the field of security and defense policy.”

Amy Ebitz, in her paper from the Brookings Institute titled, “The Use of Military Diplomacy in Great Power Competition: Lessons Learned from the Marshall Plan,” states Military diplomacy can also be referred to as “defense diplomacy,” soft power,” “military public diplomacy,” and “strategic communication. Her terms of either defense diplomacy or military public diplomacy align well with the above definition of military diplomacy. However, use of soft power and strategic communications do not.  Soft Power, as originally coined by Joseph Nye, refers to, “the ability of a country to persuade others to do what it wants without force or coercion.”   This often is accomplished by projecting soft power through companies, foundations, universities, churches, and other institutions of civil society.  I would argue soft power falls more in the information instrument of national power and not within the military instrument.

Strategic communications is defined in the International Journal of Strategic Communications as,

“The purposeful use of communication by an organization to fulfill its mission.  Six relevant disciplines are involved in the development, implementation, and assessment of communications by organizations: management, marketing, public relations, technical communications, political communication and information/social marketing campaigns.”

Using this definition as a base, military diplomacy does not fit well into these categories of strategic communications.

For the purpose of this paper, Erik Pajtinka’s definition, “A set of activities carried out mainly by the representatives of the defense department, as well as other state institutions, aimed at pursuing the forcing policy interests of the state in the field of security and defense policy, and whose actions are based on the use of negotiations and other diplomatic interests,” will be used to guide this article.

There are three main parts of Pajtinka’s definition of military diplomacy.  First, “The activities are carried out mainly by the representatives of the defense department.”    This is a critical difference between traditional diplomacy.  Rather than traditional diplomats in the lead, different representatives from the Department of Defense are leading these efforts. 

Next, the activities are, “Aimed at pursuing the foreign policy interests of the state in the field of security and defense policy.”   As with most actions at the strategic level, the activities of military diplomacy must focus on the foreign policy interests of the government. However, a key difference is these foreign policy interests are in the fields of security and defense policy.  The focus on these two traditionally military related fields helps clarify where traditional diplomacy ends and military diplomacy begins. 

Finally, those implementing military diplomacy conduct their activities, “Based on the use of negotiations and other diplomatic interests.”   Unlike other traditional military activities to work with partner nations, military diplomacy leads through negotiations and other diplomatic interests before entering back into traditional military endeavors.  This will be explained further in the example of the Office of Security Cooperation-Baghdad’s efforts. 

The Department of Defense has a variety of tools available to promote military diplomacy. First and foremost are the Combatant Commanders themselves. These four-star General Officers are responsible for specified geographic regions across the globe.   Within each combatant command, the leadership interacts with numerous countries across their footprint.  For example, U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) has an area of responsibility of more than 4 million square miles, populated by more than 550 million people from 22 ethnic groups speaking over 18 languages.  Equally important, CENTCOM partners with 20 nations from Kazakhstan to Egypt. Each United States combatant command has similar footprints, getting to interact with nearly every nation on the globe in some capacity. 

The Commander of a combatant command interacts with all of the nations within their footprint.  When visiting one of the countries in their area of operations, they coordinate with both the U.S. Ambassador responsible for the country team and the security cooperation office within the host nation.   The result is a high ranking military diplomat, synchronized with the leading Department of State person in country, and bringing a massive capability to work with partner nation security forces. 

Combatant commands have a large tool kit from which to pull from to help move U.S. interests forward.  This includes all branches of the military (Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines) as well as the ability to serve as a coordinator between nations who may not have the friendliest of histories.  Each branch of the service under the combatant commands carries with it leadership, units and expertise within their respective regions. The result is a massive amount of capability to conduct military diplomacy. 

Military diplomacy in Iraq 2017-2018

As Iraq achieved success against Islamic State (IS) forces in 2017, there was a palpable shift from the use of military power to military diplomacy.  After decades of isolation brought by previous Iraqi actions, United Nations sanctions and violence following the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the Government of Iraq only had one neighbor to turn to for help within the region: Iran.  Sharing a major border of nearly 875 miles, these two countries have always been and will always be neighbors. As a result, there is a massive amount of legal and illegal trade crossing their borders.  Additionally, the commonality of the Shia religion in both countries connects them on another level. The two have been, and will be tied together due to their proximity and shared backgrounds. 

However, Iraq needed other partners in their region besides Iraq.  As a result, the Office of Security Cooperation-Iraq(OSC-I), located within the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, focused on using military diplomacy to help Iraq break out of its isolation. Traditionally, Security Cooperation offices focus on the sale of U.S. military equipment to a host nation.  OSC-I works for both for the U.S. Chief of Mission in Iraq, and for U.S. CENTCOM.  This placed it in a perfect position to facilitate military diplomacy.

In mid-2017, OSC-I had two main lines of effort. The first was traditional security assistance: the sale of equipment and parts to the Iraqi government.  The second, defense institution building, focused on security sector reform and the building of the necessary institutions to sustain their security forces. Eventually, the priority of effort shifted to the important work of ensuring the sustainability of defense institutions.  However, as the ISIS fight within Iraq concluded, senior leadership within both Department of State and Defense realized Iraq needed local partners to break out of its isolation. As a result, OSC-I developed a third line of effort: Regional Engagements (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: Office of Security Cooperation-Iraq, Line of Effort #3: Regional Engagements. From OSC-I Command Brief, 28 May 2018.

The regional engagement effort became a classic case of implementing military diplomacy to help a partner nation, Iraq.  Knowing Iraq was isolated with only Iran as a local partner, the use of military diplomacy became a critical component of reconnecting Iraq with their other neighbors more friendly to the United States. The goal was to reconnect Iraq with its neighbors through military-to-military engagements to encourage a confident, independent Iraq and reduce Iraq’s isolation.  As a result, military diplomacy became a major effort between the United States and Iraq. 

OSC-I, working with the Department of State and CENTCOM, reached out to surrounding neighbors and their militaries to increase military-to-military cooperation.  This was the first step of military diplomacy. The initial plan was to engage at the Chief of Defense level between neighbors.  With direct access to the Iraqi Chief of Defense, OSC-I was perfectly positioned to use military diplomacy. 

First and foremost, this effort was coordinated through and approved by both the U.S. Ambassador and the CENTCOM Commander.  The coordination between the two leads for both the diplomacy and military instruments of national power already had a solid relationship OSC-I was able to benefit from. 

Getting the process started was not as easy as a phone call.  The military diplomacy process began by coordinating invitations through the Department of State and the Iraqi’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  Additionally, CENTCOM was able to leverage its “power to convene” through its Commander at the time, General Joseph Votel.  He and his staff served as the coordination link between the U.S. Embassy, OSC-I and the Iraqi Chief of Defense.   Once coordinated, formal invitations were sent from the Iraqi Ministry of Foreign Affairs to their corresponding Ministries of Foreign Affairs in both Jordan and Saudi Arabia.  Once the invitations were received, and confirmed by the Security Cooperation offices in both Jordan and Saudi Arabia, CENTCOM contacted both Chiefs of Defense to emphasize the importance of the upcoming meeting, and added the CENTCOM Commander would serve as the host. 

The first result of this military diplomacy effort was a tri-lateral engagement in July 2017. The Chiefs of Defense of both Jordan and Saudi Arabia met with the Iraqi Chief of Defense in Baghdad.  This initial meeting set the groundwork for future bi-lateral meetings between the Chiefs of Defense, and their respective staffs to improve communications and coordination between the neighboring countries.  For OSC-I, this successful tri-lateral engagement demonstrated the power of military diplomacy when properly coordinated and supported by both Department of State and Department of Defense.

Another meeting rapidly followed, this time a bi-lateral between the Iraqi and Jordanian Chiefs of Defense. Discussion focused on the reopening of the Treybil border crossing between Iraq and Jordan. Closed during the Iraq War in 2003, the Treybil Highway served as a main trading route between Baghdad and Amman. A similar process occurred: coordination between embassies, the security cooperation offices and CENTCOM.  Invitations were coordinated through the U.S. Embassy then the Iraqi Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  The invitation went to the Jordanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and once the Security Cooperation office confirmed receipt, CENTCOM connected with the Jordanian Ministry of Defense to offer their support for the conference.  A meeting soon followed.  As a result of this meeting between the Jordanian and Iraqi Chiefs of Defense, staff working groups were established. Their work resulted in the Treybil border crossing reopened in August 2017, serving as a main trade route between the two nations and taking a major step towards normalizing relations. 

Next, the Saudi Arabian and Iraqi Chiefs of Defense met in a bi-lateral engagement hosted by CENTCOM and coordinated by the Office of Security Cooperation-Iraq.  The result of this military diplomacy effort was the reopening of the Arar border crossing for the first time in 27 years. This key border crossing was closed in 1990 after the countries cut ties following Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait.  The reopening assisted Iraqi religious pilgrims headed to Mecca during the Haj season.  The governor of Anbar province, Sohaib al-Rawi said, “This is a great start for further future cooperation between Iraq and Saudi Arabia.” Again, coordination occurred between both U.S. embassies in Iraq and Saudi Arabia, between the Security Cooperation offices overseen by CENTCOM made this important military diplomacy success story a reality.  

After the September 2017 Kurdish referendum, tensions between Iraq and Turkey were extremely high.  Turkey moved additional forces to the Iraqi border in response to the Kurdish vote for independence.  Conflicts flared up between Iraqi troops and Kurdish fighters.  The need for military diplomacy was needed more than ever. 

Again, through military diplomacy, a tri-lateral discussion between the Iraq, Turkey and the United States was set up.  Senior leaders in attendance included European Commander, General Curtis Scaparrotti, Turkish Chief of Defense General Hulusi Akar, Iraqi Chief of Defense, General Othman al-Ghanimi and U.S. Central Command Commander General Joseph Votel.  The meeting occurred in Ankara, Turkey on December 14, 2017.   This was again coordinated across both U.S. embassies, and in this case, two Combatant Commands to make this example of military diplomacy occur. 

The result of this meeting was the reopening of communications between the Turkish and Iraqi Chiefs of Defense. This was both extremely important and timely as Iraqi and Turkish troops faced off against one another on their border. The two Chiefs of Defense, shepherded by their U.S. combatant command counterparts, were able to meet face-to-face and reestablish a civil dialogue. The result was an increase in positive communications between the two military Chiefs and a reduction in tensions between the two neighboring militaries.

With a taste of success, the Iraqi Chief of Defense then asked through the Office of Security Cooperation-Iraq to meet with his Kuwaiti counterpart, a meeting that had not happened between the two countries since the invasion of Kuwait in 1990.  Again, coordination between the Iraq and Kuwait embassies started the process. Invitations followed and the meeting was set up.  

The meeting between the Kuwaiti Defense Minister and the Iraqi Chief of Defense occurred on January 23, 2018. U.S. Central Command Commander, General Votel hosted the historic meeting, helping to reopen the lines of communication between these two former enemies.  The result was an agreement for both militaries to continue to work together and begin developing longer-term security cooperation arrangements, an important step to normalizing relationships between two former enemies.  This and the other examples demonstrate what can be accomplished by military diplomacy when coordinated properly. 

Key to these military diplomacy successes was ensuring the Department of State Chief of Mission was tied into all discussions and approved of these efforts. In Iraq, there were weekly video teleconferences between the CENTCOM Commander and the U.S. Ambassador where current issues were discussed. Prior to any visit to Iraq, the CENTCOM Commander coordinated with the Ambassador to better, understand the priorities of the Department of State, and ensure CENTCOM was on the same message as the Chief of Mission. 

Combatant Commands also have the ability to host regional ambassador conferences, such as the one hosted in Qatar by CENTCOM on October 19, 2018.  The conference included chiefs of defense from the Gulf Cooperation Council for the Arabian States of the Gulf Region Countries: Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia ad United Arab Emirates, as well as Jordan and Egypt. The respective U.S. Ambassadors from each country attended and the U.S. CENTCOM forward headquarters in Qatar was a perfect spot to host the meeting.  These conferences are another great example of military diplomacy in action. 

Principles of Military Diplomacy

The examples above highlight the capabilities of using military diplomacy to further the interests of a country, in these cases the United States.  Based on the previous definition of military diplomacy and the actions of the Office of Security Cooperation-Iraq, this article recommends four principles of Military Diplomacy.

First, the Chief of Mission/U.S. Ambassador/Chief Diplomat is in the lead.  Within a host nation, it is the Chief of Mission responsible for all U.S. actions.  Coordination through the Embassy is a necessity and must be paramount for any military diplomacy effort to be successful. Efforts at military diplomacy without this coordination at the highest levels will not only result in failure, but also sour the critical relationship between State and Defense elements on the ground. 

Second, military diplomacy requires the support of the military. While this may sound like an obvious principle, military diplomacy requires elements of the Department of Defense to be involved, and to have something to offer.  As mentioned earlier, Defense elements have a large toolkit to tap into. From traditional security cooperation efforts to hosting military to military engagements, military diplomacy requires the military. Militaries throughout the world have common experiences and shared languages.  They are most adept at working with fellow militaries. 

Third, any military diplomacy efforts must work through the host nation process.  In the case of Iraq, invitations to bring in senior ranking military members from neighboring countries required an invitation from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It was the same for when the Iraqi Chief of Defense was invited to other nations:  the inviting nation would send an invitation through its Ministry of Foreign Affairs to the Iraqi MFA.  These efforts took time, and sometimes resulted in frustration on the American side as invitations were lost, or caught up in bureaucracy.  That being said, the U.S. State and military members were able to keep tabs on the status of the invitations and query to the status. 

Fourth and finally, set small goals.  Sometimes just having the two senior leaders meet is an accomplishment in itself.  Many involved in military diplomacy expected rapid results from all the coordination efforts. However, this often is not the case.  Goals are not often met in the first or second meeting of these senior leaders. However, as demonstrated above, sometimes just having those two senior military leaders meet results in positive press, increased dialogue and the thawing of long cold relationships.   

When properly coordinated with the Chief of Mission, military diplomacy is an effective instrument of national power.  The combatant commands have the leadership, the staff, and resources to enforce their “power to convene” utilizing military diplomacy. Bringing key military leadership from different nations together is one of the important components of military diplomacy.  This is not limited to the United States. Recent tensions between North Macedonia and Greece were reduced by military diplomacy between the two nations.  Most militaries have the capacity, with the support from their diplomatic branches, to successful utilize military diplomacy.  

More studies and research needs to look at the advantages and disadvantages of utilizing military diplomacy to help the United States achieve its stated policy goals, especially as we move back into an era of great power competition.  The use of military diplomacy as a hybrid instrument of national power for the United States has provided tangible achievements in achieving foreign policy goals in the past.  It must continue to do so in the future. 

Michael D. Sullivan, a colonel in the U.S. Army, served five tours in Iraq between 2004 and 2018. He holds a doctorate in international relations from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and currently works at the College of International Security Affairs at National Defense University. His views are his own and do not represent the National Defense University, U.S. Department of Defense or any other government agency.

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The Dilemma of Science Diplomacy: Between Advancement of Humanity and The Source of Rivalry

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In the past decades, science and technology have gained more ground in foreign affairs decision making processes. The emergence of more complex global problems has raised awareness that policymakers need to collaborate with researchers and scientists to create effective solutions. This is where the term science diplomacy has become increasingly noticeable over the years. The complicated challenges are faced by numerous countries simultaneously; therefore, both inter-state collaboration and scientific evidence are considered indispensable to overcome those challenges, thus, bringing science to the foreground of policy-making. Science diplomacy is then expected to close the gap by presenting a contemporary approach to global challenges. The existence of science in diplomacy conveys two important promises: scientific advice and networks that could help build the world better amid the complexity of transnational issues and leverage that international actors can use to strengthen their foreign policy.

However, these two promises contradict each other as bestowing political power in science makes it laden with interests. By using science diplomacy, states will be confronted with the dilemma of either using science to improve the life of people or using science to pursue their national interests. This article will further analyze this dilemma on how science and technology are imperatively needed to resolve global challenges. Yet, at the same time, its existence becomes one of the sources of power that create a rivalry between states.

The Extent of Science Diplomacy in International Affairs

The development of science and technology is pivotal in solving complex human issues at both national and international levels. However, innovative inventions resulting from scientific evolution need to be acknowledged by policymakers and put into policy implementation first before they can be advantageous for overcoming global challenges. In this case, diplomacy could be one field of policy and decision-making where science can appear both as transformative solutions for international issues or as leverage tools for states to achieve domestic gains, which then refers to as science diplomacy. Simply put, science diplomacy is the use of scientific collaborations among nations to address common problems facing 21st-century humanity and to build constructive international partnerships. According to Legrand and Stone, science diplomacy is not limited to exchanges only between states, but the practice has been unfolded to have wider global policy ramifications.

Over the last 15 years, the involvement of researchers as transnational actors in public policy and global governance are increasingly visible and making a distinguishable impact in various dimensions, including social, political, and economical. The increasing entanglement of science in diplomacy is caused by three main factors as follows:

  1. The growth of transnational challenges. Recent international issues tend to spread and transgress national borders. For instance, concerns about cyber security, the transmission of disease, labor migrations and digital communities indicated how states had developed higher levels of interdependency towards each other. These are all matters that demand the implementation of sophisticated scientific knowledge.
  2. The disaggregation of transnational policy-making. Although powerful sovereign actors are still considered the most important actors in the international arena, non-state actors’ emersion started gaining influence as significant players in managing policy challenges. This creates an opening where new subjects can be integrated into transnational relations, necessarily science and technology.
  3. The turn to science diplomacy. The science paradigm is rarely contested when disputes over transnational issues occur. This circumstance started shifting when the rationalist traditions within public policy were ascending. As a result, scientific advice in understanding government challenges becomes matters to create policy responses related to economic inequality, social unrest, or depletion of natural resources.

The extent of science diplomacy’s contribution to international affairs ranges in countless essential issues. Cross-border partnerships and multinational research networks have accomplished consequential scientific discovery: from gene-edited plants that could endure climate change to the identification of SARS Coronavirus and the formulation of its vaccines in less than two years. Recently, the involvement of science in diplomacy has made a significant impact in improving global health. Cooperation between governmental and non-governmental public health experts with diplomats and political leaders successfully assisted the dealing with some health challenges such as HIV/AIDS, the spread of the infectious Ebola Virus and MERS, as well as managing swine flu through coordinated global response.

Further, science diplomacy has also been impacting economic dimensions. Initiatives conducted by governments and foundations along with United Nations have successfully employed technology to reduce extreme poverty. The rapid growth of digital technology also fortuitously generates new opportunities for people in the least developed countries. In environmental dimensions, The Paris Agreement was another accomplishment facilitated by science diplomacy and considered a game changer in dealing with climate change. The successful narratives above show how scientific research could eliminate major global challenges and save human lives. Undeniably, the integration of science in diplomacy become imperatives approach currently in improving humanity.

Science in Diplomacy: Creating Rivalry

Away from its contribution to solving major global challenges, the existence of science could also be the source of power which function to leverage states in international relations. According to Royal Society, science for diplomacy enables actors to conceive science as a means to cultivate or even improve international relations between states. However, the usage of science in diplomacy could not be separated from political objectives. This is in line with Nye’s argumentation which stated that the strategy of using science is pursued with genuine scientific interest, yet strategic political goals clearly champion the approach. Consequently, science in and for diplomacy drew a paradox, for it can be seen only as a way to exploit science in international political affairs to achieve national interests.

Science is inherently neutral and perceived as a force for good. Royal Society also claimed that science offers a non-ideological setting for interaction and free idea exchange, regardless of ethnic, national, or religious roots. The integration of science in policymaking has inflicted a political dimension into it; hence their neutrality is questionable. Nevertheless, by bestowing political objectives upon science, it can become a powerful tool to leverage states’ bargaining power. In this case, science becomes a source of contested power that creates rivalry. This was clearly seen during the Cold War Period when the United States and Uni Soviets attempted to attain nuclear and space capacities to maintain their hegemony.

The current trajectory of science in international relations is internalized much the same way, particularly when science and technology are growing at a breakneck speed. Looks at the Technology War between the United States and China, where both countries compete to increase their science capacity. As China gains more ground in technological developments, Xi Jinping Government is increasingly being reckoned in global political affairs. Its presence is welcomed progressively in Global South as a key player in building a digital backbone. China is even considered a systemic threat by the US following its increasing domination over science and technology. This narrative showed how science became a contested power which could leverage states’ position in the international arena. Thus, science diplomacy should be understood as something other than a contemporary approach to resolving the complex global issue. It also needs to be addressed as the source of rivalry among states.

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Feminist Foreign Policy: A moment of introspection

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Those who are aware of Feminism would understand that it is not just a cozy club of women, where only conversation related to women’s issues talks place. Some would even contest that it is a club, feminism is like a school with a different department, focusing on a different area of research. Liberal, Radical, Ecofeminism, Standpoint, Structural, and Black feminism are a just few schools within feminism that approach issues from different perspectives. On the one hand, the diversity within Feminism is its strength. But this can also become a challenge if not handled properly. However, in today’s geopolitical climate where we see rising insecurities due to global challenges like migration, climate change, populism, inflation, and threat to women’s autonomy, we need an approach that addresses these complex challenges through a contextual, incremental, and culturally based perspective. We need a global approach with local solutions that deal with both domestic and international simultaneously. Hence, Feminist Foreign Policy (FFP) is likely to play an important role in the contemporary uncertain political atmosphere, by creating a sense of solidarity, sisterhood, and inclusiveness among global citizens.

Feminist Foreign Policy

FFP is not just a foreign policy that aligns itself with selective feminist values, but a way of conducting foreign policy via diplomatic relations that respects feminist principles such as human rights, diversity, inclusive governance, non-discrimination, anti-colonialism, anti-racism, indigenous rights, climate justice, and anti-militarization. It is not just about representation, but equally about principles of equity and agency, which unfortunately is neglected in the practice of contemporary foreign policy.

But before addressing the dilemma associated with the questions, it’s vital to explain one major issue that will essentially come when we talk about Foreign Policy, that is ‘National Interest’. Many conversations become redundant about foreign policy when National interest comes into the picture, it is the bottom line or the only religion that states are allowed to follow. Heresy is not an option that states are privileged enough to practice in what they see as an anarchic international system. Many scholars have debunked the masculine perspective of international politics. Feminist scholar like J. Ann Tickner have argued in favor of the feminist narrative in International Relations for ‘constructing an ungendered or human science of international politics which is sensitive to but goes beyond both masculine and feminine perspectives.’ FFP shifts the idea of national interests by emphasizing what feminist scholar like Soumita basu states ‘gender as a national interest’. This essentially brings forth the inequalities that different gender experience during conflict and war. FFP had redefined how peace, security, and power are perceived by challenging existing perspectives in foreign policy and diplomacy, such as the domination of patriarchy via skewed gender representation, and values that privileges masculinity over feminine characteristics. Focusing on positive peace, human security, and power as a social good is how feminists have challenged the status quo, at all levels; society, national, and international. This becomes possible by working closely with activists, academia, and INGO networks.

FFP in practice: Focusing on representation, resources and rights

We have seen FFP making some progress in the field of Nuclear Disarmament and Non-Proliferations which are heavily dominated by men propagating statist-discourse of Nuclear Weapon States (NWS). Scholars like Conway and Minami have argued for adopting FFP because it deconstructs the notion of masculinity like strength, violence, and aggression from the field of Nuclear security. Due to this, the process of nuclear disarmament has been seen as feminine, weak, and emasculated for the norms and ideals it upholds. FFP here helps to promote gender perspective in multilateral forums, where negotiations and discussions takes place. It focuses on the issue of nuclear disarmament by emphasizing increasing women’s representation, and norms mainstreaming. Women diplomats try to influence the process, be it in the form of better negotiations, essential deals, more checks, or even creating an environment of trust. This was seen during the JCPOA deal with Iran, where women representatives were involved. One prominent example was the role of women diplomats like Wendy Sherman for the U.S., Helga Schmid, and Federica Mogherini from Europe in finalizing the JCPOA deal with Iran, adding to the work of their successor Catherine Ashton from the EU. This was a case of women trying to get the best deal to ensure sustainable peace. Furthermore, FFP also emphasizes on ‘inclusion’ of small states, particularly Non-Nuclear Weapons states(NNWS) and Civil society organizations(CSO) which stresses on the gendered impact of nuclear weapons, and the humanitarian perspective, influenced by feminist characteristics. A treaty like the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) has been used by NNWS to maximize their interests at forums, for them, these forums act as a resource. Butale emphasizes that treaties such as TPNW is more gender-sensitive as compared to Nuclear Ban Treaty, NPT, and other nuclear policies. Since the TPNW entered into force on 22 January 2022, it has been ratified by 91 states, and 68 state parties. It adds to the existential nuclear disarmament regime but without the existing P5 states, and helps to delegitimize nuclear weapons through moral and political means. This is a long struggle of activists and NGOs where feminists worked together, and now through FFP, we have a renewed focus on women’s representation not only in diplomatic negotiations, but even in INGOs and civil society to ensure gender equality, equity, and diversity in social and political movements. Representations among CSO has seen progress, where out of 143 CSOs, we see equal representation in 17 CSO, more female than men in 42 CSOs, and 29 CSOs with all female.   

On the one hand, we have seen encouraging signs with increasing countries following FFP or adopting feminist perspectives, mainly countries from the global north, and some in the global south such as Mexico adopting FFP. However, we have also seen the pioneer of the FFP, Sweden under its right-wing government scraping FFP. There still remains many contradictions while pursuing FFP, the recent abstention of Mexico from the vote on the expulsion of Iran from Commission on the Status of Women points towards a dissonance when it comes to following the policy to the words. Challenges will rise with the current global scenario becoming more polarised, where we would see culture, and politics intermingling together both at the domestic and international level. This trend has already manifested itself on social media leading to exaggerated and accelerated clash between conservatives and feminist values, between political parties and interests groups domestically, and liberal-democratic and conservatives government across the world. Any movement across the globe now is seen threatening the stability of a regime. The revolution led by the brave women of Iran against the Hijab and supported by governments of democratic states is now seen as a symbol of destabilising countries, rather than solidarity.

The way forward

There exist some negatives within FFP that needs to be addressed to make it more acceptable without compromising its basic principles. Taking a skewed approach, essentializing gender as the category of prominence and institutionalizing this category at the center of policy and decision-making has not been marketed well. The current approach projects a reality of binaries between men and women, which essentially creates a backlash. FFP must move beyond this binary, towards greater inclusion.  Unfortunately, it brings the existing problems that feminists have faced in ‘Peacebuilding’ with the domination of western narratives, funding, and implementation of liberal values bereft of indigenous connection. To address this FFP need to engage with local and indigenous culture’s knowledge systems that give agency to local actors and stakeholders, and avoid imposing ‘North’s’ FFP framework as a template for the Global south. FFP can work on sharing best practices, funding, and giving a platform to marginal voices at International Institutions. Mainstreaming voices in diplomacy and foreign policy that are traditionally neglected, focusing on two E’s and one ‘D’ and ‘I’ should be the focus going forward; Equity, Equality, Diversity, and Intersectionality. This will help bridge the existing conversation and create a foreign policy-making process holistic and fair.

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Commercial Brands as a Soft Power Tool

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A state’s international image is its main “soft power” attribute. By developing this well-known concept, countries can create prospects for national investment, and therefore wealth for their country. Nowadays, commercial brands may constitute a powerful tool in the hands of diplomats, who bet on using soft power as a means to exert their nation’s ideological influence onto other states and their people.

The concept of soft power is often used today in the sphere of international relations as a public policy tool. The term was coined by American researcher Joseph Nye in 1990 in his book, “Bound to Lead: The Changing Nature of American Power”. Nye claims that culture plays an important role in foreign policy, which is not surprising because while it is possible to change the economy and political course of a country, it is quite difficult to change its culture. The cultural nature of conflict is a source of global contradictions. In “The Clash of Civilizations and Remaking of the World Order”, renowned political scientist Samuel Huntington concludes that the clash of civilizations will be the main cause of international confrontations based on differences in culture, religion and traditional values.

Through the concept of soft power, an “attractive” image of a secular and prosperous state is promoted in order to “tactically” influence other countries and their people. As Joseph Nye simply explained, soft power is the ability “to make others want what you want.”

An engaged and educated society, advanced technology, developed infrastructure, protected cultural heritage, high level of social support for the state, and active country involvement in tackling global issues on the sustainable development agenda are the strongest elements of a country’s soft power.

The commercial sector is heavily influenced by this concept, and corporations and states have the potential to control the masses through major brands as leverage.

Not Everyone Benefits from Globalization

The phenomenon that is “globalization” can also be used by some governments as an excuse to violate the sovereignty of other states. They play the “globalization” card and use it as an argument against any country that is not prepared to cooperate on an issue in their unipolar sphere of interest.

Countries interested in spreading their production without considering the national needs and values of other cultures and perceive the world as a “one featureless market”, are the first to benefit from globalization and the blurring of cultural boundaries. Many countries therefore limit the impact this has on their citizens, trying to protect them from an imposed value system that wipes out historical memory and cultural identity, that is so emphatically defended by UNESCO as “living heritage”. China’s internet policy, “The Great Firewall of China”, is a clear example of such protection measures in practice. Considering the uncomfortable technological sophistication that China has achieved for several countries, internet policy has become primarily a matter of security.

Additionally, Chinese national television focuses on broadcasting picturesque landscapes and the beauty of its great culture, encouraging the Chinese population to value nature, as well as domestic tourism, rather than simply showing endless commercials for industrial products. China is the only civilization in the world that has not interrupted its development by succumbing to other, notably Western, soft power influences. Today, China strives to carefully pass down its world-view ideas across generations, one of which being “āntǔ-zhòngqiān (or love of homeland and unwillingness to leave it).

Almost Everyone Today is a customer

Today, the big commercial brands are geared towards a global community in which almost everyone has purchasing power. Year after year, despite a myriad of global challenges, the world population is making tremendous progress in terms of living standards.

In April 2022, the World Bank updated its global poverty estimates for 2018 (prior to the Covid-19 pandemic) on the new Poverty and Inequality Platform (PIP), showing that global poverty rates (those living below a daily income of $1.90) was 8.6%, down from 2017’s 9.1%. In other words, this is equivalent to 28 million people pulled out of poverty in over two years. Comparing earlier periods, the global poverty rate fell by 4.3% between 2012 and 2018.

People today live better than have before, which means they buy more. However, the impact commercial brands play in shopper purchases goes far beyond the numbers.

Brand with a Human Face

Today we are witnessing brand humanization with 24/7 customer feedback. No longer is the aim of big trading companies to enter into a money-for-good relationship with its customers, but rather it is to gain customer loyalty and, if necessary, change political and social attitudes.

According to the American psychologist Abraham Maslow’s pyramid of needs, people need to belong to a social group through which they can feel valued. Commercial brands don’t miss a chance to take advantage of that.

Major sportswear companies are offering free membership to a community of brand enthusiasts, encouraging them to become a part of a global community that is recreating the future of sport. But beyond this noble goal, there is a purely commercial one: successful sales are the foundation of any company’s development.

What’s more important is that every major brand has digital platforms. Brand social media pages are turning into full-fledged media outlets, engaging major magazines that produce news and set the agenda for the brand. Commercial brands are trying to focus on sensitive global issues in a bid to appeal to different social groups, from exclusively female audiences to devout environmentalists.

For example, the American brand “Dove” is developing a “Self-Esteem Project” with the slogan “Stop the Beauty Test”, which works with issues of self-perception and anxiety reduction that cannot but find support among today’s women.

Major retail chains are creating clothing lines out of recycled plastic. Certainly, some companies are keen to contribute to the environment, but commercial brands exist on sales and by creating a line based on recycled plastic, brands mentally reinforce customers the belief that they are not just consuming a good, but saving the planet, even if the recycled plastic makes up 5% of the item; that matter takes a back seat.

Commercial Brands Polish the Soft Power of States

It is not so much the products that the big commercial brands are capturing audiences with, but rather the lifestyle; they offer comfortable terms of purchase, instant delivery and generous discounts, which is difficult for local businesses and local manufacturers to compete with, affecting the country’s economy. The authentic “made in” products of a strong brand produce positive perceptions of the country and vice versa. When we buy water, food, a car, or clothes from a country, we create an association with the country where they are produced.

In this way, big brands turn the country itself into a brand, attracting investors, businessmen, and immigrants, among them promising scientists and young minds, whose work shapes the country’s economy and its status as a world active leader, desirable partner, and ally.

Additionally, company websites collect user data in thematic surveys that are used to analyze the lifestyles and purchasing power levels of people in other countries in order to subsequently adapt products. Public demand influences import and export policies of states, and commercial brands play into that.

The international image of any state is the main attribute of its “soft power”. The market research company “FutureBrand”, a brand-transforming business, developed the “FutureBrand Country Index”, which measures the “attractiveness” quotient of a country in terms of public perception, examining consumer or corporate brands through surveys and scientific data analysis techniques. The top three in 2020 are Japan, Switzerland and Norway. According to respondent country brand associations, the top performers in Japan were “Toyota” and “Uniqlo”; “Tissot”, “Rolex”, and “Swatch” in Switzerland; and “Neutrogena” and “Statoil” in Norway.

Country as a Brand

The UN’s 2022 annual World Happiness Report, Denmark earned second place for home to the world’s happiest people, with Finland taking first. Human happiness cannot be measured by quantitative methods, but Mike Wiking from Denmark founded the Happiness Research Institute, which studies people’s quality of life and satisfaction with their daily lives using scientific methods. According to the Institute, governments and civil society organizations are eager to collaborate in order to apply collected data to public policy, and make the lives of their citizens better.

A few years ago, the world seemed obsessed with the Danish concept of “Hygge” (happiness in Danish), which became the basis for many business ideas for Danish decor, furniture, and clothing brands. The country even became an attractive destination for potential immigration. This is just one example of how people do not buy a product, but a lifestyle.

National Branding Can Help Developing Economies

The pandemic has particularly weakened the economies of countries with tourism as their main source of income. Turning a country into a brand can help countries with dwindling economic potential and save jobs at a time of crisis, as digital technology allows countries to create successful PR campaigns.

At the “World Conference on Tourism Cooperation and Development”, organized by the World Tourism Cities Federation as part of the “China International Fair for Trade in Services” forums in September 2022, representatives from Africa and the Caribbean outlined strategies for recovering tourism after the pandemic. One successful example of country branding were the Seychelles Islands, which during lockdown created a platform with the slogan “Dream Now and Experience Later.” The resource contained high-quality photos and videos introducing the country online and, once the lockdown was over, the creators invited people to visit the islands to experience the real thing.

Power Is Also Like Love

As Joseph Nye puts it, “Power is also like love, easier to experience than to define or measure, but no less real for that.” Nowadays, corporations and brands boost economies and attract investment, cultivating the potential for that very soft power that countries will continue to work hard for, to attract financial flows and initiate various forms of intercultural cooperation.

When you hear about Switzerland, even if you have never been there, you get an image of a safe country with amazing natural beauty and a strong economy; a place where you can confidently keep your savings, which is why it attracted the world’s wealthy elite.

However, in today’s world, sanctions show quite well how fragile and politicized the commercial sector is, and the notion of a “free market” is a highly idealized concept.

From our partner RIAC

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