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India’s Ministry of External Affairs is one of the best in South Asia

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In his exclusive interview for PICREADI Alexey Kupriyanov, Russian expert on India, reveals some secrets of Indian soft power and states that India’s External Affairs is one of the best in South Asia. But why?

Is India the subject or the object of soft power? How does India see its soft power approach in the world and does it see it at all?

India as any other country is at the same time both the object and the subject. With great importance attached to India by the great powers trying to ensure for themselves India’s support, the country is the object. It is well proved by the US soft power programs targeted at India. Numerous meetings, promotion of dialogue with experts and Indian youth, and business trips invitations are used by the US.

At the same time India is the soft power subject. That is why we should apprehend its political worldview. Their world consists of three concentric zones: the immediate neighborhood, extended neighborhood zones and the rest of the world. The immediate neighborhood zone includes the Indian subcontinent and all the neighboring islands, the extended neighborhood zone includes Eastern Africa, Central Asia, the coastal areas of the Arabian sea, Middle East and South East Asia. That is the zone that is influenced upon by India’s soft power. India is not able to use the hard power there due to the lack of resources, as well as necessity and will. So, the soft power develops.

Undoubtedly its influence spreads upon the rest of the world: it is enough to recall Indian films, Yoga days and the demonstration of its beautiful, old culture which dates back to 3000 B.C. Anyway, in the immediate neighborhood and extended neighborhood zones the Indian soft power programmes are much more extensive and detailed. The Indians organize military and police trainings, young politicians courses and etc., as a result a number of pro-Indian experts, officials and politicians emerge.

How is the system of public diplomacy structured in India? Does the government play significant role in this structure?

India’s system of public diplomacy works intensively through Indian Embassies, to which cultural, press and educational attaches are attached. Indian embassy maintains closest contacts with Indian, pro-Indian and India-linked circles, or at least tries to establish contacts with them. India will use everything that can be used to achieve the goals of public diplomacy. ISKCON represents a good example of this trend. In India itself they are regarded not so well, but abroad they represent Indian culture and so they are treated differently, because if you have something to do with ISKCON you will be pro India a priori.

The Raisina Dialogue, which has been held for some years, is a key expert event in the field of international relations and diplomacy. What is the aim of this events? To improve the image of the country? Or to organize international cooperation?

In fact, it is not the only one such event in India, there is a lot of various events. Raisina Dialogue is the most well-known one. Schools of young politicians are held in India on the regular basis. This instrument is now intensively used by both the West ant the East. Generally, big forums and conferences invite foreign experts to establish relations with their Indian counterparts. Young politicians schools last for one month or month and a half, there are lectures and the participants communicate with each other.

I know those who participated in these programs, and they got quite impressed, because it was the first time they visited the country and lived in it. This people leave the country with absolutely different feelings, because they already know the country, they love it and leave the country being an advocate of the Russian-Indian friendship, for instance.

So, the government of India is willing to develop the country’s positions in terms of soft power?

That’s true, Indian Foreign Ministry rigorously follows this sphere and successfully implements all the necessary programs. Indian Foreign Ministry is truly one of the best in South Asia.

In spite of the fact that the idea of non-violence is a traditional leitmotif of Indian policy, the most privileged strategic partnership with Russia develops not in the soft power, but in military-technical cooperation. What are the prospects of diversification of Russian-Indian partnership?

In fact, it is already quite diversified. Our cultural and scientific center (Russian Center for Science and Culture in New Delhi – “CD”) proactively works on strengthening of our culture ties and has already achieved considerable success. The ground is fertile there. Cultural links between Russia and India date back to the late 19th century, we should remember that Tolstoy’s ideas shaped Gandhi’s worldview. There are a lot of Soviet textbooks, printed in the Soviet Union in Indian languages, which were used by several generations. Russia’s image in India is still very positive, mostly thanks to this background.

Does it influence the youth as well?

Sure, it influences the youth less. First, our work in this aspect is not enough, second, back then we were a superpower and now we are not. It is clear that the youth incline towards the US, but with great influence of their families and social attitudes, the country has positive perception of Russia.

A lot of Indians visit Russian Center for Science and Culture in New Delhi leaded by Fiodor Rozovsky to learn the language, Russian culture and national dances. One of the central streets in New Delhi is called Tolstoy Marg, there are monuments to Tolstoy, Pushkin, in Nehru park there is a monument to Lenin, with floral breathes. For sure India is interested in Russia as well as Russia is interested in India. Cultural ties are okay, but economic ones are much more fragile.

China is far richer, but India holds all the nonfinancial actives and is able to carry out religious projects in South East Asia.

Russian-Indian partnership is developing against escalating Indian-Chinese confrontation on a great number of strategic issues (differences on the “One belt one road” initiative, etc.). There is a confrontation in cultural areas as well. May India take advantages of the drawbacks of Chinese model? In which countries it might do it?

Firstly, we should clarify the terms. India isn’t Chinese adversary, foe, it is Chinese rival in some infrastructural and political influence projects in South East Asia and border areas. India doesn’t strongly oppose the Belt and Road project. It is against China using disputed territories, as the China – Pakistan Economic Corridor goes through the lands over which India claims its sovereignty. China didn’t asked permission of India to do so. It represents an acute political issue, but there is no existential confrontation. If this issue is resolved, the problem will cease to exist.

Generally speaking, culturally India and China have been closely linked for a long period of time. It is enough to recall the evolution that underwent the image of bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara after it had negotiated the Himalayas, had feminised and had turned into the Godness of the hearth Guanyin.

Their economic ties are of the same importance. China is a major exporter of goods in India and one of the major investors into Indian economy. Despite all the differences, the countries continue to trade and the turnover is rapidly rising. So, we should discuss China-India rapprochement, as the Doklam confrontation was set aside in the context of prime minister’s Modi visit to Wuhan and rising cooperation.

Indian – Chinese confrontation in the soft power sphere can hardly be discussed, as the countries offer fundamentally different product. There are countries oriented towards China, there are countries oriented towards India, some countries manage to successfully combine these directions. China is far richer, but India possess all the non-financial actives and may carry out religious diplomacy projects in South East Asia. Small countries try to get on with both countries, for example in some infrastructural project they rent a port for reconstruction to China and the nearby airport to India.

One of the largest elements of soft power is the higher education. What about Indian soft power implementation through education?

It is all right. India invites foreign students, and there is nothing difficult in going to India to study, as they have a lot of educational programmes. Jawaharlal Nehru University, the University of Delhi and all the major universities exercise programs for foreign students. They are backed by the government.

There is an opinion that India could promote its own model (including the global governance model), which is different from the liberal Western one and the Chinese authoritarian one, through education. Is that true?

To do so, India should first make up such model. I would argue that the Chinese model is an authoritarian model. On the contrary, China undertakes attempts to create “a community of shared future for mankind” and accuses Western countries of authoritarianism and neocolonialism. Nowadays China is proactively inviting students from the Third World countries to train them as pro-Chinese, but on the other hand China isn’t interested in these students building specific African socialism under the auspices of a local Communist Party. It is mainly aimed at developing communication with Chinese people and promoting cooperation of China and their country of origin. India is doing something similar, it trains pro-Indian personnel, which transmits Indian influence and advocates friendly relations with India.

In case of India, Indian diaspora’s potential is of particular interest (It is one of the largest in the world). External policy of Indian prime minister Modi features direct appeal to Indian diaspora overseas. How does the diaspora influence Indian image abroad?

Firstly, as the Indian diaspora is so numerous, the appeal to it is a permanent feature of Indian policy. It has been shaping since Indians were settling down in the Indian ocean region, exercising their soft and not-so-soft power in South East Asia, establishing Indian and Buddhist kingdoms, settling down in Eastern Africa before the European reached the region. Under the British Empire it scaled up with British hiring Indians and sending them to the most remote corners of the vast empire. This is how Indian colonies were established in Barbados, Fiji, developed in Eastern Africa and in the Gulf countries.

The diaspora’s potential is quite a difficult question. Diaspora is one of the major sources of money, particularly the diasporas in rich countries, such as the Gulf countries. Indians go there to earn money, but they have no civil rights there and barely integrate into local communities: Indians can’t be granted citizenship in Saudi Arabia and so they live in the country as workers. They send money to India.

In the US Indians integrate into society and step-by-step become more Americans than Indians. There was a wide spread opinion that Indian diaspora is exceptionally large and powerful in the US. Indeed, it is huge and some of the representatives of the diaspora occupy quite high positions in the Senate and the Congress. But the US Indians are americanised.

The result of this phenomenon is evident in the outcome of the attempts to exempt India from US sanctions, which would have been introduced, if India had bought the S-400 missile system. And all of a sudden Indian diaspora proved to be totally useless in solving the issue. A great number of articles by distinguished americanised Indians calling to stop putting pressure on India were published in Indian and US top media resources, in The Diplomat, NYT and others, but it produced no results. It became clear that Indian diaspora on which so many hopes were placed turned out to be useless in solving conflicts of interest.

Indians that are engaged in public affairs in the United States put the US interests over Indian and consider the US-India rapprochement through the lens of US interests. So, India managed to suspend the sanctions without diaspora’s help, but thanks to the highly important geopolitical interest of containing China secured by Pentagon and the Department of State, which needed India to be friendly neutral. This impotence of the diaspora should be reflected on.

In other countries the character of diaspora’s influence is much more specific. The inability of diaspora to get along with the local population of Fiji constitutes continuous problem for Indian government. Indians living in the Middle Eastern countries become a financial source for the country, but once a war starts India evacuates its citizens spending a great deal of money, as it happened in Yemen.

What is more Indians left some colonial heritage, which is particularly evident in Eastern Africa. When the British colonised Eastern Africa, Indians were much more loyal to the British and so they became merchants, policemen, minor officials, that is why when the liberation movements started, they were sometimes treated even worse than the British. For instance, Indian diaspora failed to survive in Zimbabwe; in the South African Republic, vice versa, the diaspora is thriving and is engaged in political affairs. Somewhere the diaspora is economically powerful, but totally passive from the political point of view, somewhere it is all around.

In Russia Indian diaspora is not so large. Could it be used as a soft power instrument in Russia?

There are Indians who settled in the Soviet Union, who studied here, got married, born children, and got russiafied. They have a significant role in the Russia-India rapprochement. These are businessmen, journalists.

There are several reasons why the diaspora in Russia is not so large. Firstly, language barrier, secondly, the climate. Indians suffer from the lack of sunny days in winter more than from cold. Finally, we have a state dominated by a major nation unlike in the US, for example. In the Los Angeles you’ll see an American nation shaping in real time by Afro-Americans, Koreans, Chinese, Latin Americans and other peoples, so Indians will have this sense of belonging. In Russia the vast majority speaks Russian, there is a tiny minority of migrants from the non-CIS countries. There is an Indian diaspora in Russia and it is living quite good, but politically it has no influence. Their main role is to establish relations. It helps others, maintains relations with the motherland.

In terms of soft power, private media in India is of particular interest. One of the recent examples is the so called “modimania”. From your point of view, why this phenomenon has emerged?

First of all Modi is well received by the diaspora. When he visits a country, he is cheered as national leader, under whose governance the country is transforming into a great power.

Modi as a politician is quite interesting personality. He is as powerful, as those who made new Indian history: Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi. Under the last prime minister Manmohan Singh, characterized by Indians as a weak leader, some issues were talked down, he wasn’t able to act strongly. He should take into account interests of numerous small groups, particular personalities. That resulted in stalemate. He was quite predictable, the country has been developing economically, but he wasn’t able to undertake sharp policies.

Modi is so different from him. He is perceived as “a miracle worker”: he launched the “India cleaning programme” (creating a system of public lavatories and street cleaning) in 2004, which his precedents weren’t able to realize. Taking into account the scale of the problem, it seemed to be impossible, but in 5 years he managed to put it in practice. Nowadays India differentiates from the India of the past. Modi promises to provide everyone with gas, water, and electricity before his term ends. Modi is criticized, but his achievements should be acknowledged.

Modi’s charisma is evident in his speeches. He feels the audience quite well, which is so rare. He is able to seize the interests of the audience, its attention and speaks about the issues it is interested in, changing the line of the speech as soon as he needs it. Other public politicians aren’t able to do so. Modi is not only a public politician; he is also the head of the state.

What is more, he is the same as the majority of Indians: he is a Hindu, and he doesn’t show off his secularism. In Russia we usually make jokes of the elements of national identity, but for Indians Modi embodies Indian national identity. In spite of a great number of different groups in Indian population, the majority of Indians are rural Hindu, who speak Hindi and other similar languages. They respect Hinduism, respect the elderly and cherish traditions. Modi perfectly matches the image of Indian leader. On the one hand he is quite experienced, on the other, he is energetic, ascetic in everyday life, single as he wants to devote his life to the country. He creates for himself an image of an ideal Golden Age leader and at the same time a 21st century leader who respects traditions and uses an iPhone.

Where does the most well-known element of Indian mass culture – the cinema stand? There are any prospects for it in Russia?

The elderly grew up with Roger Kapur’s films. They were extremely popular. Surprisingly enough it may sound but our young population watch Indian films and TV series (“Baahubali”, for example). In comparison with Hollywood films, the Bollywood ones are still quite popular. What’s more there is not only Bollywood films, but also films of other Indian productions.

Nevertheless, these films are much more popular in the immediate neighborhood and extended neighborhood zones: in Afghanistan, in the Middle East and in South East Asia. A great deal of Bollywood films is made in Hindustani. It is a kind of lingua franca for Hindi and Urdu speakers, it uses basic vocabulary, which is familiar to both Pakistani, and Indians. Afghani and Arabs use these films to master the language, as they usually watch these films and TV series.

Where does the most well-known element of Indian mass culture – the cinema stand? There are any prospects for it in Russia?

The elderly grew up with Roger Kapur’s films. They were extremely popular. Surprisingly enough it may sound but our young population watch Indian films and TV series (“Baahubali”, for example). In comparison with Hollywood films, the Bollywood ones are still quite popular. What’s more there is not only Bollywood films, but also films of other Indian productions.

Nevertheless, these films are much more popular in the immediate neighborhood and extended neighborhood zones: in Afghanistan, in the Middle East and in South East Asia. A great deal of Bollywood films is made in Hindustani. It is a kind of lingua franca for Hindi and Urdu speakers, it uses basic vocabulary, which is familiar to both Pakistani, and Indians. Afghani and Arabs use these films to master the language, as they usually watch these films and TV series.

How does India manage to combine so acute social problems (poverty, terrorism, etc.) and development of cutting-edge and military technologies? How a country can be so attractive abroad with such domestic problems?

Frankly, it fails to combine it. No one is happy with the poverty. On the other hand, a sound economic reform is underway, the middle class is expanding, poverty, dirt on the streets, lack of electricity and astonishing customs are disappearing.

India reminds me of the China of 1980s, the country is still poor, but its economy is ready to skyrocket. The population is becoming richer and the old problems are being gradually resolved. There is a sparkling difference when you see Gurugram, Hyderabad and Bengaluru business centers in the midst of suburbs or jungles where illiterate peasants live. This difference will vanish. The Indians take it for granted as they can’t do anything about it. They try to conceal its domestic problems to preserve its image abroad, as any other country does, I believe. India is a developing, densely populated country, that avoids rapid decisions.

In conclusion, I would like to mention Indian religious soft power, in particular Modi’s religious diplomacy which is one of a kind. In different times India developed the idea of hindusphere, a Great India. Earlier, in Chola times Indians transferred Hinduism and Buddhism through the whole region, conducting a cultural expansion in the direction of South East Asia.

Under the British Empire another phenomenon came to existence. This is a so called “Indian subempire”, when the vice-king ruled the country and tried to expand its influence. So, Eastern Africa and the Middle East become influenced and controlled by India. After the First world war India seriously considered the plans to annex Iraq and former German part of Eastern Africa, which is Tanzania nowadays. India’s current approaches to the Asian West and the Asian East result from these two epochs of Indian history.

In terms of soft power India took advantages of these two epochs. It is far more active on the East, Modi reminds the country about the Golden Age, periods before the Muslim conquest, and in those times, India was much more active on the East. Today’s idea of the Indian-Pacific region perfectly matches this notion, as it says that India should develop its ties with countries, with which it had ties before the Muslims and the British. These are the Malay Archipelago and the whole South East Asia. But as India also proclaims itself to be the major force in the Indian ocean, it should balance its activities and pay attention to the West. Ties with the countries to the West should be also maintained, India should carry out projects in Africa, buy oil from the Gulf countries. So volens nolens it should cooperate with the countries to the West.

From our partner PICREADI

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Diplomacy

Relevance of the Soft Power in Modern World

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In modern days, the relevance of Soft Power has increased manifolds. At times, the COIVD-19 has hooked the whole human race; this concept has further come into the limelight. The term, Soft Power was coined by the American Scientist Joseph Nye. Soft Power is the ability of a country to get what it wants through attraction rather than coercion. By tapping the tool of Soft Power, a country can earn respect and elevate its global position. Hard Power cannot be exercised exceeding a territory, and if any country follows this suit, its image is tarnished globally. However, it is Soft Power that can boost the perception and create a niche of a nation. Soft Power is regarded as the essential factor of the overall strength of a country. It can increase the adhesion and the determination of the people in a realm to shape the foreign relations of any nation. Nye held that the Soft Power arsenal would include culture, political values, and foreign policy.

After the Cold War, many nations pumped billions of dollars into Soft Power initiatives, and the US mastered this concept. The US has sailed on the waters of Soft Power by harnessing the tool of media, politics, and economic aid. The US boasts globally recognized brands and companies, Hollywood, and its quest for democratic evangelization. Through movies, the US has disseminated its culture worldwide. American movies are viewed by a massive audience worldwide. The promotion of the US culture through films is a phenomenon (culture imperialism) where the US subtly wants to dominate the world by spreading its culture. Through Hollywood films, the US has an aspiration to influence the world by using Soft Power tools. Hollywood is considered as the pioneer of fashion, and people across the globe imitate and adopt things from Hollywood to their daily life. Such cultural export lure foreign nations to fantasize about the US as a pillar of Soft Power. Educational exchange programs, earthquake relief in Japan and Haiti, famine relief in Africa stand as the best example of the US initiatives of Soft Power. Now, the American political and cultural appeal is so extensive that the majority of international institutions reflect US interests. The US, however, witnessed a drop from 1st place to 6th on the Global Soft Power Index. This wane can be attributed to the attack on the US Capitol Hill sparked by former US President Donald Trump. In addition, his dubious decisions also hold responsibilities that curtailed the US soft power image, that is, particularly the US withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement.

Beijing is leaving no stone unturned to ace this area. China, rich in culture and traditional philosophy, boasts abundant sources of Soft Power. China is contemplating and exploring an innovative strategy in its rise in international politics. There have been notable elements in the Chinese diplomatic practice, including softer rhetoric, promotion of its culture abroad, economic diplomacy, and image building. Beijing, amid an ongoing pandemic, has extended vaccine help to 80 countries. Such initiative taken by China has elevated its worth globally during difficult times of the pandemic. According to the Global Soft Power index 2021, China stands in the 8th slot. China is an old civilization with a rich culture. China has stressed culture as a crucial source of Soft Power. In a bid to enhance its cultural dominance, Beijing has built many Confucius Institutes overseas. However, this has not been whole-heartedly embraced by the Chinese neighbors due to territorial disputes on the South China Sea. Moreover, International Order, dominated by the West, is wary of Beijing. China’s authoritarian political system is not welcomed in Western democracies. Therefore, China finds it hard to generate Soft Power in democracies. In recent times, Beijing has witnessed tremendous extension in its economy; thus, it focuses on harnessing economic tools to advance its Soft Power. Consequently, Beijing has driven its focus on geoeconomics to accelerate its Soft Power.

Unfortunately, Pakistan, in this sphere, finds itself in a very infirm position -securing 63rd position in the Global Soft Power Index. In comparison with Pakistan, India boasts a lot of Soft Power by achieving the 36th position in the Global Soft Power Index. Its movies, yoga, and classical and popular dance and music have uplifted the Indian soft image. In the promotion of the Indian Soft Power Image, Bollywood plays a leading role and it stretches beyond India. Bollywood has been projected as a great Soft Power tool for India. Bollywood stars are admired globally. For instance, Shahrukh Khan, known as Baadshah of Bollywood, has a fan following across the world. Through its Cinema, India has attracted the attention of the world. Indian movies have recognition in the world and helped India earn billions of dollars. However, the Modi government has curtailed the freedom of Bollywood. Filmmakers claim that their movies are victim of censorship. Moreover, the anti-Muslim narrative has triggered in India, which has tarnished the Indian image of secular country and eventually splashing the Indian Soft image. Protests of farmers, revocation of article 370 in Kashmir, and the controversial Citizen Amendment Act (CAA) have degraded the Indian Soft Power.

Pakistan is not in the tier of the countries acing the Soft Power notion. In Pakistan, expressions of Soft Power, like spiritualism, tourism, cinema, literature, cricket, and handicrafts, are untapped. Pakistan is on the list of those countries having immense tourism potential and its culture is its strength. Unfortunately, no concrete steps are taken to promote the Pakistani culture and tourism. The Pakistani movies are stuck in advancing Pakistan’s narrative worldwide due to lack of the interest of successive governments in this sphere. In addition, these movies lack suitable content, that’s why people prefer watching Bollywood or Hollywood movies. It is the job of the government to harness the expressions of Soft Power. Through movies and soap operas, we can disseminate our culture, push our narrative, and promote our tourism. Government-sponsored campaigns on electronic media can help greatly in this sphere. Apart from the role of government, this necessitates the involvement of all stakeholders, including artists, entrepreneurs, academics, policymakers, and civil society.

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Diplomacy

Planetary Drought of Leadership

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The Tokyo Olympic Games, just concluded, were a spectacular success and grateful thanks are owed to our Japanese hosts to make this event so, at a time when we were in the middle of a global pandemic. There were many doubts expressed beforehand by many people over the Games going ahead during the pandemic, but the precautionary measures put in place were well handled and not obtrusive. 

For anyone who had the opportunity to watch the Games via TV they must have been struck by the wonderful sportsmanship and friendship shown by the competitors of all nations taking part, whatever race and ethnicity. It prompted me to think and ask why the countries of the world cannot exercise some of the same degree of friendship when dealing with one another rather than push forward with agendas that are antagonistic. The world holds a number of dysfunctional states as well as oppressive dictatorships where the resident population is subjected to mental as well as physical torture. Belarus is a typical example, where the leader of the country stole the election to give himself yet another term, and quashes any dissent, with some paying the ultimate price. He has the arrogance to divert a commercial flight so that he can arrest someone who opposes him and then beats him up, before parading him in front of the cameras to say an apology, which everyone can see was forced out of him. 

The Middle East is a complex problem and has been for centuries, the home of some of the oldest civilisations and the divergent monotheistic religions, which add a complicating factor. It surprisingly has been relatively quiet for the last period. Until the next flare up.

Myanmar has also been quiet, or so it seems. The military patrols across the country, particularly in states that offer some resistance and tough guerrilla opposition. The military behave badly, continuing the practice of killing, rape and pillage if not total destruction of small communities which cannot offer any resistance. Corruption is thriving. The military government have ‘promised’ fresh elections next February, 6 months hence, but it is most unlikely that these will be ‘fair and free’. The troubled conditions will continue. It will be an issue of continuing concern for ASEAN and more widely. A recent visit for a documentary had to be carried out illegally in case the military had discovered that the local people had been welcoming and helpful. The repercussions would have been appalling.

The latest situation that has arisen is the Afghanistan blitz takeover by the Taliban, a medieval group promoting the fundamental sharia doctrine, which is out of date and treats women as ‘non-persons’. They have also harboured terrorists, one group pulling off the infamous 2001, 9/11 strike on the NY Twin Towers, which awakened the US to take strong retaliatory action in Afghanistan, and forcing the Taliban out for 20 years. Their 5-year, 1996-2001, rule of Afghanistan was brought to a close after the NY happening, when the US with Allied forces took charge and ousted them. 

But now the Taliban are back following a direct meeting with the then president Trump in 2017, no Afghan government present, and they saw him coming! Shades of North Korea. He said he would withdraw completely without proper assurances, leaving the country’s development less than half finished. President Joseph Biden completed the task of withdrawal, somewhat hasty, upsetting nearly all Americans in the process. The British were caught flat-footed and there is considerable anger expressed by MPs, not least because they realise that they no longer have the ability to resolve such issues themselves. They feel embarrassed and rightly so.

As one of the Afghan luminaries and most quoted intellectuals, prof. Djawed Sangdel, reminds us: “Afghanistan is a graveyard of empires. Even Alexander the Macedonian realised – 2,300 years ago – ‘it is easy to enter the country, but lethal when exiting it’. This especially if you do not respect domestic realities.” Indeed, the situation on the ground is chaotic.

The leader, Ashraf Ghani, of the weak ‘legal’ government has fled, not without rumours about bags full of cash, and that is one reason that the country has not progressed as well as it should, endemic corruption. Women, quite rightly, are fearful, as to what lies in store, as the Taliban’s record on treatment of them is brutal. They have promised to give emancipation within sharia law – which in their case was the combination of twisted and oversimplified Islamic teachings with the tribal nomadic pre-Islamic culture of the central Asian hights.

Looking at the country as a whole, one worries about its future; the Taliban have no track record of governing a country, particularly not one as complex as Afghanistan. They would have to greatly modify their approach to life, separate religion from state (affairs). However, there are credible doubts; once more the Northern Alliance will get together and the country will lapse into civil war. Will the Chinese see an opportunity and risk what others have failed to do? My heart goes out to the people of Afghanistan.

In reviewing the past few decades, it would seem that western led democracies, when they have engaged with a country, which is in trouble, have only entered it without full humanitarian understanding of the problems and not sought a proper sustainable solution. Inevitably it takes longer than one thinks, and there are not strong enough safeguards put in to avoid financial losses to development projects, sometimes major.

The UN has a major part to play, but one must ask if today’s remit is fit for purpose, or should they be reviewed, and the countries that make up the UN should look at and ask themselves if they are fair in what they give and expect, not just monetarily.

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From Proxy Wars to Proxy Diplomacy

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The beginning of August was marked by two events that, in the absence of their fundamental significance for the global agenda, are essential for understanding what international politics may look like in the future. First, there was a de facto rupture of relations between China and the small Baltic state of Lithuania after the authorities of the latter made a decision to de facto recognise the sovereignty of Taiwan, which Beijing considers part of the People’s Republic of China. Second, this is the first anniversary of the stormy internal political events in Belarus that followed presidential elections which were not recognised by the United States or the European Union and caused discontent among a significant part of Belarusian society.

In the first case, we see how the behaviour of a formally independent state is completely subordinate to the decisions of one of the great powers. Protection by the United States is the most important national interest of Lithuania, since Lithuania itself cannot ensure its own survival due to its lack of potential. In essence, China is now dealing with the implementation of one of the tactical tasks within the framework of the US survival strategy, although formally we are talking about the decision of a sovereign member of the international community. In the case of Belarus, the survival of the state in August – September 2020 was also provided by the full support from Russia, for which the collapse of the Belarusian statehood would mean the emergence of a security threat. At the same time, unlike Lithuania, we cannot say that even now that all decisions made by Minsk correlate with the development of the situation that is optimal for Moscow.

At the same time, Lithuania and Belarus are themselves in a state of acute conflict. It began exactly a year ago, when Lithuania’s authorities decided to start an active struggle against their neighbour. During the course of this struggle, Lithuania acted as a proxy for the United States and the leading states of Europe, while Belarus, in turn, is only marginally controlled by Russia, at least from the point of view of most knowledgeable Russian observers. But the survival of this country is in Russia’s national interest.

As we can see, in this case, the great powers – Russia, China and the United States – are not interacting directly, but with those who by themselves cannot bear full responsibility for their actions. This raises the question of how, in modern conditions, great powers should act and can, in principle, build relationships with partners who have UN-recognised sovereignty, but do not have the ability to pursue their own foreign policy? This question seems important because the choice of diplomatic or power instruments depends on the answer.

From the Russian point of view, this is especially relevant, since it is surrounded by such neighbours, just like the United States is surrounded by oceans.

Moreover, in recent years, it did not express the desire to regain full control over its neighbours in order to conduct a dialogue with its peers directly, as was the case in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when the borders of the most important powers of Eurasia were actually aligned.

The emergence of the dialogue problem with countries that do not have the capacity to engage in fully responsible behaviour has become one of the results of international politics in the 20th century. Over the past 100 years, the international system has been filled with a huge number of states that are unable to ensure their survival independently. This process was launched after the First World War, when the victorious powers were interested in creating a significant number of small countries that were absolutely dependent on them. In place of the destroyed Austro-Hungarian, German and Ottoman empires, a large group of state entities arose in Eastern Europe.

None of them could play even an insignificant role during the next big war, in 1939-1945. Even Poland, the largest in terms of population, was vanquished in a manner of weeks and later reborn thanks to the victorious Soviet army. The others may have been more or less successful in developing their own economic base during the 1918-1939 “truce”, but their ability to ensure sovereignty with respect to national defence was immediately disproved. All these countries, except Finland, either fell under the pressure of internal circumstances, or were defeated because they acted as potential or active satellites of the opposing sides.

However, after the end of World War II, the “parade of sovereignties” continued on a global scale. Moreover, after 1945, the great powers acquired exceptional resources to manage international affairs – a colossal power gap that arose as a result of the creation of large arsenals of nuclear weapons. During the 1950-1970 period, the main engine of sovereignty was the desire of the two great powers – the USSR and the United States – to create a network of their own client states on the basis of the European colonial empires, unable to ensure their survival without the help of Washington or Moscow. In fact, the process which took place mirrored what had happened 25 years beforehand in Eastern Europe, only the other empires were divided – the British and French colonies.

Sometime later, albeit on a smaller scale, China also joined this movement. Before that point, Beijing’s funds had been limited enough that it could reliably promote a strategy of “national self-determination” to protect its own interests. China, in fact, found itself lagging behind in this race, and now it can only think about how client states of Russia or the United States can be so insecure about their future that they will transfer external governance into the hands of Beijing. So far, we have not seen convincing examples of such behaviour.

Moreover, after the collapse of their own colonial empires, Britain and France were able to regain control over the foreign policy of some of the entities that arose from their ruins. Now this control is carried out directly in very rare cases and mainly occurs through institutional mechanisms of interaction, with the European Union or other organisations of the community of market democracies.

As a result of the end of the Cold War, a significant number of countries in need of external support for their survival arose not only in Eastern Europe, but also within the territory of the former USSR. Some of the newly independent states have shown compelling evidence of a movement towards more effective sovereignty. The collapse of the USSR, as well as the collapse of the colonial system in previous decades, led to Russia and China being surrounded by a number of neighbours with whom they can build relatively equal relations in the same way that the United States can deal practically on equal terms with Great Britain, Germany or France.

However,a a significant number of these neighbours simply lack the human and geopolitical resources. As a result, both great powers must now move towards the formation of a special foreign policy with a whole group of countries, which would take into account the peculiarities of their situation. But they are not the only ones. The United States and the leading EU countries also form specific policies towards those who entrust their survival to Russia or China, taking into account what role Moscow or Beijing play in their fate. It is the conflict between the United States and Russia that determines the actions Washington or Berlin takes in relation to, for example, Armenia or Belarus, and not the actual bilateral relations.

Russia also cannot proceed from the assumption that fully ordinary bilateral diplomacy exists in relations with Lithuania or Romania. An opposite example is Russia’s policy towards Pakistan, Kazakhstan or Uzbekistan – countries that have the resources necessary for independent survival and responsible foreign policy. China has tried to build traditional relations with the countries of Eastern Europe, but now these efforts are facing noticeable difficulties.

It is very likely that as international politics return to a dynamic balance of power, the leading powers will strive to ensure that their bilateral relations are limited to the circle of those who really have the ability to be responsible in their behaviour. With regard to the rest, one can expect a gradual transformation of the usual diplomatic practice towards a special model that differs in its quality and content. What this new content will be is now no longer a speculative, but a practical task. This new type of relationship can become a kind of proxy diplomacy, which in any case is better than the proxy war that is familiar to all of us.

From our partner RIAC

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