Multi-polarity has become prominent feature in the day to day vocabulary of diplomats, statesmen and policymakers. Former United States (US) Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton at her state visit to New Zealand was one of the first to observe “a shifting balance of power to a more multi-polar world as opposed to the Cold War model of a bipolar world”. The preceding United Nations (UN) Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon stated at Stanford University in 2013 that we have begun to “move increasingly and irreversibly to a multi-polar world”. Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, declared at the Russia-China Conference 2016 that “international relations have entered into a conceptually new historical stage that consists in the emergence of a multi-polar world order and reflects the strengthening of new centers of economic development and power”.
These manifestations have since then revealed a general acceptance of the multi-polar notion as a concept that is unavoidable in the contemporary international dynamics. However, when it comes to the transitions and inevitability of the power structures, there is little agreement among the international states.
The former Secretary of State, choice of words “more multi-polar world” reflected a reluctance to acknowledge the complete disappearance of unipolarity. A much stronger resistance to forego unipolarity remains embedded in the Trump administration vision to “make America great again”. Lavrovhas declared that “unipolar world order as untenable” in current climax of power politics. Nevertheless, pundits such as Robert Kaplan continue to question, whether there is an overlap of unipolar and multi-polar world realities; where US continues to retain the supremacy in military realm of affairs and is anticipated to remain so for a considerable future time, whereby China leads in the economic realm. Additionally nations in the former Third World are acquiring status as rising powers, notably India who have over the years with smart diplomacy have acquired global outreach to shape international agenda.
Lessons from History
The Westphalian system originating in 1648 has organized global politics on the basis of sovereign states and their relations for over three and a half centuries, despite successive world orders and configurations of power. The changes brought in by various international developments although bringing changes to power distribution, did not have an impact on the essence of Westphalian ideals. The advent of nuclear weapons in the 20th century, did however set stage for mutually assured destruction (MAD) which dissuades nuclear weapon states from wars. It is the reason that historians and strategist provide for the demise of Cold War hostilities, from bipolarity to unipolarity, brought in by rather peaceful means and did not involve hegemonic wars as documented in preceding times.
Several occasions in history, add to the useful insights for a modern world in transition. Two centuries ago, a unipolar order came to a conclusion, giving rise to a multi-polar system with the defeat of Napoleon by the combined strength of Russia, Britain, Austria and Prussia. The Congress of Vienna, provided for a reorganization of European geopolitical frontiers diplomatically that brought relative stability in the continent for coming decades. The Concert of Europe, as it was known, was the precursor to the high-level conferences to which world leaders and diplomats are accustomed to this day. The Holy Alliance, which nevertheless was repressive and conservative in methods is considered by western historians as pioneer for preserving peace.
France defeated in battlefield, several times in post-Napoleon was not subjected to a humiliating treatment by the victors. This was due to the fact that the objective of the other European powers was to thwart a return to unipolarity. It was the exclusion of the Ottoman Empire from the negotiating table that sowed the seeds for the Crimean War, a prelude to the First World War of 1914. Multi-polarity for most part of the history has been reactionary rather than progressive, and hegemonic rather than democratic. In Europe, cooperation was provided to further silence and repress the dissent contributing towards nationalist uprisings. The Versailles Treaty, in the aftermath of First World War was notoriously less efficacious than the Vienna settlement in advancing stability, the most obvious reason being the punitive treatment accorded to a defeated Germany. In stark contrast, lessons to some extent were learnt and the agreements emanating from World War II, were a new example of magnanimity towards the defeated, a wise and pragmatic step. The Charter of UN, limited the use of force and required self-restraint on the part of the victorious powers. It was a commendable step in international relations, at least in theory if not in practice, as has been demonstrated over the years.
21st Century Realities
A number of characteristics in the 21st century that were absent from previous transitions provide for a number of unique opportunities and challenges. The increasing global interconnectedness among states and societies via trade, investment, and media strengthens the interdependence nature of relation providing an impetus for peaceful transition. On the other side, this increase in connectivity may be exploited by warring state and non-state actors for their destabilizing agendas. Among the most notable unifying elements is the challenge posed by global warming and climate change. For the first time in human history, community of nations are forced to confront the stark reality that redemption requires cooperation. It affects countries large and small independently of their level of development. Similarly, is the global drug problem that also comes under the paradigm of “common and shared responsibility”. The appearance on the world stage of numerous non-governmental organizations promoting causes from disarmament and non-proliferation to free trade represent an evolution of history that cannot be overlooked. Differently from the 19th century’s euro-centric multipolar experiment, a 21st century multipolar world order will be universal in scope.
The most original feature of the new configuration of power in the 21st century, is the fact that a non-Western power will assume after the many centuries, the leading position at helm of world economy. China’s economic growth is anticipated to translate into increased diplomatic influence and power. A resurgent Russia is also expected to wield considerable military might. European Union in the wake of Brexit, to survive needs a renewed sense of cohesion with Germany and France taking the lead role.
In the scholarly literature, there is no consensus on whether multi-polarity is unstable than bipolarity or unipolarity, as is popularly believed. Kenneth Waltz strongly was in favor of “bipolar order as stable”. On the other side, Karl Deutsch and David Singer saw multi-polarity as guaranteeing a greater degree of stability in an article published in 1964, “Multipolar Systems and International Stability”. Simon Reich and Richard Ned Lebow in “Goodbye Hegemony” (2014), question the belief whether a global system without a hegemon would be unstable and more war prone.
Chinese soft power winning hearts and minds
Soft power cheaper than hard power, winning hearts and minds of the people, is prerequisite for the state in international politics. Joseph Nye, the pioneer of soft power argues “It is the ability to get what you want through attraction rather than coercion or payments”. Solely relying on hard power in digital era proves to be counterproductive for the state, tarnishing its soft image, causing destruction, squandering a colossal amount of money being spent on military. Seduction, likewise, appears to be more effective and more instrumental than coercion in interstate relations.
Rise of China is imminent, for rising power in 21st, soft power is as crucial as hard power. China’s preoccupation with its soft power has resultantly been accelerating by leaps and bounds, giving positive image to the world that it would be a benign power in the foreseeable future, crafting consent rather than coercion in its foreign policy. China in the last couple of centuries remained isolated from the world, intimidated by the external powers, has currently been emerging as a dominant player on account of its robust economy, initiating Belt and Road Initiative(BRI), making a headway in technological development, settling territorial disputes with its neibouring states, contributing in UN peacekeeping mission, supporting countries in ongoing pandemic disease that invariably promote its soft power spectacularly.
China possesses components of soft power, having 5,000 years of civilization, 1.3 billion people and 960 million square kilometers of territory. China, remained a great power, the Tang dynasty from the seventh century to the tenth century conceives to be a golden era of Chinese history. Glorifying Chinese civilization and history by Chinese statecrafts as their soft power is on the card. China till December 1, 2015 had built 500 Confucius institutes and 1,000 Confucius classrooms in 134 countries with enrolment of nearly 1.9 million students, promoting Chinese language, culture, and facilitating cultural exchanges.
China, presently remains the hub of foreign students. In 1978 there were merely 2,000 foreign students studying in mainland China, in 2007 the number outstripped to 200,000. Under current juncture, nearly 28,000 Pakistani students are studying in China. China by granting foreign scholarships wishes to exploit foreign talent, ensuing strengthening of its economy, resulting in its soft power projection.
The classic book titled “Research Outline for China’s Cultural Soft Power” authored by Guozuo Zhang. Zhang in the book sheds lights on Chinese culture and its civilization arguing that soft power is deeply entrenched in Chinese history giving reference of Chinese sixth century BC strategist Sun Tzu’s book “Art of War”. The writer quotes Sun Tzu” The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without a war.” “The best tactics is to take by strategy,” “Those who win people’s heart can win the world.”Sun Tzu’s adages unambiguously illustrate functions of soft power in Chinese history.
Another insightful book titled “Charm Offensive How China’s Soft Power is Transforming the World” authored by Joshua Kurlantzick. Kurlantzick in the book states that China’s charm offensive as soft power triggered in 2000s,attributed to desired stability and harmony with all its fourteen neighboring states. Chinese charm offensive maintains that “Safeguarding peace, promoting development and enhancing cooperation, which is the common desire of all peoples, represents the irresistible historical trend,”. The term hepingjueqi, or Peaceful Rise coined by Zheng Bijian a renowned and senior adviser to the Chinese leadership, was soon inculcated into Chinese leaders’ speeches and in foreign policy.
The term Peaceful Rise is being used tactfully in Chinese foreign policy reflects its soft power; realizing its fourteen neibouring states that China unlike the US believes in peaceful co-existence and shuns warmongering strategies. If China eschews Peaceful Rise in its foreign policy, its neibouring states by all means would become sceptical about Chinese belligerent intentions.
China is increasingly using public diplomacy as a soft power. In 2010, the Beijing Foreign Studies University, launched China’s first ever Public Diplomacy Research Centre, aimed at orchestrating positive image of China, invalidating distorted overseas reports regarding China, improving surroundings of Chinese peripheral states and influencing policy decisions of foreign countries. China through public diplomacy has successfully been trying to reinforce its narratives as the saying of Nye goes “narratives become the new currency of soft power”.
Under current circumstances, Covid-19 a highly contagious virus has tightened its grip on the entire world, states are in dire need of help instead of looking towards the US title towards China. Realistically, speaking, Covid-19 oriented in China should have tarnished its image instead China seems to be a torch bearer of the world, supporting states, providing medial aids. Nouriel Roubini, an American economist at NYU, maintains that during the pandemic “China is building its soft power,” he further reiterates that China assures to the world that ‘‘Our political system is better, our technological model is better, our economic model is better.”
To sum up, China has bad reputation in the US; The US and Western states including India will inevitably strive to malign Chinese soft image, demonizing it’s an authoritarian regime, human rights violation in China, its debt trap policy under BRI and labor exploitation in African states. China, thus, needs to engaged into introspection and should ponder over these areas in order to further bolster its soft power.
Covid19: Upgrading Diplomacy and Statecraft to prepare the new normal
The world is abruptly changing and this requires adaptation. The transformations are targeting not only individuals and specific countries, but the entire international ecosystem. The pandemic will only accelerate the trends we have seen for years in global politics, so the window of opportunity is closing for those who want to play an increased role in the post-Covid world, but do not fully understand or master the tools necessary to succeed in such a complicated context. I will sketch some of the elements that diplomats and decision-makers involved in international politics have to consider as they seek to navigate the new contours of power politics. Beyond talk of wolf warriors or video summits – and fatigue – diplomacy deserves a strategic comeback during and after corona: international affairs professionals needs to be conversant in both the old and new paradigms; in Western, Eastern, non-aligned and Global South vernaculars; and in both technological and old school human terrain navigation. To well serve their countries and organizations, diplomats (and also, as intellectual framework providers, Diplomatic Academies and Institutes) will have to be more adaptable than ever and willing to quickly learn and deploy new tools and techniques.
In this quest, one first has to acknowledge the challenges on the substance (beyond communications issues, such as disinformation in the latest form of the infodemic) and understand that they pose problems we never had to face before. Climate change will bring about coastal entropic systems collapse, desertification and food insecurity, with potential consequences related to increased refugee influx, civil wars and inter-country tensions. Pandemics are also here to stay: Covid19 is only the first major outbreak of this decade and, with the right technology, almost any country with minimal biotech capabilities can turn sneezing into anti-personnel weapons. Catalyzed by great power competition, deglobalization, protectionism, and the restructuring of global value chains, non-market and imperial economics revival will become a staple of the new era. Tech dominance and informational supremacy will be a highly sought after prize and the competition will only increase. Strategically, with the rise of China and a relative decline of Europe and the US, we should be ready for a world order that values a different type of multilateralism and is polycentric and non-Western based. The Gulf, as an ambitious global hotspot abundant in global and regional medium powers, is watching power shifts closely and adapting its strategies and actions accordingly. It also has, via Saudi Arabia and its chairmanship of the G20, a key role to play in “annus horibilis” 2020 global solutions.
Institutional transition and reform is complicated not so much because of inertia, but because since World War Two we were asked to focus and solve one problem at a time, by keeping all other variables constant. Given the above mentioned changes, to cater to institutional transition needs, we have to develop our capabilities to include the most unusual and un-practiced skills and knowledge that now has become, in our estimate, a must have in order to navigate from an age of certainty to a state of continuous flux. By being programmed to combine technological foresight, cultural intelligence, transversal inter-generational multicultural and integrated disciplinary approaches to statecraft and grand strategy, diplomats 2.0 (during and after corona) will be ready to engage comprehensively with a wide range of situations, geographies, and objectives. Research and innovation in international relations, grand strategy, statecraft and identity development strategies should be combined with communication efforts that integrate tools related to cognitive patterns discovery, subversive frameworks neutralisation, and multi-stage communication strategy development.
Organizations need to function more like networked capabilities and teams of teams, rather than relying on traditional multi-tiered track diplomacy and traditional engagement practices. In my experience, the more non-central and non-mainstream actors are, the more they will engage asymmetrically. Furthermore, their engagement tends to be more reputational and personalised than the traditional Western expectations of structure, objectivity, and calculated gains would have us believe. For a long time, with the exception of the actions of great powers, the policy and academic discussion has focused on how the international environment overwhelmingly shapes domestic politics. The international will continue to matter, but we will see a strong pushback from national politics to shape the conversation in global affairs. Diplomats, as the platform between the state and the rest of the world, are on the forefront of meeting the challenge. The context of economic crisis and uncertainty generated by the pandemic will mean additional pressure on mainstream parties and a threat to political stability, so populism and protectionism will also affect diplomatic action, and nationalism diminish diplomatic efforts.
Based on the experience of South Korea, Japan, Singapore, the Nordics and the Baltics, one can encourage International Relations and Diplomatic institutes and academies to develop general public content and training to increase societal resilience, governance and democratic literacy, and citizen esprit de corps. From an elements of power perspective, these vectors need to be developed within every national strategic studies institution to complement the traditional areas of preparedness for which nation states prepare. Five topics are particularly important, in my opinion: T-profile development of people: transversal, interconnected, broad knowledge, with one vertical in depth (versus the current extremes of either breadth or ultra-specialisation); Bellingcat type of skills for information acquisition from OSINT, use of digital means, and understanding of online behaviours (social media aggregation and analysis would also play an important role); increased attention to global Architectures and competition between “Old” and “New” global and regional organisations; IP Diplomacy that focuses on networks of innovation, capital, technology and entrepreneurship – today, intellectual property diplomacy is practices by a handful of countries currently (Singapore, Switzerland, China, Israel), but will become the cornerstone of future exchanges, the same way Silicon Valley is for tech, and NY for global capital. Last but not least, each MFA Academy and IR institute should create its own simulation of the world based on AI, behavioural and statecraft modeling capabilities, and its own „handbook of world views and strategic interests”. Interestingly, in context, wargaming and redteaming of policies and strategic decisions are currently under development in a handful of institutions and will start rolling out to national security establishments towards the end of 2020.
All these points are relevant especially for countries that want to punch above their weight, both regionally and globally, especially current middle powers and aspiring middle or great powers. But they also carry lessons for other states, in case they want to deal with the pressures and risks attached to great and middle power competition in a diplomatic-efficient manner.
Beyond Twiplomacy: Diplomacy and the Digital Fast Forward
The practice of diplomacy in the virtual space is geared towards amplifying foreign policy drives and messages and forms a vital and dynamic branch of strategic communication. Now, more than ever before, we are faced with the inexorable certainty of a digital future – a future that has already begun. As COVID-19 thrusts the world’s population into their homes and compels multiple operations and processes to move online, diplomatic engagements too must be primed to fit the order and arrangement of altered circumstances. The use of the internet offers real time dissemination and exchanges in a relatively informal setting, at low financial costs and aims at shrinking the space between foreign publics and stakeholders on the one hand and foreign policy practices and practitioners on the other.
Digital diplomacy falls under the broader spectrum of public diplomacy, the roots of which can be traced to the extensive use of radio communications by both the Axis and the Allied powers during WWII. Interestingly, the digitization of diplomacy however is believed to have happened earlier when foreign ministries first began the use of telegraph services in the 19th century. In the contemporary context, digital diplomacy has been practiced primarily through social media since the innovation of an online world, the arrival of new information communication technologies and the rapid popularity of the internet.
Today, diplomats and government representatives routinely engage in both pleasantries as well as repartee on Twitter in what is now popularly known as Twiplomacy or Twitter Diplomacy. Twiplomacy is direct, often unencumbered and enables wider reach of foreign policies than traditional channels. Such online engagement can also be converted to a substantial support for foreign policies and/or agendas. It is at times assumed that Twiplomacy has shaken traditional preferences for confidentiality, hierarchy, instrumentality and top-down decision making of foreign affairs departments favouring instead the use of crisp language, visual storytelling, emotional framing, algorithmic navigation, and so on. This is an incorrect conjecture as the traditional modus operandi of foreign interaction remains equally pertinent today. What Twiplomacy has done is added a supplementary avenue of diplomatic exchange which is in keeping with contemporary circumstances.
As diplomatic exchanges thrive on Twitter and other social media platforms, the question is whether it is merely the diplomatic conversation which has moved online or whether there is more to the scope of diplomatic engagement employing digital tools in the virtual space. While the latter has been deliberated by technology stakeholders and to an extent by policy makers, its practice is yet to see the kind of flurry that is observed on Twitter almost on a daily basis. This is where the use of 5G systems, artificial intelligence, wearable technology and the applications of big data come in. Aggregation of big data can assist in the identification of disinformation campaigns while collating geospatial and sensor data for more objective, fact-based information gathering which in turn would aid the core component of diplomacy – negotiation. While the use of some of these technologies is mired in controversy, all of these will eventually find application across sectors and diplomacy too will not be an outlier.
Greater use of digital tools can assist diplomacy in broad ways. First, it ensures a quick response time. Digital tools facilitate diplomatic engagement to happen in real time and in so doing helps ease communication as well as make way for effective action in times of urgency or crisis. Second, it assists in resource mobilization in terms negotiations and building of alliances, primarily by eliminating constraints of distance and time. Third, it helps pave the way for gaining a wider understanding of public emotions and perceptions which can at times facilitate more updated policy approaches and methods of implementation.
This brings us to the dividing line between policy outreach which is designed to inform, assist, facilitate and where applicable, ameliorate global relations and the utilization of sharp power which is aimed at exerting disproportionate levels of influence to censor, manipulate and falsify information for hostile purposes. The virtual space, like many other forms of technology, faces the dual-use challenge i.e., it can serve both constructive purposes and also disruptive ones. For foreign policy this poses a considerable challenge as governments often find themselves in the middle of misinformation and disinformation campaigns which are difficult to debunk and deflate given the pace and volume of the reach that virtual networks offer. Nonetheless, this is a challenge that governments across the world must learn to tackle because the medium and the technology will not go away but rather diversify and proliferate.
The COVID-19 pandemic has already and will probably continue to suspend or reorganize most activities for the foreseeable future. Simultaneously however, engagements and functioning across the world must persist and diplomatic outreach forms a vital component of pooling in efforts to mitigate the health crisis. This involves the dissemination of information, transfers of key supplies, provisioning for the inevitable uncertainties of challenges post the pandemic and reorganizing institutions to better apprehend future exigencies. Bound by limitations on travel, world leaders are responding by convening on virtual platforms for multilateral summits like the G20 and SAARC. India’s first ever virtual bilateral summit is being planned with Australia. COVID-19 demands a fast forward from deliberations to action and foreign ministries around the world need to harness the advantages of cost and geographical inconsequence to effectively respond to the global crisis at hand and also in the process enable digitisation of diplomatic processes which can continue to be in practice in the post-Covid world.
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