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Geopolitics and e-Diplomacy of Estonia

image source: e-estonia.com

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Around 1,500 BC, a group of nine asteroids crashed on the island of Saaremaa in Western Estonia, incinerating all kind of life-form within a radius of six kilometres and the native inhabitants who settled in this cold part of the world in 10,000 BC.

Located on the eastern coast of the Baltic Sea in Northern Europe, it is impossible to know who took over the Estonian lands after the crash, but we know for sure the new settlers have been under the rule of foreigners from the Russian Empire, the Teutonic Order, Denmark, Sweden, Poland, Nazi Germany, and the Soviet Union.

Because of the tormented past of the Estonian nation, it is impossible to tell if the contemporary citizens are more Nordic (Denmark, Sweden) and German (Teutonic) than Russian. Estonian identity is probably more of a spectrum with Saaremaa people having more ancestors coming from Sweden and Denmark compared to the people in Tartu who have been influenced by the Holy Roman Empire and the Teutonic Order. By contrast, the citizens in Ida-Viru County (Eastern Estonia) are “Russian with a twist”.

After the breakup of the Soviet Union and the recovered national autonomy, the Government of Estonia had to take political decisions following the geography and aspirations of most of its citizens to integrate the Euro-Atlantic society. Based on the past and the Nordic-Teutonic identity, the Government of Estonia embraced the idea of joining the European Union, NATO, and later on the Eurozone.

Both Germany and Austria (former parts of Holly Roman Empire) have recognized the Germanic background of the Estonian people when the Nordics – Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Greenland and the Faroe Islands (Denmark) – have denied the Nordic identity of Estonia because of the Russian minority and various political reasons.

Moscow adopted an ambiguous relationship with Estonia when the Soviet troops became the Russian troops and stayed on the national territory between 1991-1994. As of today, the Estonian society is divided regarding the Soviet past, and some are calling the soviets “invaders” when others prefer to see them as “liberators”. Contrary Georgia (Abkhazia and South-Ossetia), Moldova (Transnistria), and Ukraine (Crimea and the Donbas), the Russian minority in the Ida-Viru County agrees on staying under the Estonian influence while remaining attached to Orthodoxy and Russian language.

From an economic perspective, Estonia is nowadays one of the most developed countries on the European continent with a nominal GDP of €29,800 per capita, HDI 0.87 (30th worldwide), and attractive to international businesses. The Estonian government also settled the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence in Tallinn and changed the country into one of the most digitalized society in the world with e-Governance and e-Residency.

With the current crisis going on in countries with Russian speaking monitories and the relevance of cyber-diplomacy in our societies, Estonia might be an example to follow when it comes to the good bilateral relationship with Moscow and the future of e-Governance.

Geopolitics of Estonia: Know your opponent (The Art of War, Sun Tzu)

The territory of Estonia consists of a mainland and 1,500 islands in the Baltic Sea covering a total of 45,227 km2 with a humid continental climate and 50 meters average elevation. In such a context, the highest mountain Suur Munamägi (318 meters) is the birthplace of many myths, and the flat land and islands make it easy for invaders to occupy the territory and settle outpost on the islands. Nowadays, Estonian lands are impossible to defend and any fighter jet can fly over the territory in a couple of hours.

Due to the Soviet past and American soft power in the country, the Government of Estonia established strong relationships with NATO during the ’90s and integrated the Alliance in 2004. However, it would be naïve to assume the Estonian Ministry of Defence relies exclusively on NATO’s recommendations to ensure the national safety, the key to Estonia’s successful and peaceful relationship with Russia coming from bilateral foreign relations between Tallinn and Moscow.

From David and Goliath to Baltic brothers: Estonia-Russia relationship after the Cold War

With only 1.3 million inhabitants – 68% Estonians, 24% Russians, 8% others, – the Estonian ethnicity almost disappeared during the Soviet times and still struggles to survive in a globalized world.

Contrary to many countries with an important diaspora, the Estonian identity could disappear in case of a conflict between NATO and Russia. Besides usual national matters, the Riigikogu (State assembly) is responsible for preserving the Estonian language – spoken only in Estonia, – and the History and traditions of the Estonian nation. This responsibility must be underlined because the threat of disappearing partly explains the reluctance to accept Russia as a state language. It also pushes the Riigikogu to pursue good governance and to provide high-level living condition and education to citizens, in order to avoid young Estonians moving and staying abroad. Demographics are the main concern of the Estonian leaders ahead of any hypothetical conflict with Russia.

When it comes to the relationship with Moscow, Tallinn has adopted a mixed strategy combining a pro-NATO/EU diplomacy and pragmatic bilateral relationship with Russia based on mutual understanding and shared interests in the Baltic Sea. Russia is often presented in the Estonian media to be the main threat to national security and NATO partners are afraid to see another Crimea crisis happening in eastern Estonia.

In such a context, the Kaitsevägi (Estonian Ministry of Defence) is welcoming NATO troops on the national territory, developed quality relations with nuclear powers (France, Great Britain, the United-States of America) and with non-NATO countries such as Sweden and Finland.

Should Russia (or anyone else) attack Estonia, the Riigikogu will immediately ask for the application of Article 5 of the Washington Treaty:

“The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defence recognized by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith”

However, article 5 does not take into consideration the principle of asymmetric warfare (e.g. support to an eventual separatist movement in eastern Estonia).

Theories and practice are two distinct things and some of the NATO member states might also be reluctant to attack a nuclear power. Finally, such reply will need the approval of all NATO member states and some have quality relationships with Moscow (e.g. Turkey) and not ready to risk the lives of soldiers for a country of 1.3 million inhabitants.

Estonian leaders are aware of NATO weaknesses and in order to avoid such conflict scenario by strengthening Estonian soft power in the eastern part of the country and are relying on bilateral cooperations with Moscow more than NATO infrastructures.

The Estonian education system has been the main asset to establish bilateral relationships with many academic programs related to Russia at the University of Tartu, the University of Tallinn, and the Baltic Defence College (military-oriented institution). Russian students are invited to study in Estonia, and the University of Tartu – a German-speaking university in the Russian Empire – is now welcoming Russian citizens. Last but not least, learning the Russian language is not a taboo like in the late ’90s and Russia is the third language (after Estonian and English) in libraries and considered to be an asset in the public administration.

Besides the academic world, Estonia is welcoming Russian entrepreneurs and tourists with a particular focus on Saint Petersburg. Estonia has changed in the past decade, and Tallinn is nowadays more of a destination like Helsinki with high-prices, hipster and vegan places, attracting high-tech Russian entrepreneurs interested in settling in the European Union. Looking at the past, the Bronze soldier event seems far away both in Estonian and Russian minds.

The Russian speaking minority in eastern Estonia can be considered to be a geopolitical asset nowadays. Contrary to Ukraine, the Estonian government became more tolerant following the integration in the European Union, even if some improvements must be done to recognize the Russian language at least in regional political institutions (e.g. like in Switzerland).

Russian speakers are enjoying higher salaries in Estonia compared to Russia and good infrastructure to visit their relatives on the other side of the border. Riigikogu and Kaitsevägi are divided when it comes to the approach to adopt regarding the Russian minority, despite the fact Kaitsevägi is following the recommendations of the Riigikogu. One the one hand, giving favourable living conditions to the minority in Estonia pushes them to stay in the country and can be a source of tensions with 24% of the population having a specific relationship to Russia. On the other hand, pushing the Russian minority to leave the country might create tensions with Russia and weaken the national economy. Overall, the national policy of Estonia is more of a “wait and see” when it comes to Russian speakers.

The reason why the Russian speaking minority is less often in the public debate is also due to the recent emigration of Ukrainian workers – 1.8% of the inhabitants in Estonia – and Finnish people coming to find a job and leaving Finland because of the Nokia crisis. Having a look at the current ethnic groups in Estonia, the next threat to Estonian identity might be foreigners from Southern Europe and Finland coming to settle in the country more than the Russian speaking minority.

Global warming is also a threat as people and companies from Southern Europe are interested in settling in Estonia to enjoy the almost unlimited water resources required in the agriculture and industrial sectors.

Nordics identity versus Estonian e-Civilization

Estonia is the missing piece in the Nordic history and the concept of Estonia as a Nordic nation was first introduced by Toomas Hendrik Ilves. The Viking Age, the Danish and Swedish Empires have played an important role in the construction of identity and Estonia would like to be recognized to be Nordic-based on the language (Finno-Ougrian), religion (10% Lutheran Christians) and the geographic location close to the Arctic circle. 53% of the Estonian youth consider belonging in the Nordic identity group and the President of Estonia prefers to used the expression of “Nordic Benelux”. At the same time, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the National Investment Agency are advertising the Nordic identity of Estonia abroad.

The lack of recognition by the Nordics is mostly due to the German past (Teutonic Order) and the Soviet past, the Russian minority – 24% of the citizens, – the number of Orthodox Christians – 17% of the population, – and the lack of cooperation with other Nordic countries during the Cold War.

Due to the quality of High-Tech and Cyber-defence infrastructures in Estonia, the lack of recognition is diminishing the Nordic Defence Cooperation (NORDEFCO) expertise when it comes to cyber-defence.

Moreover, the wish of recognition by the Nordics has pushed Tallinn to adopt a stereotypical policy to be recognized as such. The proposal of a new national cross flag as early as 1918 is still supported in some political spheres, while renewable energies, good governance, e-Governance have developed more than in any other country in the European Union.

The Nordic policy implemented by Tallinn has considerable effects on the “Baltic Tiger” with a GDP increase of around 4% per year and GDP per capita of 12,100 euros in 2010 versus 29,800 euros in 2018. Paradoxically, the Nordic policy of Estonia makes it even more competitive than the Nordics themselves, and Tallinn ranks 3rd in the Business Bribery Risk Index in front of Denmark. The same goes for the energy sector and renewables have grown to over 13% of production whereas they were less than 1% in 2000. As such Estonia is one of the countries to have reached its EU renewable target for 2020 already.

Overall, Nordic countries can emphasis the fact Estonian GDP if lacking behind. Nonetheless, Estonia has an overall unemployment rate of around 4,5% – 7% in Finland and 7.5% in Sweden – and provided job opportunities to Finnish citizens after the Nokia crisis.

Nowadays, 0,6% of the whole Estonian population is coming from Finland, and start-ups from other Nordic countries are settling in Estonia leading to an increasing demand for employees speaking Nordic languages. According to the Centre d’Études Prospectives et d’Informations Internationales projections, the GDP per capita could rise by 2025 to the level of the Finnish economy. Following the same projections, by 2050, Estonia could become the most productive country in the European Union, after Luxembourg, and thus join the top five most productive nations in the world.

The relationship with Nordic countries is a major issue in Tallinn because the national public policy has been based on the Nordic model since the end of the Cold War. In such a context, Estonian identity might have to re-invent itself if the Nordic model is outperformed in the future, which is already the case when it comes to e-Governance and Cyber-diplomacy.

e-Civilisation

Estonia is at the intersection of the Nordic, Russian, and German (Teutonic Order and Baltic Germans) identities. To the Estonian people, the land is not as important as language and culture, which explains why the concept of e-Governance is nowadays widely developed.

Estonian people have embraced the idea Estonia is not the land but the people, and the diaspora in Finland, Canada, and the United-States of America remains to participate in the political and economic life of Estonia. A typical Estonian citizen living abroad for decades can vote online during the election, pay taxes and register a company without coming to Estonia, read the local news online, and graduate from higher education not showing to the university.

e-Governance and e-Identity are not the only aspects of Estonian uniqueness, and besides the Estonian language, the neopaganism (Estonian native faith) plays an increasing role in society. Taaraism was founded in 1928 by members of the intelligentsia to reaffirm traditional Estonian culture and identity. Viewing Christianity as a universal and foreign religion brought by the Germans, they turned to indigenous religion with its many deities. Taaraists hold a monotheistic worldview in which all the gods are aspects of one only pantheistic reality, which they identify with the god Taara (a deity connected to Indo-European deities such as the Germanic Thunor, the Gallic Taranis, and the Hittite Tarhunt).

Based on the Montevideo convention signed in 1993, Estonia does not belong to the Russian, German, or Nordic worlds and could be recognized for its uniqueness. Moreover, if we focus on the definition of civilizations “the stage of human social and cultural development and organization that is considered most advanced” Estonia can be seen like the first e-Society or e-Civilization (according to the contemporary definition of civilization) based on the accomplishments in the field of e-Governance and cyber-diplomacy in the past two decades.

The three slim blue lions and the conquest of cyberspace

The History of e-Diplomacy in Estonia starts in 1965 with the first school computer in the USSR, when Ural-1 was set up in the town of Nõo in Tartu County. Mass usage of computing networks first came with FidoNet, the first Estonian node of which appeared in 1989 and the first internet connections where introduced in 1992 at the University of Tartu and the University of Tallinn. As early as 1996, the Estonian President started a four-year program Tiigrihüpe to computerized the schools.

In 2005, Estonia introduced a digital ID card system and local elections were held with the possibility to vote online, becoming the first country worldwide to offer such an option. In 2008, NATO established a joint cyber-defence centre in Estonia to improve cyber-defence interoperability and provide security support to all NATO member states.

Nowadays, 99% of the services in Estonia are online, 98% of the citizens have a digital ID-card, and 47% are using internet voting. The Estonian government introduced e-Tax (2000), i-Voting (2005), Blockchain (2008), e-Health (2008), e-Residency (2014), increasing the technological gap between Tallin and NATO/EU partners relying on paper and materialized public services. In Estonia, patients own their health data and hospitals have made this available online since 2008.

Today, over 95% of the data generated by hospitals and doctors have been digitized, and blockchain technology is used for assuring the integrity of stored electronic medical records as well as system access. e-Health solutions are allowing Estonia to offer more efficient preventative measures, increasing the awareness of patients and also saving millions of euros. Each person in Estonia that has visited a doctor in medicine has his or her online e-Health record, containing their medical case notes, test results, digital prescriptions, and X-rays, as well as full log-file tracking access to the data. The banking system has already dematerialized with less and less physical banks and cashless society is a reality to many Estonians for almost a decade.

Ongoing projects are the Data embassy which makes it possible to the Estonian administration to continue operating even if local data centres have been stopped or disturbed due to natural disaster, large-scale cyber-attack, power failure or anything else. Cross border data exchanges, healthcare 4.0, digital transformation in education (by 2020, all study materials in Estonia will be digitized and available through an online e-schoolbag) are a few of the current innovations.

In the future, some Estonian embassies should be fully replaced by the online system doing the work of physical embassies, the same for any state institution. State employees will be able to perform the usual work from anywhere in the world.

As of today, Estonia is the country with the lowest GDP debt in the European Union (8.4% in 2019) and with digitalization is the first nation to save a large amount of paper and time in the administration, diplomatic services are provided immediately without any need for people to move, and e-Services are going hand in hand with savings for the government.

However, the concept of e-Society is challenging to Estonian identity. In such a context of digitalization, nobody knows if Estonian identity will be defined by blood, language, religion, passport, or anything else in the future.

From our partner RIAC

Ph.D. in History of Europe & International Relations, Sorbonne University - INSEAD Business School, (Geo)political scientist working on Sino-European/Russian relations and soft power in the 21st century

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Diplomacy

International Relations Amid the Pandemic

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We could rest assured that COVID-19 will be defeated, sooner rather than later. The excessive angst and fear we currently feel will gradually subside, while our science will find effective antidotes so that people could look back on the pandemic years as a ghastly dream.

At the same time, it is also clear that a post-pandemic world will be quite different to the world we knew before. The argument that the world needs a massive shake-up to move to the next stage of its development has been quite popular ever since the end of the Cold War. Some prophesied that this would come as a result of a profound economic crisis, while others argued that a large-scale war may well be on the cards. As often happens, though, what turned the world on its head came as if out of nowhere. Within a short span of just a few months, the COVID-19 pandemic shed a light on all the many contradictions and setbacks of our age. It went on to outline the trajectory for economic prosperity, scientific breakthroughs and technological advancements going forward, opening up new opportunities for self-realization and fulfilment. The question pertinent today is: Who will be able to best exploit the new reality and take advantage of the opportunities that are opening up? And how?

COVID-19 has also left its mark on the current architecture of international relations.

At the turn of the century, it was mired in crisis. The end of the Cold War towards the late 20th century effectively signaled the beginning of the transition from the bipolar world order established in the wake of the Second World War to a model that had yet to be created. A bitter struggle would unfold as to what the new world order had to be, with the issue still unsettled today. A number of states, as well as non-state actors, willing to take advantage of this uncertainty in global affairs and redistribute the spheres of influence in the world is what it ultimately boils down to. In a sense, such a scenario should have come as no surprise since the contradictions between the profound changes encompassing the public domain and the rigid model of international relations established in the mid-20th century by the powers victorious in the Second World War had continued to grow in recent decades.

The COVID-19 pandemic has proved to be a stern and unprecedented test of strength that has revealed the limits of the current architecture of international relations. Previous crises—be they financial turmoil, struggle against terrorism, regional conflicts or something else—were, in fact, temporary and rather limited in their implications, however severe they were. The COVID-19 pandemic has affected each and every country in the world, regardless of their political regimes and social conventions, economic prosperity and military might. The pandemic has exposed the fragility of the modern world as well as the growing risks and challenges; and if ignored, they could plunge the world into a descending spiral of self-destruction.

The pandemic continues, which means we are yet to draw a final conclusion on its consequences for the system of international relations. That being said, a number of tentative conclusions are already taking shape.

Point 1. Globalization, despite its obvious side effects, has already changed the face of our world, irreversibly making it truly interdependent. This has been said before; however, the opponents of globalization have tried—and continue to try—to downplay its consequences for modern society. As it happens, they would like to think of globalization as little more than an episode in international life. Although it has been going on for quite some time now, it is nevertheless incapable of changing the familiar landscape of the world. The pandemic has lifted the curtain on what the modern world truly looks like. Here, state borders are nothing more than an administrative and bureaucratic construct as they are powerless to prevent active communication among people, whether spiritual, scientific, informational or of any other kind. Likewise, official borders are not an obstacle to the modern security threats proliferating among states. The waves of COVID-19 have wreaked havoc on all countries. No nation has been able to escape this fate. The same will also happen time and again with other challenges unless we recognize this obvious reality to start thinking about how states should act amid the new circumstances.

Point 2. The international system withstood the initial onslaught in spite of the incessant fearmongers prophesying its impending collapse. Following a rather brief period of confusion and helplessness, the United Nations, the World Health Organization, the World Bank, G20 and other global and regional organizations got their act together (albeit some better than others), taking urgent action to contain the pandemic. This proves that the system of international relations that was constructed after the Second World War still functions, although it is far from perfect or devoid of shortcomings.

In a similar vein, the fight against the pandemic has demonstrated that many international structures are increasingly out of step with the modern reality, proving incapable of mobilizing quickly enough to make a difference in our ever-changing world. This, once again, pushes to the fore the issue of a reformed United Nations system (and other international institutions), while the issue is progressively getting even more urgent. Moving forward, the international community will likely have to face challenges no less dangerous than the current pandemic. We have to be prepared for this.

Point 3. As the role of international institutions in global affairs weakens, centrifugal tendencies gain momentum, with countries—for the most part, global leaders—starting to put their national interests first. The global information war surrounding various anti-COVID-19 vaccines is a prime example of this. Not only has it seriously upset successes in the fight against the pandemic, but it has also added a new dimension to mutual distrust and rivalry. The world has effectively fallen back to the “rules” of the Cold War era, when countries with different socio-political systems were desperate to prove their superiority, with little regard for common interests such as security and development.

Pursuing such a policy today is fraught with grave consequences for every nation, since new security threats care little for borders. The recent events in Afghanistan should serve as a lesson for us all, showing that any serious regional crisis, even in a most remote corner of the world, will inevitably have global implications. Therefore, we are all facing a stark choice: either unite against these new challenges or become hostage to the various extremists and adventurers.

Point 4. Some political leaders have been quick to use the challenges of the pandemic as a pretext to strengthen the role of the state at the expense of fundamental democratic principles and binding international obligations. This may be justified or even necessitated at a time of the most acute phases of a severe crisis, when all available resources need to be mobilized to repel the threat.

However, one gets the impression that some politicians are increasingly in the groove for these extended powers and would very much like to hold onto them, using the likelihood of new crises as a justification. This line of thinking could prove to be an insurmountable obstacle to a new model of international relations to be established in accordance with the modern reality, where states would be expected to pool their efforts in the interests of global security and development.

Point 5. As always happens in times of profound crises, the international community is looking to major powers and their leadership for guidance. The future course of history in all realms of life, naturally including international relations, will hinge on what these countries choose to do, deciding whether solidarity prevails over national egoism. President Putin’s initiative to hold a meeting of the heads of state of the permanent UN Security Council members could be a good starting point to foster understanding and seek new ways of moving forward. We cannot keep putting off a frank and thorough conversation about the future world order, as the costs of new delays could be too grave for everyone to handle.

From our partner RIAC

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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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