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Doubt candy: How to sell inconsistency

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“Ah, it is easy to deceive me! I long to be deceived myself!” — thus famously ends one of Alexander Pushkin’s poems entitled “Confession”. A lot is being said today about the negative consequences of forced positivity as well as the effect that the excessive   advertising   has   on   our   psychological   well-being.   Gender   studies specialists point to the disruptive influence of unrealistic expectations of both women and men perpetuated by the media and society at large. For some reason though, foreign policy research, along with the scholarly work on public diplomacy — a field more readily associated with public outreach — rarely find themselves integrating findings from psychology; social, group subdiscipline of the latter all the less so.

Truth be told, the explanation seems to be obvious. Foreign policy making remains an exclusive, if not elitist, and not necessarily very transparent domain. On top of that, we still primarily associate it with the classic European tradition of diplomacy, wherein the grandmasters such as Metternich, Talleyrand, Richelieu and Bismarck almost single-handedly formulate and execute the chess game moves allegedly beneficial to their respective states. This hardly comes as a surprise: one of if not inherent then certainly currently observed features of democracies is the abundance of apolitical, uninformed or ill-informed citizens whose political activity or lack thereof directly impact the nature of the government. Given the high stakes involved in what is known as the high politics, providing for a separate set of procedures appears justifiable on both rational and irrational grounds: after all, the very essence of the social contract lies with the state ensuring security of its subjects.

Let us now take a closer look at the concept of consistency. We rightfully expect the politician of our choice to deliver on the promises made during the campaign. Or else, we like his or her personality to the point where our emotional predisposition makes us likely to consider this person’s failures as non-critical for re-election. One can think of a number of cognitive biases helpful in explaining this deviation from presumed  (now  we  know:  bounded)  rationality;  to  name  just  two,  subjective validation and halo effect are at play. But then, whenever this figure crosses the threshold of our approval, and this often comes in the form of not fulfilling some of the points we prioritized when casting our votes or even ruining our pre-existing image of oneself completely, he or she may well give up on a career of a politician.

Whether this pattern brings us closer to living in a more prosperous country might not be the question that is normally asked; however, neither is denying globalization of humanity’s challenges an option to consider. What is more, an act of taking a person off the political scene and refusing him or her the professional and otherwise future because of a stain on the reputation is frequently driven by the accusers’ own fears or self-interest. It is yet to be explicitly stated, with all the grassroots talk of mental health, what Monica Lewinsky and many others like her really did suffer for. Antonio Gramsci’s theory of cultural hegemony can be further generalized to account for the desire to preserve a given state of affairs by attaching moral evaluations to one’s behavior; without being trained in psychology, it is still easy to acknowledge that guilt tripping is a powerful manipulative technique. Another supporting line of thought was developed by Carol Gilligan, an American psychologist who criticized Lawrence Kohlberg’s theory of moral development as biased against women. She found that only white men and boys participated in his experiments and also that Kohlberg clearly saw the consideration of individual rights and rules as more important compared to the consideration of care in human relationships. Further research revealed that in competitive contexts, despite men being prone to reason from a justice rather than ethic-of-care perspective, they demonstrate lower moral standards than do women. This observation might be of an utmost significance to those engaged in social and political theorizing; what is left out of the picture is more telling than what serves to confirm a theory. Theories have the property of affecting us deeply since our mind is programmed to adopt shortcuts to navigate in a demanding environment; all the worse is the impact of those of them that gain broad recognition in spite of, or owing to the biases they are built on.

To add fuel to the fire, premature disappointment with a public figure is hardly a smart measure in the pursuit of one’s political aspirations. The person in question might be a real fighter and a quick learner, yet in no social interaction, and especially not within the complex interrelated governmental systems can one act in complete independence. Before blaming the culture of instant gratification for this tendency in people’s behavior — although undoubtedly invigorated by the former —  let us refer to  the  collection  of cognitive biases  once  again.  Here  we find  the fundamental attribution error, categorized as one of the common distortions emanating from the need to act fast. Humans are inclined to assume that what people do reflects who they are; except when judging ourselves, we assign a greater importance to the external factors.

Every peculiarity of the thinking process had at some point its adaptive value, otherwise it would not have developed. The modern civilization, while taking enormous pride in the achievements of the rational mind, is no better prepared for a drastic revision of its founding principles, however outdated they might be, than any of its precursors. At the heart of liberalism lies the conviction that human beings are selfish by nature whereas proponents of anarchism assert that people are born equal; they bear neither merit nor guilt for their innate differences and are capable of interacting harmoniously without setting up a hierarchy. As the British sociologist Zygmunt Bauman observes, people today are fearful of public gatherings and joint decision-making; anarchic society, on the contrary, demands that the individual be active, open to dialogue and uninterested in handing over to the state or any superior group of people responsibility for managing one’s own life. What stands behind our willingness to be dependent on a state, is it not conformity or status quo bias? Have we not, in fact, had enough revolutions, or is it merely an ordinary ruling class rhetoric?

It is time to explore in greater detail just what exactly the above-mentioned rational and  irrational  justifications  for  singling  out  the  foreign  policy  making  are.  The curtailed opportunities for popular control of and say in developing strategies and decisions applied in this public policy area is something often taken for granted or seen as historically inevitable. As Eric Alterman shows, the democratic deficit in the way the foreign policy of the US, a traditionally strong democracy, is being made is no recent phenomenon. He comes up with a proposal to set up a novel institution allowing for a more inclusive discussion, thereby tackling the root cause of the problematic situation —  a tradition of  institutional and, in particular, presidential secrecy in foreign affairs. This political reality precludes the enlightenment of the people, necessary for a healthy functioning of republic. Neither are the conditions for it created nor the incentives of the elites to proceed in that direction are formed.

The idea that a handful of specially trained people would do a better job of deciding on highly complicated issues than a larger group of non-specialists holds in most contexts. The content of the training and the organizational setup, however, are of crucial importance. Social institutions within which the reflective forms of information processing  are  encouraged  effectively  attenuate  common  biases.  All  too  often, closed systems operating on rarely questioned principles — this is what many states’ foreign policy communities resemble — amplify cognitive biases by relying on shared misconceptions. When the price of making commitments is low; when there is no audience to judge one’s choices; when there is a high degree of certainty regarding one’s professional future, no motivation to think more flexibly and rigorously exists. Accountability pressures have to be introduced artificially. Additionally, experimental work indicates that the choice process taking place in the open and transparent settings is characterized by a reduced number of breakdowns in consistency on the part of decision-makers. Here is another reason to transform the conventional mechanisms of shaping the foreign policy — if only consistency is what we are striving for.

Coming back to the question of personal consistency in political leaders, let us now address the following question: since ensuring security is referred to as the most important function of the state and the competence unique to it, can a popular preference for the strong, confident and principled leaders be connected with the public understanding of security? A situation in which the people of the country vote for an authoritarian personality after having been through a period of tumultuous transition or war is well-known and can easily be described in psychological terms. Yet the right choice to make is frequently counterintuitive. In fact, if by consistency we mean sticking to the same set of values and beliefs all along as well as maintaining little to no gap between words and actions, then by putting it first, we basically deny a politician opportunity for personal growth. People would rather have it predictable than look out for someone who is capable of reassessing his or her past behavior, draw conclusions and change; someone whose approach is nuanced and adjustable. Both the US-led and the USSR-led camps during the Cold War rallied behind an unambiguous ideology and both, just as observed in the aforementioned studies on male morality in competitive contexts, committed horrible things while positioning themselves as firmly committed to the common good — only to  preserve  a  holistic  facade  and  come  out  a  winner.  The  American  approach towards proliferators of the weapons of mass destruction has the quality of placing every hostile to it authoritarian regime in the same box regardless of the motivations behind the pursuit of weapons — at the same time, treating proliferators friendly to the US much more leniently — and the following adoption of harsh measures with little attempt at negotiating. Possibly out of the experience of a highly consistent but criminal political regime, today’s Germany pays greater attention to specific circumstances of the proliferator and acts on the basis of the nature of the threat, if any, and the degree of urgency of prevention. On the other hand, its commercial interests prevailed on a number of controversial occasions in the past and it might be argued that the same is happening these days, too. These examples demonstrate just how typical is the connection between the exhibited and desired consistency and the quest for power. A psychological explanation for the proposed cases requires a reference to the need for closure, an urge to put an end to uncertainty, to find a clear answer to a disquieting question. In the words of Vladimir Bibikhin, a prominent Soviet-Russian philologist and philosopher, “..Unfortunately, nothing in humanity is as widespread, takes away as much energy and kills the mind as mercilessly as mending consciousness  for fear of  rupture.  Supposedly in life  there must  be  a “harmony” of consciousness. No, there should not, for this is death.”

Before moving on to the issue of application of marketing tools in public diplomacy, let me add another stroke to the psychological portrait of a person who chooses to outsource his or her security. Prospect theory, which was developed by Kanehman and Tversky in 1979, challenges the expected utility theory by positing, on the basis of empirical information, that people assess their gain and loss perspectives in an asymmetric manner. Not surprisingly, this approach is extensively applied to political decision-making,  predominantly  in  matters  relating  to  security.  The  statesmen trained to view the international arena as a realist-type environment of self-help and resenting certain historical occurrences are tempted to disregard the subjective well- being of the citizens they supposedly serve and work towards tilting the geopolitical balance. Their perception of a probability of success or failure in this endeavor has a decisive influence on whether an attempt to do so, and by what particular methods, will be undertaken. And so, because chances are — and as we learn from history, they are high — that the decision-makers under- or overestimate those probabilities, the nation is at great risk of suffering economic and otherwise hardship. Even if the venture turns out to be successful, availability bias — the tendency to overestimate the probability of events that come to mind easily — along with a long list of other cognitive distortions inevitably are here to plague every new cohort of politicians. Conversely, the population does not fancy any alternative institutional setup and regards conflicts as normalcy: people are either unaware of a larger socio-political context or live with implicit ideas of an established state of affairs, not recognizing that many of their private struggles result from a mode of societal functioning they take for granted. Yet beyond it there may lay a reality in which a discontinuation of outsourcing security brings about a more peaceful and prosperous world. Until then, we are destined to instinctively choose the leaders whose apparent resolve to prevail at all cost feels comforting and makes us believe that the entity meant to protect us will not disintegrate.

It may be objected that the role of the liberal norms in contemporary international community  is  such  that  hardly  any  state  wholeheartedly  believes  and  has  a possibility to exercise Realpolitik. This statement does not stand up to criticism; to see that, it suffices to review the latest doctrines and policy proposals in the fields of security and defense issued by various states. The language being used and the total absence of references to any recent psychological discoveries that have the potential to alter our threat perceptions are indicative. The promise of nuclear disarmament enjoys little enthusiasm of possessor states. This traditional political actor has indeed lost much of its mandate in the last decades, but a number of states nevertheless pretend to be operating in an environment where the primary demands  of  their  citizens  are  concentrated  not  around  their  own  material  and spiritual well-being but around an imaginary success of an imaginary community.

Political choice is optional, economic choices are inescapable. Marketing experts never tire to emphasize the importance of consistency in branding. A brand, just like a country, is both imagined and experienced. Companies seek to promote a clear picture of themselves, to become associated with certain values, to gain trust of potential customers. Money is a key resource people dispose of and exchange for what brings comfort and satisfaction. We choose from a great variety of options and quite naturally, every firm does its best to appeal to us and be preferred over others.

In doing so, it essentially cultivates its recognizable identity with a view to grab its share of customer attention and finance. Is market economy, especially when regulated loosely, not an example of a kind of self-help space similar to that pictured by the realist school of thought in international relations? Simon Anholt might regret having coined a term “nation brand”, but what happened to it is a timely reminder of how politics is about economic competition more than anything else.

The  central  problem  is  the  same  as  outlined  above:  people’s  interests,  not necessarily expressed in economic terms but necessarily contradicting, are nowhere to be represented. As Naomi Klein brilliantly put it, “..Unlike strong brands, which are predictable and disciplined, democracy is messy and fractious, if not outright rebellious.” In other words, the task of self-presentation for a country is complicated by the fact that there is no such thing as an absolute consistency whereas dynamic objects evade clear-cut definitions. Governors are supposed to appreciate and act on the feedback from those affected by the measures they enact. When a country seeks  to  improve  its  image  and  feels  pressed  to  present  itself  in  a  consistent manner, it is tempted to clamp down on some of the dissenting manifestations of itself, both domestic and external. However, this goal itself is questionable. Among Robert Jervis’ hypotheses on misperception there are some underlining human tendency to assume that others act in a more coordinated fashion than is the case. The foreign ministry is responsible for conveying the state’s official position, but it is only natural that the state institutions are incapable of keeping tabs on the moves of every agent associated with it. What makes this impossible should not be called the state’s weakness, for this term is misleading. Expanding state control will not only gain us a diminished discrepancy between what it claims to oversee and what it actually does, but will also come with all of the adverse effects of centralization. Instead, reinventing a state’s role would avert the need to correspond to an unlikely standard.

Psychological research does more than chronicle human cognitive imperfections. In actuality, it also uncovers the features of behavior that give hope for the positive change. It was shown that people dislike being instructed by infallible and overly smart leaders. Not only do you have to be an effective communicator — and this correlates with emotional intelligence stronger than it does with IQ — but you also have to, in order to gain public sympathy, be able to admit your shortcomings and thus give people a sense of being in the same boat rather than clearly standing out. An  approach  both  human-oriented  and  strategic,  said  to  be  more  congenial  to women, wins over hearts and drives the business forward. If men are socialized to suppress their emotions to be able to concentrate on what is called the facts of life and fix the problems, we can now claim that this practice probably entails more negative repercussions than benefits. A caring, empathetic governing style is usually not welcome in the top political circles and especially not in those of the nation states aiming to project a coherent, uniform image. It is not the change per se that is a problem,  but  rather  an  adversarial  mindset  we  are  taught  in  our  families  and societies, often ageing and inherently conservative.

Man-made orders cannot but be flawed, if only because so are our ways of thinking. Order is created and maintained to ensure predictability and one’s freedom to be fulfilling one’s vision using captured resources over at least some period of time, always at the expense of somebody else’s freedom to do so. Hence, the question of whether inconsistency as a characteristic of an image projected outwards can induce desire to take possession of or grow closer to the given object, can be curiously rephrased. What kind of people and under what circumstances would find the lack of security, predictability and material wealth to be a positive, not a negative? This question makes me think of revolutionaries who are committed to an idea and brings to mind the unfortunate events of the Russian 20th century. Together with that, it reminds me of how high of a price in violence, stifled voices and, ultimately, underreported and unresolved problems is being paid in the name of the status quo. Knowing that social reality impacts immensely on the way we perceive and interpret things, one may well arrive at a thought that we have to learn to transition smoothly. Only then will a deep-entrenched association between the change and humiliation gradually retreat into the past, along with all the cognitive biases borne of fear of defeat and exclusion. And if today, triggering the erosion of this link still requires some risk, those who embark on this path regardless may draw some courage and inspiration from a proven fact — and prove it yet again — that people fall for honesty.

Madina Plieva is an independent researcher from Moscow, Russia. She holds a BA degree in International Relations with specialization in European integration from Corvinus University of Budapest. In recent years, she was engaged with the issues of global security and took part in a number of student conferences in Europe. Madina now runs an online discussion platform ReAsonance Forum in partnership with her Indian colleagues. Her interests include political psychology, public and cultural diplomacy as well as foreign policy analysis.

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Diplomacy

The Arts & Culture Economy: Cultural Diplomacy

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Photo: Nick Pryde/Unsplash

The arts produce a unique combination of social, cultural, and economic benefits, which cities across the Country could increasingly recognizing and encouraging. The arts and culture industry attracts innovative, vibrant new businesses in fields such as publishing, advertising, music, dance, design, and architecture, and creates jobs for artists who anchor local cultural production.

Arts and culture can also play a key role in urban revitalization and community renewal, as well as the development of cultural tourism opportunities and the enhancement of a city or state’s public image.

The arts and culture sector also has a role to play in the development of innovation hubs, geographic clusters of capital and talent that can fuel economic growth and innovation in areas such as design, technology and manufacturing.

Art, in its many forms, exists in every community, culture and country. It has been around since the beginning of civilization itself, paintings etched on the walls of caves or sculptures carved out of stone. Humans have always felt the need for expression

In today’s world, we know that art can be a major economic force, yet we continue to question the worth of it. It has historically been seen as accessible only to the elite class. Today, it has transcended into everyone’s daily lives, stopping us in our fast-track lives to appreciate the beauty that surrounds us and at times, enhancing the way we think and behave. It adds that punch of colour, uplifting the space to compliment the surroundings. This need of Art is the day to day life has made it into a full blown business. Gone are the days when it was not considered a medium for business and only had an intellectual value. 

Here are seven quick ways to prove that art is genuinely a good business avenue these days.

Art Buying and Selling-  The traditional and the most comfortable way of investing in a piece of art, can be a painting or a sculpture. One goes to an art gallery and picks up from the stock of work that already exists and the cycle of buying and selling is maintained thereon.

Art Commissioning-  This is a more challenging because it is customized.A bespoke piece is a lot more personal and aesthetically pleasing. The artist creates something for you from scratch rather than buying off the shelf. This is dependent on the space, style, budget and a many other variables. Art Commissioners are very much in demand these days because of the increasing trend of commercial and residential artworks and installations.

Art Restoration-  Over the years the hues in paintings start to fade away due to humidity and pollution in the environment. Art professionals are appointed to study the style of the artist and touch up the pieces to keep it from looking dull. There are full time courses to study about it.

Art Valuation-  With every passing year a piece of art, just like real jewelry appreciates in value if created by the big artists. If an artwork is bought when an artist is new and budding, maybe 20 years down the line its value has tripled. A professional is then appointed to value the art in monetary terms and collectors usually have an entire portfolio of art to maintain. This is called portfolio management, a well-known term for anyone who deals in the Share market.

Art Insurance-  When an art investor or collector buys an expensive piece of art or a gallery is shipping a collectable item, an insurance needs to be purchased against the piece. The amount paid for insurance is directly dependent on the valuation of the artwork. There are banks and institutions that specialize in this field which is a limited and niche area within art. Art insurance works in the same way as travel or life insurance which is dependent on the package that you choose.

Art as a gifting option-  A painting, sculpture or a portrait makes a great gift for weddings, house warming parties and milestones. Getting a piece commissioned has an element of personalization. Buying something from a gallery art fair or online is also possible. There are so many ecommerce ventures in this space that one does not need any evidence to validate this point.

Art Camps and Workshops-  Children and adults today have all the resources to learn and grow so easily with several art camps and workshops happening all year around. This is an essential exercise for a child’s development and growth whereas it’s one of the best destressing outlets for adults.  So there are many companies and organizations who organize these exclusive art camps.

Art can inspire us, make us happy, or even motivate us. Living in a purely functional world would lack meaning for us as human beings. If we try to run our lives on the metrics, we may end up bored and empty. A steep rise in wealth has fueled art market.

As art buyers increase in numbers, along with their appetite for luxury, it’s touched off a race among service providers, trying to break into the market.

For the last century, financial and institutional capital have been the priority leverage points for addressing society’s challenges. I deeply believe that, in the future, human, social, and creative capital will have the greatest impact.

And this is where arts and culture are a necessity. 

There is no discipline that nurtures and sparks the cognitive ability to imagine, and unleashes creativity and innovation, more than arts and culture. There is no approach that breaks barriers, connects across cultural differences, and engages our shared values more than arts and culture. There is no investment that connects us to each other, moves us to action, and strengthens our ability to make collective choices more than arts and culture.

To unlock this lever for change, I believe we must do several things:

Focus on strategies that foster real collaboration—finding the best ways to leverage existing structures. 

Identify the stakeholders who must join, support, and advocate for solutions—we must reach beyond the “choir” to deeply understand the values, needs, and motivators of other partners including development organizations, business, neighborhood, and civic leaders. 

Identifying solutions (programs, structures, policies, practices, and financial models) that might be outside our comfort zone 

Learn from ourselves and others—a great deal of thinking and work has been done and has changed the positioning, importance, and funding in many other arenas.

Recognize that it will be hard and will take a long-term commitment—this is not a simple or obvious task. The political challenges, economic constraints, competing interests, priority gaps, and complexities are all real and significant challenges.

And ultimately we must:

Seize the moment—we are in a time of massive economic challenge, political, and generational change. Historically, the most significant reforms and investments in social capital and game-changing approaches have been accomplished during similar periods of challenge and transformation. We are in a time when policymakers will have to address significant structural changes and where the body politic is in play with pendulum swings left and right that demonstrate a willingness to risk the status quo.

Events of this magnitude can be explained and understood by making a brief but important introduction on what is Cultural Diplomacy and its enormous benefits for countries that adopt such diplomacy to emerge in the international context.

“Cultural Diplomacy may best be described as a course of actions, which are based on and utilize the exchange of ideas, values, traditions and other aspects of culture or identity, whether to strengthen relationships, enhance socio-cultural cooperation or promote national interests; Cultural diplomacy can be practiced by either the public sector, private sector or civil society.”

Whilst the term “cultural diplomacy” has only recently been established, evidence of its practice can be seen throughout history and has existed for centuries. Explorers, travelers, traders, teachers and artists can be all considered living examples of “informal ambassadors” or early “cultural diplomats” (for example, the establishment of regular trade routes enables a frequent exchange of information and cultural gifts between traders and government representatives). Such deliberate efforts of cultural exchange can be identified as early examples of cultural diplomacy. Indeed, any person who interacts with different cultures, (currently or in the past), facilitates a form of cultural exchange, which can take place in fields such as art, sports, literature, music, science, business & economy and beyond.Through the interaction of peoples, the exchange of language, religion, ideas, arts and societal structures have consistently improved relations between divergent groups.

Cultural Diplomacy in Practice Cultural diplomacy in practice (or applied cultural diplomacy) is the application and implementation of the theory of cultural diplomacy, including all models that have been practiced throughout history by individual, community, state or institutional actors in order to facilitate and improve relations and collaboration between disparate cultures. These models include for example diverse cultural exchange programs, international delegations (e.g., American jazz ambassadors) or sports competitions. The examples are uniquely able to affect intercultural and interfaith understanding and promote reconciliation.

The Importance of Cultural Diplomacy in an increasingly globalized, interdependent world, in which the proliferation of mass communication technology ensures we all have greater access to each other than ever before, cultural diplomacy is critical to fostering peace & stability throughout the world. Cultural diplomacy, when learned and applied at all levels, possesses the unique ability to influence the “Global Public Opinion” and ideology of individuals, communities, cultures or nations, which can accelerate the realization of the 5 principles below. By accomplishing the first principle, one enables the second, which in turn enables the third until the fifth ultimate principle of global peace and stability is achieved.

The principles are:

  • Respect & Recognition of Cultural Diversity & Heritage
  • Global Intercultural Dialogue
  • Justice, Equality & Interdependence
  • The Protection of International Human Rights
  • Global Peace & Stability

Cultural Diplomacy & the Public Sector, Two broad approaches to conducting regional and international relations can be distinguished; that of ‘hard power’ and ‘soft power’, but this is another story.

Cultural Diplomacy & the Private Sector As the move towards more socially responsible business practices gains momentum, the ability to understand and embrace the different values and needs of diverse cultures and societies becomes ever more important. There are many reasons why corporations need to be aware of the differences between cultures in their strategic decision-making process and adopt cultural diplomacy models into their agenda:

  • In the era of growing social awareness, corporates with culturally sensitive marketing plans and campaigns will enjoy a positive public opinion and good image, thus financially perform better.
  • Companies seeking to expand abroad will encounter problems unless they conduct research into, and act according to the cultural differences with the host country.
  • Companies with a national focus face a related challenge in ensuring that they are aware of and sensitive to national cultural minorities.

Purpose:

Ultimately, the goal of cultural diplomacy is to influence a foreign audience and use that influence, which is built up over the long term, as a sort of good will reserve to win support for policies. It seeks to harness the elements of culture to induce foreigners to:

  • Have a positive view of the country’s people, culture and policies,
  • Induce greater cooperation between nations,
  • Aid in changing the policies or political environment of the target nation,
  • Prevent, manage and mitigate conflict with the target nation.

In turn, cultural diplomacy can help a nation better understand the foreign nation it is engaged with and foster mutual understanding. Cultural diplomacy is a way of conducting international relations without expecting anything in return in the way that traditional diplomacy typically expects. Cultural exchange programs work as a medium to relay a favourable impression of the foreign country in order to gain outsiders’ understanding and approval in their cultural practices and naturalize their social norms among other cultures.

Generally, cultural diplomacy is more focused on the longer term and less on specific policy matters. The intent is to build up influence over the long term for when it is needed by engaging people directly. This influence has implications ranging from national security to increasing tourism and commercial opportunities. It allows the government to create a “foundation of trust” and a mutual understanding that is neutral and built on people-to-people contact. Another unique and important element of cultural diplomacy is its ability to reach youth, non-elites and other audiences outside of the traditional embassy circuit. In short, cultural diplomacy plants the seeds of ideals, ideas, political arguments, spiritual perceptions and a general view point of the world that may or may not flourish in a foreign nation.

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Diplomacy

Multilateralism Without the USA

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Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz

It has already done so for a long time. As I have described earlier: “Nobody waits for Biden” (or the USA). The World is everywhere moving fast around the USA – leaving an ever more bewildered USA behind. US President Biden doesn’t get it. Biden still lives in his inner past experiences of the Cold War and the subsequent American World Order – both gone worlds.

Developments of the past three years

Here are some recent events, which highlight this strategic development:

1. The CPTPP was driven through by the other countries in 2018, after Trump putting “America First” jumped it. This now leaves Biden in a dilemma with his Trump mimic of Buy American (first).

2. The EU-MERCOSUR trade agreement was agreed in June 2019. A true multilateral agreement, not between countries, but between blocks of countries, two of the World’s Mega-Regions.

3. The Brazil-China trade pact in 2019, a result of over 10 years of strategic partnership. Brazil-China is an indicative case of a growing Mega-Region to Mega-Region multilateral cooperation as it involves most of South America. For example, it drives ambitious transcontinental South American infrastructure plans, which include to connect Brazil, Paraguay, and Bolivia with the growing Pacific shipping between Peru and China. Speak of “BRI Latino”.

4. The RCEP was initiated and in 2020 driven to conclusion by the ASEAN – not by China. The US is out. RCEP unites a complex of relationships between ASEAN, China, Japan, Korea, and Australia.

5. The Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI) was driven through by the EU with China in the very last days of 2020, on 28 December – directly against the USA. China opens opportunities with the CAI agreement, while the USA diminishes with “Buy American”. Cars are a good illustration. China is a far bigger car market than the USA. With 25 million cars sold in 2019, China’s car market is nearly 50% bigger than the US car market. This perfectly illustrates China’s trade potential vs. the USA. China’s car market is not only so much bigger – China may double. In contrast, the USA car market completely stagnates. No, China did not just “drive a wedge” between the EU and the USA with the CAI agreement – the EU wants it. To be competitive in products like cars, the EU needs to be in China. The US loses out by staying out. The EU wants factories in China.

6. China, Russia, and Turkey make big agreements without the USA. Russia and Turkey decide on peace and the whole future of places like Syria and Nagorno-Karabakh, leaving the USA in the cold. They deal with Iran very much as they want.

7. India this year presses harder for an EU trade agreement. That the EU recently made the CAI agreement with China does not keep India away from seeking business with the EU. We see complex multilateral relations develop, not involving the USA.

8. The EU just decided (with China surely agreeing) to make the Euro a world-currency everywhere outside the USA. Here, the EU acts in direct contradiction to the American “Longer Telegram” which is clearly US President Biden’s China strategy. In Biden’s “Longer Telegram” China strategy, Biden wants a supreme dollar hegemony. Biden also wants dollar hegemony to run mammoth US deficits. Nobody else needs that. The EU wants to protect itself financially against the USA, including the possible US takeovers of leading EU tech companies. China is on – USA falls off.

More examples – a long-term trend

On top of the recent eight examples above, there is a range of multilateral developments which for several years have been running, fully independently of the USA. A good example is the complex EU-Russia-China cooperation the past decade which has created an exceptionally efficient railroad corridor of over 11,000 km from Chongqing to Duisburg. Not just without the US – even against the US. The Eurasian Landbridge railroad system is a great example of the emerging new multilateralism not involving the USA. It started in the early 2010’s and a decade later, it now involves more than the Mega-Region to Mega-Region level of EU, Eurasia, and China. It spreads out to individual EU and Central Asian countries. It furthers sprawling public as well as private business. And it is increasingly multitiered, involving Mega-Regional, Regional, national, and subnational authorities like Chinese province governments. We also have the Nord Stream gas cooperation Germany-Russia. Even against US sanctions. Imagine US reactions, if the EU for “climate-security” had tried to sanction against the US-Canada Keystone XL pipeline. Coming up, we have the strategic multilateral Africa-Europe partnership between the EU and the African Union (the AU). This is a growing multi-sectoral Mega-Regional cooperation involving trade, jobs, security, immigration, digital development, green transition etc. The USA is not involved. These examples all confirm the fast proliferation of successful multilateral agreements, cooperation, and understandings actively involving several of the World’s Regions – except the USA.

North American developments

The deepening of Canada’s multilateral cooperation to EU with the CETA trade deal in 2017 is also indicative of global cooperations increasing all the way round the USA – leaving the US rather alone. Instead of strengthening North American relations, the USA repeatedly sinks relations with its only two neighbors. The new North American free trade agreement USMCA has harder “local content” requirements and is thus substantially less favorable to Canada and Mexico than the NAFTA which is replaced. For instance, auto parts must now have 75% North American content. The USMCA also widely mandates a minimum wage in Mexico and Canada of 16 dollars/hour – the current US minimum wage is only 7.25 dollars. Even President Biden’s proposed minimum wage of 15 dollars/hour will still be one dollar less than what the USMCA mandates US neighbors – making unskilled Mexican workers uncompetitive. Canada’s steel exports are the biggest victim of US steel-sanctions aimed at China, ostensibly for “security reasons”. A hard hit on Canadian (and S.Korean) steel workers, which are military partners with the USA. And there is no sign that President Biden will reverse US protectionism. Recently, US President Biden with the stroke of his pen on a presidential order, unilaterally makes lost money out of 30 billions which Canada has at stake in the Keystone XL pipeline to the USA. Biden delivers a gut punch to Canada. President Biden’s “Buy America” order forbids not only allied EU, Japanese and Korean suppliers, but also Canadian and Mexican companies to supply the US government. Biden breaks multilateral commitments to the Government Procurement Agreement (GPA) under the WTO. Canada and Mexico are consistently being alienated by the USA and will increasingly need multilateral ties with others: The EU – and China.

Theoretical underpinnings

Multilateralism without a hegemonic power (USA) has not only been happening for a long time – it even accelerates enormously, independently of the USA. The World is NOT waiting for newly elected US President Biden and his national security advisor Jake Sullivan with his “Longer Telegram” misconceptions. We see the emergence of the Mega-Regions, which I identified and described last year.

The World’s Mega-Regions integrate internally – and they make deals with each other externally. The USA is a single exemption to the development of Mega-Regions. Instead of integrating North America into a Mega-Region of shared governance, a “Buy America First” USA continues to consistently split itself from its two neighbors Mexico and Canada. The World of Regions is much-much more geopolitically complex than the bipolar or unipolar World ever were. The rules have changed – again. It is an entirely different reality from the obsolete imaginations of US President Biden and his team. As I stated in an interview of 7 January, published 21 January 2021 – Biden and the USA have much narrower space for maneuver than Biden and his team understand. The previous examples demonstrate how the new Regional World structure is radically more composite and multitiered than the bipolar or unipolar worlds were. Inside Mega-Regions you have other Regions. And in them even smaller Regions (sometimes criss-crossing). It is like the dolls inside dolls of the smiling Babushka nesting dolls, which I used in the picture with the USA marching off to its own perfect storm. (correctly, Matryoshka dolls, see picture below).

Africa, for example, is a Mega-Region. But inside, Africa’s Mega-Region is organized into 8 official Regional Economic Communities (RECs), generally with regional parliaments under the Africa Union (AU) Parliament. And most of these 8 African Regions are criss-crossing each other. Africa illustrates the fractal World structure (regions-within-and-across-regions) which we see today. In the Mega-Region of the EU, Spain with its own internal Regions is also an example of fractal geopolitical structures of regions-within-regions.

Expect to see a growth in multilateralism not only between Mega-Regions (ref. above) but also inside Mega-Regions and across tiers (levels of authority).

I saw these tendencies and wrote on them more than 5 years ago – see my 2016 paper The Future of Security

My work-paper 2016 on the Future of Security concludes with a chapter on China. Countries around China must increasingly find their own modus-vivendi with China, as US power there inexorably recedes. President Biden believes he can reverse that long-term trend – he cannot. The Future of Security is a work-paper still in progress. Mega-Regions add to my theory, and the examples in this paper add more pieces for a whole theory. We need that – to manage the World. We must intensely observe structures as the Multilateral Regional World develops – increasingly structures not involving the USA.

From our partner RIAC

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Diplomacy

Chinese-style soft power

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US soft power once meant that the rest of the world dreamt of living like Americans. Recently, soft power is something attributed to China as well, but as much as all of us use Chinese-produced goods, no one really wishes to live in China. Upon closer inspection, China’s soft power is nothing more than lazily hidden strong power, i.e. attempts to achieve economic, political and military dominance through the use of force.

In response to China’s rapid economic growth, the establishment of networks of economic cooperation and its increased role on the global political stage, many political experts are tempted to talk about China’s soft power. However, most often they must talk about aggressive tactics employed by China that has nothing to do with the true meaning of soft power.

The wealth acquired by the Chinese through hard work began to worry the West when it became clear that China has aspirations to become a global superpower. China has the second largest defense budget, although it makes up only a third of that of the US. China has many trade partners, but they often complain that China tries to force unfair rules. Former US president Donald Trump began a trade war with China, and the EU has also accused China of favoring protectionism instead of a competition-based system. When in 2018 Canada, after a request by the US, detained Huawei’s chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou, China responded by detaining several Canadians, although Huawei denied having any ties to the Chinese government.

China has territorial claims in the South China Sea, of which it reminds by holding military exercises and causing tensions in the region.

What concerns China’s soft power, the usual suspects are the Confucius Institutes, which have been established all over the globe, and the Belt and Road Initiative. Another soft outlet of influence is China’s participation in international organization. However, if we look closer at each of them, none can be considered soft power instruments.

The Confucius Institutes teach not only the Chinese language, but also the Chinese government’s worldview. Professors in the US, Canada and Europe have urged to close the Confucius Institutes that operate in their universities, saying that they restrict academic freedom.

There have also been allegations that the Chinese Embassy has attempted to disrupt meetings between Latvian and Tibetan representatives. Former head of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Latvian Saeima (parliament) Ojārs Ēriks Kalniņš revealed that in 2015, after a protest phone call from the Chinese ambassador, he tried to convince his colleagues not to welcome the Tibetan delegation in the Saeima. In 2013, after “instructions from higher authorities” posters advertising Dalai Lama’s lectures were removed from Riga International Airport, and since 2010 Latvia’s highest officials – president and the prime minister – have not officially met with Dalai Lama. The Latvian Ministry of Foreign Affairs advises officials not to meet with Dalai Lama or ministers of the Central Tibetan Administration, as confirmed by Latvian Minister of Foreign Affairs Edgars Rinkēvičs.

Many nations cooperate with China, but quite often they complain about China enforcing unfair conditions. This is a state-level policy – to further economic relations with numerous countries, at the same time imposing different restrictions and obstacles against them in order to tip the scales economic benefit in China’s favor.

Nevertheless, none of this can hide the ugliness of China’s communist regime in the eyes of other nations, especially at a time when China is suspected of withholding information on the true extent of the Covid-19 pandemic in the country, after the outbreak in Wuhan in 2019. Moreover, China is also being accused of Uyghur genocide, with more and more information on this issue coming to light in recent years.

Authoritarian regimes in their essence are incompatible with true soft power, as it’s three main pillars are an attractive culture, political values and a morally just foreign policy, and the only thing China has is an attractive culture. To compensate for the lack of benign political values and foreign policy, China employs means that cannot be considered part of the arsenal of soft power.

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