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Diplomacy

Celebrity Diplomacy: Are they biting a bigger piece than they can chew?

Executive Director Ertharin Cousin, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and U2 lead singer and ONE co-founder Bono at Milan Expo 2015. WFP/Giulio D'Adamo

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In this book, Andrew Cooper who is a Political Scientist tries to analyses and assesses the role of celebrity into the world of Diplomacy which is changing its course from being state-centric to incorporating transnational and global elements. This book tries to capture the roles played by celebrities like movie stars, musicians, and CEOs who operate across the globe, have grabbed new roles on the world stage, simultaneously levering their access to world leaders and mass audiences by exercising their star power to the world of diplomacy and humanitarian cause, identifying both the benefits and the pitfalls of this thoroughly modern phenomenon. He also talks about how celebrities are constantly under scrutiny and often seen as a frivolous lot around professional diplomats.

The author in the first chapter tries to define what and who comes under the ambit of celebrity diplomat and how they are different from some professional diplomats who also gains the status of celebrity by being under the constant public eye. He highlights how the selection of Bono and Bill and Melinda Gates as Time magazine’s 2005 persons of the year serves as just the most visible measure of how new types of celebrities performing functions of diplomacy and an expanded range of activities are being recognized on the international stage through them.

The current wave of celebrities squarely targets the arenas of global governance, global equity, and global regulatory issues. Efforts to end global poverty, to cancel the debt, to expand pro-grams of official development assistance, and to focus on HIV/AIDS and other pandemic health issues, all of which are heavily concentrated on Africa, would be on the top of most current lists of celebrity activism.

He throughout the book constantly point out the domination of the Anglo-sphere in the world of celebrity diplomacy, giving narrow space to outsiders, thereby keeping them under control.

The authors point out how some celebrities like Audrey Hepburn and Danny Kaye tried to capture elements of the engaged public life while working with UNICEF, but the work of diplomacy took a full-fledged shape only after the end of cold-war with a massive surge of technical innovation and expansion. Various celebrities bring their star power to work for the collective good of humanity and enter into the world of diplomacy. Celebrity diplomats comprise of no longer only of the ambassadors chosen for UN but also various free-floaters, such a late Princess Diana, U2 singer Bono whose advocacy work has had impacts on many governments. Philanthropists like Bill Gates, George Soros are also breaking new grounds not only because of the size of their financial contribution but also because of their personal involvement in global public policy debates. Some celebrities provide ground and field which requires celebrities’ attention like Oprah Winfrey.

He uses U2 singer Bono as an epitome of a celebrity diplomat, who navigated the traditional boundaries between diplomacy and policymaking, working through both the International Forum and the corridor of national political power. He continuously changed his tactics as he continued to evolve. Bob Geldof, another celebrity who the author addressed as an anti-diplomat, had the same effect as Bono in the world of diplomacy though his characteristics were contrary to that of a celebrity diplomat.

UN has also revamped itself to include celebrities who were genuinely interested in working for it. It was after a lot of discussions, interviews, and debate that celebrity Angelina Jolie was selected to work with the UN. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan encouraged celebrity involvement in the UN. Celebrities carving a niche for themselves by digressing from the path they have been told to tread on like Princess Diana. Most of the book the author is limited to the English-speaking West who dominated the world of diplomacy.

It is only in the final chapters that he devoted his attention to celebrities from Non-West taking the role of diplomacy offering views countering the Eurocentric part of the world order. He states how celebrity diplomacy has expanded and incorporated fragment from all around the world bringing with them different accents, cultures, and opinions. He highlights how Bob Geldof during the Live 8 concert was responsible for his controversial selection process, as he was accused of reproducing a system of “musical apartheid” in his bias toward featuring older white “gods” of rock over African stars in the concerts under his command.1

Thus, the interference of people from the Anglo-sphere dominating and speaking about issues centered around Africa and Africans started hinting at the new parentalism or an expression of benign neocolonialism. There have been a few celebrities from the African continent like great Senegalese musician Youssou N’Dour, Maal but it was only later in the 21st century that various non-west celebrities started entering and bringing their localism with cosmopolitanism in the arena of diplomacy. Various Japanese celebrities like Misako Konno, Tetsuko Kuroyanagi, and so on not only entered into the world of diplomacy but played their own game by being non-conformists. The author further spoke about how the need to have a democratic government is necessary for various non-state actors or various activism to flourish outside the state purview otherwise entertainment or celebrity diplomats are left with no choice but to balance between their loyalty for the government or help in accommodating the government in power. Various celebrities like Imran Khan. Pakistani cricketer, George Weah and others used activism as a means to get hold of political positions and power. Instead of continuing to act as a force of moderation and tolerance, Imran began to pander to a domestic constituency after becoming a candidate in national elections, most notably siding with minority obscurantist voices over unsubstantiated news reports in 2005 regarding.2 This led to considerable damage to his reputation across the globe.

India has also entered into the world of diplomacy through people like Arundhati Roy, Shabana Azmi, and Amitabh Bachchan who have not only offered their fresh perspective but also reciprocated in the fashion and technique similar to North. However, the biggest problem that non-Anglo-sphere celebrities faced was to attract the same level of publicity as their counter-parts from the U.S. /UK hubs. The celebrity diplomats in the North should embrace their south-ern counterpart is the way forward, humanity should be the underlying principle in the diplo-matic world.

Diplomacy is a complex activity with a vast array of actors.

The authors draw our attention to the fact that the celebrities bring an added value to the repertoire of diplomacy and global affairs as they operate beyond intergovernmental processes. Celebrities provide a convenient surrogate for, and a conduit in response to, the traditional bonds that hold society together, performing mobilizing, interpreting, and, most importantly, mediating functions that have been eroded within traditional institutions.“When a celebrity talks, people listen; there is no better messenger.”3 It is thus, important to accept that importance and role of celebrity diplomats, as keeping them away from scrutiny will propel them to become ‘loose canons’ who are not accountable to anyone.

Thus, we need to accept that the sheer scale, intensity, and resilience of celebrities have been successful in imparting both a buzz and a bite. Celebrities are better placed than politicians to convey important messages. We need to bifurcate the celebrities who use diplomacy as career enhancement from the sincerely working ones, and for that, we need to understand that celebrity diplomacy is not a mere fad. They can focus the entire world’s attention on a problem, and they can help build a groundswell of public support for the work that the professionals are doing. Celebrities not only blur but effectively break down the barriers between domestic and international politics. their presence as participants who look, behave, and speak very differently than those actors who traditionally occupy the elevated space on global affairs says much about how these orthodox assumptions are no longer valid.

The only problem with this book is its limitation and biases towards the Global North which the author has accepted himself. Otherwise, it is an interesting read for someone who wants to read about soft power exerted by celebrities in today’s globalized world and its effects on the national and global levels.

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Diplomacy

India-made Covid vaccines open a new chapter in New Delhi’s continuing medical diplomacy

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Ever since the pandemic began, India’s goodwill has significantly improved among its neighbours in South Asia and the Indian Ocean, as New Delhi continues to expand its soft power with timely delivery of needy drugs, as seen in last year, and vaccines, this year.

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Continuing its long-standing legacy as first responder to crises in the region, India reached out to most of its neighbours even before the World Health Organisation and the Covax initiative of GAVI (Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization).

While China too promised supplies to South Asian nations, only India delivered it so far. Perhaps, the only exception to this would be Islamabad, which has neither requested nor discussed the delivery of India-made Covid vaccines.

India’s vaccines

The beginning of 2021 saw India’s drugs regulator granting emergency use approval for two domestically-made vaccines.

One is Covishield, manufactured by the Pune-based Serum Institute of India, the largest vaccine producer in the world, and the other is Covaxin, manufactured by Hyderabad-based Bharat Biotech. The former is made in partnership with AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford, and the latter entirely indigenous.

Government of India has procured hundreds of millions of vaccine doses at reduced prices offered by these two domestic companies. More domestic manufacturers are awaiting approval for their respective in the coming months. Currently, at this stage, India also has four vaccines in active clinical trials and fifteen vaccines in the pre-clinical stages, as well.

Adding a new dimension to ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy

For about seven years now, one of the key tenets of the Modi government’s foreign policy has been ‘Neighbourhood First’, as a means to improve cooperation with partner countries in South Asia and the Indian Ocean. The pandemic opened up new prospects to this highly-held policy.

Even though India has its own big challenges such as the task lying ahead to inoculate a billion-plus population in phases, as it began the world’s largest inoculation drive for Covid-19 on January 16, with the first phase targeting 30 million frontline and healthcare workers.

Notwithstanding the domestic challenges, three days after the beginning of inoculation drive, Indian government announced its decision to dispatch vaccines to countries in its neighbourhood such as Bhutan, Maldives, Bangladesh, Nepal, Myanmar, and Seychelles, which began the very next day after the announcement, mostly as gifts and grant assistance, free of cost, and some on a commercial basis.

Just four days after India began its inoculation drive, the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan became the first country in South Asia to receive India-made Covishield vaccines, followed by the Indian Ocean island state of Maldives on the same day.

As gift and grant assistance, India supplied “150,000 doses of vaccines to Bhutan, 100,000 doses to Maldives, one million doses to Nepal, two million doses to Bangladesh, 1.5 million doses to Myanmar,  100,000 to Mauritius, and 50,000 doses to Seychelles”, the country’s foreign ministry said.

Sri Lanka and Afghanistan will also receive India-made vaccines soon after getting regulatory clearances. These moves come amid Chinese attempts to extend its influence in India’s backyard, as seen in the recent years.

When the world plunged into coronavirus-induced lockdowns in March 2020, India quietly began its medical diplomacy bidding for a collective response to this new health emergency by convening a virtual meet of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) and by leading the effort to institute a new relief fund to tackle the pandemic.

Previously, the regular meetings of the organisation remained stalled due to India’s bilateral tensions with Pakistan. But, New Delhi used the pandemic as a good opportunity to revive the regional grouping which was followed by governmental level meetings in the later months.

India has also provided training to several neighbouring countries to enhance and strengthen their clinical trials of vaccines, through various assistance programmes.

‘Pharmacy of the world’

Being the global hub of vaccine production, New Delhi’s diplomacy is very much focused on reaching out to all needy countries, and it is not limited to the immediate neighbourhood. Throughout the pandemic period, the world also saw India projecting its soft power beyond its traditional spheres of influence to a truly global scale.

An effective conduct of medical diplomacy by providing medicinal tablets last year and this year through the supply of domestically-made Covid vaccines, India reaffirmed its position as the ‘pharmacy of the world’, being the world leader in the production of generic drugs and vaccines, and making three-fifth of the world’s total vaccines.

Even while battling the challenge of inoculating a very large population, Indian Prime Minister has recently stated that India’s vaccine production and delivery capacity will be used for the benefit of ‘all humanity’ to fight the pandemic.

Contractual supply of India-made vaccines to Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Brazil, and Morocco are also currently underway.

Indian government has made clear that continue to supply vaccines to friendly and partner countries even while the second phase of inoculation drive goes on at home. India also comes with an experience of running a successful immunization programme for more than four decades now.

Being a leader in drugs manufacturing, India was approached by many countries including the United States, last year, for the supply of medicinal tablets like hydroxychloroquine, which was exported to more than a hundred countries around the world from Asia to Africa toLatin America.

India also exported other tablets such as remdesivir and paracetamol, as well as diagnostic kits, ventilators, masks, gloves and other medical supplies to a large number of countries around the world.

When it comes to immunization against Covid through vaccines, India’s potential lies well beyond just its domestic population due to its invaluable experience in the pharmaceutical front.

Statistics say one in every six humans on earth reside in India. If this Asian powerhouse succeeds in its fight against the coronavirus pandemic, it simply means, a sizeable proportion of humanity is saved, so do the countries it assisted, contributing to the global response and continuing efforts of the scientific community in bringing the pandemic to an end.

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Diplomacy

The case for more middle power involvement in the reshaping of the post-pandemic world

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The past year was the year of the pandemic, although initially 2020 was seen more as a year of increased great power competition. The pandemic took us off guard and revealed that generally a good handling of the crisis requires a combination of national self-sufficiency and global action, perhaps in dosages that have to be more balanced than what we thought before. A certain reimagining of how the world and each country should function naturally took place, but a more systematic process of transforming our governance toolbox (not because of COVID-19, but of what the pandemic has revealed about some major failures in our global “engines”) is necessary. Here, I make the argument that we should pay more attention to what the middle powers can bring to the international table.     

Despite expectations, 2020 was not a great year for the hegemon and the potential successor. China was the originator of the pandemic and this has been reflected in its popularity ratings. The international image of the country took a big hit, the commercial dependence on products made in China determined many to ask tough questions about the future of trade, and Beijing was sometimes put on the same level with Russia as a reactionary/resurgent power. Despite the mask diplomacy and the robust economic recovery, China has been seen more as a source of problems than as a potential solution to global woes. Moreover, the country did not count much in the symbolic race for a vaccine, although, with Sinovac, things might change in the future, depending on its effectiveness. The US also had to deal with a couple of major issues/headaches: a very poor handling of the pandemic that resulted in record numbers of American getting infected or losing their lives, extreme political polarization that did not avoid pandemic subjects (e.g., the wearing of masks, the lockdowns), a severe economic fallout, and a very contested presidential election in which the rules of the democratic games were challenged by the president himself. The icing on the cake was the January 6 Capitol Hill insurrection that further damaged the American image abroad and cemented the idea of the American decline already announced by the inward-looking approaches and decisions of the Trump administration. 

The idea that, once Trump is gone, international politics will go back to business as usual will not be borne out by the facts. The consequences of the Trump years will not go away easy or soon. President Biden has already committed that, in his first day in office, he will sign executive orders for the US to rejoin the Paris climate accord and to end the Muslim travel ban. These are not small steps, but many other details remain to be solved out, starting with the new approach towards the WHO (will the US leave the organization and, if not, what changes Washington will ask for?) or the reform of the WTO so that it does not become a museum institution with little influence on how the next stages of globalisation will look for. Moreover, as others have argued, Trump has put the China topic front and center on the US and international political agenda, so that issue cannot be ignored. Beyond employing different tactics than those characterizing the whimsical behavior of Trump, Biden will have to offer a substantive answer on how to deal with a rising power whose action is not as predictable as it was and that will claim a bigger role at the table than currently allocated (in a decade or so, potentially event the main seat at the table).

We like it or not, we are more and more caught by the language of power in international politics, we started to consider more carefully the relation between absolute versus relative gains, we look more carefully at the main international players, potential alliances and at how the new era of globalization and economic evolutions more broadly could change an emerging balance-of-power logic. Fortunately, we are far from the Cold War nightmare, but nothing guarantees that we will not end up in a situation that is perhaps even more unstable than the one that ended with the 1989 revolutions and the disintegration of the USSR. The times of crisis usually test our instincts, and this applies not only to the constructive side: fear and uncertainty, the game theory has shown so well, can very well generate suboptimal results. This is why we need safeguards that the post-Covid-19 situation will not bring to the fore the worse in us as citizens of the world.

One of the few clear safeguards we can consider is the role of middle powers. We already know that, in times of transition of power and hegemonic weakness, international public goods can still be provided by a coalition of states that have obvious stakes in the preservation of the system and are ready to act to make sure that international norms and practices are not destroyed by the vacuum of power. The likes of Canada, Denmark, Australia, South Korea, Indonesia, Japan or New Zealand can join hands and offer their agreed take on the hottest international topic: how to maintain honest international cooperation and ensure that we have the proper global institutions that will mitigate the health, economic, social, and political consequences of the pandemic. We already saw individual actions: the cooperation within MIKTA, an informal middle power partnership between Mexico, Indonesia, South Korea, Turkey and Australia aiming to support global governance, an alliance which accounts for almost 10% of global trade; or the statement of the Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno LP Marsudi that countries around the world need to make concerted efforts to promote multilateralism. But these steps should be more systematic and coordinated: we are in need of a bigger, louder platform.

We know very well that multilateralism has issues, that international organisations have problems: the pandemic has made all this too clear. However, we do not have to throw the baby out with the bathwater. The reckoning and the rethinking will have to go beyond the interests and involvement of the great powers, in order to generate trust and the buy-in of the other relevant players. We really need honest brokers for the post-pandemic world, to prepare us for the next ones and for whatever lies in store for a debacle-prone future. A few months ago, the Lowy Institute rightly focused on the role of middle powers in the current crisis and made reference to a coalition of competent middle powers to offer a safer ground for the recovery. I would dare to say that this is true, but even more important would be a coalition of generous and enlightened self-interested middle powers, that recognize that their position of strength is also a by-product of the current international order that their consolidation is tied to refurbished, not overhauled global agreements. My call is as much a realistic assessment as it is a hope that there is an alternative to zero-sum great power competition in the post-2020 era.

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Diplomacy

The Growth of Soft Power in the World’s Largest Democracy

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Power in the field of foreign affairs has previously always been well-known and understood as “Hard Power”. This is used when speaking ofa nation’s economic and military power. Hard power is portrayed in the form of tangible force such as coercion, threats to use physical force or even economic sanctions, etc. On the other hand, a relatively newer concept, Soft Power, is now gaining momentum. Soft Power is a more subtle form of power and is popularly defined as the use of affirmative or positive appeal to create a better reach and image of the country in terms of international relations. Soft power, thus, aims to improve on the older beliefs of hard power and strives to attain influence by constructing a better picture, creating stronger connections, formulating global regulations and utilising the soft power reserves that help build the nation in the eyes of the rest of the world.

The term was first coined by Harvard’s Joseph Nye, an American political scientist, who initially established three primary sources of soft power: political values, culture, and foreign policy. Within these three sources, the further subdivisions of soft power are diverse in nature and numerous in quantity.

Soft Power and Governments

At the core, Soft Power is a concept that deals with being appealing to its people. Hence, there has to, almost necessarily, be a societal approach. Governments cannot do more here than act as a vehicle for the process. Nonetheless, governments today are facilitating the creation and dispersion of positive thoughts and depictions of their States. This includes fine arts, movies, music, culture, ideologies and spiritualities, etc. Naturally, almost every country has activities and ideas that are unique to its land and its people and thus, Soft Power has a plentitude of factors that are important in mapping Soft Power sources.

It is often also believed that people in a diaspora often tend tobe more religious or patriotic than those in their homeland. Their presence abroad and representation of Indian culture adds to a country’s Soft Power. Hence, governments can also build on this and use it to their advantage and increase the influence on the diaspora to exercise more freedom in the strengthening of their soft power. Thus, it is the governments which must act as catalysts to promote and package these traits well on a global scale; this must be done in order to create a favourable picture of the country and its people to boost international relations and its own standing in foreign policy.

Soft Power and India

In a country with such a vast history as well as such rich culture, heritage and traditions- at first sight itself, one can see how India has a surplus of these aforementioned qualities and the Government of India, too, recognises and acknowledges the potential this carries with respect to soft power resources. Hence, with just a little effort- this can be utilised optimally to boost international influence.

As explained by Mr. Dhruva Jaishankar, the Director of the U.S. Initiative at ORF, in his piece on The Brookings blog- presently too, India’s rise in the world, both politically and economically, has added fresher perspective to India’s soft power resources and its employment for protecting and promoting all of India’s interest globally. The cultural diversity in terms of languages, religions, heritage and well as the presence of progressive civilisations in the past gives India an almost inexhaustible reserve of soft power to dig into. From folk music and dances to historical sights and myths, from Indian cinema to the diverse cuisine, every aspect of India can contribute immensely to the nation’s soft power resources.

A few more specific examples of this can be yoga, Yoga Day, River Ganga, all the religious tourism sights such as temples, etc.; all of which have worldwide appeal. For example, in Russia and other Indophillic countries, there are Indian films which the older generation there still remembers till date, because our values were considered close to Soviet values; similarly so with African countries, because their societies had more conservative values like ours back in the day. When popular singer Akon flew down to record a Hindi song for a movie, it created a stir. However, some lesser-known information is that in his home country, Senegal, almost everyone can speak Hindi quite fluently and they love Bollywood, to the extent that they have all grown up watching and loving it.

The authors of the chapters in ‘The Magic of Bollywood: At Home and Abroad’ too, shed light on the impact that Bollywood songs and films add as an agent ofsoft power.All of this contributes immensely in the countries’ mutual foreign policy, relations, etc., because of a feelings of closeness, familiarity or relatability that it creates. Today, companies across the world want to employ certified yoga instructors. Even relatively conservative countries like Saudi Arabia have an accelerated demand for yoga instructors now; whereas, a few years ago, it would have been interpreted and believed to be incorrect or not suitable to their culture or values.

India is also looked upon favourably in the international market owing to its political values and foreign policy. It is seen as a safer avenue for investors than non-democratic countries like China, North Korea, etc. because of its stand with respect to political stability, upkeep of human rights, non-intervention and other such factors that convince those residing outside of the country and thus, result in the strengthening of bonds. Dr. Shashi Tharoor, Indian politician and Member of Parliament, has also time and again reiterated the importance and far-reaching characteristics of Soft Power in his writings and speeches, calling it one of India’s most valuable assets.

Conclusion

As mentioned in the Diplomatist, Monish Tourangbam rightly observes that “New drives like ‘Swachh Bharat Abhiyan’, ‘Make in India’ and ‘Incredible India’ have been associated with India’s nation-branding and the promotion of its image in the international community.”He also added that “The success of Indian institutions such as the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) in outer space explorations, and in launching satellites for other countries, have catapulted India’s regional and global image. More collaborations should not only be initiated but also sustained between Indian universities, both public and private with its counterparts in Asia and Africa, with a focus on providing affordable but quality education.”This is of extreme significance because of the growth in India’s positive image due to such images- not just outside the country but also in the minds of Indian citizens at home.

Because at the end of the day, soft power is the power that your culture and image hold in the minds of people in your country but mainly those all around the world. It complements hard power; despite many political scientists and foreign affairs experts arguing that it cannot replace it entirely; such as Mr. H.H.S. Viswanathan at IIM, Tiruchirappalli, who also concluded with the same in his lecture in 2019 during a series by the Ministry of External Affairs. Usually, Soft Power is strongly believed to be of paramount significance when it comes to nation-building, development and promotion. Some even argue that it makes Hard Power more acceptable, in a way.

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