Friday, October 28, 2011

Oh that "Soft Power"

Now that I'm half-way through Nye's Future Of Power, and successfully completed his not-so-new sections on soft power and public diplomacy, I cannot help but think back - yet again - to good old Gramsci and his all-important concept of hegemony.

More thoughts will be coming later, of course, time permitting. But here's a quote from Robert Cox that is very telling:
"Hegemony is a structure of values and understandings about the nature of order that permeates a whole system of states and non-state entities.  In a hegemonic order these values and understandings are relatively stable and unquestioned.  They appear to most actors as the natural order.  Such a structure of meanings is underpinned by a structure of power, in which most probably one state is dominant but that state’s dominance is not sufficient to create hegemony.  Hegemony derives from the dominant social strata of the dominant states in so far as these ways of doing and thinking have acquired the acquiescence of the dominant social strata of other states."
The resemblance of hegemony to the concept of soft power is more than just striking. Nye - of course - sees this critique coming and attempts to refute this suggestion, claiming that hegemony is about coercion, while soft power is about attraction and free will (pp. 87-90). And yet, it seems Nye is distorting the very meaning of hegemony, which - at its core - refers to the projection of an actor's own way of seeing the world over others through means that are not necessarily coercive. Therefore, hegemony can involve "free will" among others, with the "free" component (relative in this case) being engineered through the actor's power.

In short, Nye is walking a very fine line between hegemony and soft power, all over again, being in denial all along.

A more comprehensive review will be coming soon. Hopefully.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

State Power vs. Social Movements

I came across this piece on Foreign Policy a couple of days ago and thought I'd repost it here, especially since I've been so silent lately. Again. After all, the state vs. non-state seems to be one of the new "major" debates not just in International Relations, but also in many other aspects of world as well as domestic affairs. More importantly, it directly affects public diplomacy and attempts to mobilize and organize individuals, groups, and movements, so as to bring about desired and concrete policy outcomes.

Anne-Marie Slaughter makes very strong points, and although Dan Drezner has a few good counter-arguments, her emphasis on networks (whether real or virtual) and their ability to organize and amplify their impact does merit attention. After all, in the increasingly complex structure of world politics, non-state actors are operating alongside states, with communication playing a key enabling role. It is here that public diplomacy and strategic communication can capitalize on the existing connections to strengthen and improve their achievements, whether directly or indirectly.

This is, of course, nothing new. Just interesting to see this debate in such a format. Long live social media!

If curious, here's the whole thing:

Friday, October 7, 2011

Putin's Army celebrating it hot

Remember those overzealous young women ripping their clothes off for Putin this summer? Obviously they haven't lost their zeal, even after the Future President said he will indeed be there. So, on the occasion of his birthday today, October 7, they decided to make him a tortik, a cake. In their own way, of course.

The following discussion on YouTube is hilarious. But some comments have disappeared already, so criticism is obviously unwelcome.

Wonder if Putin himself will take a minute to thank them for their hard work. Though they seem to have secured jobs for themselves for several years to come.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Some updates; quick thoughts...

I know I've been absent for weeks. Yet again. A lot has happened and I wish I had enough time to reflect and write about it. But since I don't, I thought I'd share a couple of news/videos I kept coming across these days.

Firstly, of course, there's this: the Great Leader (past, present, and future, as we finally found out) of Russia, had not really been all too successful with his archaeological finds back in August, when he took that dive in the Black Sea. Of course it was a set up. The most hilarious thing, however, is that his spokesman openly admitted it. I wonder if he actually has doubles when dealing with tigers and whales. Or when driving the LADA...

Then, there was this peace by Al Jazeera about the celebration of the Grozny Day, in Chechnya. Obviously, it was as much an "international" public statement about where Chechnya has got by now, as much as it was a populist one, to improve "Head of Chechen Republic" Kadyrov's domestic ratings (well, and maybe Future President Putin's). Cheap public diplomacy and PR, many would say; but then, it was obviously not that cheap [I'm sure, the "divine support" will be there for many more years to come]. Yet, seems like very few Western explanations can actually account for the substantial support he does have among the public. Oh well... [And by the way, I sincerely sympathize with Van Damme; he didn't seem all too happy being out there...]

Going to Russia Today... Obviously, after the ridiculous United Russia congress a couple of weeks ago, Putin's popularity around the world needed a boost. Enter, Larry King. [I sometimes wonder if international leaders are now treating him as a global "equivalent" to what Stephen Colbert or Jon Stewart are to the American public: make an appearance and your political ratings will most certainly go up, and/or your product (movie/book) will sell better.] So, Larry King gave an interview to RT, where he discussed Putin's "It Factor"... It's both hilarious and sad; and yet having King doing Putin's "personal public diplomacy" (not to call it PR) is something not to be missed, I think.

Lastly, just a note on the whole "Occupy Wall Street" debacle, that is now spreading all across the country. I don't want to be commenting on U.S. domestic issues here, but in terms of public diplomacy, this case is certainly working against the U.S. image. Such issues and footage, like the one below, are not only detrimental to the international perception of American values (and how they are upheld), but can also be recontextualized and "exploited" by many "information rivals", such as Russia Today. American "public diplomats" have to keep this in mind.

Hope to have more, later...