Friday, January 1, 2016

Quotable: Francesco Sisci on “everybody’s ‘soft power’ is failing”

Wednesday, December 30th 2015
Those contemplating the role of “soft power” and Public Diplomacy as they face the coming international challenges may find some fresh insights in a recent article by the Beijing-based journalist Francesco Sisci.  Writing that “Putin’s Russia wants to be a superpower” for the Asia Times on December 24, 2015, he reviewed the historical dimensions of Russia’s aspirations to be a world power, its desire for access to warm waters, its historic rivalry with Turkey and China, and the end of the Cold War.  He compared Western, Russian, and Chinese frames of reference on the international order. 

Drawing on the thinking of Walter Laqueur, Sisci wrote “As World War II was the legitimate child of the bad end to World War I, so the present tensions with Russia are the legitimate child of a bad end to the Cold War. Many Russians . . . did not feel they had been defeated. Just like the post–World War I Germans, they felt they had been betrayed and stabbed in the back, and failed to admit and recognize the total bankruptcy of their state.”  He went on to observe:

If cultural and social perceptions are so important to political decisions, as proved by the experience of Germany in the 1930s and Russia now, this might be real ground to break for those seeking a solution to today’s problems. Here everybody’s “soft power” is failing, including that of America. No one seems interested or able to reach everyone with an overarching message, as both the capitalist West and communist USSR tried to do during the Cold War.

This might be good as it avoids religious and ideological wars, but it is plunging us in a world of mutually unconnected and non-communicating cultural universes, where all try to maximize their specific profit while ignoring the rest. It is a world of cultural relativism, to steal a sentence from the Catholic Church, where conflict over ideals is traded for neglect of others. This neglect (from the West and from Russia) has apparently also contributed to breeding Putin’s Russia and IS. Perhaps there is a way that is neither ideological war nor neglect for others. Short of that, we might well expect far more troubles of this kind.

Then the present situation appears like a dangerous mix of the geopolitical tensions before World War I, where land, ambitions, misperceptions were daily issues, and unfinished businesses of the Cold War. In all of this, IS is just a detail, or perhaps can be the fuse to set off everything.

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