RUSSIA AND THE QUESTION OF SOFT POWER: A LOOK AT THE RECENT EVIDENCE
"DUSHANBE, August 28 (RIA Novosti) - "The leaders of the SCO member states welcome the signing in Moscow of the six principles for regulating the South Ossetia conflict, and support Russia's active role in assisting peace and cooperation in this region....The SCO member states are deeply concerned over tensions around the South Ossetian issue, and call on all sides concerned to peacefully resolve existing problems through dialogue." www.en.rian.ru
"The Pope! How many divisions has he got?" Iosif Vissarionovich Stalin, 13 May 1945, as quoted by Winston Churchill in, "The Gathering Storm."
"You can do anything with a bayonet, except sit on it," attributed to Napoleon or Talleyrand.
The declaration by the Shanghai Cooperation Council, was not, as the Financial Times and other observers noted, a ringing endorsement of Russia's position in the aftermath of its victory in its war with Georgia. Indeed, according the Eurasianet.org, the statement at the summit was clear evidence that Russia, was becoming "more diplomatically isolated," in its confrontation with the West. The failure to obtain a ringing endorsement constituting a "rude diplomatic surprise," (See: "Russia Fails to Secure Regional Backing," in www.ft.com & "Russia: Kremlin tries to put on a brave face, following diplomatic slap," in www.eurasianet.org ). With State Department Official Robert Wood crowing today that: "Russia is doing a great job of isolating itself" (see: www.state.gov). Given the reality of the above fact (that Russia did not win, a ringing endorsement from its erstwhile allies in the SCC), as well as the fact that except for a few states, such as Belarus and Kazakhstan, few are the powers that have come out clearly on Russia's side, what one may ask is the upshot of the lack of Russian diplomatic support? In short how important is the fact that Russia does not have much in the way of 'soft power'?
According to the Bulgarian scholar, Ivan Krastev, the Russo-Georgian War, highlights the fact that the Russia of Putin and Medvedev is a 19th century Great Power revidivus. As per Krastev, in one of the few interesting essays that I have come across in quite awhile dealing with Russia's place in the international politics:
"Russia's failure to persuade the world of the legitimacy of its actions in and towards Georgia should force Moscow to rethink its plans for a return to the world stage. Russia is a born-again 19th-century power that acts in the post-20th-century world where arguments of force and capacity cannot any longer be the only way to define the status or conduct of great powers. The absence of "soft power" is particularly dangerous for a would-be revisionist state. For if a state wants today to remake the world order, it must be able both to rely on the existing and emerging constellation of powers and be able to capture the international public's imagination.
Another way of making this point is to say that the normative moment of the 1990s is over, but the need for universalist appeal has remained. The lesson of the Georgia war for Russia is that Russia cannot become the only kind of great power possible under 21st-century conditions if it remains trapped within a 19th-century definition of international politics. Russia needs a new time-machine" ("Russia and the Georgian War: the Great Power Trap," in www.ecfr.eu).
The above point of view, raises the crucial question of how important is exactly 'soft power,' and can Russia do without it, and, still be an effective actor in the international stage? Using Joseph Nye's classical definition of 'Soft Power', as being the ability to use persuasion, as opposed to brute force, to obtain consent from other powers in the International arena. With the subtext that cultural and or ideological influences being upper most as variables here. The USA cultural influences in the 20th century being classical examples. Well from a historical perspective, it does not appear that Russia (as opposed to Sovietskaya Vlast) was ever a heavy weight in the realm of "soft power". As opposed to say France (the reigning champion of 'soft power', in pre-1914 international politics), or England, or even Wilhelmine Germany. Yet that fact, does not have appeared to have greatly handicapped Saint Petersburg, in its foreign policy in the two hundred years prior to the outbreak of the Great War. Indeed, as compared to say La Belle France, Russia's net performance, is by almost every definition infinitely better, more effective, in this time frame. Which seems to indicate that in point of fact, 'Soft Power,' is not ne plus ultra of international politics, that Nye and his adherents seem to believe.
Bearing the above in mind, it is my surmise, that if, and, only if, the Putin-Medvedev regime is underminded from within, and, collapses like the Tsarist state almost did in 1905, will 'soft power,' be as important as people like Ivan Krastev, like to say that it is. Right now, even given the absence of active and willing allies in its confrontation with the West, there does not appear to be any reason per se, for Russia to either 'give-in,' and retreat under pressure. Indeed, as per one Russian Ambassador, in Vienna, Russia's decision to recognize the two break away Republics, was: "irreversable" (see: www.oscoop.com ). Which merely emphasizes the fact that we are in a deadlocked situation diplomatically. Of course, another key point to emphasize in any discussion of 'soft power,' in the current crisis, is that there are many powers in the world: those of the SCC, India, much of the Near East, almost all of sub-Saharan Africa, some portions of East Asia, which either are opportunistically willing to support Russia (Syria, Venezuela, Belarus, et cetera), or studious neutral (India, Israel, Persia, Azerbajian, et cetera, et cetera). As a Singaporean academic noted in the Financial Times recently:
Most of the world is bemused by western moralising on Georgia. America would not tolerate Russia intruding into its geopolitical sphere in Latin America. Hence Latin Americans see American double standards clearly. So do all the Muslim commentaries that note that the US invaded Iraq illegally, too. Neither India nor China is moved to protest against Russia. It shows how isolated is the western view on Georgia: that the world should support the underdog, Georgia, against Russia. In reality, most support Russia against the bullying west. The gap between the western narrative and the rest of the world could not be greater.
Kishore Mahbubani, "The West is Strategically Wrong on Georgia," 20 August 2008 in www.ft.com
Unless, and, until there are definite means of "making Russia pay," for its de facto annexation of Georgian territory, then I do not see any way of how the West can possibly triumph in this conflict with Moskva. And, as the French Foreign Minister Kouchner again admitted today the EU is not considering any real sanctions at its extra-ordinary meeting on Monday. And, while verbal jousting with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov no doubt has some psychological satisfactions, for Monsieur Kouchner, one is not inclined to see this as a serious sort of policy (See: "A l'evocation de Sanctions, Moscou ironise sur 'l'imagination maladive'de M. Kouchner", in www.Lemonde.fr). In short, while soft power is indeed an important weapon in international politics, it is not, a weapon which is as powerful, or I would argue as effective as brute force. At least in the short term, and, as Lord Keynes has told us, "in the long run we are all dead".