Sharp Power is a new concept that emphasizes the policy transition from “soft” to “hard” in a global/local context. The European Centre for Populism Studies (Brussels), in collaboration with the Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalization (ADI), and Deakin University (Melbourne), is proud to announce a new Talk Series on the topic of Sharp Power.
Public and cultural diplomacy are hugely employed by global powers to project their soft powers. In the hands of autocratic regimes, these concepts have been instrumentalized to serve autocratic interests. Such autocratic regimes have widely used the concepts of public diplomacy and cultural diplomacy to achieve their foreign policy objectives.
Sharp Power is a new concept that emphasizes the policy transition from “soft” to “hard” in a global/local context. Chris Walker and Jessica Ludwig defined sharp power as authoritarian influence techniques used by countries such as China and Russia that, while not openly coercive, are also not “soft.”
The European Centre for Populism Studies (Brussels), in collaboration with the Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalization (ADI), and Deakin University (Melbourne), is proud to announce a new Talk Series on the topic of Sharp Power. These series aim to explore and broaden the existing scholarship on ‘sharp power,’ an innovative and emerging field of research.
Having found a gap between the concepts of hard- and soft-power, scholars from across many disciplines have sought to dissect the authoritarian regimes’ new and harmful tactics and activities in third countries. Thus, the concept of sharp power is developed to frame harmful transnational activities of some certain, authoritarian powers, predominantly coming from countries like Russia and China. This growing scholarship has the additional vocation to alert liberal democracies against the subversive activities of authoritarian regimes who are hostile to democratic institutions and values that they seem as existential threats to their ‘authoritarian values’ and stability of their regimes.
The talk series will make up of eight live-streamed seminars every Wednesday starting from October until mid-December. The live streams will be also published on the YouTube channel. During the sessions, theoretical background, country contexts (China and Russia), European and Asian cases, impacts on digital environment, and human rights perspectives will be held by distinguished experts in the field.
Event I – Seminar
Christopher Walker: “Authoritarian mobilization and sharp power”
Wednesday, November 9, 2022 / 12:00 (CET)
China, Russia, and other countries ruled by repressive regimes have dramatically scaled up their investment into spheres commonly associated with soft power, including into media, education, technology, and entertainment. Most free societies are still not adequately prepared to meet the multidimensional sharp-power strategies applied by China, Russia, and like-minded states. Open societies will be vulnerable so long as they maintain a blind spot about the compromising and corrosive aspects of such forms of authoritarians’ outward-facing influence.
Christopher Walker is Vice President for Studies and Analysis at the National Endowment for Democracy, an independent, nonprofit foundation dedicated to the growth and strengthening of democratic institutions around the world. In this capacity, he oversees the department that is responsible for NED’s multifaceted analytical work. Prior to joining the NED, Walker was Vice President for Strategy and Analysis at Freedom House. Walker has testified before legislative committees, appears regularly in the media, and frequently conducts briefings on critical issues relating to democratic development.
Walker has been at the forefront of the discussion on authoritarian influence on democratic systems. His articles have appeared in numerous publications, including the Financial Times, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post, Foreign Affairs, and the Journal of Democracy. He is co-editor (with Larry Diamond and Marc Plattner) of the edited volume Authoritarianism Goes Global: The Challenge to Democracy (2016), and co-editor (with Jessica Ludwig) of the reports Sharp Power: Rising Authoritarian Influence (2017), and Sharp Power and Democratic Resilience (2021). His article, “Rising to the Sharp Power Challenge,” appears in the October 2022 issue of the Journal of Democracy.
Event II – Seminar
Gavin Wilde: “Russia’s information warfare as regime insecurity”
Wednesday, November 16, 2022 / 11:00 (CET)
If a unified theory of Russian information warfare exists, its core tenet might well be its historic indivisibility from regime security in Russian strategic thought. Rather than as an aggressive or expansionist expression of Moscow’s foreign policy, the Kremlin’s “information war” should primarily be viewed through a domestic political and security prism—as much a counterinsurgency as an expeditionary strategy, less an escalation than a projection.
Gavin Wilde is a senior fellow in the Technology and International Affairs Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, where he applies his expertise on Russia and information warfare to examine the strategic challenges posed by cyber and influence operations, propaganda, and emerging technologies. He previously served on the US National Security Council, and in analytic and leadership roles in the US intelligence community for 15 years—including as a coauthor of the IC assessment of Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election. He is also an adjunct lecturer on information conflict at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies.
Event III – Seminar
Julia Bader: “The Chinese Communist Party’s international networks”
Wednesday, November 23, 2022 / 11:00 (CET)
The talk addresses a largely overlooked actor in China’s foreign relations, the International Department of the Communist Party of China. Building on an intense travel diplomacy, the ID-CPC maintains a widely stretched network topolitical elites across the globe. The ID-CPC’s engagement is not new; but since Xi Jinping took office, the CPC has bolstered its efforts to reach out to other parties. Party relations not only serve as an additional channel to advance China’s foreign policy interests. Since President Xi has come to power, party relations also emerged as a key instrument to promote China’s vision for reforming the global order. Moreover, China increasingly uses the party channel as a vehicle of authoritarian learning by sharing experiences of its economic modernization and authoritarian one-party regime. The cross-regional analysis of the CPC’s engagement with other parties helps us to better understand the role of the CPC in Chinese foreign policymaking, pointing to a new research agenda at the intersection of China’s foreign relations, authoritarian diffusion, and transnational relations.
Julia Bader is Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Amsterdam. Before joining UvA in July 2012, she worked as a research fellow at the German Development Institute / Deutsches Institut für Entwicklungspolitik (DIE) in Bonn (Germany). Dr Bader holds a MA in Politics and Management from Konstanz University and a PhD in Political Science from Heidelberg University.
Dr Bader’s research focuses on China’s foreign relations, regime transition and autocratic stability, international relations and foreign policy, development assistance and human rights. Dr Bader is the author of the monograph China’s Foreign Relations and the Survival of Autocracies which has been published with Routledge. Her work has appeared in academic journals such as International Studies Quarterly, European Journal of Political Research, Journal of Peace Research, Foreign Policy Analysis, Democratization, International Studies Review, Contemporary Politics, and in several collective book projects. Her research on the Chinese Communist Party’s International Department has been featured in The Economist and in the South China Morning Post. She has been interviewed for the VPRO’s Tegenlicht Future Shock Podcast (in Dutch).
Event IV – Seminar
Vincent Charles Keating: “Sharp Power, or something more? Conceptualizing Russian influence beyond ‘unwanted flows of information’”
Wednesday, November 30, 2022 / 11:00 (CET)
Sharp power is one of several recent attempts to conceptualize the influence that illiberal states have on liberal states. Characterized as not ‘hard power,’ involving direct military or potentially economic coercion, sharp power attempts to theorize coercion, that although not as severe as hard power, nonetheless has the potential to undermine and damage liberal states. This talk aims to show how this conceptualization of illiberal state influence, one that can be grouped together with other similar concepts under the heading ‘unwanted flows of information,’ has led to a cognitive blind spot in our understanding of the scope of Russian influence in the West. By focusing on manipulation and subversion, it rejects the possibility that the messages coming out of the Russian state can be more than this – that they can also be ideologically attractive. In making this claim, this talk suggests that we need to characterize the influence of illiberal states not simply as ‘unwanted flows of information,’ such as sharp power, but consider how the influence is also ideological, and how that changes how we might think of solutions to this problem.
Vincent Charles Keating is an Associate Professor and Head of Section for International Politics, Center for War Studies, University of Southern Denmark. He holds an MSc in Nationalism Studies from the University of Edinburgh and a PhD in International Politics from Aberystwyth University. Dr Keating’s co-authored work on Russian soft power has been published in International Politics and the Journal of International Relations and Development. Before coming to SDU, he held a previous position at the University of Durham and has been an invited guest professor at Université Paris-Panthéon-Assas (Paris II). In addition to Russian soft power, Keating’s research spans a number of other topics, including the challenges of the War on Terror on international human rights, the role of trust and distrust in international security, and how international non-governmental organizations maintain their global legitimacy.
Event V – Panel
Tihomira Doncheva, Viktor Denisenko and Grigorij Mesežnikov
Wednesday, December 7, 2022 / 11:00 (CET)
Viktor Denisenko: “Kremlin’s information war against the ‘collective West’: View from Lithuania”
The Baltic States, including Lithuania, were between first states that faced attacks of re-born Kremlin propaganda in the 90s of the XX century. Many narratives (about discrimination of Russian-speaking communities, neo-Nazism, Russophobia) used later against Ukraine firstly were tested in information warfare against Lithuania (as well Latvia and Estonia). Today, the challenge of Kremlin information warfare become very hot not only for former Soviet states. Moscow is waging a global information war against the “collective West”. In this situation very important is to discuss traditions (i.e. some stable narratives) and transformations (i.e. vanished boundaries between disinformation and diplomacy) of Kremlin propaganda and disinformation.
Viktor Denisenko is an Associate Professor at General Jonas Žemaitis Military Academy of Lithuania and Vilnius University. He got PhD in communication and information in 2016 at Vilnius University. The field of his scientific and professional interests includes propaganda, information warfare, and political communication. Viktor Denisenko is the author of the book “In the Encirclement of Propaganda” (Vilnius University Press, 2021).
Grigorij Mesežnikov: “Russia’s sharp power in post-communist Europe: From disinfo narratives to military aggression”
Promoting its interests abroad, Russian state does not focus primarily on championing their own positive, attractive and viable alternatives but rather on undermining and destroying socio-political models that exist in the countries where it tries to advertise its concepts, therefore such a model of asserting influence abroad can be referred to as “sharp power.” Russia strives to debilitate or dismantle liberal democracy as a system, which is why it considers almost every enemy of liberal democracy around the world and particularly in Europe, including central Europe to be their ally – either a strategic or a situational.
The mission of Russian sharp power mechanism is to encourage mutual mistrust between people, relativize distinctions between democratic and non-democratic systems of government, blur differences between facts and fiction, between truth and lies, between trustworthy knowledge and its “alternative” interpretations in peoples’ perception and thus create an atmosphere of precarity. Since 2014, the year of annexation of Crimea and occupation of part of the Eastern Ukraine, Russia is leading the information aggression against the post-communist Central European countries. Actors of this aggression try to spin the narratives that the very concept of liberal democracy is not suitable for Central European nations, that it is obsolete and should be replaced by another concept based on national, traditional, conservative, collectivist and ethnic values. According to such and interpretation, liberal democracy is not a system that creates optimum conditions for citizens’ freedom, democratic system of governance and implementation of human rights but rather merely a tool to promote power interests of large states while simultaneously harming vital interests of small European nations. Sharp power is a tool used by Russian expansionist authoritarian regime in efforts to reach its ultimate goal – to disconnect Central European nations from the West, to revise and reverse the results of their transformation processes and thus to reconstruct the past.
Grigorij Mesežnikov is a political scientist, president of the Institute for Public Affairs (IVO), Bratislava, Slovakia. He has published numerous expert studies on party systems’ development and political aspects of transformation in post-communist societies, illiberal and authoritarian tendencies, populism, extremism, nationalism and hybrid threats in various monographs, collections and scholarly journals in Slovakia and other countries. He regularly contributes analyses of Slovakia’s political scene to domestic and foreign media. Since 1993, he has been an external correspondent for Radio Liberty/Radio Free Europe. He has edited and authored dozens of books, including the Global Reports on Slovakia (1995 – 2011), the comprehensive analysis of country’s development in all relevant sectors of society. He was a key author of the report on Slovakia in Nations in Transit published by Freedom House (1998 – 2014). In 2006 he was awarded by Reagan-Fascell Fellowship by the National Endowment for Democracy (Washington, D.C.), in 2012 he was a research fellow of Taiwan Fellowship Program at the Department of Political Science of National Taiwan University in Taipei where he researched similarities and differences of democratization and civil society development in Taiwan and in Central Europe. In 2019 – 2020 he was a fellow of the Institute for Human Science – Institut für die Wissenschaften vom Menschen (Vienna) at the Europe’s Futures program.
Tihomira Doncheva: “Russia’s footprint in the western Balkan information environment”
This talk will be about information influence activities in the Balkans as an example of sharp power. Doncheva will go in-depth into what are some of the factors that enable information influence activities, as well look into specific examples of Russian case.
Tihomira Doncheva is director of Center for Information, Democracy, and Citizenship (CIDC). She is an experienced communicator, researcher and project manager on multi-disciplinary topics related to the problems and challenges, opportunities and values of a liberal democratic society. She has joined AUBG in the summer of 2022, heading the university’s flagship initiative to reinvigorate AUBG’s founding mission. Through the CIDC, Doncheva aims to educate students and interested stakeholders to be engaged, informed, critical democratic citizens who will be committed to the rule of law, pluralism and inclusiveness, and open discussion, free press, and respect for human rights.
Doncheva has worked as a journalist for one of Bulgaria’s most professional media outlets, Capital, and has been a Researcher for the NATO Strategic Communications Center of Excellence in Riga, working on malign influence across the Western Balkans. Over the last three years, she worked for a strategic communications company based in London, the UK, where her portfolio included a variety of projects from countering disinformation and propaganda, media development and information resilience, to countering violent extremism and terrorism in countries across the Middle East, Africa, Eastern Europe, and Central Asia. She is a published author of reports on information influence activities in the Western Balkans and has also developed two separate apps on countering disinformation for journalists.
Tihomira has a First-Class Honours BA degree in Journalism from the University of Robert Gordon (Aberdeen, the UK) and a BA Honours degree in Europe in the World from the Hogeschool Utrecht and the Danish School of Media and Journalism (Utrecht, the Netherlands and Aarhus, Denmark). She has also completed an MA degree in Strategic Communications from the War Department at King’s College London (London, the UK).
As the Director at the newly founded CIDC, Doncheva will focus her efforts on strategizing and developing the CIDC as a think, talk, and act platform to provide academic opportunities for students and faculty, to generate new resources in collaboration with the civil society, business and public sector, and elevate AUBG as the go-to place for shared resources, partnerships, research and advocacy efforts within Bulgaria and the region.
Event VI – Panel
Ibrahim Öztürk and Imdat Oner
Wednesday, December 14, 2022 / 12:00 (CET)
Ibrahim Ozturk: China’s heading towards sharp power politics
Sharp power is defined as the ability of countries to influence others to achieve the desired outcome, not by attracting them as in soft power, but by influencing them, disseminating and manipulating information. In this seminar, we are interested in the sharp power politics of authoritarian regimes because, as underlined by several experts like J. P. Cardenal (2017) and later J. Nye (2018), they are increasingly taking recourse to it in pursuing not only their national interests but also the interest of their particular type of regime. As a combination of soft, smart, and hard power politics, China has been implementing sharp power politics to gradually and systemically penetrate developing and developed countries and legitimize and disseminate its authoritarian state capitalism globally. This aspect of China has become more visible, particularly after Xi Jinping’s ascendance into power in 2013. During his governance, China has been actively pursuing “sharp power politics” through
(1) investing significant political capital and monies,
(2) the use of various organs of its government -the United Work Front, Ministries of Public Security, State Security and Foreign Affairs,
(3) deploying media, culture, academia, tourists, and the diaspora abroad,
(4) implementing coercion, persuasion, political power, and inducements
As a result, China’s foreign policy has transitioned in recent years from soft power (attraction-based) to sharp power, leveraging mainly its economic might to manipulate and co-opt culture, education systems, and media. The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the most comprehensive and long-term project China has developed in its long history, including the historic Silk Road, should be considered entirely within this context.
BRI was initially seen as an opportunity, especially by governments who distanced themselves from the West, the embattled populist leaders of poor countries, and finally by some developed Western countries in the hope of finding financing for big projects, more penetrating the Chinese market, and jointly entering projects with China. However, the BRI implementations in the falsifying and fake Chinese contracts, especially in Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Kenya and Macedonia, have increasingly turned into a debt trap diplomacy and have begun to be seen as a threat as many strategic national assets come under the control of China. Several examples of sharp power “tactics” and “manoeuvres” used by China have taken attention in the mentioned process.
Besides, the Chinese approach also takes advantage of the asymmetry between systemic differences. In that regard, the Communşist party shields China from outside influence through censorship, eliminating free expression, and use of manipulation to undermine the integrity of independent institutions whereas distorting political environments in democracies.
The international community allowed China’s increasing integration into the liberal multilateral global order, mainly, through membership in global organizations like the WTO in 2001, with the belief that China will continue “normalizing” through further opening based on reciprocity and “converging” to the rule of the game. However, empirical pieces of evidence both in (Honk-Kong, Tibet, and Xinjiang internment camps) as well as outside China have shown that the view of “China as an opportunity” has been falsified and, instead, “China as thread” school is gaining prominence globally. Today, we come to the stage where ignorance of China’s use of sharp power to prioritize profit and Chinese market access is not sustainable anymore when China crosses the line of national security in many countries.
Ibrahim Oztürk has been a visiting professor of economics at the University of Duisburg Essen (Germany) since 2017. Since his PhD at Keio University (Tokyo, Japan, 1998) with a dissertation on the rise and decline of Japan’s developmental institutions post-WWII, Dr Öztürk has been working on the Japanese, Chinese and Turkish economies. He has been working at (1) the UDE since 2017 as a visiting research fellow and (2) the European Center for Populism Studies (ECPS) since October 2020 as a senior economic researcher.
Before, he worked at both Marmara University (full-time: 1993-2016) and Bosporus University (part-time: 2003-2014) (İstanbul, Turkey), at Tokyo University (2004), Institute of Developing Economies (Tokyo, Japan, 2005), at North American University, (Houston/Texas, the USA, 2014-2015). He is one of the founders of the Istanbul Japan Research Association and Asian Studies Center of Bosporus University.
He served as a consultant to business associations, companies, and the government. Also, he was a columnist and TV commentator in Turkey at different media outlets for long years.
His research area includes Japanese economic development, China and the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), governance, the political economy of Turkey, and the role of institutions in economic development. His native language is Turkish, and he is fluent in English, advanced (C1) in German and Lower intermediate in Japanese as a spoken language.
Imdat Oner: Great power competition in Latin America through strategic narrative
China, Russia, and the US are globally competing for political leadership and spheres of influence. This discussion, in particular, focuses on the instrumental role of narrative power projected through social media and international broadcasting in great power competition and rivalry for global influence. How do China, Russia and the US seek to undermine each other through negative messaging in their respective state-led media outlets? To answer this question, this discussion will offer an analysis of the narrative conveyed by China’s CGTN, Russia’s Sputnik and the US’s Voice of America. In addition, this discussion will also provide a context of narrative convergence between China and Russia against the United States.
Imdat Oner is a former Turkish diplomat who recently served as Deputy of Head of Mission and Political Officer at the Turkish Embassy in Caracas, Venezuela. He is currently a Senior Policy Analyst at the Jack D. Gordon Institute for Public Policy at Florida International University, where he is a Ph.D. candidate in International Relations.
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