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 – Seminar
Neil Robinson: Russian Sharp Power: A Weapon of the Weak?
Wednesday, December 14, 2022 / 11:00 (CET)
Event VII – Panel
Ibrahim Öztürk and Imdat Oner
Wednesday, December 21, 2022 / 12:00 (CET)
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