International Relations

America’s abiding advantage
Hendrik W. Ohnesorge

Joseph R. Biden started his presidency with the vow to ‘lead not merely by the example of our power but by the power of our example’. After his inauguration on 20 January 2021, he promptly reversed some of the trademark foreign policy decisions of the previous administration that had cost the United States dearly in terms of attraction and reputation abroad. Accordingly, the Biden administration, by word and by deed, put a high premium on soft power in its dealings with the world from day one. Starting from these observations, the chapter discusses the state and future of soft power in US foreign policy. To that end, it first provides a brief introduction to the concept of soft power in international affairs. Next, it explores the devastating effects of the Trump years on US attraction abroad, especially in view of key foreign policy decisions and not least of the personality and demeanour of the 45th US President himself. Subsequently, it identifies and assesses the first steps taken by the Biden administration on the road to soft power recovery. In so doing, the chapter recognises US soft power as ‘America’s abiding advantage’ in a world faced with global challenges and challengers and as crucial for its future security and success on the world stage. Finally, and beyond these observations regarding US soft power, the chapter introduces the general rationale of the volume in hand, its structure, scope, and limitations, and lastly provides overviews of its twelve chapters.

in Soft power and the future of US foreign policy

The volume explores the role of soft power in US foreign policy – past, present, and future. Bringing together a diverse group of leading international scholars and practitioners, it combines conceptual contributions to soft power research with empirical studies examining the state and significance of US soft power. In so doing, the volume focuses on recent years as it discusses in particular the Trump presidency as well as the first year of Joseph R. Biden in the White House. While the Trump administration severely damaged US reputation abroad, President Biden has made clear his intention to drastically change the United States’ outlook on the world from an early point in his presidency. In this endeavour, attractive soft power has featured prominently from the start. The volume addresses select issue areas – including terrorism threats, foreign economic policy, and cultural diplomacy – as well as crucial foreign bilateral relations – including Sino-American, Russian-American, and transatlantic relations – from a soft power perspective. It offers an early assessment of Biden’s first year in office as well as future perspectives and recommendations regarding the role of soft power in US foreign policy. Consequently, the volume provides an essential and unique compendium – for students, scholars, and practitioners alike – on how soft power informs US foreign policy and diplomatic practice today and in years to come.

The Trump years and after
Giulio M. Gallarotti

Trump’s bellicose foreign economic policy served to undermine US economic relations across the globe. In an attempt to extract concessions with threats and extortion, rather than cultivate accommodations, Trump’s truculence ended up being self-defeating for the United States’ most important international economic interests. Beyond directly placing other nations in a confrontational posture, this combative style has served to undermine US economic interests in a deeper way as a result of compromising the soft power that had for years buttressed stable relations with the United States’ economic partners. This chapter evaluates the ways in which this soft power was undermined and offers suggestions for rebuilding that soft power in the post-Trump years.

in Soft power and the future of US foreign policy
Farah Pandith
Jacob Ware

Over the past several years, the United States has belatedly undertaken a shift in its counterterrorism posture from prioritising international threats to dangers emerging at home. The 6 January riot at the US Capitol provided perhaps the most painful evidence that the terrorist threat to the US homeland is now almost entirely made in America. Motivating ideologies are diverse – from white supremacists to ‘jihadists’ – but America’s terrorists today are almost all emerging from the country’s own communities, not from abroad. This reality will require a new counterterrorism strategy. During its twenty-year ‘War on Terror’, the United States largely ignored soft power opportunities, choosing to mostly respond to violent extremist threats militarily – with the inadequacy of the approach highlighted by defeat in Afghanistan. The threats of today and tomorrow require a comprehensive community-driven effort to build inoculation and resilience to ideologies of hate and extremism. In ‘Soft power for an age of shifting terrorism threats’, Farah Pandith and Jacob Ware present an aggressive but realistic five-point plan for countering the array of terrorism threats now facing the United States. Combining foreign and domestic policy tools, the strategy aims to empower everyday Americans in the fight against hatred and extremism, restore international alliances, and entice new stakeholders to contribute to the battle.

in Soft power and the future of US foreign policy
Naren Chitty
Chenjun Wang

George Washington warned of parties (unmentioned in the Constitution) pursuing ‘alternate domination’. Some 30 per cent of his Farewell Address addresses foreign policy; the rest addresses virtuous governance shaped by civic virtue that can have valence abroad unlike dominance. While partisan politics has been common, the United States has presented, with some deplorable exceptions, an attractive spectacle of republican democracy to like-minded observers abroad. There are implications for US foreign policy in Alternate Domination impinging on national security. When acquiring a position of dominance (controlling the White House and Houses of Congress) overrides the superordinate system ideology of democratic governance, national security interests are compromised. This chapter draws on theories of soft power; systems and entropy; and the politics of outbidding, realist conflict theory. Congressional voting data shows the extent of bipartisanship vis-à-vis US–Iran nuclear legislation under ‘numerical domination’: full (29.7%) when a party controls White House and both Houses; partial (29.3%) where a party controls White House and one House; and no (33.6%) when White House and Congress are controlled by different parties. Despite international affairs being the top reported policy area for both parties there have been over 40 Executive Orders on Iran in the period researched – 1977 to 2016. Deficits in bipartisanship exist despite the US deeming Iran’s nuclearisation as an existential threat to Israel and potentially to itself. Policy management on major security challenges such as Iran could be enhancement through bounded bipartisanship that would have a soft power engenderment effect.

in Soft power and the future of US foreign policy
Emotions, image, and US foreign policy under Trump and Biden
Taryn Shepperd

Foreign policy is not only complex, it is sensitive – to both change and perceived insult. While emotions might not be the first word to spring to mind when thinking of US foreign policy this chapter illustrates how emotions matter in our analysis, and understanding, of US foreign policy. It does so by investigating their role and impact in recent US foreign policy behaviour by analysing the role of emotions in Trump’s discourses and juxtaposing these findings with a competing framework set out by the Biden administration. A comparison which suggests that both visions of America are emotionally informed but of radically different natures. Despite the fact that emotions continue to be seen as individual, private, often ‘irrational’, and largely undesired in policymaking, this chapter sheds light on their influence, and pervasiveness, in political life, specifically – in this instance – on the production of US foreign policy. Emotions, it is argued, play a role in perceptions, and assessments as to what constitutes a threat, and what constitutes an interest in international relations. They inform how relationships and external developments are ascribed meaning. Being aware of this in the academic sphere will help the discipline gain a more accurate understanding of developments taking place in the world. Being aware of this in the policy sphere, and adopting more emotionally intelligent approaches to managing relationships and commitments in the international sphere – it is forwarded – will help avoid conflict, and hold considerable potential in terms of the attainment of soft power in future endeavours.

in Soft power and the future of US foreign policy
Intergroup relations in South Africa
Anna Jarstad

How do contemporary political parties envision intergroup relations in South Africa? The visions of political parties are important for peace as these can either mirror or shape people’s views and behavior. The transition from apartheid to democracy was eased by the idea of the Rainbow Nation, which encapsulates a recognition of diversity and a sense of colorblindness whereby South Africa belongs to “all who live in it,” as the preamble to the constitution states. Using the relational peace framework, this chapter contributes to the literature on nation-building by investigating how contemporary political parties (the African National Congress, Democratic Alliance, Economic Freedom Fighters, and Freedom Front Plus) discuss intergroup relations of peace and violent conflict and how they describe a vision of future intergroup relations. Parties based on civic nationalism champion a common identity and aim for a society where ethnicity and race are politically irrelevant. By contrast, both multiculturalism and ethno-nationalism recognize ethnicity as important for intergroup relations. The relational peace framework helps identify which dyads are seen as important in the political party manifestos – who is seen as a legitimate counterpart and who is excluded from discussions related to nation-building and intergroup peace. The assessment of the manifestos using the framework’s elements proves fruitful in capturing the type of nation-building. The analysis of 2019 election manifestos shows a variety of competing visions. These disagreements on who belongs to the South African nation pose a challenge to the legitimacy of the state and peace.

in Relational peace practices
Manuela Nilsson

Rebuilding relationships between different actors in societies broken by prolonged social conflict is an important part of peacebuilding. This process is particularly challenging where levels of violence are still high and state security actors continue to occupy a powerful position even after a peace accord is signed. In this difficult transition period between war and peace, military and civilian actors, in the government as well as in civil society and the communities, often struggle with the task of redefining their relationships to each other. Applying the relational peace framework, this chapter looks particularly at how representatives of the military and of different civilian state and non-state actors in post-accord Colombia perceive their relationships to each other today, how they view the military's role in post-accord peacebuilding, and what they identify as challenges to relational peace. The findings, based on field interviews conducted in 2017 and 2018, show significant differences in how the actors assess their interactions, think of each other, and evaluate their current and future relationship. Identified as a peace between agonists characterized by a lack of mutual respect, trust, and cooperation, the interaction between the actors in the dyad shows important obstacles to achieving a higher level of relational peace in the future. In the end, however, friendship might be neither attainable nor desirable as the ultimate form of relational peace for civil–military relations.

in Relational peace practices
Performing relational peace through theater in Sri Lanka
Nilanjana Premaratna

The arts, while still at the outskirts of prevailing debates in politics, have gained increasing interest for possible applications in peacebuilding. Participatory art forms such as theater, dance, and music offer a particularly apt platform to bring adversaries together and build relationships across conflict divisions at an everyday level. Existing literature argues that we need sound empirical studies and conceptual frameworks to understand the process of arts-based peacebuilding. To address this call, the chapter uses the relational peace framework to explore the peacebuilding practice of the Sri Lankan theater group Jana Karaliya. Jana Karaliya was established in 2002 as a multiethnic, bilingual, mobile theater group. The chapter focuses on the group’s Tamil and Sinhala members and the ways in which their interpersonal relations shift across foes, fellows, and friends over time, during the course of their work. The chapter draws from participant observation, focus group interviews with longstanding members of the group, and individual interviews with selected members, and further benefits from insights gathered through continued engagement with the group since 2007. Applying the relational peace framework enables us to see how relations within Jana Karaliya transform because of their sustained interaction and shared vision of performing peace, amid changing phases of the Sri Lankan conflict. The chapter is rigorous in its empirical investigation and application of the framework. It makes a significant and an original contribution to arts-based peacebuilding by illustrating how we can map relational transitions that take place in long-term participatory arts-based peacebuilding initiatives.

in Relational peace practices
Open Access (free)
Conceptualizing and studying relational peace practices
Anna Jarstad
Johanna Söderström
, and
Malin Åkebo

The main motivation behind the book is to identify tools with which we can empirically study peace beyond the absence of war. Our approach is to study relational peace practices. This chapter provides an overview of the structure and content of the edited volume, which as a whole analyzes relational peace in several sites, including Cyprus, Cambodia, South Africa, Abkhazia, Transnistria/Russia, Colombia, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, and Myanmar. Each chapter makes its own unique contribution to specific literatures related to its field, including civil–military relations, frozen peacebuilding, peace- and nation-building, negotiation and mediation literatures, arts-based peacebuilding initiatives, post-war elite studies, ideational analysis, and post-Soviet studies and everyday peace. The introductory chapter develops the theoretical framework for studying relational peace, which serves as a basis for the case studies. Relational peace entails non-domination, deliberation, and cooperation between the actors in the dyad; moreover, the actors involved must recognize and trust each other, and their idea of the relationship should be one between fellows or an expression of friendship. The chapter introduces some of the methodological implications of studying peace in this manner. The edited volume as a whole demonstrates how the framework can be applied to different types of cases and across different dyads in different geographical locations, levels of analysis, stages of peace processes, and types of actor dyads. It suggests that the most fruitful analysis can be conducted when the framework is used as analytical tool for assessing how relationships evolve and comparing shifts over time or across dyads or cases.

in Relational peace practices