(Routledge) See the articles by PONARS Eurasia members Eiki Berg, Andrey Makarychev, Anar Valiyev, and Alexandra Yatsyk in Religion and Soft Power in the South Caucasus (August 2017) (Subscription required). Introduction: In the Caucasus region, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan and their powerful neighbours Russia, Turkey, Iran and the EU negotiate their future policies and spheres of influence. This volume explores the role of religion in the South Caucasus to describe and explain how transnational religious relationships intermingle with transnational political relationships. The concept of ‘soft power’ is the heuristic starting point of this important investigation to define the importance of religion in the region. Drawing on a three-year project supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation, the book brings together academics from the South Caucasus and across Europe to offer original empirical research and contributions from experienced researchers in political science, history and oriental studies. This book will be of interest to scholars in the fields of post-Soviet studies, international relations, religious studies and political science.
By Anar Valiyev
Very little research has been undertaken to study the role of soft power in international relations. Moreover, previous books and articles have mostly been limited to study of the soft power of secular regimes such as the USA, the UK, China, Germany or Russia. Researchers have mostly ignored the role of religious soft power or the use of soft power by theocratic governments such as the Vatican, Iran or Saudi Arabia. In studies of religious soft power, researchers usually mention the role of transnational religious actors such as Al Qaeda, American evangelical organizations or the Roman Catholic Church (Rudolph and Piscatori 1997, Haynes 2001, 2009, 2012). Their role in international relations and their impact on government policies has been the topic of many debates. The main reason for such an interest came from these organizations’ increased capacity to use soft power and ‘shape the values and norms of international relations’ (Thomas 1999). Moreover, the extreme secularization of political regimes and monopolization of religious soft power by non-governmental actors has completely marginalized the study of how the state uses its religious soft power. From this perspective, the use of soft power by theocratic regimes and especially the use of religion as a tool becomes a very interesting topic of study. There are not many countries in the world that could be considered theocracies. Iran, as one of the rare examples, represents an interesting case. While enough has been written on Iranian soft power in Iraq (Haynes 2012) or Iranian influence elsewhere (Nasr 2006), not much has been written on Tehran’s soft power in Azerbaijan, one of the post-Soviet republics. This chapter argues that Iranian soft power is slowly encroaching on Azerbaijan. Despite all of the Azerbaijani government’s attempts to curb soft power, Iranians nevertheless continue to engage, sometimes very successfully. This chapter also claims that religious soft power is Iran’s most important form of soft power, despite the fact that Tehran actively uses other forms and tools.
By Eiki Berg and Alar Kilp
Since the early 2000s, the EU has evolved as a shaper of norms and a definer of what is “normal” in international politics. It became an exponent of a number of core norms, the most important of which were peace, democracy and human rights, and encouraged other countries to adopt this normative agenda for their own good. The idea of Normative Power Europe (Manners 2002) rests on the widely shared understanding that instead of exerting military power, which is not really an option, the EU may increase their leverage “softly” by imposing liberal democratic norms on the third countries interested in closer relations with the union. As this softer approach still includes conditionality clauses, financial inducements and persuasion, it diverges somewhat from what Joseph Nye (2004) has described as truly soft power, i.e. ‘the ability to get others to want the same as you want, without coercion or payment’, based on such commodities as cultural appeal, political values and legitimate policies (for more on that, see Nielsen 2016).
The concept of soft power is usually referred to as one of the most important components of states’ policies towards each other, grounded in the force of attraction as opposed to coercion and projection of either military or economic strength. The high popularity of this concept in academic and political discourses can be explained by its ability to conceptualize power through norms and identities, and relate them to non-coercive policy tools.
Yet, as with many widely used concepts, the meaning of soft power may have changed over time. Nye’s approach to soft power left many issues unresolved: in fact, he was more interested in distinguishing the hard from the soft in his interpretation of power dynamics than in problematizing and contextualizing what attraction is and how it is socially constructed in different policy environments. For Nye, attraction was more or less evident-a set of cultural practices grounded in liberal normative tradition that appeared unchallenged at the end of the Cold War.