Hard or Soft Power for the Middle East and North Africa, Speech delivered in the Institute for Cultural Diplomacy, Berlin, 14 May 2011 (text and Power Point)


Institute for Cultural Diplomacy, Berlin, 14 May 2011


Middle East was a stage for one of the longest lasting instability and uncertainty in the world. Recently the region entered a new era of hottest developments because of the popular uprisings that take place in one Arab country after another. The US and EU were using several means in order to contribute to defusing the tension between the Arabs and the Israelis. So far this contribution was carried out with soft power.

Israel and Egypt were receiving massive military aid from the United States. Extending military or economic aid to Israel cannot be characterized as a use of soft power, because the main motive of the US in extending such assistance to Israel was not necessarily aimed at coercing it into following a policy in line with that of the US. It was aimed more at contributing to the Israel’s security and survival in an unfriendly environment.

In Egypt, extending military aid was essentially aimed at buying peace between Israel and Egypt. As to the contribution of EU, it was mainly in the form of economic and technical assistance.

 With the start of popular uprisings in one Arab country after the other the use of another type of power was introduced into the agenda. This is the smart power.

In this conference I will try to discuss various implications of the use of hard, soft and smart power in the Middle East and North Africa and try to find out what could be the most suitable attitude to be taken regarding the Syrian uprising.


Hard power

Hard power is military force or the use of military power by a State in order to achieve its foreign policy targets. At least I will use this terminology in this sense.  The military force does not need to be effectively utilized for it to be called hard power. The threat to use military power or an attitude that could be perceived that military force is likely to be utilized has to be regarded as hard power as well.

Soft power

Soft power is a combination of a set of measures that range from the financial support to technical assistance and from mediation and conciliation efforts to working out peace plans. Active utilization of diplomatic means, cultural relations, cultural expansion and use of social communications means are also parts of soft power. In other words “anything that does not imply the use of hard power” could be regarded as soft power. We will see the difference between this definition and the smart power later in my speech.

Smart power

I do not know whether there is a universally accepted definition of the smart power. Since this is a new concept in the international relations the definition may vary from person to person. For the purpose of this conference, I would like to define the smart power as a combination of soft and hard powers whose dose may vary from time to time according to the circumstances. The relative weight of hard and soft power is very important, since it determines whether we are still within the field of soft power or outside it.

The hard power is more visible by definition even if its dose is much smaller. For instance if you initiate a mediation effort or an exit strategy on the one hand and carry out bombing missions on military targets, on the other, the military operations will be much more visible. Later in my conference, we will try to underline the impact of this lack of precision.

The use of hard power caused extensive damage to the physical infrastructure of Libya and several thousands of lives of Libyans of both sides.

A new precedent is created by interfering in the domestic disturbances of a country.

It remains to be seen whether the intervention will achieve the desired result.

Shall we still call it smart power even if hard power is used in an intensive manner while a negligible share of soft power is also used to give the impression that its is not exclusively hard power.

Uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa

Because of the time constraints, I do not want to cover in this conference all Middle Eastern countries where there are popular uprisings.

Egypt has a special place among the countries in the Middle East and North Africa because of the role that it plays both in the Arab world and in the Arab-Israeli conflict. Transition to the post-Mubarak era is under way. The interconfessional clashes between Christian Copts and Salafi Muslims is not likely to interrupt the transition. Therefore the question of a choice between hard and soft power will not arise most probably in Egypt and the soft power will become the only alternative left to the international community to contribute to the stability in this country.

Bahrain seems to be moving towards a standstill if not towards a definitive solution. Yemen still harbors the risks of falling into serious internal disturbances but the fact that it does not pose any threat to the West for massive migration, the international community does not seem to be eager to intervene directly in the Yemeni uprising.

Therefore, we may confine our debate to two countries where a discussion of this subject is meaningful, namely to Libya and Syria.


UNSC Resolution

When the uprising spread to Libya, the reaction of the international community was different from the reaction to the uprisings or disturbances in many other countries in the region, such as Yemen and Bahrain.

France led the efforts to reach a consensus in the UNSC for the adoption of the Resolution 1973. The relevant paragraph of this Resolution, namely paragraph 4, reads as follows:

“The Security Council authorizes Member States….to take all necessary measures….to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack in (Libya)”.

While adopting this Resolution, the Security Council excluded “a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory”.

Implementation of the decision

The Resolution 1973 authorizes all member States to take all necessary measures. Immediately after the adoption of the Resolution, France took an initiative in accordance with the provisions of this Resolution and invited to Paris a number of selected countries to form a “coalition of the willing” and they decided to carry out air combat missions over the Libyan air space. When the decision was adopted the combat aircraft were already in the air.

The procedure followed to adopt this decision differed from the established practice of the UN, because according to the established practice the task of inviting the Member States to such a meeting had to be entrusted to the UN Secretary General and not to the individual Member States.  If such individual initiatives are taken by other countries as well, we may face serious problems: Let us suppose, for a moment, that two more Member States, say Iran and Indonesia, take similar initiatives and send their combat aircraft to Libya. The risk for a collision in the Libyan air space would be very high.

Two Permanent members of the Security Council, namely China and Russia, pointed out at a later stage of the air operations that the extent of these operations went beyond what was agreed in the Security Council.

Countries like Syria asked a plain question like this: Would the countries that formed the coalition act the same way in case this Resolution was adopted for the protection of the civilian population of Gaza from the Israeli attacks? This question has little practical relevance because one of the P-5, namely US, would oppose the adoption of such a Resolution in the first place.

NATO is involved in the operation to a large extent. The UNSC did not task NATO directly. However the paragraph 8 of the UNSC Resolution authorizes the Member States to involve NATO. The relevant part of the paragraphs reads as follows:

The Security Council …authorizes Member States…acting nationally or through regional organizations or arrangements to take all necessary measures…”

This wording suggests that at least some of the potential members of the coalition of the willing had already a blueprint of the coalition that they were going to form after the Resolution is adopted.

Is it hard or soft power?

It was thought by the members of coalition that soft or smart power would not deter Qaddafi from killing its own people. Therefore they decided to go straight forward to the phase of using hard power right away. Later developments proved that Qaddafi would not be persuaded with soft or smart power.

Destruction and human losses

The coalition forces point out that they targeted only the command and control infrastructure of the Qaddafi forces. However collateral damage is unavoidable in a war. Furthermore mistakes may be committed in aiming at the right targets. Looking at the size of the civilian casualties and the destruction of the civilian infrastructure, such as large scale damage can neither be attributed to the collateral damage only nor to the wrong targeting.  Elimination of Qaddafi seems to be the main target. Whether the international law allows such an act is debatable.

If the country is devastated, the civilian infrastructure destroyed to a very large extent and a high number of innocent civilians are killed either as a result of collateral damage or wrong targeting, it may become more difficult to justify the mission.

Furthermore a new precedent is created by interfering in the domestic disturbances of a country.

It remains to be seen whether the intervention will achieve the desired result.

There are 2 asymmetries in the operational theatre:

–         Qaddafi forces are composed of professional soldiers while the insurgent forces are composed of untrained civilians.

–         Qaddafi forces are fighting for their survival while the stake is not that high for the insurgents.

As a result of this we do not yet see the end of the tunnel in Libya.

Clash of Civilizations

The coalition forces are not confined to the Western countries. This is an important aspect of the composition of the coalition forces. However the participation from the Islamic world is still limited. If the loss of innocent civilian lives continues to rise, a pressure may start to grow on the governments of the Islamic countries that participate in the coalition forces to withdraw from the coalition. If the participation of the Islamic countries comes to an end or if their participation becomes reduced to a symbolic level, the war in Libya may be perceived as a “Clash of Civilizations”. This has to be avoided at all costs.


The popular uprising in Syria started more or less the same way as it started in the other Arab countries. However the international community was more cautious to take a military action directed to Syria. In Libya Qaddafi was saying loudly that it will repress the uprising in a ruthless manner. Beshar Asad does not say so but he represses ruthlessly the opponents. However as a difference from the attitude of Qaddafi, he promised some timid reforms without taking concrete steps in the way of putting them into action.

The root causes of the uprising in Libya and Syria are not the same. There are more similarities between what is happening in Syria and what happened in Egypt. Furthermore in Syria there is a confessional dimension that is hidden in the uprising, or a confessional dimension may be added if the disturbances continue.

Lessons of Libyan and Egyptian experience

The question of whether hard or soft power is more suitable for Syria arises at this point. We have the Egyptian example where the US soft power was instrumental in the smooth transition to a more democratic regime. The process is not completed in Egypt, but there are reasons for hope that post-Mubarek era is likely to be more democratic.

We have Libyan example where everything started in a hurry with a practice that diverged from the previous practices. Hard power is used extensively. The damage caused is not easy to justify and the final outcome is still out of sight.

Which example is more relevant to Syria? This will depend on whether Beshar Asad will be able to act the way Mubarek acted, that is to say whether he will agree to withdraw from power. Asad may be inclined to do so, but the Baath Party establishment may try to persuade him not to give up. One may presume that Mubarek may have experienced similar resistance but he ultimately gave up.

There is one element that may make it easier for Assad to give up: He ruled for a much shorter period than Mubarak. Furthermore there are lesser rumours of irregularities directed against Asad. However if Mubarek’s trial turns into an exercise of humiliation, this may push the other leaders not to give up.

Arab-Israeli conflict

Arab-Israeli conflict is another area where efficient use of soft power could yield positive consequences. The US holds tremendous leverage on Israel to force it to take steps for the solution of the Arab-Israeli conflict. However the strong Israeli lobby in the US does not allow the US to reap the advantages of the assistance that it provides to Israel.

The Arab-Israeli conflict is regarded as the core issue of many stalemates in the region and elsewhere.

Two developments in the region create a more favourable ground in the region. One of them is the agreement signed between Fatah and Hamas; the other is the rumours regarding the relocation of the Hamas office to a new place out of Damascus.

Agreement between Fatah and Hamas

Israel refuses to continue to talk to the Palestinians in case Fatah signs the agreement with Hamas and unless Hamas renounce the use of armed struggle. Hamas is now more cautious to mention the armed struggle. Did it give it up entirely? One could not say it for sure. However, if there is no reference to the armed struggle in the agreement, Israel may use it as a starting point and interrupt the talks with the Palestinians when the armed struggle comes again to the agenda.

Relocation of the Hamas Office

If the Hamas Office is removed from Damascus to any other place, this will be an important development, because this may attenuate the leverage of Damascus on Hamas.

Clash of Civilizations

There is an initiative taken by the UN Secretary General under the title of Alliance of Civilizations”. It is co-chaired by the Prime Ministers of Turkey and Spain. More than 70 countries volunteered to be “Friends of the Alliance of Civilizations. This initiative was conceived as an antidote of the theory of the Clash of Civilizations developed by Samuel Huntington. New political trends in many European countries indicate that extreme right is getting stronger. Islamophobia is part of the rise of these extreme right trends.  Xenophobia is another part of the extreme right trend. These two tend to regard the Islamic world as their natural target. Such an attitude will also provoke similar feelings in the Islamic world against the Christianity in particular and the West in general.

Is there anything that could be done in order to attenuate this trend? Many countries may take domestic measures to this end.

Yazar Hakkında

Benzer yazılar

Yanıt verin.

E-posta adresiniz yayınlanmayacak. Gerekli alanlar * ile işaretlenmişlerdir

Bu site, istenmeyenleri azaltmak için Akismet kullanıyor. Yorum verilerinizin nasıl işlendiği hakkında daha fazla bilgi edinin.