The illusion of a middle power moment

Author: Andrew Carr, ANU To be a middle power requires a modest disbelief in power. These states take their medium-sized resources and direct them towards big objectives. This may be reactive, searching for self-preservation in the face of a hostile larger power. It might also be proactive, trying to shape institutions and norms to build […]

The illusion of a middle power moment

Author: Andrew Carr, ANU

To be a middle power requires a modest disbelief in power. These states take their medium-sized resources and direct them towards big objectives. This may be reactive, searching for self-preservation in the face of a hostile larger power. It might also be proactive, trying to shape institutions and norms to build a more hospitable environment.

Over the past few decades significant scholarly ink and political rhetoric have been expended on middle powers’ potential contribution to the maintenance and expansion of the international order. Speculation was particularly active in the early 2010s, with a ‘renaissance’ of academic theorising and a new organisation for middle-power states — MIKTA (named for the member states Mexico, Indonesia, South Korea, Turkey and Australia). But as the new decade dawns middle-power potential remains wanting. With structural and domestic trends discouraging activism, middle-power norm entrepreneurs are moving from endangered status towards extinction.

Norm entrepreneurs seek new standards of appropriate behaviour. While anyone can simply call for states to change their behaviour, successful campaigns involve four elements. First, there is a need to frame the new approach desired, establishing for it a persuasive rhetorical jacket. If this description can be tied to existing community notions — expanding liberty or supporting justice, for example — so much the better.

Norm entrepreneurs then need to apply resources, establishing an organisational platform for their actions. This may mean a new bureaucratic organisation or multilateral institution. Third, there needs to be a strategy for socialisation, which targets rhetoric and resources that help convert key actors and spread the norm. Finally, the norm entrepreneur needs to be willing to sustain criticism and endure. Changing standards of behaviour necessarily undermine established positions and norm changes can take many years to achieve.

The prototypical example of this kind of behaviour by a middle power was Australia from the late 1980s to the early 2000s. While involved in numerous campaigns, Canberra’s most notable efforts sought to liberalise trade, secure the non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and establish cooperation on irregular migration. In the latter case, Australia embodied the sense of originality implied by the entrepreneur label. In the former two cases, it simply brought new energy to help spread and strengthen existing norms.

By the early 2000s the middle-power label was freed of its Western origins and increasingly applied to countries such as South Korea, Indonesia, Turkey, Mexico and South Africa. South Korea particularly wrapped itself in middle-power icons and language by beginning campaigns on the environment and development. The high point came in 2013 when MIKTA was formed as a G20 offshoot. In a joint op-ed, the five foreign ministers of MIKTA announced their ‘common interest in strengthening multilateralism, supporting global efforts for stability and prosperity, [and] facilitating pragmatic and creative solutions to regional and global challenges’.

On the academic side these years also saw hope for a ‘middle power moment’. The global structural transition was welcomed for opening spaces for these countries to shape international politics. Most of this research came from scholars based in a middle power who wanted their country to adopt a more stereotypically middle-power approach — that is, liberal and cosmopolitan. They also sought to address wider problems, from the US–China relationship to climate change and global poverty.

As we survey the arrival of the 2020s it is clear such hopes were misplaced. The middle-power moment never arrived. Many middle-power states are now shifting to a more reactive search for security. This does not mean they will not occasionally try and promote norms, but the idealistic tone of the 2010s is out of place with the world we are now entering.

There are several reasons for this downturn. Structurally, the global order has become less hospitable to influence from the middle. Australia’s 20th-century norm entrepreneur efforts were indulged by a benign hegemon in the United States which did not see negotiations in stark zero-sum terms. Other great powers, such as China and India, as well as institutions like the United Nations, the European Union or ASEAN, have also proven unwilling or cumbersome sponsors for middle powers to work through. This places most of the resource demands for initiating and driving normative change back on middle powers themselves.

There were also domestic shifts that made norm entrepreneurship harder. Australia is on to its sixth prime minister since 2010, Turkey’s President Erdogan fought off a claimed coup attempt in 2016 and South Korea had to jail a president in 2018. Alongside economic, technological and environmental disruption, these challenges have reduced the appeal of international normative initiatives which offer few, if any, direct rewards to local voters.

Finally, there is an ideational shortfall. At the end of the Cold War, Australia was optimistic that its brand of liberal democratic capitalism represented the way of the future. In the early 2000s, many outside the West hoped new — and exportable — forms of government beyond the ‘Washington consensus’ could be developed. Both dreams have fallen short. Without clear and compelling ideas, it is hard to justify building expensive organisational platforms or risking serious criticism to promote change among your neighbours.

Middle powers will continue to be interested in the norms of their regions and how they can proactively influence them to seek peace and prosperity. Yet the bar for genuine norm entrepreneurship, which was only barely approachable at the end of the 20th-century, seems to be moving steadily out of reach in the 21st. Instead, we are likely to see middle powers being more reactive in their approach, with shorter time horizons and more transactional practices. Power can be doubted, but not forever.

Andrew Carr is a Senior Lecturer in the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre at The Australian National University.

A longer version of this article appears in the most recent edition of East Asia Forum Quarterly, ‘’, Vol. 12 No. 1. 

Source : East Asia Forum More   

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Kashmir Diary: Intimidating journalists, Criminalizing Journalism

Arrests, summons continue despite journalism’s highest award

Kashmir Diary: Intimidating journalists, Criminalizing Journalism

Photo credit: Committee to Protect Journalists

By: Majid Maqbool

Amid frustrating Internet shutdowns that have delayed this report for days, police have renewed attempts to intimidate and harass journalists in the Kashmir region with fresh First Information Reports and summons to police stations – during a coronavirus lockdown and widespread fear of contagion.

Such attempts not only are designed to criminalize independent journalism but also seek to muzzle whatever remains of the freedom of the press in a besieged Kashmir, leaving the pursuit of information open to rumor, speculation and gossip, which is dangerous in an already repressive atmosphere.

When journalist and author Gowhar Geelani was booked by the police authorities two weeks ago, it was third such case in as many days. Jammu & Kashmir police had already summoned journalist Peerzada Ashiq of the national broadsheet The Hindu to a police station in Southern Kashmir while Masrat Zahra (above), a young freelance photojournalist, was booked under the stringent Unlawful Activities Prevention Act.

Zahra was accused of “uploading anti-national posts with criminal intention to induce the youth and promote offense against public tranquility.” She had shared some of her professional work, which in fact had been previously published internationally, on her Twitter and Instagram accounts.

The Cyber Police Station in the summer capital of Srinagar in a press release accused Gowhar of “glorifying terrorism in Kashmir, causing dissatisfaction against the country and causing fear or alarm in the minds of the public that may lead to the commission of offenses against public tranquility and security of the State.” According to the police statement, he was “indulging in unlawful activities through his posts and writings on social media which are prejudicial to the national integrity, sovereignty and integrity of India.”

A look at Geelani’s social media timeline shows he wasn’t supporting, directly or indirectly, any violent action or instigating people to take up violence. He was in fact arguing for nonviolence through his writings and social media posts.  

It is questionable how by any stretch of imagination that caused “dissatisfaction” or “alarm” in the minds of a public as the police statement alleged.

Earlier, as the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists noted, police also arrested Indian journalist Gautam Navlakha in April pending an investigation for allegedly violating the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act. Bail is almost never granted under the act. Kashmir Narrator journalist Aasif Sultan has been in prison since July 2018 while he is undergoing trial under the act.

Journalists have been working in difficult circumstances in Kashmir with limited means of information and communication following the August 5 total lockdown and months-long communications shutdown by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party-led coalition of Prime Minister Narendra Modi after the abrogation of Article 370 granting special constitutional status to the region. The recent police action against Kashmir-based journalists makes it more difficult to work and report objectively. 

Seemingly cowed by the overwhelming presence of the Indian military and law enforcement personnel, the majority of local newspapers in Kashmir haven’t stood openly in solidarity with the summoned journalists. Barring a few editorials, the local press hasn’t delivered strong objections and hasn’t followed up with stories on the continued harassment. The news of police bookings and summonses has been given little space in the news pages. That is also illustrative of the state of freedom of the press in Kashmir, especially post the August 5 clampdown.

However, during this period of seemingly unending harassment, intimidation and questioning by the state agencies for their work, some good news lifted the spirits of the journalistic fraternity. On May 4, three Associated Press photojournalists from the Jammu and Kashmir region -- Dar Yasin, Mukhtar Khan and Channi Anand –– received word that they had been awarded the prestigious Pulitzer Prize for feature photography for their “striking images of life” while covering last year’s siege in Kashmir following the revocation of the autonomous status of the region.

It was the first time that photojournalists from the region have been selected for the highest award in journalism. People in Kashmir, who are under yet another lockdown due to Covid-19 this year, celebrated the award as their own, regarding it as a global acknowledgment of the ground realities and denial of their basic political and human rights, which are rarely covered by the mainstream Indian media.

In fact, most popular journalists and editors either remained silent or took issue with the wording of the award citation, failing to congratulate the three for their striking images of everyday life from last year’s government-enforced siege and communications shutdown. The Jammu and Kashmir governor’s administration also maintained silence on the first-ever award, failing to congratulate the three, which is reflective of the state’s embarrassment over its complicity in throttling freedom of the press in Kashmir. 

“Snaking around roadblocks, sometimes taking cover in strangers’ homes and hiding cameras in vegetable bags, the three photographers captured images of protests, police and paramilitary action and daily life – and then headed to an airport to persuade travelers to carry the photo files out with them and get them to the AP’s office in New Delhi,” the Associated Press said in its statement after the announcement of the Pulitzer Prize in feature photography category awarded to the three photojournalists from Jammu and Kashmir region.

Even as we are yet to come out of another lockdown for the coronavirus, the police action and summons against journalists only create more impediments, further preventing them from reporting freely and objectively from the ground. It’s a mistaken notion to believe that all journalists can be forced into submission by frequent police summons and harassment from the state agencies. It is bound to create more outcry and solidarity from rights organizations and press freedom bodies who are taking note of such continued attacks on press freedom worldwide.

 In a strong statement, Scott Griffen, the Deputy Director of the International Press Institute reiterated the IPI’s "grave concern" over the state of media freedom in Kashmir.

“Over the past few months, Kashmir has become one of the world’s most repressive spots for the press, with the authorities using arrests, internet shutdowns and surveillance to control the flow of news,” Griffen said. “We urge the government to drop charges against all three recently detained journalists and stop harassing the press.”

The fact is that continued intimidation and harassment of Kashmir-based journalists will only spread misinformation as rumor replaces fact. Kashmir’s journalist fraternity is demanding that all the charges leveled against the members of the fraternity are withdrawn. Journalism is not a crime. Let facts be sacred. Opinions should remain free. 

Majid Maqbool is a Srinagar-based journalist who writes periodic reports on the grim business of trying to live a normal life in the face of Indian government repression of a previously independent region.

Source : Asia Sentinel More   

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