Evaluating ‘Soft Power’ in Central Asia. Policy Paper 3

Central Asia Institute for Strategic Studies jointly with the NESA Center for Strategic Studies, UA: Ukraine Analytica and the OSCE Academy in Bishkek introduces its third policy paper, edited by Dr. Hanna Shelest. Policy Paper 3 is devoted to soft power of external actors in Central Asia and Central Asian countries’ soft power.

The issue of Soft Power in Central is analyzed in this paper in two dimensions:

  • possibilities, ways and limits of the third parties soft power projection in Central Asia, and
  • potential of the Central Asian states to project their soft power outside the region and at each other.

First, it is important to define whose soft power is present in Central Asia. We have concentrated our analysis at the active actors, whose undertakings and policies have both direct and indirect influence beyond the military. The United States, China, Russia, Turkey, and the EU.

Considering a special character of the soft power, the analysis cannot be objective, as one of the first questions in estimation efficiency of the third parties’ activities should be – do these parties are in general interested in having the soft power towards the Central Asian states? What is the percentage of the real soft power projection and of indirect influence and image created through, for example, mass culture?

Currently it is a clear understanding that “super powers” do not have any strategy for their soft power in the region. Soft power in Central Asia is currently a scene where action is teeming. To begin with, the region itself is far from uniform, where countries are differently exposed to external information flows. This tendency is both for positive and negative information spread. Anti-Western/anti-American and anti-Russian/anti-Putin moods vary significantly among the five countries.

At the same time, different actors choose different instruments. For China, economy goes first, while cultural issues or values do not play serious role. For Russia – history, traditional values and language, all that back the past contacts between the states. For the EU – democratic values and support of the civil society are among top priorities. Turkey concentrated attention on religion and joint Turkic identity. The United States are the most complicated case, as with a continuing indirect soft power manifestation, it is a decrease in real soft power projection in the region, where pragmatic power policy is coming to the front stage.

Read the full paper Evaluating Soft Power in Central Asia.

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