Hard power too soft for democracy

20 July 2012

US foreign diplomacy is failing the people of Egypt and the promise of the revolution according to a leading diplomacy expert and former US ambassador.

Professor Cynthia Schneider, who was speaking at the ANU Crawford School of Public Policy as part of a week-long public policy innovations and futures event, said that by continuing to support the Egyptian Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF), the United States has violated its core principles.

“By using hard power, that is a traditional military alliance, as its foreign policy framework, the US is following 20th, not 21st century diplomacy,” said Professor Schneider. “But I think that completely misses the whole point of the Egyptian revolution and the other revolutions in the Arab world. I believe that US security lies in adhering to its principles and supporting the aspirations of the Egyptian people.

“Regrettably, the United States has sacrificed its soft power, or its power of persuasion and influence, by violating the principles it stands for in its support for the military. As people in Cairo’s streets have been shot at with bullets that have been made in the USA, and attacked with tear gas canisters that have been made in the USA, it is hard for them to accept that the US granted the SCAF a human rights waiver and full military funding.

“So, when Egyptians hear a US official say that we stand with the people or that the ‘democratic transition’ must continue, it’s hard for them to swallow. In addition to a presidential election and a short-lived parliament, the ‘democratic transition’, has brought about 12,000 arrests of civilian protestors.

“So the great pity is that at a time when all over the Arab world revolutions are taking place that aspire to the principles that the United States has always stood for, the United States has, in some respects, abandoned those principles.”

Professor Schneider is the Distinguished Professor in the Practice of Diplomacy at Georgetown University and former US Ambassador to the Netherlands. She is also a senior non-resident fellow at the Brookings Institute.

Professor Schneider’s speech formed part of the ANU Crawford School of Public Policy event Policy public: ideas, insights and initiatives until 2020. The ANU Crawford School of Public Policy is the ANU ‘gateway’ to public policy, modelled on Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government.

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