The six Arab states of the Gulf Cooperation Council have each affirmed the use of “soft power” as an essential part of their overarching national strategies. Soft power, as outlined by American international relations scholar Joseph Nye, refers to the use of diplomatic and cultural tools in order to promote a country’s image abroad and improve its international relationships—usually contrasted with “hard power,” or the pursuit of foreign objectives via direct coercion and military force. Each of the six Gulf states has sought to bolster their international reputations through soft power: each has pursued regional and international mediation efforts, made substantial investments in sports—perhaps best exemplified by Saudi Arabia’s LIV golf tournament and Qatar’s hosting of the FIFA World Cup—and highlighted domestic art and cultural programs.
This strategy has clearly had positive impacts for the GCC states’ international relations and their perceptions around the world. However, the use of soft power has also come with controversy. International human rights organizations have accused the six GCC states of using achievement in diplomacy, culture and sports to cover up domestic struggles with political freedoms and labor rights. In particular, the six states’ ambitious sports programs have led to accusations of “sportswashing,” or promoting sports development as a way of distracting from human rights concerns.
What is the status of soft power in the six GCC states? Has it been an effective tool of statecraft? What benefits are associated with the use of soft power? Have there been any drawbacks to its use?
Featured Speakers: Professor David Des Roches (moderator), Dr. Diana Galeeva, Dr. Kristian Coates Ulrichsen, Professor Simon Chadwick, and Dr. Paul Michael Brannagan.
Professor David Des Roches
Associate Professor, Near East South Asia Center for Security Studies; Non-Resident Senior Fellow, Gulf International Forum
David Des Roches is currently Associate Professor of at the Near East South Asia Center for Security Studies. Prior to this, he was the Defense Department director responsible for policy concerning Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen. Prior to this assignment, he has served in the Office of the Secretary of Defense as Liaison to the Department of Homeland Security, as senior country director for Pakistan, as NATO operations director, and as deputy director for peacekeeping. His first job in government was as a special assistant for strategy and later as the international law enforcement analyst in the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. He graduated from the United States Military Academy and obtained advanced degrees in Arab Politics from the University of London School of Oriental and African Studies, in War Studies from Kings College London, and Strategic Studies from the US Army War College. He has also attended the Federal Executive Institute, the German Staff College’s Higher Officer Seminar, the US Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare School, and the US Army Command and General Staff College.
Dr. Kristian Coates Ulrichsen
Baker Institute Fellow for the Middle East, Rice University; Non-Resident Senior Fellow, Gulf International Forum
Kristian Coates Ulrichsen, Ph.D., is a Baker Institute fellow for the Middle East. Working across the disciplines of political science, international relations and international political economy, his research examines the changing position of Persian Gulf states in the global order, as well as the emergence of longer-term, nonmilitary challenges to regional security. Previously, he worked as a senior Gulf analyst at the Gulf Center for Strategic Studies between 2006 and 2008 and as co-director of the Kuwait Program on Development, Governance and Globalization in the Gulf States at the London School of Economics (LSE) from 2008 until 2013.
Dr. Diana Galeeva
Visiting Research Fellow, Oxford Center for Islamic Studies; Non-Resident Fellow, Gulf International Forum
Dr. Diana Galeeva is a Non-Resident Fellow with Gulf International Forum. She previously was an Academic Visitor to St. Antony’s College, University of Oxford (2019-2022). Dr. Galeeva is the author of two books “Qatar: The Practice of Rented Power” (Routledge, 2022) and “Russia and the GCC: The Case of Tatarstan’s Paradiplomacy” (I.B. Tauris/ Bloomsbury, 2022). She is also a co-editor of the collection “Post-Brexit Europe and UK: Policy Challenges Towards Iran and the GCC States” (Palgrave Macmillan, 2021). Dr. Galeeva completed her bachelor at Kazan Federal University (Russia), she holds MA from Exeter University (UK) and Ph.D. from Durham University (UK). Beyond academia, she was an intern at the President of Tatarstan’s Office for the Department of Integration with Religious Associations (2012) and the Cabinet of Ministers of the Republic of Tatarstan (2011) (Russia).
Professor Simon Chadwick
Professor of Sport and Geopolitical Economy, Skema Business School
Simon Chadwick is a researcher, writer, academic, consultant and speaker with more than 25 years experience in the global sport industry. His work focuses on the geopolitical economy of sport. He co-founded and co-directs the China Soccer Observatory (University of Nottingham, UK). He is Founding Editor of GeoSport, a digital sports platform created with the French Institute for International and Strategic Affairs. Chadwick previously founded and directed the University of London’s Birkbeck Sports Business Centre, and Coventry University’s Centre for the International Business of Sport. In addition, he has worked at several of the world’s most prestigious business schools, such as IESE in Spain, Otto Beisheim in Germany, Tsinghua in China, COPPEAD in Brazil and Waseda in Japan
Dr. Paul Michael Brannagan
Senior Lecturer in Sports Management and Policy, Manchester Metropolitan University
Dr. Paul Michael Brannagan is an International Relations scholar, specializing in the study of sport. His research primarily focuses on the ways in which national governments seek to invest in, and use, global sport in order to achieve certain foreign policy-related objectives.
To-date, Paul’s research has centered most specifically on sport in the Middle East, with a particular focus on the State of Qatar and its staging of the 2022 FIFA World Cup. Through this, Paul has uncovered the crucial role sport seeks to play in achieving Qatar’s long-term regional and international foreign policy goals. His analysis of Qatar, as well as other states such as Brazil, China, South Africa, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, Singapore, Costa Rica and Fiji has added to understandings of how small, medium and large countries the world overlook to draw on global sporting forms in order to achieve specific social, political, cultural and/or economic objectives. Outside of sport, Paul’s work has also contributed to mainstream international relations debates, with specific reference to the popular concept of ‘soft power’.
Dr. Brannagan research has been published in leading international relations and political science journals, including International Affairs, Leisure Studies, Global Society, Diplomacy and Statecraft and Sustainability. Paul is also currently the International Lead for the Department of Economics, Policy & International Business, and sits on the University’s China Strategic Working Group. In his role as International Lead, Paul has been instrumental in successfully growing the Department’s international student cohort, particularly at postgraduate level. Paul also led on the Memorandum of Understanding agreement that was signed between MMU and Shanghai University of Sport (the number 1 ranked sports university in Asia), and MMU’s signed agreement with Rikkyo University (a top 5 sport university in Japan).