Dr. Elnur Aslanov, chief of the Political Analyses and Information Support Department, Office of the President of Azerbaijan

The modern world is changing rapidly – this is a truism oft repeated not just by politicians or financiers, battling the implications of the global financial crisis, but by ordinary people.

Clearly, the early 21st century will remain in the memory of billions as a period of significant geopolitical and geoeconomic change. Traditional methods of communication and understanding in the political structure of international relations are undergoing profound transformation. The processes that we can observe today could hardly have been imagined two or three years ago. Active, intensive diplomacy does not change the situation in one region alone, for example the South Caucasus, but modifies the global agenda.

The substance of international relations is changing along with their structure. The creation of the Bretton Woods international monetary system, which laid the basis of the current financial crisis, required the strengthening of the academic component in defining the direction of the development of state and society in the latter half of the 20th century. As the post-modern replaced industrialism, the idea of the knowledge-based society became a priority in interaction within state and society. An intellectual and academic approach enabled effective development, rapid economic growth, the “miracle model” and “white collar success”, which in turn set the path of development in a straight line. The “Asian tigers”, the Chinese and Argentine models of modernization, the “Japanese spirit”, the confrontation of westernization and modernization, the clash of civilizations and the end of history with the final triumph of liberalism and other academically substantiated theories have created the necessary intellectual space for the global historical watershed and the development of states.

In the beginning was the word

From the days of ancient Greece to Richelieu’s France, at every stage in human development progressive statesmen have always tried to bring their intellectual resources into play in following models for a country’s development. For example, the Abbasid caliphs took not money but valuable scientific manuscripts as tribute from Byzantium. “The house of wisdom” was formed during the reign of several caliphs and played the role of a modern academy of sciences where the best brains worked.

Ideas factories started to play their role in determining a state’s domestic and foreign policy from early last century. The factories’ first output came in the form of academic or university laboratories working on political recommendations and programs which started to appear in 1916 and 1919. The first structures of this kind were the Brookings Institution and Hoover Institute at Stanford University. Now, there are about 6,000 think-tanks in 170 countries.

The intellectual element in any society is individual and only those states that can group individual units into a quality system of government make good use of it. This system can instantly formulate responses to different challenges and propose preventive measures in the information war.

President Ilham Aliyev defined an assertive foreign policy as one of the objectives of diplomats and experts. In all its parameters this approach must ensure the effective and comprehensive lobbying of Azerbaijani interests, inform the international community about the thrust of foreign economic and foreign policy doctrines, actively involve Azerbaijan in regional and global projects and promote a broad, assertive strategy on the intellectual front. The priority set by the president showed that in a world without the two poles of communism and capitalism, when traditional diplomacy is sometimes not so effective, an active intellectual exchange and a new scientific approach to the prospects of state and society become the new form of mutual relations and complementarity.

From tradition to innovation

Undoubtedly, the diplomacy of the 21st century is not only traditional talks and international conferences though they have not become obsolete yet. Today, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other social networks effectively implement ideas that only the political organism – the state – was able to conduct in the past. The diplomacy of the third millennium is a change in thought and attitude, the gradual creation of a space of virtual, like-minded persons.

The changes in the form of modern diplomacy make the need to strengthen and invigorate the national expert community more relevant. The expert community is an important link in the chain of setting the agenda at a time when Karabakh and seven adjacent regions are occupied by Armenia, processes in the South Caucasus change rapidly and the problem of energy security is constantly discussed at the global level. Sometimes, a more accurate definition of the domestic and foreign political concepts depends on necessary, relevant discussions with representatives of the expert community. Meanwhile, the task of the think-tanks and experts is not the banal confirmation of success achieved or reflections on the state of the world. The priority of intellectual discussions must lie in the analysis of the cause and effect of transformations on a regional and global scale.

The authorities and the general public expect the professors and faculties of Azerbaijan’s top universities to be especially active. They face the task of providing a comprehensive analysis of President Ilham Aliyev’s foreign and domestic policy, discussing the regional and global world order and revealing new challenges and threats to the Azerbaijani state and public. In this way, think-tanks can constantly take part in the scientific modernization of the educational system and in return get staff trained to meet the demands of modern scientific development.

Think-tank diplomacy

Clearly, there is now a need to strengthen intellectual associations, mobilize expert groups and begin to exercise “think-tank diplomacy”. In the foreseeable future, expert communities from different countries may increase joint discussions of modern security architecture and the new regional order, formulate a future vision of new communications corridors and ways to settle ethno-political conflicts and define the opportunities for the overall implementation of urgent geopolitical and geoeconomic projects.

Such proposals have already been made at a recent conference in Moscow, “The socioeconomic development of the South Caucasus: problems and prospects”. Russian and Azerbaijani political scientists supported the bringing together of expert communities to discuss current problems and initiate topical research.

But what is meant by think-tank diplomacy?

The place of research and analytical institutions and think-tanks is today defined by their leading role in the formation of state policy. In this respect, three main aspects of think-tank diplomacy, a component of 21st century diplomacy, need to be defined.

First, considering the growing economic and political potential and weight of Azerbaijan, both regionally and globally, it is important to provide academic circles in different countries with accurate and substantiated information about national policy on pressing issues.

Second, consolidated and joint initiatives of experts and analysts, including political scientists, economists, sociologists and philosophers of different countries, can create a better understanding of regional problems and reveal the main global challenges. Academic and intellectual exchange is gradually becoming a visiting card of Azerbaijan, which has something to show and tell. Azerbaijan will increase its work in this area.

Third, the modernization of every country moves to a new level of relations between authorities and society through the efforts of the expert community and open intellectual discussions. Today the state is interested in an expert community that analyzes and predicts rather than one that studies and records. The breadth of intellect and power of thought lie in the ability to predict and ability to model.

Time of change

We live in an era of cardinal change where geopolitics is mostly geoeconomics. This conditions our constant readiness for geopolitical disruption and tectonic shifts. Meanwhile, the intellect that forms the foundation of the “knowledge-based society” is an important aspect of global politics. By laying the foundation of such a society today, we ensure stable development and effective statehood in the future.

In any landscape, even a positive one, we should not forget that history repeats itself and the goal and the spirit of politics do not change. The means to attain the goal are improving and strategic plans are becoming more complicated. In this case, it is difficult to ignore Sigmund Freud’s statement that “The first human who hurled an insult instead of a stone was the founder of civilization.” The 21st century broadens the opportunities to hurl substantiated arguments, capable of building peace and stability, instead of stones.


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