SMA hosted a speaker session with Dr. Erik Herron (Eberly Family Distinguished Professor of Political Science, West Virginia University) with Dr. Cynthia J. Buckley (Professor of Sociology & Faculty Affiliate of the Center for Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies and the European Studies Center, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) as part of its SMA General Speaker Series.
Dr. Herron commented that health diplomacy, such as vaccines and medical supplies, can influence a country’s political influence and soft power in a region. The research team tried to connect data collected through a series of surveys to countries’ overall public sentiment toward Russia, China, EU, and the US relating to their COVID-19 assistance. The survey’s focused on three countries: a) Georgia, b) Estonia, and c) Ukraine. It was acknowledged that while the data from the surveys did show shifts in public opinion from 2020 to early 2021 there were many non-responses in each country. Also, COVID-19 surges in each country occurred at different times following different outbreak events, which influenced their civilians’ public perception surrounding the pandemic.
During the initial stages of the pandemic, China and Russia supplied medical equipment and supplies to countries more quickly than the US. Russia also attempted to give countries its SPUTNIK-V, which was the first vaccine created. This early assistance allowed Russia and China, but especially China, to be considered more helpful than the US and EU. However, the perception of Russia as a helpful state remained low as the pandemic progressed, while the perception of China as a helpful state decreased over time. The perception of the US and EU as helpful states increased over time because they were able to give better medical equipment and more effective vaccines. However, the connection between aid given and soft power gained is not simple. Dr. Herron emphasized that a better understanding of the connection between health diplomacy efforts and public opinion should be researched further because it has an important impact on national security implications.
Note: We are aware that many government IT providers have blocked access to YouTube from government machines during the pandemic in response to bandwidth limitations. We recommend viewing the recording on YouTube from a non-government computer or listening to the audio file (below), if you are in this position.