Introducing the Influence Chain

April 22, 2014

It’s one of the maxims of academic writing that you should stick to one new idea per paper. In writing my paper for ISA this year I shoved three ideas in each of which deserved a paper in its own right.   The overall question was if we’re thinking in comparative terms about PD what should we be comparing in order to build better theory.

In the paper I offer three ideas. Firstly, we should think about national public diplomacy systems*. That is the set of organizations and stakeholders that are responsible for the conduct of foreign public engagement. These systems are path dependent in that they emerge in response to quite specific problems, become institutionalized and the response to changes in the internal and external environment is constrained by the existing organization and ways of doing things. National systems develop specific repertoires of activities so faced with a new problem they reach into their toolbag and pull out a familiar tool. In posts this week I want to write about the second and third of the ideas that I put forward the influence chain and the operational space.

What’s an influence chain? Following Bruno Latour’s exhortation to follow the actors it’s the set of connections that leads us from intent to effect.   Here’s a very simple example: a government wants to influence another government using PD so in a very classical model there’s supposed to be a chain of influence that runs from left to right.

Ideal Type 4

But what you frequently get is something like this…

Fail 2

..the chain isn’t complete or it doesn’t go where you want it to go: for instance an implementing organization just does what it always does regardless of the situation. This isn’t surprising as that organization is probably going to be evaluated in how much it does, not what the effect actually is.

Some future work is to develop a typology of influence chains based both on the type of actors involved and the type of influence mechanism.  From the point of view of comparative research the USIS at its most informational or the Goethe Institut at its most cultural are both building influence chains they are just composed of different types of links and work (or don’t work) in different ways.

For me the influence chain can exist in three forms. Firstly, it’s the ‘theory of change’ - possibly implicit that the decision-makers and planners have. In pure research terms actually looking at what these theories are would be a valuable exercise.  How to they vary across organizations, across the actors in the chain and across countries.  Secondly, following from this the chain can be thought of as a diagnostic tool; what’s wrong with this theory. Thirdly, it’s a way of exploring what is really happening. The ‘theory of change’ is likely starting from a fairly idealized picture of the world but when we start ‘following the actors’ we start to see what’s really happening

If we look at the connection between the first and second links in the chain as if under a microscope we notice that the two links have quite a few potential differences between them and something similar is going to happen all along the chain. In the language of actor-network theory, actors need to be enrolled (ie influenced to get on board with the project) but this leads to translation – that is the project is changed by this process. Given how difficult different bits of the same state find getting along what happens when we start to include, for instance, foreign NGOs? Marshall McLuhan argued that the medium is the message to which I would add that in public diplomacy the medium is the organizational network.



*In responding to the paper Eytan Gilboa argued that ‘system’ was too orderly and suggested ‘establishment’. I hesitated before using ‘system’ for precisely this reason.



If it’s not PD and its not aid what is it?

April 16, 2014

A couple of weeks ago the Public Diplomacy Council posted a piece by Joe Johnson on the ‘Cuban Twitter’ Fiasco where the US Agency for International Development set up an SMS based social network with the intention of circulating anti-Castro messages. What really attracted my attention was the title ‘Cuban Twitter Wasn’t Aid and it Wasn’t Public Diplomacy Either’.

Johnson sternly denounces the fact that

Over the past twenty years, the lines between aid projects and public diplomacy have blurred.  I have sometimes heard PD staffers cast their work as “aid lite” social development. And aid officials undertake public communication and educational exchange projects that look just like PD programs.

This leaves the question: if it’s not aid and it’s not public diplomacy what was it? This intersection between aid and (public) diplomacy is a fact. I wrote a while back about the Danish-Arab Partnership Programme - conducted via the aid agency. I would also argue that the UK’s largest effort to engage foreign publics for purposes of foreign policy is the attempt to influence Pakistan via the improvement of education and governance in Pakistan – managed by DFID

This opens up two sets of problems.

Firstly, from a research perspective there’s the fact that development agencies tend to get studied by scholars of development using a development perspective and PD/diplomacy activities by different sets of scholars with different perspectives. The result is a gap where the practice of statecraft has evaded the way most researchers look at the area.

Secondly, and more importantly, it creates an issue for the management of foreign policy.  In many cases the bulk of the national resources employed in a country are controlled by an aid department that will frequently be concerned to talk and operate in a way that maximizes the distance between them and the MFA and which structures its work as a series of projects. The problem is that you can find yourself in a situation where policy is being implemented and discussed in the technical language of development not in the language of politics.  This doesn’t apply in every aid relationship but in a case the like UK and Pakistan you have security objectives pursued via development means.

It is in this space between that a project like Zunzuneo gets started. The comment has been made that this was really a job for the CIA but the irony is that if it had been a CIA project it almost certainly would have been discussed by an NSC subcommittee, signed off by the President and subject to a rather rigorous analysis of costs, benefits and risks and probably would have been scrubbed before it got started.


MPs Don’t Trust the BBC on the World Service

April 8, 2014

At the beginning of last week the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee put out their latest report on the future of the BBC World Service and consistent with previous reports they remain deeply sceptical about the future of the World Service now that funding responsibility has passed to the BBC (ie from License Fee income rather than a grant via the FCO)

What is particularly exercising the Committee in this report is the way that the World Service is being integrated into the structure of the BBC. The World Service is part of the BBC News Group comprising all news services. The Director of the BBC World Service, Peter Horrocks is also Director of Global News and sits on the BBC News Board. One of the issues exercising the MPs is that there is no longer a separate World Service Board and in addition Horrocks does not sit on the main ‘board of directors’ of the Corporation the Executive Board. The BBC’s view is because Horrocks’ boss the Director of News and Current Affairs sits on the Executive Board the World Service is adequately represented. In addition they claim that the ‘worst outcome’ for the Service would be for it to be considered as a ‘ghetto’ or an ‘adjunct’.* The MPs suspect that despite the new agreement between the government and the BBC on the World Service it is essentially going to end up being subordinated to the broader corporate purposes of the BBC. William Hague doesn’t see it as his job to tell the BBC how to organize itself.

Some policy advice: the BBC is up for the renewal of its Charter next year, the new Charter needs to be approved by Parliament so MPs have the option of inserting language into the Charter and/or the agreement that goes with it that protects the World Service. The BBC would hate this but I think that the license agreed with the William Hague is rather vague about the relationship of the World Service to the broader international activities of the BBC.

*This strikes me as a little ironic given that the reputation of the World Service has been cultivated while it was an ‘adjunct’ – outside the structure of the regular domestic BBC.


House of Lords Report on UK Soft Power

April 4, 2014

The House of Lords Committee on Soft Power and the UK’s Influence produced its report Persuasion and Power in Modern World last week.

For readers of this blog there’s not much that’s very surprising about it.  A very short summary would go like this.

Britain is in a world increasingly characterised by hyperconnectivity and ‘the rise of the rest’ and this makes soft and smart power more important. The UK has lots of soft power assets but the government tends to neglect them and shows no ability to coordinate anything. We need stronger mechanisms for defining a national strategic narrative and pointing the great many players in the right direction.

You can get a pretty good sense of what’s in the report (138 pages of text) by looking at the summary on pages 5-7 or even better the conclusions and recommendations on pages 8-21. The report is quite neutral in its tone but many of the conclusions and recommendations are actually fairly critical of the government. They also echo the views of other Parliamentary Committees in the absence of strategy and coordination, the suspicion of the new arrangements for the BBC World Service, the negative impact of visa policies and so on.

Given that I often get the impression that hardly anyone is actually interested in British foreign policy it’s great to see the volume of evidence that the Committee attracted. Hats off the Committee for doing this and to Ben O’Loughlin for his work as the academic advisor.

Incidentally my evidence is here.



Interpreting Nation Branding

April 3, 2014

Back from the International Studies Association Convention in Toronto and faced with too many things to blog about I’m going to start easily by posting something that I’d meant to post before I left.

I’ve been reading Melissa Aronczyk’s Branding the Nation: The Global Business of National Identity and it has stimulated a few thoughts about how we should make sense of the phenomenon of nation-branding.

Aronczyk, like other Cultural Studies scholars (eg Jansen 2008, Kaneva 2012) sees the emergence of nation-branding as an expression of the transformation of capitalism through globalization and the embrace of theories of value rooted in immaterial concepts – ie the reputation of our business is worth something. The difficulty I have with this is that it makes out the phenomenon of nation-branding to be much more significant than it actually is.

Rather than seeing nation-branding as marking a structural change I would read it as something much more conjunctural. It’s another incarnation of the push for the projection of a national image that has been around in its modern version since the middle of the 19th century when committees were established to oversee exhibits at international expositions. Ideas of ‘national projection’ recur across the 20th century. Indeed, I would argue that ‘projection’ is the default mode for any public diplomacy/cultural relations organization; telling the world about your country is much easier than exporting democracy/communism etc.   You also see the emergence of arguments over just what the content of that projection should be- unless there’s a particularly hegemonic version of that culture – being a totalitarian country helps.

Nation-branding is a new version of national projection that benefited from the conjunction of brand approaches in business (with the consequence emergence of branding consultancies) and the end of the Cold War which meant new states looking for a quick fix and a the reorientation of the external communications programmes of existing states towards economics. It’s noticeable that some scholars (eg Ociepka 2013) point to a declining interest in branding as an approach to external communications, and my own observation is that the number of abandoned branding projects is much bigger than those that have really been seriously implemented. This doesn’t suggest structural change more a fashion in external communications. Putting nation-branding in the context of debates over national projection really does make it look a lot less novel.

Aronczyk M (2013) Branding the nation: the global business of national identity. Oxford ; New York: Oxford University Press.

Jansen SC (2008) Designer nations: Neo-liberal nation branding – Brand Estonia, Social Identities, 14: 121–142.

Kaneva N (ed) Branding Post-Communist Nations: Marketizing National Identities in the New Europe, New York: Routledge, pp. 79–98.

Ociepka B (2013) New Members’ Public Diplomacy, in Davis Cross MK and Melissen J (eds) European Public Diplomacy: Soft Power at Work, New York: Palgrave, pp. 39–56.


What the EU Can Learn From the Debate on Rollback, 1947-1954

March 17, 2014

Between the late 1940s and the early 1950s there was an acrimonious debate in Washington around the question of political warfare or psychological warfare against the Soviet Bloc which is documented in great detail in Gregory Mitrovich’s Undermining the Kremlin.  The key issue was how far can we push Stalin through support for anti-Communist guerillas, incitement of political resistance, support for dissidence in the Bloc before we create an unacceptable risk of a major war? The estimate of this distance was rapidly reduced by the development of Soviet nuclear forces.  By the end of the Truman Administration some of the hawks in this debate were jumping ship to join Eisenhower’s campaign for the presidency only for them to be disappointed when Ike reached even more cautious conclusions.  Whatever the public rhetoric of rollback or liberation these ideas were dead in the NSC by the end of 1953 or early 1954 at the latest.  Rollback was dead long before Hungary.  I’m not saying that we’re in the same situation as Truman and Eisenhower were but there’s something quite important that can be learned from this debate.

This debate was asking about how far can we pursue our political objectives before we get a forceful pushback from Moscow.  It’s was  strategy – weighing ends, means, risks and what the other side is likely to do.  In Ukraine and in East generally the EU has essentially set out to erode the Russian sphere of influence without thinking through these connections between ends, means or reactions.   Of course the EU line (and that of the West more broadly) ‘is this is the 21st century there’s no such thing as spheres of interest’.  This is basically the argument about harmony of interests that EH Carr or Bruno Latour have argued against: we pretend politics doesn’t exist and then get surprised when people get upset.

When we look to the East and talk about ‘modernization’, ‘civil society’ etc we are talking about the overthrow of the political systems as they exist.  Randomly pledging support for whoever waves an EU flag is not going to do the job.  As a starting point what is needed is a comprehensive political roadmap that either reached some understanding with Russia on the balance of interests or was backed up by sufficient power compel agreement.  Indeed even if there was such a comprehensive plan I would have grave doubts about the capacity of the EU or the West to implement it.  Given that states can’t coordinate themselves the EU isn’t going to be able to.

A final point. I’m pretty sure that in most Western capitals there is a hope that Putin and his cronies will disappear one day.  I suspect they will but whoever replaces them will still be a Russian leader and will not suddenly see the world through the lens of Brussels.


USSR-PRC Cultural Relations and the Soviet Tyler Brule Part 2

March 14, 2014

At the Cold War History Project there’s an interesting collection of documents on cultural relations activities between the USSR and the People’s Republic of China during the 1950s.  Several of the documents express the fears that rather than cementing relations between the two countries they are actually undermining them.

I’ve written before about the ‘Soviet Tyler Brule’ Boris Polevoi and his fears that the poor standard of Aeroflot was undermining the image of the USSR and he pops up again here with a blistering report to the Central Committee of the CPSU which ends with him returning to his critique of air travel in the USSR

And finally, concerning the Soviet side of the airline which is currently contributing to the connection between Moscow and Beijing.  Our international lines have improved their work somewhat to the western countries, but this portion is as before in extremely bad shape, and revealing this for all to observe, as this line is used by a large collection of people from diverse nations, from Europe and China, is becoming a matter of political significance.  Our airplane, on which there was a Chinese state security delegation headed by members of the CC returning from Poland, on 16 October was delayed for an entire day on the trip from Krasnoiarsk to Irkutsk because they could not find the appropriate fuel.  On the return trip in Novosibirsk we had to change from an international airplane, as there was a smaller collection of passengers continuing on to Moscow.  And on this plane there was a Czechoslovak delegation headed by the Minister of Foreign Trade, and a Chinese delegation.  Two flights were cancelled.  The airport building was magnificent, but the service remained the same as when it was a peasant’s hut.  In three places along this route, maintaining the connection to China, hang copies of the well-known, if it might be said, pictures of Nalbandian, which illustrate Stalin and Mao Zedong, with Mao Zedong with the appearance of an agitated student attempting to pass an exam given by a professor.  These pictures are nauseating even in the original, and here hang like copies from a bazaar.  In general it would be better to decorate the airport in the foreign fashion, with large, colored and beautiful photographs and cities and locations traveled to by the planes, instead of pot-boiler copies of well-known works which can only evoke shudders from someone possessing even a limited amount of taste.  In Novosibirsk across from the entrance to the airport on two columns hangs an enormous plywood shield, entitled “The USSR—the leading socialist power in the world.”  A giant red map of the USSR is drawn on it, and to the side are two columns, in alphabetical order, of the some ten countries of the people’s democracies; thus China in this list comes after Albania, Bulgaria, Hungary (Vengrii), and the GDR.   The Novosibirsk comrades, seeing this map, are completely devoid of a sense of humor, even as the following is written on the large map:  population 200 million people, and on the small map—China—600 million.  We ourselves have seen the amusement of foreigners as they look at this map.


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