Archive for the ‘Diplomacy’ Category

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Finland, Australia and Luxembourg at the 2012 Security Council Elections

October 30, 2013

In 2012 Finland stood for election to a two year term on the UN Security Council.  It was competing for one of the two vacancies for states from the Western European and Others Group against Australia and Luxembourg and against expectations failed to get elected.  As a result the Finnish foreign ministry contracted the International Peace Institute to find out why they didn’t get elected.  The IPI conducted 50+ interviews with delegates from across the members of the UN and came up with some ideas why Finland didn’t make it.

It’s an interesting document because it casts light on a process I didn’t know anything about but also because of what it says about the importance of image even among diplomats and national decision makers.

The process of getting elected takes a long time; Luxembourg declared its candidacy in 2001 and Finland in 2002.  Australia didn’t start until 2008 but is estimated to have spent about $25m while Luxembourg and Finland spent one and two million Euros respectively.  The report makes the point that one of the mechanisms at work is trading  promises of votes on other elections so I would guess that if you start earlier it gives you more elections to trade off.   The elections are conducted by secret ballot so there’s no real guarantee that promises of support actually translate into votes.

Campaigns work at multiple levels.  Firstly each country tries to put forward a general narrative particularly about its contribution to the UN, secondly, countries try to secure promises of support on a bilateral basis and thirdly, they try to use connections to particular blocs of countries to get support.

One of Luxembourg’s assets was its size – 105 countries are members of the UN Forum of Small States, it also tried to leverage its status as a Francophone state, as a monarchy and reached out to Lusophone states because it has a substantial Portuguese community.  Australia used the Forum of the Pacific and the Commonwealth, Finland was limited to the Nordic and Baltic States.

Australia appeared to have an advantage because it’s not an EU member, given that there are already two EU members as permanent members of the UNSC there was certain resistance to effectively giving the EU four votes on the Council.  Reading between the lines of the report Australia could count on support from Britain and the US and Luxembourg and the apparent lack of united EU support for Finland was seen to weaken its broader campaign.

There’s also a sense that the international identity forged by the Nordic countries during the Cold War has faded

Many delegates stressed that Australia, Finland, and Luxembourg were all seen as “Western” or “mainstream candidates, and that “despite the fact that all three pretended to be different and except for their take on Middle East issues, there was no real difference in their policies.”

One delegate is quoted:

The Nordics used to be seen as countries of social democracy, closer to the developing world than the United States or the Soviet Union or other European countries. But the world has changed. Their image is not so strong anymore.  Developing countries have their own models

One point where the Finland and the other Nordic countries do have something of a distinctive identity is that they are seen as particularly militant defenders of “western values”

 a number of delegates, in particular among the Group of 77 (G77) countries, also expressed frustration at attitudes that, they believed, are sometimes not respectful enough of cultural differences. This was particularly the case, according to some delegations, with issues related to women’s rights or freedom of expression. As one delegate put it, the “Danish cartoons saga reflected badly on all the Nordic countries.”

One delegate explained: “We have difficulties with the Nordic attitude on social and human rights issues. The Nordics impose their definitions, which sometimes are not acceptable to Islamic countries. Other EU members may think the same, but the Nordics are in the lead; they are more vocal. We want them to understand that there are different views, other cultures, and that the UN is not only Western. You cannot achieve your goal and make the others feel bad.”

It is difficult to assess if these views had actual consequences in terms of votes. However, in discussing Finland’s candidacy, several delegates did indicate during interviews their reservations on the profile of Nordic states at the UN and their preference for more “modest” candidates. One delegate noted: “Luxembourg was seen as the underdog, a modest country, not one that imposes its views among the Western countries. Being the small one among the West, Luxembourg was considered to be more understanding of the G77.”

The irony here is that Australia was seen as having the vulnerability of being particularly close to the US on Middle East issues.

The report suggests that as a UN good citizen Finland routes much of its aid through multilateral organizations which has the effect of reducing the country’s visibility.

 

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Latour to British Foreign Policy via Blair, Part IV: Still Looking for A Policy

October 15, 2013

In this post I want to make the connection between Blair’s globalist vision and some of the more normal concerns of this blog about the machinery of government in the UK.

The basic argument here is that we have seen the development of a gap between high level visionary abstraction of the Blairite persuasion and the workings of a modernizing government machinery.

I think a key element here is the conjunction of two factors at work in British foreign policy over the past decade and a half; firstly the failed state agenda and secondly, the push for modernization in government.

Failed/fragile states have attracted a lot of policy attention –  Bosnia followed by the interventions in Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan, Iraq in addition there’s been relatively sustained policy interest in countries like Pakistan and Somalia.

Modernization had many facets but it was ‘joined up’, getting different bits of government to work together and it developing defined objectives that would allow assessment of value for money.  This is not something that has just happened in the UK.  Here’s a comparison between the UK, Netherlands and the Nordics.

It’s the combination of these factors that has led to a degree of learning and innovation in British statecraft.  This also saw policy innovations such as the Conflict Pool – funding accessible by different departments – and efforts to think through how to deal with this problems eg the Building Stability Overseas Strategy.  The result was an extremely coherent account of British statecraft although accounts of the system in action are much less impressive.

Despite this in there has a been a growing concern over the lack of strategic thinking in British government.  Including in the military.

What’s going on?  How can we have strategies but no strategy?

I think that the Building Stability Overseas Strategy gives hefty clue.  It explains why stability matters to the UK, what produces instability and how, faced with a situation of instability, UK government departments will work together and with other people to address the problem.  If this was a military document it would be extremely clear what it is.  It’s doctrine not strategy.  Doctrine gives a common understanding of a problem and an approach to working together to address it.  It doesn’t tell you which circumstances the UK will become involved or in which cases, it doesn’t tell you about resources, it doesn’t give timeframes.

In 2010 The FCO put out a training booklet on policy skills which laid out a hierarchy in which  strategy was placed above policy. To a Clausewitzian like me this raises a red flag.  Clausewitz places policy at the top of the tree not because it’s a label but because politics is where different aspects of the world are composed.  It we have five different priorities which do we choose to pursue? How do they affect each other?  How do they affect other people?  Can we get others to support us in this particular situation?

There is a parallel with a critique that applies to the  British and American armed forces.  Because national  leaderships will not or cannot properly define objectives and strategies based on political realities military thinking has tended to expand the reach of operational thinking (Strachan 2005, 2010, 2013, Bailey, Iron and Strachan 2013, Ledwidge 2011) .   I think that the same has been going on in foreign affairs more generally;  there has been lots of thinking about means and instruments much less about politics, policy and strategy.  What we get is a gap between the broad generalities of the Blairite vision and the working level.  This is gap that capital D diplomacy should partially be filling.

In the UK as in the US it’s become more common to see diplomacy, defence and development referred to together but in the context of failed states it’s the diplomacy that gets squeezed between defence and development.  In the US it’s common to see complaints about the militarization of foreign policy but in the UK it would be more accurate to think in terms of developmentalization foreign policy becomes an adjunct to development.  If we’re thinking in terms of modernizing government development and defence do planning and projects, they spend money and as a result have lobbies, they also both feel nervous about politics.  That’s really what diplomacy should be doing but the 3D formulation tends also to reduce diplomacy to a small d instrument of policy rather than a mode of interacting with the world.

There’s a big gap at the heart of British foreign policy between a particular one world vision and a set of techniques and resources to build that world.

In the final post of this series I’ll try (emphasis on try) to suggest a way forward.

Bailey JBA, Iron R and Strachan H, eds (2013) British generals in Blair’s wars. Farnham: Ashgate.
Ledwidge F (2011) Losing Small Wars: British Military Failure in Iraq and Afghanistan. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Strachan H (2005) The Lost Meaning of Strategy, Survival, 47: 33–54.
Strachan H (2010) Strategy or Alibi? Obama, McChrystal and the Operational Level of War, Survival, 52: 157–182.
Strachan H (2013) British National Strategy: Who Does It?, Parameters, 43: 43–52.
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From Bruno Latour to British Foreign Policy via Tony Blair, Part 1.

October 8, 2013

I’ve been meaning to pick up my discussion of the potential of Actor-Network Theory for International Relations and the study of diplomacy but it’s got tangled up with something else I’ve been thinking about quite a lot recently:  the state of British foreign policy both as it is and as it should be.    The result is something of an impasse and as way of moving forward on this I’m going to take (probably) three or four posts to work through these issues.  The argument in a nutshell is that the UK has quite a coherent theory of foreign policy, developed under Tony Blair, which is quite possibly wrong, Latour’s discussion of diplomacy tells us why it’s wrong.  A subsidiary theme of this is the disconnect between the theory of Diplomacy as it’s talked about at ISA and the contemporary practice of diplomacy.

The parts of this discussion are probably in the wrong order but as I need to push this ahead then we’ll take them as they come.

Firstly, Latour on politics.

One reason that I’m interested in Latour is because he frequently talks about diplomacy and politics as positive activities, in fact one of the basic problems with the modern world is that there isn’t enough of them. 

The importance of politics follows directly from his sociology.  As he argues, particularly in Reassembling The Social, sociology has been too ready to use ‘society’ to explain things when the real question is how can society exist in the first place.  In Latour’s world the mystery that needs to be explained is how things hang together rather than flying off in different directions.  Thus, politics is the way that assemblage of people and things are brought together and maintained.  This is a practical art, that in dealing with people places a heavy burden on rhetoric.  In his essay ‘What if we Talked Politics a Little’ he argues that it is precisely this effort to create the community that ensures that political speech always seems slippery but to demand that it follows the requirements of ‘straight’ talk either in the everyday sense or in a Habermasian version of ideal communication is to fundamentally misunderstand what political speech is about.  Pandora’s Hope (Chaps 7+8) contains a long dissection of Plato’s Gorgias where he argues that Socrates’s defeat of the sophists effectively replaces the necessary practical skills of politics with a version of  science  that is useless in practice.   This affects both how we understand politics and science by theoretically separating the two we become unable to effectively deal with the increasing numbers of hybrid issues where they are intertwined.

Tomorrow: Latour on Diplomacy, on Thursday Tony Blair.

Latour B (1999) Pandora’s hope: essays on the reality of science studies. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.
Latour B (2003) What if we Talked Politics a Little?, Contemporary Political Theory, 2: 143–64. Copy here
Latour B (2007) Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-network-theory. Oxford: OUP Oxford.

 

 

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Digital Diplomacy: Forget the Hype and Just Get on With It

September 10, 2013

I’ve been meaning to write about digital diplomacy for a while.  Two weeks ago Ben Scott (formerly one of Hilary Clinton’s crew at State) and I , were in Tallinn to talk  to Estonian ambassadors and this forced me to think about the issue.  I’ve always thought of myself as a bit of a sceptic about the whole thing but perhaps less so than I realized.

The argument for digital diplomacy typically advances in two parts.  1. The world is being revolutionized by digital technology.  2. Diplomats should use social media.  What I’m sceptical about is actually 1 but I’m totally on board with 2.

The problem with the revolution argument is that it really depends on the loss of perspective that I commented on here.  The reason that diplomats should use social media is exactly the same reason why I don’t think that there’s a revolution:  diplomacy has always been a matter of networks.  Diplomats are expected to build networks in order to find out what’s going on and create influence.  Ben made the valuable point that one of the great contributions of social media, particularly Twitter is as a tool for listening, by identifying important voices in country it offers a rapid way to get a broader understanding of what’s going on from there they can think about intervening in debates.  As a mode of gathering information and insight  It’s exactly the same thing, as  that staple of diplomatic routine, reading the papers

There is a bit of a digital diplomacy backlash going on at the moment (examples here and here) but the problem is not with the practice but with the overblown claims derived from the radical technology literature which tend to abstract the impact of digital media from any social, cultural or political context.

The point is not that social media changes nothing but it is better seen as part of the evolution of diplomatic practice. In a way the potential of Twitter is that it allows a diplomat to more rapidly explore the networks of their host society than it would be possible to do using other methods.  Jules Jusserand was the French Ambassador in Washington from 1902 to 1925 if you don’t have 23 years to build your networks maybe twitter is a useful accelerant to the process.

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Fridtjof Nansen and the Birth of Celebrity Diplomacy

August 7, 2013

One of the basic problems in the way that we make sense of the world is that we look at the present and the past through different lenses.  We see the present through the news or twitter so it appears to be rapidly changing and complex we see the past through the lens of limited reading and often through extreme theoretical simplifications that we picked up in higher education. If you studied international relations the Westphalian system or the ‘nation-state’ is normally taken for a description of the past rather than an idealization.  The problem is that we tend the juxtapose the simplification with our experience of the present and assume that the difference between past and present reflects real differences not a difference in our viewpoint.  As a result we overstate the degree of discontinuity.

I was really struck by this  during a recent visit to Norway when I visited the museum in Oslo that houses the Fram, this was the ship used by Fritdjof Nansen (1861-1930) and Roald Amundsen in their polar expeditions at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries.  I was particularly intrigued by Nansen as an exemplar of celebrity diplomacy rather than being a product of Live Aid and the internet the polar explorer was outdoing Bono a century earlier.

Fridtjof_Nansen_LOC_03377u

As a skiing champion and a pioneer of scientific study of the Artic Nansen was able to attract the support he needed to mount his own polar expeditions.  In turn his crossing of Greenland in 1888 and his attempt to reach the North Pole in 1893-96 made him an international celebrity – a status that was cemented by best-selling books and international promotional tours.  Nansen was also a staunch advocate of Norwegian independence from Sweden and his standing in scientific as well as popular culture networks helped to build the identity and reputation of Norway.  Thus with the approach of independence in 1905 Nansen was pressed into service to persuade Prince Charles of Denmark to accept the Norwegian throne and then he was dispatched as ambassador to London where he oversaw the conclusion of a treaty to guarantee Norwegian independence.  During the First World War he was called back into diplomatic service to secure food supplies for Norway in the face of the British blockade.  An advocate of the League of Nations he was a pioneering figure in humanitarian aid for refugees.

The point is that the literature on ‘super-empowered individuals’ or celebrity diplomacy  treats this as a new development whereas Nansen was able to use build his own celebrity using the social and media networks of the late 19th century in a way that was useful to the Norwegian proto-state.

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Can Non State Actors Do Public Diplomacy?

May 10, 2013

Is public diplomacy something that is only done by states? Can non-state actors do public diplomacy?   This is a discussion that parallels a debate that has been going on in the Diplomatic Studies community for several years.

The canon of diplomatic theory for instance represented by Nicolson (1963), treats diplomacy as about the relations between states.  The visibility of non-governmental organizations, substate governments, multinational corporations with the space of international policy making has led some scholars to argue that these are also diplomatic actors.  In 2005 Jönsson and Hall published Essence of Diplomacy, this argued that diplomacy was marked by three essential features, communication, representation and the reproduction of the international order. In Contemporary Diplomacy (2010) Geoff Pigman cuts this list down to communication and representation with the consequence that his concern is with the ‘representation and communication between global actors, including (but not limited to) governments, multilateral institutions, civil society organizations and large firms.’ (p. 11).  Some have (eg L’Etang 2009) argued for the overlap between PR and diplomacy.   Indeed former state diplomats port their diplomatic skills into the corporate realm.

If you follow this line of argument that it would make sense to argue that the same applies to public diplomacy and that ‘engaging with foreign publics’ by non-state actors can also be counted as ‘public diplomacy’.  The problem is with that is then any international engagement activity gets moved into the diplomacy column and that almost all international communication becomes public diplomacy. Is it useful to treat the promotional campaign for the new Star Trek movie as public diplomacy?  I would argue that it’s better thought of as marketing.

The Jönsson/Hall/Pigman argument focuses on the processes of diplomacy but I would respond with an analogy from domestic politics.  This is a like saying that because political parties and interest groups both campaign they are engaged in the same activity.  There is certainly an overlap in the activities of parties and interest groups but the objectives, structures, constraints and opportunities of the two types of actor are different.  States and other actors are different types of actors and each has different resources and constraints. PD (or foreign public engagement or whatever you call it) is the way that it is because it is done by states; the response to it is due to the fact that it’s done by France or Israel or the US.  PD is much harder than marketing a movie because states are much more complicated entities.  Some of the processes are the same but the nature of the entities and relationships involved are different and this makes me reluctant to see non-state entities as doing PD unless they are acting on behalf of states.

References

Jönsson, C., and M. Hall (2005) Essence of diplomacy. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire ; New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Nicolson, H. (1963) Diplomacy. 3rd Edition. London: Oxford University Press .

L’Etang, J. (2009) ‘Public Relations and Diplomacy in a Globalized World: An Issue of Public Communication’, American Behavioral Scientist, 53: 607–626.

Pigman, G. (2010) Contemporary Diplomacy: Representation and Communication in a Globalized World. Cambridge: Polity Press.

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Post ISA Thoughts

April 12, 2013

I’ve been having a few days off recovering from last week’s trip to the International Studies Association convention in San Francisco.  Three observations.

  1. Public diplomacy research is developing.  More of the papers that I heard/read this year had more data, more attention to issues of comparison,  greater engagement with questions of diplomacy and diplomatic studies and with debates in International Relations more broadly. For instance the idea of practice and practices has been attracting greater attention in the IR theory community over the past few years and several of the PD papers that I heard/read are explicitly engaging with the development.  However, there’s still a lot more room for development, comparative studies are still underdeveloped and I was pleased to hear that Eytan Gilboa has a major comparative project in the works.
  1. Realism vs idealism:  To what extent is public diplomacy an instrument of foreign policy and to what extent does it offer a way of generating transformation in international relationships?  This is a theme that has been bubbling under the surface for a while but really became explicit in some of the panels this year – particularly in a couple of roundtables on deriving from the volume on relational public diplomacy edited by Rhonda Zaharna, Amelia Arsenault and Ali Fisher.  Kathy Fitzpatrick explicitly  proclaimed herself an idealist so I couldn’t resist coining the term ‘networked realism’ to label my own position.
  1. The identity of public diplomacy.  There was some discussion about the implications of  the rapidly developing fusion between diplomacy and public diplomacy for the identity of public diplomacy as practice and as a research area.  Somebody made the point that secret diplomacy is a tiny subset of an increasingly public diplomacy.   One idea that was floated was that the State Department should merge its Political and Public Diplomacy career cones.  This might be read as the ‘end of public diplomacy’ but how many other foreign ministries have separate PD career tracks?  I wouldn’t be surprised if the answer is none and there still seems to be plenty of PD going on.

Overall lots going on and you’ve got a couple of months to get your ideas for the 2014 convention in Toronto into the ISA

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