National Public Diplomacy…Systems, Machines, Assemblages, Fields….?

September 18, 2015

Over the last few years Brian Hocking (eg 2013) has introduced the concept of the national diplomatic system – the idea that ministries of foreign affairs exist in the context of a set of other agencies that are involved in foreign affairs. A while back I argued that it is important to analyse national systems of public diplomacy holistically. What I had in mind was the tendency, for instance, to discuss the British Council and the Alliance Française as if they were directly equivalent, rather than the latter being much more of a specialist language organization than the former.  From my perspective it makes if you look at ‘national public diplomacy systems’ as a whole you understand how different countries do things in different ways and how the parts fit together.

When I presented this at a conference Eytan Gilboa objected to the term ‘system’ because it made things sound too organized. The funny thing was I nearly didn’t use the term on precisely those grounds. I had thought about ‘network’ but given my propensity to label everything ‘network’ I’d restrained myself. I’d also thought about ‘assemblage’ which, to an English speaker at least carries a connotation of being thrown together, randomness and likely to fall apart (which actually seems a  fairly  accurate description of the situation in many countries).but. It also seemed a bit pretentious.* I toyed for a bit with ‘field’ in the Bourdieuan sense while I thought that this was good for thinking about the relationships between different organizations I was uncomfortable with the idea that a field can be an actor.  Maybe the public diplomacy ‘ensemble’ or collective’ would work?

More recently I’ve come across the idea of ‘la machine diplomatique‘, this originally comes from the work of Jean-Baptiste Duroselle (1979) on French diplomacy during the interwar period but has been taken up by other French scholars to indicate that diplomacy has multiple components (Frank 2003, Arthus 2012).

I think that the idea of the collective nature of diplomacy or public diplomacy is an important idea but it’s important to have the capacity to recognize  that the parts of whatever we call it don’t always fit together very well and the relationships between them vary with changing situations.

*Not that that had ever stopped me before.

Arthus WW (2012) La Machine diplomatique française en Haïti (1945-1958). Paris: L’Harmattan.

Duroselle J-B (1979) La decadence 1932-1939. Paris: Imprimerie Nationale.

Frank R (2003) La machine diplomatique culturelle française après 1945, Relations internationales, 115: 325–348.

Hocking B (2013) The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the National Diplomacy System, in Kerr P and Wiseman G (eds) Diplomacy in a Globalizing World: Theories and Practices, New York: Oxford University Press, pp. 123–40.


What is the BBC Up To?

September 15, 2015

The BBC recently issued a document on its future. This is part of an ongoing debate in the UK over the renewal of the BBC’s charter – a process that happens every 10 years. This was accompanied by media stories discussing the BBC’s plans for broadcasts to Russia and North Korea – which in turn have attracted a degree of commentary.

What is slightly surprising about this is that if you turn to the future of the BBC document the World Service is the focus of one page out of 99. The page is  headed ‘we want to invest in the world service’   – to which the question must be why don’t you just get on with it then? The explanation is ‘there are limits to how much British households can be expected to fund news for others around the world to consume, despite the benefits.’  Hmm – the BBC was happy enough to take the license fee (tax) and, before it took over funding of the World Service,  extra money from the tax payer as well so this seems unusually solicitious of the British public.  What is the BBC proposing to do?  The entire agenda is reproduced below:

A bigger digital presence in Russian through a new digital service on platforms such as YouTube and the Russian equivalent Rutube, together with TV bulletins for neighbouring states. We would also start a feasibility study for a satellite TV channel for Russia

A daily news programme, seven days a week, for North Korea, initially delivered through Short Wave, and news for Ethiopia and Eritrea on Medium Wave and Short Wave

New or extended digital and mobile offers in India and Nigeria

More regionalised content on the BBC Arabic Service to better serve audiences across the region, and target new audiences, with increased coverage of North Africa and the Gulf.

Some of this will cost money but the first two look like headline fodder.  So the BBC needs more  money but the aim is not to simply get a grant from the government but

We would aim for any increase in public funding for the World Service to be matched by external income for our other global news services over the Charter. This means commercial ambition; seeking revenue from audiences outside the UK; and being open to funding from governments and civil society.….So our ambitions must be commercially self-sufficient.  ..To do that, bbc.com will have to experiment, exploring new advertising deals, subscription services, live events, syndication packages and commercial opportunities across all platforms and languages. The proposition, though, is simple: access for advertisers to a global audience; and a product for consumers that is the most trusted and reliable news service in the world

Essentially this is a proposal – we will do something that will be helpful to the British government if the government allows us greater commercial freedom. This is intended to further blur the distinction between the BBC’s traditional publically funded external broadcasting and its commercially funded services.  Since the government refused to fund the development of external BBC television services back in the 1980s it has been in the interests of both sides to blur the distinction, the BBC seeks to coopt the history and reputation of the ‘classical’ external services while the government likes to trumpet the footprint of the BBC globally as part of  British ‘soft power’.

The language of soft power further obscures because both commercial success and the support of  democratization in a repressive regime can be claimed as part of soft power.   The more the BBC pursues  a commercially driven strategy the more the potential divergence between foreign policy goals and those of the Corporation.   As a commercial actor the BBC produces content that will appeal to its key target markets (BBC World Television in English has a very US centric view of the world) and will seek to maximize revenue for commercial partners by limiting access to its content – for instance you can go to the website of France 24 (its English service is extremely underrated), DW, Russia Today and watch them live – you can’t do that with BBC World. The irony is that is you want to watch a British television news service on the web from outside the UK you can – it’s called Sky News

My take away is that the British government needs to recognize that outside the UK the BBC wants to operate mainly as a commercial actor (and one that has recently been rapped over the knuckles for showing sponsored content from that failed to meet impartiality standards) and it needs to consider the extent to which UK foreign policy interests and BBC commercial interests overlap. I would also recommend that the government has a hard look at the quality of BBC external news programming versus competitors like France 24, DW and Al-Jazeera English – BBC World Television often looks pretty sad in comparison.   The government needs to have its own view on UK external broadcasting and it can’t trust the BBC to tell it what that view should be.


Nation-Branding Lite? The GREAT Campaign

September 1, 2015

Since 2012 the UK has been running promotional campaigns in selected countries under the strap line Britain is GREAT. The GREAT campaign is primarily focused on attracting investment, tourists and students as well as pushing British exports. Between 2012 and 2015 £113.5m has been spent and in a newish report the National Audit Office estimates that it has so far provided a return on investment of £1.2Bn – which is pretty good going since the overall target for the campaign is £1.7-1.9Bn by 2019-20.   The NAO is an organization dedicated to demonstrating that public money could have been spent better so it’s quite surprising how happy they are with the view that this is good value for money.

It’s also interesting to see that the report cheerfully uses branding language to discuss the campaign but in a couple of ways the GREAT campaign is a retreat from high concept nation-branding to a more traditional promotional campaign. In its classical form nation-branding is supposed to grow out of a consensual view of a core identity or narrative. This core narrative also needs to be consistent with the way that the brand will be experienced. Branding projects are frequently tripped up by the fact that there isn’t consensus or consistency. Where countries have achieved that consensus it has been as the end result of a long period of discussion (eg Sweden or Finland) which is rarely achievable. The GREAT Campaign has got round this by simply identifying a set of themes that can be used to appeal to different publics – eg heritage AND innovation – no need to make difficult choices and from the point of view of the NAO it seems to be working.


Why Do Government Agencies Have Strategic Reviews?

August 24, 2015

There an interesting new paper in the Journal of Public Policy by Jordan Tama on why government agencies conduct major strategic reviews.   Tama uses the case of the US Quadrennial Defence Review as his starting point. Given the high degree of scepticism about the value of this document in shaping the development of US defence strategy why has the practice spread across other government departments (including, of course State with its two Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Reviews)? The answer is that the reviews are politically useful – either to Congress or the White House in influencing an agency – or to the leadership of the agency in staving off external threats. Tama also argues that the you can trace the diffusion of these reviews via networks of people who were originally associated with the Department of Defense.

The moral of the story: next time you print out a pdf of an organizations strategic review keep in mind the strategic threat that it is supposed to address may not be ‘out there’ but actually closer at hand in the legislature or treasury.

Tama J (2015) The politics of strategy: why government agencies conduct major strategic reviews, Journal of Public Policy, FirstView: 1–28.


Why David Cameron’s Campaign Against ‘Extremist Ideology’ Will Fail

July 24, 2015

Earlier this week David Cameron gave a speech on his five year plan to defeat extremism.

The centrepiece of his speech was a focus on the need to defeat the ideology of extremism:: “what we are fighting, in Islamist extremism, is an ideology. It is an extreme doctrine.”   In opposition to this he placed ‘British values’ which need to be ‘enforced’

At the end of the speech he proclaims that:

Our Great British resolve faced down Hitler; it defeated Communism; it saw off the IRA’s assaults on our way of life. Time and again we have stood up to aggression and tyranny.

There are several things that concerned me about this speech – which echoes previous speeches by the PM and the Home Secretary – and the overall push to define the problem as one of ‘extremism’ rather than violence.

From the perspective of a historically minded social scientist the implicit ‘theory of change‘ is the wrong way round. The argument seems to be we will defeat the Salafi-Jihadi threat by discrediting its ideology and by promoting our own ideology. My reading of the Nazi and (European) communist cases is that the ideologies were made irrelevant by their failure to deliver results. There are still lots of people around who embrace white supremacist ideas or who belong to various flavours of communism. The case of the IRA is even more interesting because I don’t think that the British government made any serious attempt to discredit the fundamental ideology of the IRA (a united Ireland) rather it was its methods that were the problem. The Sinn Fein members of the Northern Ireland government still believe in a united Ireland it’s just that they don’t think that they can achieve it by force. The lesson I would take away from this is that there more important to ensure that political failure of violent radical Islam in the Middle East rather than to engage in endless debate on the correct version of Islam.

The emphasis on cohesion through value promotion is sociologically and politically suspect. Sociologically speaking the idea that societies are held together by a value consensus takes us back to Durkheim and Talcott Parsons and is one that has been largely rejected by the last forty years of sociology (eg Joas and Knobl 2009) . The ‘mass society’ and its consensus was always a myth. Hence the pursuit of such a consensus will have limited effects.   Politically the idea that the British state should be defining (and enforcing) British values (rather than providing a legal framework for behaviour) smacks of totalitarianism.

“We are all British. We respect democracy and the rule of law. We believe in freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of worship, equal rights regardless of race, sex, sexuality or faith.”

I suspect that there are quite a large segment of the British population who don’t agree with one or more of these stances but who are absolutely never going indulge in any overt expression of these views (let alone actions) beyond the comfort of their sofas.

Given these points it would be more sensible from a domestic political point of view to play down the issue of Islamist violence rather than talk it up. The British public certainly seems more relaxed about the terrorist threat than the political elites do. The greater them emphasis placed on it the more the negative political consequences from an attack – and, some smaller attacks are probably not preventable. This is not to say that there is not a problem and actions to manage it are not important but it’s a good rule in politics not to give too much attention to problems that you cannot resolve.

What the Prime Minister is promising is an intrusive, hectoring, alienating campaign that will not achieve what he wants to achieve.


What’s More Limited? Chinese Influence or the Concept of Soft Power

July 14, 2015

I’m writing a chapter for a forthcoming Handbook of Soft Power so I’m kind of grumpy about the whole thing again. In this frame of mind in the last week I’ve spotted a couple of pieces about the limits of Chinese soft power, notably one by Joe Nye that have caused further irritation.   Nye correctly points to China’s tendency to bully its neighbours and the limits imposed by its political system both in the negative attitudes towards it abroad and the reluctance to unleash its civil society to spread its influence abroad or the negative attitudes to some investments in Africa. I don’t actually disagree with these observations but I do think that he’s tending to reduce Chinese influence to a matter of sentiment and missing out the importance of its economic expansion this underestimation is a direct effect of how soft power is conceptualized.

The starting point for the chapter I’m writing is the argument that when we talk about ‘soft power’ we mix up two things: ‘soft power’ as a theoretical language and the thing that it’s supposed to describe. What is that thing? For the moment let’s call it ‘non-coercive national influence’ (NCNI), hence ‘soft power’ is one language that can be used to describe how countries have an effect on other actors but it is not the only one.   In the chapter I’m using the history of French and German concepts of external cultural action as alternative languages for thinking about NCNI. If you step outside ‘soft power’ as conceptual framework and look both at the history of practice and at alternative ways of thinking about NCNI the peculiarities of the soft power framework come into focus

In French or German practice there has always been a close relationship between economic and cultural factors in their national influence. Nye has always seen the ‘economic’ as part of hard, coercive power this isn’t entirely wrong as in the case of Merkel and Tsipras but this isn’t the whole story. From a historical perspective the cultivation of economic relations and the construction of cultural and educational relations and image building go together. Teaching the language or offering scholarships facilitates economic relations. Offering a scholarship or building a factory is about providing opportunity. Constructing an economic presence may lead to opportunities for coercion but it also constructs opportunity. Non-coercive Influence isn’t just about attitudes. The expansion of China’s presence in the world is offering opportunities to all kinds of people and regardless of their attitudes to China’s politics they are taking them up. In taking up those opportunities their attitudes may or may not be influenced but the creation of relationships with actors in China is likely to create other effects; valued relationships, understandings, further opportunities.


The Elcano Global Presence Index

June 17, 2015

The Elcano Global Presence Index doesn’t get the same attention as the indexes of national branding but if you’re interested in questions of influence and soft power it’s actually more useful.

In its latest version the index ranks 80 countries from the US (1099.6) to Syria (3.5). The aim is to construct an index of ‘external projection’ based on three elements; economic, military and ‘soft presence’. The economic element is composed from exports of energy, primary goods, manufactures, services and investment and is weighted at 38.5%. Military presence is troops overseas (including in international missions) and naval and air systems weighted at 15.52%. Soft presence is a mixture of elements; attractiveness to migrants, tourists and students; sports; export of audiovisual products; patents; academic publications; internet bandwidth and development cooperation weighted at 45.98%. With an index like this you can argue about what’s in it and the weightings, there are discussions of the evolving methodological issues here and here. It’s been published since 2011 but the index has been calculated back to 1990.

The strength of the index is to allow comparison between countries and to look at change over time, the index also allows an exploration of the changing composition of presence. Presence isn’t the same as influence or power but it’s a start, from my historical research on public diplomacies governments tend to notice changes in the ‘presence’ of other countries. It’s also worth thinking about an index like this in relation to brand indexes, for instance China may not have great sentiment but its rapid increase in standing on an index like this indicates opportunities for other people which translate into influence.

OK if you haven’t looked at the Index who are the top 10 for 2014?

US 1099.6
UK 404.9
Germany 400.5
China 363.5
France 321.3
Russia 295
Japan 257.7
Netherlands 231.2
Canada 205.4
Italy 176

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