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

The Future of DFID

June 12, 2015

A few weeks before the election the Parliamentary Committee on International Development put out a report on The Future of UK Development Cooperation: Phase 2 Beyond Aid this was a sequel to a report specifically on aid.

The nature of international development is changing. The number of low income countries is falling. Within that group, most of the poorest countries—and overall, 22 out of DFID’s portfolio of 28 countries—are fragile states, requiring multiple and complex interventions. At the same time, the importance of global issues—conflict, climate, migration, trade, tax, financial stability, youth unemployment, urbanisation economic development, and infectious disease—is rising. These changes will be reflected in the new framework of Sustainable Development Goals to be adopted in 2015.

Aid remains essential for the poorest countries, and for some purposes in middle-income countries (MICs). It is encouraging that the UK has reached the 0.7% target. However, overall, a new approach is required which reflects the changing situation.

First, as aid is no longer provided to some MICs, such as India, new forms of co-operation have to be developed which facilitate links with UK institutions in a wide range of areas, including health, education, culture, law, culture and science. This will be labour-intensive, requiring DFID to put more emphasis on working with small organisations.

Second, policy coherence for development (PCD) is at the heart of a new approach. This means working across Government in the UK, and with global partners in the multilateral system, to maximise the impact on development of all the UK’s actions.

The report has some interesting discussion of how other countries organize their international development activities and it’s clear that DFID is an outlier – the trend in recent years has been for closer integration of aid with the MFA – indeed the whole thrust of the report is for closer cooperation with the FCO and with other parts of government. The solution that the Committee recommends is that

  • The UK maintains a free-standing and Cabinet-level Department for International Development which ensures that international development priorities are at the heart of government, and is appropriate for the UK.

  • Cross-Government working be improved. The security sector is a case in point. The National Security Council should take a broader view of threats to UK security, and ensure that development and conflict prevention be given the priority they deserve. There should be explicit strategies and policies, with clear responsibilities for delivery. Current experience with joint Ministers, joint units, cross-Government funds, and shared offices overseas, should be expanded.

  • DFID make policy coherence for development (PCD) a higher priority and make improvements to reporting and accountability. DFID needs to put PCD at the heart of its work, co-operating closely across Whitehall, and not treat it as an add on. The National Audit Office and the Independent Commission on Aid Impact should give a higher priority to PCD. The National Security Council should be fully accountable to select committees, via the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy, and individual select committees.

As they say:

We believe DFID’s long-term future as a standalone ministry will be at risk unless stronger mechanisms to support cross-Government working on development are put in place.

There’s an irony here in that DFID has built its success on entrenching a view of development as poverty reduction, a view given legal status in the 2002 International Development Act but it’s now finding that this protection is becoming a straightjacket – particularly if they want to work with middle income countries this is beginning to fall into the kind of areas that the British Council would define as ‘cultural relations’. The other point is that the OECD definition of ODA is much less restrictive than the UK’s self-imposed definitions.

Of course as DFID has lots of money maybe they should mount a takeover of the FCO – it could use some cash, leadership and ideas.


It’s all about l’ambiance: French Cultural Action in the US

June 11, 2015

In the conclusion of his study of French cultural diplomacy in the United States between the First World War Alain Dubosclard (2003) asks what this effort was intended to do and what it achieved.

In setting out to answer this question he turns to the views of the historian Jean-Baptiste Duroselle (Renouvin and Duroselle 1968) who points to the importance of ‘l’ambiance’ within which national leaders operate. The English version of Introduction to the History of International Relations translates this as the ‘climate of opinion’. For Duroselle this indicates the environment within which the leader operates – this is partly to do with their own experiences and beliefs but also to do with their relationships and sources of information – this comes out very clearly in his discussion of Mussolini’s decision for war in 1940, he couldn’t turn to the press for information because it was controlled instead he depended on advisors who wanted to keep him happy.

To put it in a different language this kind of high politics is a matter of elite networks and the beliefs and affective attachments that exist within them.

In a later work Duroselle argues that

“contrary to what one might believe in looking at the torn world in which we live. persuasion plays a huge role in international relations even in the most important affairs. It is not a collective persuasion, a propaganda, a psychological war, but a quasi-personal persuasion, leader to leader, or, better yet, small group to small group” (Duroselle Tout Empire Périra cited in Dubosclard 2003, p. 341, my translation)

‘cultural action contributes to influencing policy-makers in shaping a favourable environment…to create, maintain a climate of confidence’ (Dubosclard 2003, 341)

Dubosclard A (2003) L’action artistique de la France aux Etats-Unis : 1915-1969. Paris: CNRS.

Renouvin P and Duroselle J-B (1968) Introduction to the History of International Relations. London: Pall Mall.


The War Over the Reform of US International Broadcasting

June 3, 2015

I’m catching up with a pile of reports so sorry if I’m behind the curve with this one.

In March the Woodrow Wilson Center put out a report on Reassessing US International Broadcasting. It’s based on interviews with a whole bunch of US public diplomacy veterans and other experts and reaches the conclusion that the current system is broken with too much duplication and too much autonomy from the needs of US foreign policy.

The report can be read in tribal terms; the authors, S. Enders Wimbush and Elizabeth Portale, were both associated with RFE/RL, and a main target seems to be Voice of America and its claims of ‘journalistic autonomy’, indeed there are couple of rebuttals here and here, and the outgoing VoA director struck back at what he saw as RFE/RL lobbying.   I’ve never found the VoA argument particularly persuasive but in reading the report I was more interested in the image of what USIB is for and the world that it operates in. The report has lots of quotes from its interviewees – which are not directly attributed – and on one hand the report suggests a high degree of consensus but on the other there are some interested divergences of opinion that the authors don’t pick up on and some themes that are quite noticeable to a foreigner but probably not so obvious inside the Beltway.

There’s a tendency in the report to slip from discussions of ‘them’ to ‘us': for instance from ‘strategic narrative’ to ‘the American narrative’ to ‘telling America’s story to world’ which leads to statements like

‘There is a narrative to be built on how this country is based on the distrust of power’

This makes sense in an American domestic conversation but really sounds bizarre outside.

Another informant opines that we ‘should offer a narrative about ourselves that represents ourselves in the most complicated and vibrant and contradictory and boisterous way possible’ That’s the limit of what is possible in international communications – to create complexity where there was a monolithic, monochrome image.   I think this is right but there’s also a tendency to slip into a very simple, ideological story  about American values. A lot of the history of US public diplomacy during the Cold War was about managing the gap that foreigners see between ‘values’ talk and American reality, for instance on issues of race.

The report is supportive of the current reform package going through Congress but there’s a strong view that the whole system is obsolete and ought to be rebuilt from scratch but while the report recognizes the changing media and political environment is says that this rethinking is job for universities and think tanks.


Why It’s Worth Reading the Austrian International Cultural Policy Concept

May 27, 2015

Austria has recently issued a new version of its Auslandskulturkonzept.   I haven’t worked through previous versions of this document and from a quick look at the 2011 version I can’t see that much change (previous versions are here) but I thought I’d flag it for two reasons, firstly, it strikes me as a succinct and typical representation of how a small-medium continental European country approaches the outreach to foreign publics in a cultural mode, secondly, there’s an English version and it struck me that it would be a useful example for teaching.

European cultural relations concepts take for granted nations as cultures as a result the concept of culture is pretty fluid – it includes the arts, sciences, religion and view of the world. Implicitly cultural representation is also national representation. There’s an emphasis on dialogue but at the same time a concern to project the image of Austria. Politics creeps in via a commitment to ‘building trust and securing peace’ through intercultural and interreligious dialogue.

The concept with the minister’s foreword totals five pages but the annexes are useful in that they lay out the different elements of the Austrian cultural network; 80 embassies, 29 Cultural Fora, 64 Austria Libraries (collections of resources in foreign universities) and eight Austrian Institutes (which provide language teaching). Much of this representation, as is typical of European states, is in the neighbouring countries plus major capitals. The concept also draws attention to the possibilities of cooperation with Austrian Trade Centres, the Tourist Office, Austrian Centres in foreign universities, foreign representation of the federal provinces, the development organization and foreign Austrian associations – there’s a lot more to the foreign representation of modern states than embassies.   There’s also a list of methods that can be employed by the different types of representation.


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