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Morocco’s New Public Diplomacy Network: West African Sufi Brotherhoods

March 23, 2015

In theory public diplomacy is about building relationships. In practice countries rarely start from scratch they build from a base provided by relationships that already exist.

There’s an interesting example of this in a new report from FRIDE on Morocco’s Religious Diplomacy in Africa. Morocco has tended to ignore Africa but because of the economic situation in Europe and the regional security situation it has launched a diplomatic offensive to build relations with African countries. One of the relationships it is activating is that with the Tijaniyyah Brotherhood a Sufi network with millions of members spread across west Africa. Because the Islam in the region was originally spread by the Moroccan Almoravid dynasty the king of Morocco is regarded as a religious leader and Fez as destination for pilgrimage this network is being activated as an asset for Morocco. This means pledges to build mosques, offers of training for imams and cheap flights for those coming to Morocco on pilgrimage. The promotion of Moroccan sufi Islam is extremely welcome in Senegal, Guinea, Nigeria, Niger and Benin presumably as a balance to the activities of more hardline varieties of Islam.

Of course this being International Relations there’s a competitive element here – Morocco traditionally regards Algeria as a rival and the sufi card is one that Algeria, as a formally secular state lacks.

It’s also worth noting that as with many things public diplomacy initiatives that new tend to be repetition of things that were done in the past Kane (1997) points to previous efforts, from the 1960s to the 1980s, by the Egyptians, the Iraqis and the Saudis as well as the Moroccan to engage the Sufi brotherhoods as part of their public diplomacies.
Kane O (1997) Muslim Missionaries and African States, in Rudolph SH and Piscatori J (eds) Transnational Religion and Fading States, Boulder  Colo.: Westview, pp. 47–62.
Tadlaoui G (2015) Morocco’s Religious Diplomacy in Africa. Madrid: FRIDE.
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West Germany and the Global Anti-Communist Network, 1956-65:

March 16, 2015

In recent years quite a lot has been written about American backing for ‘state-private networks’   (eg Saunders 1999, Scott-Smith and Krabbendam 2003, Laville and Wilford, 2006, Wilford 2008) during the Cold War so I was intrigued to come across a new working paper from the Cold War International History Project on the West German supported Comité International d’Information et d’Action Sociale (CIAS). This was network of mostly European organizations that came into being in 1956 as an effort to adapt the earlier Paix et Liberté network to the post Stalin evolution of the Cold War. The German Volksbund für Frieden und Freiheit (VFF) was one of the strongest components of the CIAS, in part because it had support from multiple parts of the West German government. The key source for this paper by Torben Gülstorff are the reports from the CIAS to the Auswärtige Amt.

During the decade covered in the paper the CIAS was one of three major anti-Communist networks, the other two being Asian People’s Anti-Communist League (APACL) and the Confederatión Interamericana de la Defensa del Continente (CIADC).*  One of the things that I found most interesting about the paper was the comparison of the three organizations albeit from the perspective of the VFF. The OPACL revolved around an axis between Taipei and Seoul (although this created a tension between the relatively pro-Japanese Republic of China and the anti-Japanese Republic of Korea), and had a policy line that called for the eradication of Communism in Asia as such it was closely aligned with governments. The CIADC was more moderate ideologically but enjoyed little government support. The VFF/CIAS line was intended to keep an opening to the left and was concerned to warn against the lures of Communism (and keep tabs on Communist sympathisers) but did not embrace the kind of ‘eradicationist’ line taken by the APACL. One of the roles that the VFF filled within the CIAS seems to have been to keep more hard line elements under control. A particular issue for the VFF was the degree of anti-Americanism that existed within anti-Communist networks, here Gülstorff points to the lasting legacy of Nazi anti-Bolshevism. These three organizations merged in 1965 to form the World Anti Communist League (WACL) which reflected the ascendancy of the hard line OPACL despite the resistance of the VFF.

From the point of the view of the West German government one of the roles of the VFF/CIAS link was to keep the struggle against East Germany on the agenda of the world anti Communist movement.

The creation of the WACL in 1965 seems to have been a success for the OPACL radicals.

There’s a lot material in the paper and also a lot of loose ends but it helps to broaden the agenda in thinking about Cold War networks beyond the CIA.

*The absence of the USA is an interesting question.Gülstorff points to the fragmentation of anti-Communism within the US and suggests that J.Edgar Hoover might have hand in producing this state of affairs.

Laville H and Wilford H, eds (2006) The US government, citizen groups and the Cold War : the state-private network. London: Routledge.

Saunders FS (1999) Who Paid the Piper?: The CIA and the Cultural Cold War. London: Granta.

Scott-Smith G and Krabbendam H, eds (2003) The Cultural Cold War in Western Europe, 1945-1960. London ; Portland, OR: Frank Cass.

Wilford H (2008) The mighty Wurlitzer : how the CIA played America. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

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Lobbyists and the Outsourcing of Public Diplomacy

March 12, 2015

At the end of January the Corporate Europe Observatory put out Spin Doctors to the Autocrats: How European PR Firms Whitewash Repressive Regimes

It’s an interesting catalogue of cases of how authoritarian regimes use lobbyists, PR companies or legal firms to exert influence in Brussels or clean up their image in Europe. The instruments employed range from op-eds, straight lobbying, junkets, editing Wikipedia, creating think tanks and ‘friends of’ groups. CEO are calling for tighter regulation of lobbyists both at EU and national levels. One interesting point is that while there are one set of rules in Brussels if you are doing lobbying they don’t apply if you’re doing nation-branding work.

This raises a broader question of when and why countries outsource public diplomacy.   Three, not mutually exclusive, hypotheses

  1. It’s about the nature of the political system. Professionalized commercial lobbying and representation appears first in the US nearly a century ago. An open but complex political system requires specialist expertise. [Francis Fukuyama recently argued for the similarity of the EU system to that in Washington DC.
  2. It’s about limits in the capacity of the state’s representation either in general or to deal with a particular project or situation.   Commercial representation offers a surge capacity with specific expertise. CEO make the point that say PR companies hired by Russia work directly to the Kremlin and not through the MFA hence providing flexibility.
  3. It’s about creating distance between the country and the activity.       An embassy that says we’re great is less credible than an apparently independent group.
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French Cultural Diplomacy in Eastern Europe, 1936-51

March 4, 2015

I suspect that Annie Guénard-Maget’s newish book Une Diplomatie Culturelle Dans Les Tensions Internationales: La France En Europe Centrale Et Orientale (1936-1940/1944-51). Brussels: Peter Lang, 2014 isn’t going to be a best seller but if you’re interested in the history of public diplomacies it’s a fascinating contribution.

The study looks at the development of French cultural diplomacy in Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, Rumania, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia on either side of the Second World War (1936-40 and 1944-51) It’s a valuable contribution for a number of reasons.

1. Quite a lot has been written about French activities in the America’s so it’s very interesting to see a discussion of the cultural instrument at work in a core zone of contestation. The book begins with the attempt to revive French activities in the region in the face of a rising Fascist threat. In 1940 France was groping towards a strategic concept that integrated cultural activities and propaganda with other aspects of statecraft.

2. The second half of the book is even more interesting and provides a different perspective on the early Cold War from that found in Anglo-American accounts. From the moment of the liberation the French leadership saw the reconstruction of their presence in Eastern Europe as an important part of the restoration of France’s position in the world and jumped in with both feet; schools, higher education links, cultural institutes and Alliance Française committees were all soon operational and entrenched by cultural agreements. The growth of communist power soon meant that these links came under pressure but the cultural agreements both provided routes by which the new governments could cause trouble (because of requirements for agreement to various actions) but also made them harder to get rid of. There are useful comparisons with the experience of the UK and the US who were more cautious about getting involved but also more likely to operate unilaterally via their embassies and consulates.

3. Whereas British and American accounts of these events (and I think perspectives at the time) tended to play down differences between countries in favour of a focus on the advance of Soviet power the French perspective (as well as Guénard-Maget’s account) was much more ‘national’ in two ways. Firstly, it placed much more weight on the local situation in s the six countries but also in the assumption that in the end the nation was the basic unit of international relations. For example a country might be run by communists but in the end they were still had a nationality that nation had a special bond with France. Or a country might reject a programme of visiting French lecturers. The solution – send French communists, after all they were still French before they were communists.

4. The fact that the study looks at multiple countries allows an examination of what was common to these cases and what differs. One irony is that the Yugoslavian government was particularly suspicious of the French despite Tito’s split with Stalin.

5. There’s a mass of detail here which can get a bit heavy but really adds to the story.

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(Not) The Freedom House Guide to Policy Advocacy

March 2, 2015

I’ve been thinking quite a lot about the place of civil society in public diplomacy and International Relations. One of the things that is interesting is the way that the use of the term gets narrowed down to mean ‘liberal, cosmopolitan, pro-Western elites’ and forgets that the religious extremists protesting outside the embassy or the guy sitting in his mother’s basement and inciting nationalist hatred on the internet are part of civil society too. The result is that civil society in the first sense is less popular and less influential than it appears when you put it in the context of civil society as a whole.  This has been a recurring problem in public diplomacy programmes over the last decade.

This was the frame of mind that I encountered a new article in The National Interest Power to the People: Taking Diplomacy to the Streets, written by Mark Lagon (the president of Freedom House) and Sarah Grebowski it demands ‘societal diplomacy’ that is a

” more nimble, realistic foreign-policy strategy requires diplomacy with civil society. At best, it will contribute constructively to political change brought about by domestic actors, serving more liberal rule and U.S. interests.”

I read it with some scepticism but then I realized that it offered a practically perfect guide to how to write a policy advocacy piece – so here’s what I learned.

1. DO make it clear that you policy is completely new and has nothing to do with any policy that has ever been tried before. This is much easier than having to explain the difference from public diplomacy, democracy support, human rights work or any other sort of contemporary diplomatic practice. This has the added advantage of ensuring that you don’t have to respond to any criticisms of these previous policies and strategies.

2. DON’T hide any of the massive advantages your new policy has

“can catalyze change at a minute fraction of the cost the United States pays to maintain its military dominance. It also aligns with U.S. values, since aiding civil society is a way for the United States to bolster universal human rights and cultivate democratic aspirations….restore America’s reputation as a force for good. Above all, it can serve a dynamic understanding of U.S. interests by anticipating and, where possible, influencing shifts in countries’ leadership…gain flexibility in responding to unpredictable outcomes…the United States can position itself on the “right side of history,”….societal diplomacy would have positive ramifications for the United States’ legitimacy as a global leader”….”the United States can chip away at the false idea that its goal is to spread democracy by force—and the well-founded suspicion that its support for democratization is self-servingly selective in practice.”

3. DO ignore or minimize any downside to your new policy (this particularly applies if you choose the People’s Republic of China and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as priority targets) but don’t completely ignore them as they can be easily overcome – if the Saudi government is unhappy: “the United States should exercise leverage over the regime”

4. DO assume that the targets of your new policy won’t expel your diplomats or act in a way that can damage US interests.

5. DON’T waste space on practicalities like the kind of resources needed to execute this strate

Keep those rules in mind and policy innovation will be no problem!

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Cuts and Capabilities at the FCO

February 27, 2015

Back from the International Studies Association and back to the blog..

The House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee has just issued its response to the FCO’s Annual Report and they are seriously concerned about the effect of the government austerity programme on British overseas representation. In their view the FCO is short of staff and the reliance on locally engaged staff is creating problems for the future by reducing the experience that UK staff can build up overseas.

One issue that they point to is the inadequacy of language skills at the FCO. This is an issue that they’ve flagged up before and one that came up last week in a report on the EU response to the Ukrainian Crisis. The new report points out that only 28% of FCO posts in Russia and Eastern Europe are occupied with staff with the required level of linguistic competence. The really interesting point though is that the situation in the Middle East and North Africa, there the figure is …27%. Now you might think that the situation in Ukraine has come as a surprise hence the low priority for the languages but given the recent history of Britain in the Middle East the need for Arabic can’t be a surprise. This backs up the argument that despite the support for language training expressed by the leadership of the FCO the management system doesn’t value it.

This is supported by a November 2013 report from the British Academy on the state of language capacity across British government that documents concern among diplomats that putting in the time to learn and maintain hard languages is damaging to their career progression and can cause them to become too ‘niche’ given the need.

My conclusion: modernization, in terms of rationalizing management, may be good for the efficiency of your foreign ministry but it doesn’t also add to its effectiveness.

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What’s Different about Confucius Institutes?

January 22, 2015

Marshall Sahlins has expanded his attack on Confucius Institutes into a longer (but still pamphlet length) version.

His basic complaint is that the Confucius Institute system is infiltrating Western education systems. This is an organization that is part of the Communist Party directed Chinese state, it teaches simplified Chinese which means that students can only read works published in the PRC since language reform and the agenda of the institutes has to exclude Taiwan, Tibet and Tiananmen. He provides examples of CI’s attempting to take over all China related teaching in institutions.

I share the pamphlet’s concerns but Sahlins is only focusing on one country and as result there’s a danger of overstating how different the CI system is.

Firstly, locating institutes inside educational institutions is unusual but it isn’t unique.  At least some of the branches of the Spanish Instituto Cervantes are located in Universities.

Secondly, attempting to influence education systems is the bread and butter of cultural diplomacy. As usual exhibit A is France’s defence of, and promotion of, the French language but states have been heavily involved in the promotion of the study of themselves for a long time – Hungary was funding a lectureship in at the LSE in the interwar period, also consider the promotion of American, Canadian or Indian Studies.

Thirdly, while there are probably a few cultural relations organizations that have zero relationship with foreign policy most do.

Fourthly, CI’s check the political reliability of staff. That’s probably not that unusual. Keep in mind that historically much of France’s cultural relations work was done by the Foreign Ministry so even if the director of the Institut had an academic job somewhere they were on secondment to the Quai. In the early years of the Cold War the British Council had defections and you can be sure that after that there was more of a check on who they were sending abroad at least to certain countries.

The specific problem with the CI system is not any of these things in isolation. It’s the combination of these with fact that the PRC is a Communist state which makes many people in the West read anything the CI does (or doesn’t do) through a political lens.

Sahlins documents cases where Universities and education authorities have rejected or refused to renew CI contracts and I would expect that there will inevitably be more of these cases particularly in view of the current ideological tightening in China.

The irony is that by either moving outside education systems or by very ostentatiously abandoning politically contentious elements of the system the CI would work rather better for China. After all the medium is the message. If the CI’s boost ties to China there will be plenty of other opportunities to expose people to approved PRC narratives without generating damaging contestations.

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