New French Cultural Diplomacy Initiatives

Daily Cultural Diplomacy News links to a Xinhua story on the reorganization of French cultural diplomacy.  The Quai D’Orsay website has a translation of a piece by Bernard Kouchner in Le Figaro but if you want  more detail there is a transcript of a press conference by Kouchner,  the the minister of culture, Frederic Mitterand and the head of the new agency, Xavier Darcos (in French)  here as well as speeches by Kouchner and Mitterand at a conference on cultural diplomacy entitled ‘France Listens to the World’.  I’ve run the whole lot through Google Translate here.

A flavour of Kouchner’s comments are here

A reform was necessary because, how can we not see, culture and knowledge play an ever more decisive role in the global world? Do not hide the reality: there are now a battle of “soft power”. The major Western democracies as emerging powerhouses know: if they want to count in tomorrow’s world, they must be able to project their cultural content, to influence the agenda of ideas, promote their language, to attract future leaders in their schools and universities. They know that a great nation, as Hugo said, it is not only a strong army and vast territory, but also the ability to win hearts and spirits.

There are nearly 9,000 words here with quite a lot of detail about the structure and objectives of the new organization.

UPDATE – there’s additional material on French PD here and here

Public Diplomacy ’65

I’ve been reading W. Phillips Davison’s 1965 Council on Foreign Relations volume International Political Communication (New York: Praeger) – the dust jacket is here  img007 and the  contents pages are here.

A few quick thoughts

1. The emphasis on the limits of communication – Davison was part of a generation of scholars who were both familiar with the realities of psychological warfare and had were involved in the development of academic studies of communications.

2. The link between communication and organization.  Davison is sceptical of the capacity of communication to persuade the opposed but argues that it plays useful role in organizing friends.

3. Duplication, lack of focus, limited resources, failure to integrate policy and communication in US public diplomacy.  It’s all here.

Knowledge Must Become Capability

Sorry about the absence of posts.  I got holidays coming up and I;m in a rush to get things finished.

I’ve been meaning to post something on the relationship between theory,  practice and education since I started this blog.

This is something that I’ve spent quite a lot of time thinking about.   At various points in my career I’ve been involved in mid career education  for diplomats, the military and broadcasters.  Also  anyone who has worked in a University department that teaches journalism and communications will recognise that the issue of the appropriate balance between the more abstract and the more applied in the curriculum is never far beneath the surface.

My approach to these issues has been influenced by a somewhat  odd source:  the  discussion of the relationship between theory, education and practice  in Book 2 Of Carl von Clausewitz’s On War.  Although he is concerned with strategy I think that many of his arguments readily transfer to other fields.  Clausewitz was an educator as well as a theorist and one of the things that distinguishes On War from other discussions of strategy is this concern with how abstract knowledge can be turned into practice.

As a teacher Clausewitz sees what is needed is officers who can instantly assess a situation and see the risks and opportunities inherent in it.  This is not something that can be learned in the classroom.  There is no substitute for experience.  An officer has to learn to do their job under fire and when cold and wet and hungry. Understanding the realities of the job really depends on doing the job.

But…this is not enough.  The judgement at the heart of the commander’s task depends on an understanding of the many factors that shape warfare.   The situation that the commander acts in is not confined to what is in the immediate vicinity.  Even in the 19th century it could be affected by the reactions of armies, publics and governments thousands of miles away.  The real significance of what happens here and now is not confined to the here and now.  Understanding these interdependencies is the realm of theoretical knowledge.  It then followed that study of theory and history was a key strand in shaping the judgement of the officer.  Theoretical knowledge had to be internalized;  ‘knowledge must become capability’.  Thus when an officer had to make a judgement in a concrete situation that judgement and the perception of the situation behind it would be based not just on the direct  (inevitably limited) experience of the commander but on the distilled experience captured in theory.

In 1806 Napoleon swept the Prussian Army was  from the field in a few short weeks. For Clausewitz the failure was an intellectual one:  because it lacked any theory of how war was being transformed the army clung to past glories.

There is a lot more that I could say but I will stop and extract two lessons.

The first is about the type of theoretical knowledge that academics produce.  Theoretical generalizations are not an end in themselves.   Academics have to consider how knowledge can be applied in practice.  As academics we might be very happy to be able to predict that independent variable X will produce a particular effect on dependent variable Y 80% of the time.  To be able to use this knowledge we have to be able to go further: we have to able to identify what accounts for the 20% of cases and how we can tell what sort of situation we are in.  Clausewitz keeps reiterating how simple warfare is but he still writes a 600 page book because actually understanding how to apply that knowledge  is quite hard.

In the political science community there is an active debate about the increasing scholasticism of the field.  The challenge for academics is not just to produce knowledge that is relevant for practice but to think about how, as Clausewitz puts it,  we can help to turn knowledge into capability.

A second lesson that I’ve taken from Clausewitz that has been amply reinforced by my own experience is that in most walks of life the knowledge that you need to do a job changes depending on your position in the organization.  If you are involved in mid career education you wonder what you can teach people who are actually doing the job that you are studying.  The answer is quite a lot.  Clausewitz thought that the more senior you became the more you had to balance complex competing factors.  Junior army officers don’t think very much about strategy or military history because they are too busy looking after their troops and doing their day to day job.  Journalists or producers spend their time writing stories and making programmes;  they don’t think about management skills or the forces reshaping their industries.  This applies to academics too most academics don’t spend their time thinking about the future of academia or the latest developments in pedagogical theory – they are too busy writing papers and lectures.   What academic study can bring is an understanding of the bigger picture, the forces shaping the working environment, an understanding of different ways of approaching the tasks, new skills, not to mention an emphasis on rigorous critical thinking.

Integrating PD2.0

In the last week or so there have been kerfuffles about the blogging British ambassadors and the twitterific cake eating Americans.

In both of these cases the PD2.0 activity has been picked up by audiences other than the intended ones.  This is an issue that is especially intense in  a digital communication ecology but it is not a new one.  The history of public diplomacy programmes is full of this type of incident where audience at home raise questions (sometimes with good reason) about the activities of their external representation.

The key to dealing with this is through the development of a strategic perspective on how PD2.0  should be used.  MFAs have to be able to turn round to external critics and justify what they are doing… the challenge is that this requires them to have an understanding of what it is they are trying to do themselves.     One of the criticisms  that is made of the FCO embrace of digital media is that it was really driven by fashion and the desire to make the organization look modern in the eyes of the people back home (and in the eyes of other MFAs?) rather than in a proper analysis of what the medium could do in diplomatic terms.

The development of  organizational PD2.0 strategies needs to bring together web 2.0 and diplomatic expertise.  It also needs to be rooted in a decade and a half of research on what people actually do with new communications technologies in the real world and not on the anecdotes favoured by new media gurus.  These strategies need to go beyond a set of rules about what can and cannot be posted and need to give guidance on the level of resource that should be put into PD2.0 activities (with the recognition that answer may be none).   I get the impression that particularly at embassy level  a lot of activity really depends on individuals putting in the effort on their own initiative with the problem that at the end of their posting successful initiatives atrophy.  If these activities are worth doing they have to be incorporated into the routine organizational activity (eg workload models) and properly documented to ensure continuity.   PD2.0 has to be integrated into the total package of diplomatic activity while recognizing that a changing communication environment will change how we think about diplomacy.

How Strategic Can Diplomacy Be?

A few years ago I spent quite a lot of time hanging around with people from the Business School and one of the things that I picked up was the distinction that the management  literature  makes between ‘designer’ strategies and ’emergent’ strategies. (I think that this was debate that stemmed from some of the writings of Henry Mintzberg in the 1980s)

A designer strategy was one that fitted with a classical view of strategy as choice .  You look at the problem and figure out a solution.  You then implement the strategy and solve the problem.   Designer strategy  takes its cue from the state of the industry, it’s externally oriented.  An emergent view of strategy sees strategies as something that evolve from within the organization.  This has both analytical and prescriptive dimensions.  Analytically it says that the strategy that an organization has tends to emerge from an accumulation of decisions made in the middle and lower levels of the business not by a god like designer.  Prescriptively an emergent view of strategy focuses more on the capabilities of the organization it looks at what the business is good at doing and builds the strategy from that.  Emergent strategy’s critique of designer strategy is that organizations can choose strategies that they cannot implement in contrast emergent strategy is rooted in to the reality of practice.   The designers respond by pointing out that an emergent strategy is always going to be suboptimal and that sometimes an organization must make radical changes if it is going to survive.  Of course you can see how this debate would develop – it has to end with a synthesis of the two.  A purely emergent strategy will  result in a loss of strategic focus and a purely designer strategy may result in a strategic vision that  cannot be implemented by an organization.

Proposals to revamp diplomatic organizations usually demand that they become more strategic.  Implicit here is strategy understood in designed terms.  The problem is that the implicit models of strategy at work here are things like political or military campaigns.  Campaign models fit extremely well with the designer model of strategy.   American political campaigns are an extreme example because they are put together from scratch so that a consultant can actually build the campaign organization (sometimes including the candidate)  around the strategic concept.  This is not an opportunity that established organizations have.

I think that diplomatic organizations are pulled towards emergent strategies (or non-strategies) by the nature of diplomatic relations themselves.  Relationships create constraints.  A state’s diplomatic relations are permanent, embassies and country desks will seek to maintain and improve relations with their countries. In the absence of new resources changes in strategic priorities inevitably mean fewer resources for some of the portfolio of existing relationships which will inevitably be seen as a downgrading.  For instance the UK closed  embassies in a number of countries including Paraguay and Lesotho in 2005 and Israel had to cut back its diplomatic representation earlier in the decade.  It’s hard to read the closure of an embassy as anything other than saying ‘we don’t think that you are very important’.

So what is the conclusion?  Efforts to make foreign ministries more strategic lean towards the designer view of strategy but the conservatism (and resistance)  that they detect in diplomacy actually comes from the nature of the work itself, that is the practice of building and maintaining relationships.  On the other hand there still has to be a way to balance the competing demands of these different relationships.  This leads to the problem of how do we achieve the synthesis between the benefits of designed and emergent strategies in diplomacy?

Franco-German Reconciliation and Public Diplomacy

In my efforts to write about things other than US public diplomacy I  spotted an interesting 2007 piece by Ulrich Krotz on what he terms the ‘parapublic’ relations underpinning Franco-German reconciliation.  This looks at bilateral efforts to improve Franco-German relations after the Second World War and in particularly after the Elysee Treaty of 1963.  Krotz uses the term ‘parapublic’ to indicate a set of activities which are neither state to state or purely society to society.  What he has in mind are the state-funded initiatives to promote youth exchanges,  town-twinning arrangements and other types of links – including Franco-German prizes of one sort or another.  In his perspective parapublic indicates that they are between state and civil society, they wouldn’t happen without state support but don’t involve official representatives.

This leads to a few thoughts. I hadn’t appreciated the scale of these activities it is estimated that between 1963 and 2003 seven million people took part in youth exchanges.   Krotz makes the point that they are well institutionalized and accompanied by expectations about participation.

This kind of activitity tends to get left to students of European integration but really ought to get more attention from Public Diplomacy scholars.

Krotz uses a conceptual framework from constructivist IR theory.  Constructivist IR can get caught up in making the obvious unnecessarily complicated but it does have some quite interesting ways of talking about communications related concepts that moves beyond the simply models of information transfer and persuasion that often appears in the PD literature – I will come back to constructivist IR before too long

Krotz argues that the exchanges have certainly contributed to reconciliation and they have led to the institutionalization of the reconciliation and to a particular understanding of the Franco-German relationship.  However he also points to limits, there is no Franco-German public sphere, basic sources of difference and disagreement have not been removed and the expectations created by the rhetoric of reconciliation are frequently unmet becoming a continuing source of disappointment.   To translate it into a more network vocabulary the exchanges and their supporting institutions generate a particular narrative of the relationship but for most participants the relationship does not lead to lasting changes in the pattern of relationships ‘at home’ that would leader to greater convergence between the two countries.

I think that this is an interesting case to consider in terms of the possible impact of exchanges and citizen diplomacy, the scale of the Franco-German activities has been very large and backed by high levels political support.  While Krotz argues for an effect he also emphasizes the limits of what has been achieved.  How much is it reasonable to expect this type of activity to achieve?

Urich Krotz (2007), ‘Parapublic Underpinnings of International Relations: The Franco-German Construction of Europeanization of a Particular Kind’, European Journal of International Relations, 13, 3 (385-417)

Danes Go PD2.0

Cristina ‘The Ninja’ Archetti has drawn my attention to this short piece on the webpage of the Danish Embassy in London about their use of Facebook to communicate about the Danish role in Afghanistan.  Interestingly enough the group includes members from Denmark and other countries as well as the UK which  speaks to the need for consistency of approach in a networked environment.

Link is here

A Post American Foreign Policy for the UK?

Lot’s of exciting mildly interesting stuff coming up here in the next few days… but in the mean time a few observations on William Hague’s speech today on Britain’s Foreign Policy in a Networked World.  This has been noted in  some quarters as British Foreign Policy for a Post American World in the sense that Fareed Zakaria talks about it.

As is traditional in these kind of speeches Hague identifies a number of changes that have occurred in world politics, the emergence of new centres of economic power, the expansion of the circle of international decision making ie more countries matter, complex security threats, and the changing nature of conflict as he say  ‘wars among the people’ (references to Rupert Smith are standard in this context)… but ‘when taken together with the fifth and most striking change of all, the emergence of a networked world, the case for a new approach to the foreign policy of the United Kingdom becomes unanswerable.’

What does Hague mean by a networked world?  I don’t think that this is entirely clear but let’s extract some of the ideas.

1.  ‘For although the world has become more multilateral as I have described, it has also become more bilateral.’  This is a bit of a zen koan  but I think that what he is getting at is that British foreign policy and diplomatic practice has focussed on multilateral issues and fora at the expense of bilateral relations and the quality and strength of issues with particular countries matter.  Hague’s thought continues to identify the US as our most important bilateral relationship.

2. Hague continues:  ‘Today, influence increasingly lies with networks of states with fluid and dynamic patterns of allegiance, alliance and connections, including the informal, which act as vital channels of influence and decision-making and require new forms of engagement from Britain.”  Putting this together with the first point the logic would go something like this:  because decision making is fluid we cannot identify institutional targets for our diplomacy therefore by strengthening our bilateral links with key actors we are in a stronger position to influence these ‘fluid and dynamic patterns’

3. Part of the networked world is about the changing media of communication.

Today Foreign Ministers communicate through formal notes, highly frequent personal meetings, hours a day on the telephone to discuss and coordinate responses to crises, and quite a lot of us communicate by text message or in the case of the Foreign Minister of Bahrain and I, follow each other avidly on Twitter.

4. This is probably the money quote

In recent years Britain’s approach to building relationships with new and emerging powers has been rather ad-hoc and patchy, giving rise to the frequent complaint from such Governments that British Ministers only get in touch when a crisis arises or a crucial vote is needed. This weakens our ability to forge agreement on difficult issues affecting the lives of millions around the world and it overlooks the importance of consistency and personal relationships in the conduct of foreign policy.  In many countries decisions about politics and economics are also often more closely entwined than in Britain, meaning that the absence of strong bilateral relations has the further effect of weakening our position when economic decisions are made.

The solution is better coordination across government both at a strategic level via the new National Security Council.  A second aspect is recognizing the role of government departments other than the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in sustaining relations with other countries and put in place mechanisms to coordinate all this activity so that the UK can actually deliver on decisions about upgrading bilateral relationships.

A couple of thoughts.  It will be interesting to see the extent to which this coordination can actually be achieved.  MFA loss of control is a common theme in the literature going back decades.  The other point is that it is that relationships consume resources (even if  only attention) and create network constraint.  This requires a strategic sense of priorities. Hague is going to be giving another three speeches over the next couple of weeks so maybe we will get something about this.