PD-MAP and Political Realism

October 19, 2010

Matt Armstrong and Craig Hayden have both weighed in on the  LBJ School PD-MAP paper on evaluation in US public diplomacy (there’s a copy of the report at the bottom of Matt’s post).   I’ve just been reading Hans Speier’s 1948 paper The Future of Psychological Warfare and I was struck by the continuities between the two papers.  In looking at the practice of psychological warfare during the Second World War Speier makes the comments that

weaknesses resulted from the imperfect coordination of the improvised propaganda agencies and their various branches…and the imperfect coordination of the propaganda offices with the established authorities that made political and military decisions

Most available academic studies were retrospective , and centered around the psychological aspects of the problem without regard to its political implications

One of the resulting shortcomings of American propaganda during the last war was the lack of political planning beyond the news of the week.  The dissemination of news was regarded as the primary task

…the civilian agencies did not officially spread propaganda, but “information and the truth”

To the extent that The Office of War Information

Went so far as to deny categorically that the OWI was engaged in any attempt at persuasion.  The OWI “does not try to persuade people to like the United States; it tries to help people to understand the United States, on the assumption that the more the truth about America is known, the more the nature of American civilization is understood the better for all concerned”.

Speier’s argument is there needs to be greater coordination between communications and policy. What struck me was the reference in footnote 7:  EH Carr, The Twenty Years Crisis – one of the seminal texts of classical realism.  Carr’s central theme is the failure of the democratic leaders of the interwar period to recognize the centrality of power in international relations.  This failure meant that they naively clung to what he regarded as the obsolete 19th century doctrine of ‘the harmony of  interests’  that is the belief that the economic and political system can be made to work in everyone’s interest so conflicts have no objective basis – they are basically rooted in  misunderstanding.  Like Hans Morgenthau Carr had consumed a hefty dose of Karl Mannheim’s Ideology and Utopia and taken away the lesson that statements of political and social doctrine should be read as ideological expressions of underlying material interests.  The British (and American) embrace of liberalism and free trade was rooted in their interests even as they proclaimed its universal, scientific validity.  For Carr it was natural that other countries would reject this doctrine.   This opposition was based on interests not  in misunderstanding.  By clinging to the doctrine of the harmony of interests the leaders of the democratic countries were taken in by their own propaganda and failed to recognize the reality of the world they were operating in.

Of course there are lots of critiques of political realism (it’ s only interested in power, it rejects ethical behaviour etc)  but I would take away four lessons that provide a counter balance the liberal assumptions that underpin a lot of public diplomacy discourse.

  1. Realize that other people/groups/states exist and their interests aren’t the same as yours.  The world is different for them.
  2. Remember that your truth is probably going to look like ideology or propaganda to other people.
  3. Power is ever present and agreements are always based on the distribution of power.
  4. Diplomacy (including public diplomacy)  is the art of managing difference not of making everyone the same.

So how does this relate to the PD-MAP? In looking at the development of US (and  to a considerable extent British public diplomacy)  It seems to me that the basic theory of public diplomacy that underpins a lot of official discussion is the harmony of interests.  If we can get people to understand America better then we will solve the problem.  The PD-MAP report presents this in a particularly distilled form.

Not being an American I particularly like the idea that people needed to tested on their ‘comprehension’  of American policy, values and culture and that foreign leaders should be tested on their ‘compliance’  with American policies.  The suspicion realists like  Carr and Morgenthau (and  Walter Lippmann and Reinhold Niebuhr)voiced was that it was Americans that didn’t understand their own policy not the foreigners.  There’s a lot more than can be said about the approach of the PD-MAP study but if the basic underpinning social theory is problematic then what you are measuring is going to be of questionable value.

Carr, E.H. (1946) The Twenty Years’ Crisis, 1919-1939: An Introduction to the Study of International Relations. 2nd ed. London: Macmillan.

Mannheim, K. (1936) Ideology and Utopia: An Introduction to the Sociology Of Knowledge. London: Routledge and K. Paul.

Speier, H. (1948) ‘The Future of Psychological Warfare’, Public Opinion Quarterly, 12: 5-18.


One comment

  1. […] just read Robin Brown’s thoughtful commentary on the UT-Austin PD-MAP assessment report and tool. In my previous take, I was focused primarily on […]

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