Archive for January, 2011


Student Visas, Fake Universities and the National Image

January 30, 2011

I’m catching up on my marking  backlog from my India trip so not  much to say at the moment..but via the Indian Ministry of External Affairs twitter feed I’m interested to learn about the case of Tri Valley University in San Francisco – which has just been shut down on suspicion of money laundering.  Most of the students are Indian  and some of them have been electronically tagged – which is going down like a lead balloon in India with the foreign minister weighing in.

This is a nice example of a story that is probably not getting any play in the US but has considerable visibility in India and is probably coming as a bit of a surprise to the State Department.  Statement from the MEA here and some Indian coverage here and here.


IO and SC Going Mainstream?

January 28, 2011

Via the DIME Page at Carlisle Barracks a new memo (dated 25 January 2011)  from the Secretary of Defense on Strategic Communication and Information Operations.  I’ve uploaded a copy at the bottom of the post.

The main thrust of this on a first reading is the need to see IO and SC as integrating function applying across all activities rather than as a set of capabilities.  A couple of items that strike me are that the responsibility for IO moves from the Undersecretary of Defence (Intelligence) to USD Policy with the intention of creating a better policy integration.  There is a new definition of IO that gives more attention to the integrating function.

Responsibility for Strategic Communication will be shared between USD (P) and the Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs.  The position of the Global Engagement Strategic Coordination Committee will be formalized and a clarified definition of SC will be produced.

I suspect that some of you will be better able to detect the nuances and implications of this document than I can

2011 Strategic Communication & IO Memo 25 Jan2011


Visas and Cultural Relations

January 28, 2011

I’ve commented before on the impact of US visa requirements on the experience of the US so it only seems fair to share this about UK visas.

For the last few years international students who come to the UK and successfully complete their studies have been eligible for Post-Study Work Visas (PSWV)  that allow them to work in the UK for two years.  During the election campaign last year the Conservatives promised to clamp down on immigration into the UK and now the PSWV is under review.  From the point of view of the average UK citizen this is completely invisible as an issue.  From the perspective of an Indian student contemplating coming to the UK this is a highly salient issue.  During my trip to India last week I was asked about the situation several times  but as it’s still out for consultation there wasn’t much I could say.  I was warned that the consequence of the uncertainty was a falling off of applications to UK universities and greater interest in going to other countries to study.

For readers of this blog the implications of this are pretty obvious.  Visa restrictions limit the ability of UK Universities to recruit international students.  International students are an important element of relationship building so restricting the number of students reduces UK soft power directly but also potentially indirectly by weakening the higher education sector.

We can also see differential attention at work.  Comments by the immigration minister Damian Green on the abuse of student visas were a one news cycle story in the UK but have taken on a life of their own among students contemplating coming the to the UK.  It may be that there are good reasons for a change in the visa regime but officials involved have to recognize the PD consequences and craft their decisions and communications with this in mind.


Public Diplomacy as an Umbrella Concept

January 27, 2011

Over Christmas I was reading J.M Mitchell’s, International Cultural Relations. He focuses on the development of cultural relations work in  France, Germany, Italy and the UK going back to the origins of  these activities in the late 19th century.  For France and Germany in particular the starting point is schools for their diasporas.  Schooling served as a way of preserving the identity of expatriates but also as a way of spreading cultural influence.  From Mitchell’s account it is clear that for European countries there were very strong continuities in their practices throughout the century that he covers.

This underlines the danger of approaching the development of ‘public diplomacy’ simply through the story of American public diplomacy.  I’ve commented before on the problem for scholars of using official or quasi-official definitions to define their field of study.

The thought that occurs to me is in an academic context  we should see public diplomacy as an umbrella term that covers a range of activities concerned with the external promotion of a country and its interests (eg branding, broadcasting, cultural relations, policy advocacy, media relations etc).  The important point here are that there is not a single model for how to do this  and that countries will often pursue several different activities  at the same time.

The objection to this that PD is used in much more precise ways.  For instance there are the American definitions from Gullion onwards.  In the UK there is the British Council view that they don’t do Public Diplomacy and that this is something that the Foreign Office does.  I would respond in two ways.  Firstly,   PD is already mostly used in the broad sense.  All I am suggesting here is an explicit recognition that PD isn’t just one thing.  The second response is to find another term.  In US official discourse ‘strategic communication’ seems to be coming in to use as the overarching term.  My problem with this is that strategic communication is too general:  the term is broadly used in the private sector.  In my mind the advantage of ‘public diplomacy’ is precisely the connection to ‘diplomacy’ and the international dimensions of the practices we are interested in.  It is that fact that this communication activities are being done by official or quasi official organizations in one country to influence relations with people in other countries introduces a set of issues that mark off the field.

Mitchell, J. (1986) International Cultural Relations. London: Allen and Unwin.


Public Diplomacy and Social Media

January 24, 2011

I’ve just got back from a week in India where one of the things that I was doing was talking about social media and public diplomacy so I was interested to see that Giles Scott-Smith has posted a summary of a talk that Alec Ross, Senior Advisor for Innovation at the State Department gave in the Netherlands.

On my travels I was reading Evgeny Morozov’s The Net Delusion: How Not to Liberate the World  and the new paper from Linda Khatib, William Dutton and Michael Thelwall on State Department Digital Outreach Team so it’s  probably not too surprising that I’m sceptical about the Alec Ross world view.

Broadly speaking there are two sets of issues here.  Firstly the institutional ones of how you integrate social media into diplomacy.  What priority should you give to it and what resources should you allocate?  One of the lessons that I see in many of these initiatives like the Digital Outreach Team is the simple inadequacy of the resources relative to the size of the problem.  The second set of issues are more fundamental – what is the impact and potential impact of PD2.o initiatives.   This in turn feeds back into the resource problem.  Some effects might be feasible in theory but not with any likely level of resourcing.



Who Does Britain’s Strategy?

January 13, 2011

In a future post I’m going to come back to the implications of the expanded notion of strategic communication that has been spreading through the US government over the last few years.  In particular I want to think through the organizational consequences of ‘the everything that we say or do is communications’ version of strategic communication.

With this in mind I spotted Global Dashboard’s post and link to the Parliamentary Public Administration Select Committee’s report on Who Does UK National Strategy? Short answer: nobody.  In fact British government isn’t even capable of thinking strategically and doesn’t know what strategy is.

From a quick skim it’s a fascinating read.  The document also includes transcripts of the ‘evidence sessions’ (hearings) with among others the Foreign Secretary and the Chief of the Defence Staff.   At times you get the impression that when asked about national strategy and who makes it they don’t actually understand the question.

For a British reader its quite a depressing read for everyone else it’s a reminder that it’s easy to talk about strategy but much harder for modern governments to act strategically.



Chinese Media Assistance

January 12, 2011

One strand of Western PD and democracy support efforts in recent years has been support for media development  but it looks like China is now getting into the game.  I’ve recently spotted this September 2010 report from the Center for International Media Assistance at the (US) National Endowment for Democracy. This looks at Chinese efforts to support state media and to influence reporting of China in Africa, Latin America and Southeast Asia.  I think that the report promises more than it delivers but it still casts light on a little noticed aspect of Chinese PD. The ability of Western countries to exert influence through assistance programmes is reduced as countries that may balk at conditionality can turn to other source of support.