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Three’s a Crowd: Dyads, Triads and Networks, Part 1.

August 22, 2011

Back from my holiday and back to the blog…

From my point of view the key insight from network sociology is that your relationships affect each other.  Country A’s relationship with Country C affects its relationship with Country B.  It’s noticeable that conceptual discussions of public diplomacy tend to assume a relationship between two countries,  but the history of PD suggests that for major powers at least,  it’s about the relationship between my country, your country and my enemy or  my country, your country and my ally.   As soon as you move away from the dyad the diplomatic and public diplomatic task becomes much harder.

I’ve been reading James Vaughan’s book about British and American propaganda in the Middle East in the 1950s so lets take some examples from there (anyone who is tempted to write about recent, current or future public diplomacy in the region needs to read this book).  Western PD efforts were about  other things than improving relations between two countries.  Attempting to mobilize resistance to  Communism was an obvious issue.  Essentially our PD is not about our relationship with you but in persuading you to see a third country as a threat.  In the middle of the decade both Britain and America were trying to build up Iraq as a regional counter to Nasser’s Egypt.  At the same time the US and UK were periodically conscious of the fact that their relationship with each other was damaging their own position in the region – for instance the British record of colonialism and US support for Israel – but sought to moderate their criticisms of each other to avoid placing an undue strain on their own relationship.

We often hear complaints about the lack of alignment between policy and communication but part of the difficulty with policy is that it’s trying to balance different relationships.  If PD was simply about improving relations with one other country it would be pretty straightforward.

Vaughan, J. (2005) The failure of American and British propaganda in the Arab Middle East, 1945-57 : unconquerable minds. Basingstoke : Palgrave Macmillan.

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