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Three’s a Crowd: Dyads, Triads and Networks, Part 2.

August 25, 2011

In the first part of this post I made the point that PD is difficult because it’s not simply about the relationship between two countries;  the content and prospects for PD activities are often about third countries.  The need for messages to balance the requirements of different relationships makes them less persuasive from the point of view of any particular audience.

A corollary of this is that the diplomat  doesn’t control the relationship.  However nice and cooperative  Country A’s  diplomats are towards  Country B  the quality and strength of the relationship depends on Country B and its other relationships.

Again Vaughan’s book provides plenty of examples.  As Britain gave up colonial relationships in the Middle East  it sought to create new relationships based on equality.  The problem with promoting this as a public diplomacy message was that

1) in many respects the UK sought to maintain a privileged position which undermined the message.

2) Middle Eastern countries failed to accept the British definition of what an equal relationship would look like.

3)The emergence of new players in the politics of the region, the US and the Soviet Bloc, offered new options to Middle Eastern governments.  If Egypt could buy arms from Czechoslovakia it reduced the importance of the relationship with the US and UK.  As in any field competition has a  profound effect.  From the point of view of governments and everyone else  in the region they could afford to take a harder look at what Britain could offer them.

What are the broader implications of this discussion? At a theoretical level in analysing public diplomacy looking at ‘policy’ and ‘communication’ is not enough.  It is essential to look at the structural context provided by the overall set of relationships of the communicating and target country.  The prospects for PD are not simply about the bilateral relationship.   Neither are they purely about the skill with which a message is communicated.

I think that there are two more policy relevant implications.   Firstly,  the prospects for unilateral ‘resets’ in relationships have to be evaluated against the structural context.  One of the staples of foreign policy is the proposal to ‘put the past behind us’ or  ‘turn over a new page’ but the credibility of such messages depends on the policy situation and the structural context.   However good such proposals might make you look in the short term their ‘real’ impact will be limited unless structure and policy align.

Secondly, the emergence of new players in the public diplomacy environment (China anyone?) has a huge impact on the prospects of existing players.  Competition makes life much harder.

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