Archive for November, 2011


British Council Corporate Plan 2011-15

November 29, 2011

A quick look at the British Council’s corporate plan for 2011-15 in comparison with the 2008-11 version.

Priorities: In 2008-11 the plan was organized around three themes; intercultural dialogue; creative industries; climate change.  For the new period the priorities are arts, English and education.

Funding: The Council is looking at a 26% cut in direct government funding across the period at the same time it is looking to increase its income by 8% per annum with the result that by the end of the period the government grant will form only 16% of income.   This means that average annual growth rates for other income sources have to grow at high annual rates so we get projected growth of  teaching 13%, exams 9%, partnership 15%, contracts 13%.

Priority countries: Priority countries have been identified on the basis of 1) strategic importance defined as ‘relevance to government and stakeholder priorities and British Council objectives’ 2) potential for impact at scale and 3) business feasibility.  Within each country activities are shaped by a) level of economic development and b)’ openness to people, knowledge and ideas from other cultures’

So  priority countries are

Americas:  Brazil, Mexico and USA

East Asia: China, Indonesia, Japan, Thailand, Vietnam

Europe: France and Germany

Middle East and North Africa: Egypt, Iraq, Libya, Palestinian Territories, Saudi Arabia, UAE

South Asia: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Iran, Pakistan

Sub-Saharan Africa: Nigeria, South Africa


Wider Europe: Israel, Russia, Turkey

It looks like the reduction in the FCO grant is accentuating the need to follow the money with the Council focusing on activities where it can generate income.  Having said this the new corporate plan does not provide much detail on how it will achieve the growth in income required by the projections.   The reorientation of the Council’s work is being accompanied by job cuts and an effort to reduce the costs of real estate by using partner organizations to host their activities.

I’m certainly getting the impression that the past decade’s effort to build a comprehensive public diplomacy activity for the UK has run out of steam but I’ll pick this up in a later post.


EH Carr and the Realist Theory of Propaganda

November 28, 2011

I ‘accidentally’ bought a pamphlet by EH Carr, Propaganda in International Politics published in 1939 without realizing that this this was actually extracted from the first (1939) edition of The Twenty Years Crisis, 1919-1939.* Generations of International Relations students have read the second (1946) edition as one of the founding texts of realist international relations theory.  I remember being told as an undergraduate the chief difference the two editions was that in 1939 Hitler was still ‘Herr Hitler’ but from a quick comparison between the pamphlet and my copy of the second edition Carr seems to have toned down how he expresses his argument even if the basic direction remains unchanged.

Carr argues for the close association between ‘power over opinion’ and military and economic power.  The impact of ideas is tied to their promotion by states  – which in turn reflects interests.  Carr is dismissive of the power of ideas that are not supported by states.  For him the failure of the League of Nations and its belief in the power of ‘international public opinion’ is the ‘best modern illustration’  of the fact that propaganda ‘is ineffective as a political force until it acquires a national home and becomes linked with military and economic power’.

It is an illusion to suppose that if Great Britain (or Germany or Soviet Russia) were disarmed or militarily weak, British (or German or Soviet) propaganda might still be effective in virtue of the inherent excellence of its content.

The almost universal belief in the merits of democracy which spread over the world in 1918 was due less to the inherent excellence of democracy or of  the propaganda on its behalf than to the victory of the Allied armies and the Allied blockade.  Had the Bolshevik regime collapsed in 1919, far fewer people would today be convinced of the merits of Marxism.  If Germany is defeated in the present war, little more will be heard of the ideological merits of National Socialism.

But this isn’t the whole story

Propaganda to be successful must appeal to some universally or generally recognized values….Every country seeks to place its policy on an ethical basis, even if this can only be done by asserting that it has a historical mission to rule over inferior races for their own good.  Whatever the policy the need to clothe it in some altruistic guise is universally felt.

No national policy is disinterested, and no country can justly identify its own welfare with the welfare of the world as a whole. But some countries in the pursuit of their ends show more consideration than others for the rights and interests of the rest of the world.  In so far as they do so, they are entitled to claim that their policy is more moral: and their international propaganda, resting on this basis is likely to prove  more effective than that of their rivals

Three  thoughts:

What struck me in reading this was the question of the extent to which ‘power over opinion’ can be thought of as being an autonomous source of influence in international politics.  Carr is concerned to attack the idea that public opinion operates independently of other sources of power but at the same time he does recognize that ‘power over opinion’ has some force distinct from military or economic power.

Seventy years later can we argue that power of opinion has become more autonomous?  The standard view is that political change and a new media environment has produced this effect.  On the other hand I think that it would be a mistake to overstate the autonomy of power over opinion from other factors.   We wouldn’t be debating ‘Chinese  soft power’ if the Chinese economy was not as large as it is. The ability of the EU or the US to effectively promote its ideas will not be helped by the reality and perception of decline.

As with most writing from International Relations on propaganda or public diplomacy Carr is actually vague on the mechanisms by which power over opinion operates.

In a later post I’ll raise the question of what public diplomacy studies can learn from realism.

*Fortunately I only paid £3 (but the original price of the pamphlet was 3 pre-decimal pennies , there were 240 old pennies to the pound so ignoring inflation I paid 240 times the original price….)

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

The Public Diplomacy Challenge for Rising Powers

November 24, 2011

There’s quite an active debate in China about soft power and the public diplomacy requirements of being a rising power (eg Ding 2008) so I was really interested by this New York Times story about negative regional reactions to the rise of Brazil.  Brazil is seen, in some quarters at least, as using its financial resources to finance infrastructure projects that threaten national sovereignty in Argentina, Bolivia. Guyana, Peru.  The article quotes a Bolivian politician: ‘just as China consolidates regional hegemony in Asia, Brazil wants to do the same in Latin America.’  There’s scope for an interesting comparative study here.

I’ve always  liked Choucri and North’s (1975) idea that rising powers exert ‘lateral pressure’ . Economic and demographic growth generates a search for resources and opportunities, which in turn create new political interests.  Economic growth provides new resources for military spending with the effect that the frictions over investments and access and resources become security issues. For the neighbours the combination of a pattern of conflicts combined with expanding military resources mark the rising power as a problem.  What I like about lateral pressure is the implication that it is a natural consequence of growth rather than something that is planned.   The implication of this is that the process of an ‘antagonizing’ is piecemeal.  It’s not something that governments plan to do and may derive from actions that are nothing to do with government.  Choucri and North based their model of conflict on the period before 1914 and I think that in thinking about the current international system this is an interesting period to keep in mind with its combination of rising powers and popular nationalism mediated through interacting national media systems that tended to magnify international issues (eg Hale 1940, 1971)

Rising powers tend find it difficult to recognize their impact on their neighbours and hence to manage the situation diplomatically.  One source of this is the conviction that what’s good for  them is also for the neighbours.  The kind of infrastructure projects discussed in the NYT article are good for some of the people in the neighbouring states but also create losers and opponents who can then harness the power of nationalism against the project.   Where the exuberance of growth is coupled with a sense of grievance or entitlement then the propensity to overlook or overreact to negative reactions is reinforced.   In the Brazil case some of these conflicts are more internal to the neighbouring states but still have an impact on international relationships.

From a public diplomacy( and a broader diplomatic)  perspective rising powers need to understand that negative reactions are not just about misperceptions or a sense of a military threat.  These reactions are rooted in objective changes generated by the process of growth which need to be managed regardless of the rights and wrongs of the situation

Choucri, N., and R.C. North (1975) Nations in Conflict: National Growth and International Violence. San Francisco: W.H. Freeman & Co.

Ding, S. (2008) The Dragon’s Hidden Wings: How China Rises with Its Soft Power. Lexington Books.

Hale, O.J. (1940) Publicity and Diplomacy. New York: Appleton Century.

Hale, O.J. (1971) Germany and the Diplomatic Revolution: a Study in Diplomacy and the Press, 1904-1906. Octagon Books.


Pakistani Jazz Fusion and the USIS

November 16, 2011

One of the more intriguing records that JazzFM has been playing over the last few months has been The Sachal Studios Orchestra version of the Paul Desmond classic Take Five – the video is here

The orchestra is project by the Pakistani businessman Izzat Majeed to bring together musicians who have been put out of work by the decline of the Pakistani film industry. On the sleeve notes of the CD he writes ‘I was ten years old when I first heard Take Five in Lahore courtesy of the music centre of the United States Information Service.’

So this looks like a double cultural diplomacy success,  firstly the USIS in getting the young Majeed interested in American music and secondly, for Majeed in generating some interest in Pakistan that doesn’t involve the usual topics.


Premises for Propaganda

November 14, 2011

Continuing my campaign of digging into some of the older Public Diplomacy literature, this  morning’s offering is Leo Bogart, Premises for Propaganda: The United States Information Agency’s Operating Assumptions in the Cold War.  Published in 1976 this was an abridged version of a study that was carried out in 1953-54.  The intention was to investigate the working assumptions of the USIA in the belief that this exercise would reveal areas where practice diverged from best practice. According to Bogart when the report was submitted it was classified and not acted on and was not published until freedom of information legislation was passed in the early ’70s.

Bogart’s project interviewed 142 members of the USIA across different levels and sections of the organization.  The sample is light on field workers and overrepresents on the management levels.  The interviews took around two hours and covered a comprehensive range of topics.  The book explores views on the objectives of the Agency, how it makes policy, who its targets should be, the extent to which it should focus on projecting America vs attacking communism, images of the audience, views on truth and credibility, the importance of different media, the quality of personnel and evaluation.

If the expectation was that the study would reveal limited areas of disagreement it spectacularly failed : in every area there are substantial disagreements over what the Agency should be doing and how to do them.  This comprehensive lack of consensus may explain the reluctance to publish the report.  The report concludes with a list of 113 questions for further research and 23 questions that need to be resolved at a policy level.

The major weakness of the report is the lack of any systematic effort to explain the lack of agreement.  There are plenty of possible explanations; differences between field and headquarters, generational differences, differences between personnel with media and government backgrounds but there is no effort to identify clusters of beliefs that would allow a deeper understanding of what is happening.

At the same time anyone who has followed the debates over US public diplomacy over the past decade will recognize that almost all of the arguments that Bogart reports have recurred.  Two explanations come to mind.  Firstly, it’s simply a matter of a failure to conduct (and remember) enough research to resolve these issues. Secondly, there’s actually a deeper source in the way that public diplomacy stands between communications and politics which generates a familiar pattern of disagreement over what PD can do.

Bogart, L. (1976) Premises for Propaganda: The United States Information Agency’s Operating Assumptions in the Cold War. New York: Free Press.


Soft Power and Hegemony

November 11, 2011

Yelena Osipova at Global Chaos has been thinking about soft power and hegemony and she asked me what I thought.  A few slightly random thoughts.

  • Joe Nye’s writings on soft power need to be read as a series of policy interventions rather than  the unfolding of a theoretical project.  The adoption of soft power in policy discourses around the world is  due to the ambiguities of the concept rather than its clarity.  The corollary of this is researchers should be cautious about using the concept as the basis for academic analysis.
  • One of my problems with ‘soft power’ is the way that is the conceptual distinction that it draws with ‘hard power’ (which in turn leads to the question of where this boundary is drawn).  In the older International Relations literature the key boundary distinction is between power and force which allows the discussion of ‘power’ without the arbitrary between hard and soft distinction. (There is something of a cottage industry in showing that soft is really hard and hard is really soft – see some of the contributions to Berenskoetter and Williams and Parmar and Cox)  Thomas Schelling’s writings on compellence  even draw the distinction between ‘war’ and the coercive use of force so that dropping bombs on people actually remains within the realm of power. The hard/soft distinction also tends to obscure the centrality of negotiation and bargaining  and hence exchange within the international realm.
  • I think that the  way that Gramscian conceptualizations of hegemony refuse the hard/soft distinction is very useful. Hegemony  combines coercion, resource distribution and the impact of ideolog and involves an element of consent.  It then becomes possible to examine the extent to which different elements of these combinations change.
  • The question that remains is how hegemony can be constructed both in general and in the contemporary international order.  A successfully consolidated hegemonic position will look normal and inevitable.  From an analytical point of view failed attempts at hegemony and challenges to a hegemonic position are  informative about the difficulties at work.  It could also be argued that when Gramsci (like all the early 20th c. Marxists) had to explain the absence of revolution in the developed capitalist countries he was starting from a position where the workers were expected to revolt and if he was overestimating the propensity to socialist revolution he would then have to overestimate what was necessary to prevent it.
  • The popularity of ‘hegemony’ in cultural and communications studies sometimes leads to downplaying of the coercive and economic bases of the concept.  This leads to a tendency to see hegemony as purely being about ideas/ideology.

There is a more fundamental question about the role of the concept of ‘power’ in the analysis of international politics: simply has it become a red herring taking more attention that is really worth? But that’s a subject for a later post.

Berenskoetter, F., and M.J. Williams (2007) Power in World Politics. New edition. Routledge.
Parmar, I., and M. Cox, eds. (2010) Soft power and US Foreign Policy : Theoretical, Historical and Contemporary perspectives. London ;;New York: Routledge.

Personal Prestige and National Reputation: Louis XIV, Berlusconi and the Queen

November 9, 2011

The origins of contemporary public diplomacy lie in the at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries in the expansion of national governments  and the rise of national sentiments.  Yet the concern with reputation and prestige as elements of  influence  were permanent aspects of international politics, see for instance Machiavelli’s The Prince, Hans Morgenthau’s discussion of the ‘policy of prestige’ in Politics Among Nation  or Peter Burke’s  The Fabrication of Louis XIV.  Burke documents in meticulous detail Louis’s efforts use spectacle, public art, support for artists and intellectuals, architecture to construct his own image and secure his power domestically and project it internationally.  He shows how the model of the court at Versailles was copied by other monarchs.

While today shaping the image of national leaders is normally thought of as an aspect of domestic politics for some countries the image of the leader is an important part of their international reputation. The rise in international opinion of the United States with the election of Barack Obama and this morning’s news that Far Eastern financial markets are rising on the news that Silvio Berlusconi is going to resign as Italy’s prime minister.  For many countries who leads them will have little significance while for others the reputation of the leader may significantly help or hinder the image of the nation.

What initially stimulated this line of thought was the meeting of Commonwealth Heads of Government at the end of October. The Commonwealth is the organization of former British colonies and today is committed to the promotion of good governance and development.  From a UK point of view it provides an additional set of opportunities to promote policies and build relationships.  Also a significant number of these countries have the British monarch as their head of state, for instance Canada and Australia.  The question that occurred to me is the extent to which these post-imperial relationships are actually tied to the person of Queen Elizabeth the Second rather than to the institutions of the British Monarchy or state. The vast majority of citizens of the Commonwealth have known no other Monarch (it’s not the Olympics that is the big event in the UK next year it’s the anniversary of Elizabeth’s 60 years on the throne).  Prince Charles lacks the personal prestige of Elizabeth (of course this may be because he’s not the king) and there are recurrent stories that it is the personal respect for Elizabeth that maintains the position of the monarchy in Australia and Canada, it’s Elizabeth that actually reigned over the independence of most British colonies.

While the Royal Family is usually identified as an important component of how people outside the UK think about the country there are actually interesting questions to be asked around the role of the Royal Family and the Queen as a diplomatic resource.  Asking the question marks a continuity in the role of leadership in building the image of the state.