Archive for December, 2011


US Withdraws Staff From Afghan Government Media and Information Centre

December 29, 2011

Seasons Greetings to everyone.  A very quick break from the holiday blogging hiatus to flag this story from the Wall Street Journal – The US has withdrawn staff from the Afghan Government Media and Information Centre (GMIC) apparently because they don’t like what it’s communicating – it’s being used by the Afghan government to criticise the US.

The story encapsulates a lot of issues about the role of ISAF in Afghanistan, the desire to build Afghan government capability and the role of government communications and leaves you wondering whether you should laugh or cry.  In the context of counterinsurgency communications capacity is crucial.

I particularly enjoyed the line:  “It’s not supposed to be a propaganda arm of the government,” said a Western official.  Funnily enough the name suggests that precisely what it is supposed to be and why it was set up…*

The WSJ Piece is here and the GMIC is here.  Thanks to @albanyassociate for tweeting the link


*of course this all turns on how you define propaganda.


Two Papers on Libraries and Public Diplomacy

December 19, 2011

Having moved house I’m now taking the bus to work which is allowing me to put a dent into my reading pile. On the other hand I don’t seem to be making that much progress through the blogging pile…

This morning a couple of items that you might have missed on libraries in public diplomacy.

Lincove, D.A. (2011) ‘The British Library of Information in New York: A Tool of British Foreign Policy, 1919-1942’, Libraries & the Cultural Record, 46: 156-184.

The British Library of Information was a bit more active in spreading knowledge of the UK than you might have expected a library to be but was also part of the American community of librarians.  As with the story told in Robert Young’s Marketing Marianne the UK’s activities were constrained by the American’s sensitivity to anything that smacked of ‘propaganda’.  Lincove sees the library as a success but the low key model of national promotion came under pressure as being too passive with the approach of the Second World War.

Maack, M.N. (2001) ‘Books and Libraries as Instruments of Cultural Diplomacy in Francophone Africa during the Cold War’, Libraries and the Cultural Record, 36: 58-86.

This compares the US, UK and French approach to libraries in PD/Cultural relations in Africa.  It looks at the different approaches to developing and stocking libraries and policies on access.  It also tracks the the changing approach to libraries: while France maintained an definition of the library in terms of culture and literature the US backed away from the ‘library’ towards the ‘information centre’  model that  appealed to a narrower section of the population.  Maack notes the decline of the British presence as the British Council reallocated its resources to a post Cold War Eastern Europe.


Tourism and Public Diplomacy

December 13, 2011

Last week John Brown’s Public Diplomacy Review linked to the blog of VisitBritain.   This is the national organization for promoting tourism to the UK that sits above the English, Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish organizations.  It’s interesting to see VisitBritain cheerfully describe itself as a public diplomacy organization given how sensitive the British Council  and the BBC World Service are to the label.

The bigger thought here is that we shouldn’t underestimate the importance of tourism within the public diplomacy field; in the US tourism may be a matter for states and cities but in other countries there are  powerful national tourism organizations.

Firstly, the experience of tourism is  an important influence on perceptions of other countries.

Secondly, a large part of the effort that many countries devote to shaping international perceptions is about tourism.  Tourism promotion will probably be the external communication effort that has the largest reach into targeted foreign societies.

Thirdly, the existence of tourism promotion organizations affects other public diplomacy organizations in at least two ways.  I noticed that in reading about the history of the British Council and the Swedish Institute national tourism promotion organization  predated their creation.  I might be wrong but  I suspect that this pattern is true for many countries.  In the British and Swedish cases the result was a degree of conflict between the cultural organization and the tourism body that had some impact on how the organizations defined their work.  The other point is that tourism promotion organizations actually have significant money to spend through their ability to tap private resources and may actually be a large part of what a country devotes to external promotional expenditure.  Thus, even where a foreign public is targeted by foreign ministry public diplomacy activities its perceptions are going to be shaped by tourism promotion work.

Tourism is a one of the largest global industries and there’s an extensive literature on it.  These are initial thoughts but there is certainly reason for students of public diplomacy to pay more attention to the interactions between their concerns and those of the tourism community.


Cultural Diplomacy: An Asset for France in a Changing World

December 11, 2011

I’m convinced that the Anglo-Saxon conversation about public diplomacy would be richer if we had a better understanding of how the French conceptualize the activity.  In a nutshell the French concepts of diplomatie culturelle and relations culturelles can’t simply be treated as equivalent to the English versions of the terms – they are much broader,  have different connotations and are much more central to the conception of diplomacy.  Put it this way when the official history of ‘diplomatie culturelle’ (Roche and Pigniau 1995) includes discussion of the dispatch of  military advisers to the Ottoman Empire and identifies Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt as the starting point of ‘relations culturelles’ because he took many scholars and artists with him you know you are not dealing with the British Council.

If you’re at a computer on Monday and Tuesday you may be interested in following the live stream of this conference being held in Paris – the link is here – earlier there was mention of English and Spanish versions of the feed being available.

Roche, F., and B. Pigniau (1995) Histoires de Diplomatie Culturelle des Origines à 1995. Paris: ADPF  ;la Documentation française.

Via Google Translate the description of the conference.

Symposium on Cultural Diplomacy: “An asset for France in a changing world” (12 and 13 December 2011)

The Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs and the French Institute organized on 12 and 13 December at the College de France, an international symposium on the priorities of cultural diplomacy with the participation of Mr. Alain Juppé, Minister of State, Minister of Foreign and European Affairs, Mr Frédéric Mitterrand, Minister of Culture and Communication, Mr. Xavier Darcos, President of the French Institute, and many personalities from the diplomatic, cultural associations and universities from around the world .

The Ministry has initiated an ambitious reform of its cultural system by creating three operators:

– The French Institute in charge of cultural activities and outdoor real tool in the major objectives of our foreign policy: to strengthen the influence of France in the world, supporting the cultural development of countries for which we have a duty of solidarity, promote dialogue and cultural diversity.

– France international expertise to strengthen our ability to meet the high demand for expertise in developing countries and emerging markets. This flow of gray matter, for our economy, our influence, as for the development of other countries is crucial.

– CampusFrance for student mobility and the attractiveness of our universities, whose creation is being finalized.

An exhibition developed by the diplomatic archives of the Quai d’Orsay on “cultural diplomacy, a century of French inventions” will complete two days of debate and will be presented at the Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève from 13 December to 18 in February. It will be inaugurated by Henri de Raincourt, Minister for Cooperation.


When the British Council Did Public Diplomacy

December 9, 2011

In my last post I commented that the UK’s effort to run a highly coordinated public diplomacy strategy seems to have lost priority.  For comparison it’s instructive to look back to the early and middle part of the last decade.

A few  weeks ago Rhonda Zaharna in commenting on the role of mutuality in public diplomacy referred to a British Council paper on Mutuality, Trust and Cultural Relations.  I hadn’t seen it before so I got hold of a copy.  I started reading and something leapt out at me

Our argument puts trust-building at the centre of [our]mission, and argues that the building of trust requires independence of government, a long-term perspective and an approach based on mutuality.  This leads us to a clear distinction between two areas of work which the British Council (with equal appropriateness) undertakes: public diplomacy and cultural relations.

Public diplomacy is the work that we do as an agent of government, in close partnership with the FCO and other departments of state.  Cultural relations is the work that is based upon the fact and the perception of our independence.  Confusion between the two can have damaging results in terms of perceptions undermined and trust foregone…

Cultural relations is about building long-term trust-based relationships.  This is the British Council’s ‘Unique Selling Proposition’ (USP), because no government department or agency can achieve the detachment necessary for mutuality.  It is our unique contribution to the UK, and it is fragile because in our work cultural relations and public diplomacy are often inextricably mixed.

I’ve never seen the BC refer to its own work as Public Diplomacy (of course this may say something about  my gaps in my own knowledge).  The FCO refers to them as a public diplomacy partner but the BC says that it does cultural relations.   This document is an internal BC document from 2004 that was prepared as part of the development of their Strategy 2010.  I would read  the report as an effort to re-establish a clear rationale for the autonomy of the British Council.  After 9/11 the development of a comprehensive public diplomacy strategy not only led to a greater effort by the FCO to steer the BC’s direction.  On top of this the Wilton and Carter reviews actually asked questions about the functions of the BC and whether they could be redistributed across other organizations , on top of this consideration was given to changing the governance structure of the organization for instance by allowing the Foreign Secretary to appoint all the members of the governing board.

This kind of interorganizational tension seems to be a standard part of PD in many countries.

Rose, M., and N. Wadham-Smith (2004) Mutuality, Trust and Cultural Relations. London: Counterpoint.





Spending Cuts and the Coordination of UK Public Diplomacy

December 1, 2011

At the end of the last post I commented that it looks like the effort to create a coordinated British public diplomacy strategy has run out of steam. Nick Cull takes the view in some of his writings (eg 2010) that the different elements of public diplomacy advocacy, broadcasting, cultural diplomacy etc have different requirements and time frames and so that left to their own devices they will work independently. Getting effective coordination requires strong leadership. The two post 9/11 official reports on UK Public Diplomacy in 2002 (Wilton) and 2005 (Carter) both pointed to the need for a strategy and better coordination methods. Over the past 18 months there hasn’t been much indication of activity on this front. But what is most notable are the consequences of spending cuts. The BBC World Service will be funded by the BBC rather than by the Foreign Office. The British Council is projecting that by 2015 their grant from the FCO will have declined to 16% of their income. The FCO has found it hard to steer these organization in the past and with declining financial leverage one can only expect that this is going to be even harder. The aftermath of September 2011 (and the invasion of Iraq) gave a huge push to creating a coordinated communications strategy.

In retrospect the current situation parallels the way that the aftermath of the Suez Crisis in 1956 led to major public diplomacy efforts (including a cabinet minister with responsibility for overseas information) which declined as the ‘focusing event’ receded into the past and the economic cycle put pressure on government budgets. It seems that we are seeing a similar cycle.

Cull, N.J. (2010) ‘Speeding the Strange Death of American Public Diplomacy: The George H. W. Bush Administration and the U.S. Information Agency’, Diplomatic History, 34: 47-69. (Accessed November 8, 2011).