Archive for February, 2012


The World Service at 80: The Ambivalence of International Broadcasting

February 29, 2012

The BBC World Service is celebrating its 80th anniversary today.  I was wondering what to say about this when I heard the Director of the Service, Peter Horrocks being interviewed on the domestic service Radio 4.

In commenting on the continuing relevance of the service he pointed to the Iranian government’s jamming of the service and harassment of the families of Persian service staff

 ‘…it’s because the Iranian government sees it as such a threat.  And in a report from the Iranian government, it described it as so dangerous because it’s impartial not because it’s propagandist or oppositionist but because it tells the truth as it is.’

This is simultaneously an impeccable statement of a liberal theory of journalism and  a state funded  broadcaster boasting about upsetting a foreign government that he’s been pointed towards  by the Foreign Office.

This sums up the history of the World Service in a couple of lines.

Happy Birthday!

You can listen to the whole interview here


The Four Paradigms of Public Diplomacy

February 15, 2012

I’ve argued before that public diplomacy should be thought of as an umbrella term covering a range of different activities rather than a single thing what pulls the different activities together is communication with foreign publics.  Having spent the past few months digging into the history of public diplomacy programmes in different countries I now think that it’s possible to identify four distinct ways of thinking about external communication.  These are differentiated by the purposes of PD and are associated with particular organizational forms.  The relative priority of these paradigms differs across countries and across time.

  1. Expanded Diplomacy. PD is an adjunct (or part of) diplomacy.  Hence it needs to be closely integrated with the routine operations of foreign ministries. Historically the organizational expression of this is the press office or news department.  It will often express itself through an engagement with the media
  2. National Projection.  Public diplomacy is a matter of creating a favourable impression of our country often this will be regarded as the concern of the trade department but historically any other external communications activity will tend to take on  some aspect of projection concern.  Nation branding is the latest and most elaborated version of this paradigm.
  3. Cultural Relations. In this version our external communications are part of an effort that will lead to  a transformation of overall relations with other countries though the development of cultural relations.  The concern is with medium and long term processes. The emphasis on the cultural is also reflected in an argument for the autonomy of this activity from the day to day influence of foreign policy. Within the cultural relations paradigm we can see a continuum between exporting our culture and a genuine mutuality.
  4. Political Warfare (ideological conflict?).  PD is a matter of defeating an ideological opponent or spreading a set of political values.  One aspect of this paradigm is that PD should be separated from the work of the foreign ministry because the MFA is too wedded to the niceties of diplomacy.

These paradigms are abstracted from arguments around public diplomacy activities and are intended to be ideal types that summarize typical views of PD activities.   They are rooted in the purposes of external communications activities rather than means.   Exchange programmes can be run on cultural relations or political warfare grounds or broadcasting can be operated as an instrument of any of these paradigms.

The value of a typology like this is in developing a language for comparative research.  To what extent are these theories represented in national public diplomacy debates? To what extent do they map onto organizational structures?  What is the relative strength of these positions within the debate?  We can map these arguments onto national organizational fields

For example in the UK the different paradigms map onto different organizations – FCO as extended diplomacy (and at points political warfare) , cultural relations in the British Council and BBC, trade promotion, tourism etc as projection.  This has resulted in quite a stable organizational field where the FCO is top dog but everyone else has a degree of autonomy.  In the US the balance between the paradigms has been  different, political warfare is much more prominent, and the lines of argument cut across organizational boundaries in  a way that has tended to promote instability.

In future posts I’ll work through some of the implications of this typology.

UPDATED:  I’ve now written up a paper based on these ideas you can find it here


Public Diplomacy and Political Warfare Part 4: Communication and Organization

February 12, 2012

I started this series of posts with a memo from the Political Warfare Executive.   The PWE had a particular take on political warfare because of its organizational history.  It’s previous incarnation had been as half of the Special Operations Executive, the organization created by Churchill in July 1940 to wage unconventional warfare in occupied Europe.  Because of the tensions between white and black propaganda activities,  the propaganda arm of the organization, SOE1, was split off to become the PWE.  The result was that the PWE definition of political warfare had a particular focus on propaganda and as a result underplayed the idea of political warfare as competitive organization that runs through Marxist-Leninist versions of the idea.

Soviet (and Maoist) political techniques placed a great weight on building organizations (eg Barghoorn 1964, Schurmann 1966).  This reaches an apotheosis  in Chinese and Vietnamese theories of people’s war.  Western theories of strategy assume the existence of armed forces and focus on how to use them.  Mao and Giap assume that you have to build the army from scratch (eg Pike 1986).  This converts strategy into an exercise in competitive  organization.  We attempt to organize while trying to disorganize the other side.  We try to undermine their social bases of their power while constructing our own (Atkinson 1981).  Communication is an instrument that legitimates our activity while undermining their side.   An important part is about creating a vision of the future where our side is going to be victorious.  However, this isn’t just an exercise in technique; if it’s going to work it has to draw on the realities of the situation.

This connection between communication and organization pops up in  Cold War thinking on writings on ‘public diplomacy’ notably in W. Philips Davison’s (1965) International Political Communication. Davison argues that the key role of communication should be to support the organization of pro-US political forces rather than attacking the communists.

There’s a  connection  with more recent arguments about public diplomacy as collaboration (eg Cowan and Arsenault 2008, Fisher 2008), while collaboration is seen as a way of breaking down conflicts it’s important to keep in mind that historically conflict is the most powerful generator of collaboration.  Political Warfare stands for the conflict strand of public diplomacy.  Any comprehensive approach has got to keep both the conflictual and collaborative strands in focus.

Atkinson, A. (1981) Social Order and the General Theory of Strategy. London ;;Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Barghoorn, F.C. (1964.) Soviet Foreign Propaganda. Princeton, N.J: Princeton U.P.

Cowan, G., and A. Arsenault (2008) ‘Moving from Monologue to Dialogue to Collaboration: The Three Layers of Public Diplomacy’, The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 616: 10-30

Davison, W.P. (1965) International Political Communication. New York: Praeger.

Fisher, A. (2008) ‘Music for the Jilted Generation: Open-Source Public Diplomacy’, The Hague Journal of Diplomacy, 3: 129-152.

Pike, D. (1986) PAVN: Peoples Army of Vietnam. Novato, CA: Presidio Press.

Schurmann, F. (1966) Ideology and Organization in Communist China. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.


Egypt and Russia Against Democracy Promotion

February 6, 2012

I’ve raised the question before of how countries try to limit the impact of what they perceive as unwelcome PD activities so I just that I’d connect two recent stories.

Firstly, the announcement by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces in in Egypt that they will prevent a number of foreigners from leaving the country while they are investigated for interfering in the electoral process through the work of foreign funded NGOs.   In particular the case of Sam Lahood the head of the Egyptian office of the International Republican Institute has attracted attention.   The IRI gets funding from the US congress via the National Endowment for Democracy which originated with Ronald Reagan’s  Project Democracy.  The Egyptian regime sees foreign funded NGOs as a threat is making an effort to restrict their activities.  Given that the NGOs have been operating in a legal limbo they have plenty of scope to do so.

Secondly, there’s the ‘warm‘ welcome the new US Ambassador in Moscow, Michael McFaul received.  On his second day in the job state television accused him of wanting to foment revolution in Russia and suggested that opposition figures who were visiting the embassy were there to receive instructions.  McFaul is reported as saying that the previous day he had had a warm welcome from Russian officials.  Thus it looks like the media reaction was directed at the public diplomacy element of the job.

In both cases it is the US commitment to democracy promotion activities that drives an element of conflict with the regime.  In the Egyptian case legal harassment is the tool and in Russia the state controlled media becomes a weapon to try and delegitimize foreign PD activities.

There is a broader question of how states manage foreign PD.   The US has the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) passed in 1938 it was intended to regulate the operations of foreign propaganda offices as the Second World War approached.


Public Diplomacy and Political Warfare: Part 3

February 4, 2012

The starting point for this series of posts was the argument that public diplomacy practice seems to combine two distinct approaches.  Firstly, the effort to improve interstate relations or to influence policy positions.  This is quite consistent with seeing public diplomacy as a normal part of diplomacy. Beyond this there is a second strand of thinking that is concerned with influencing the political regime or with ‘defeating’ an adversary.   This second strand of thinking is particularly pronounced in the US because of the historical impact of the Cold War and the War on Terror but also exists elsewhere.  This can usefully be thought of as political warfare.

To borrow from Kuhn and Kissinger you can think of these as two paradigms of public diplomacy ‘normal’ and ‘revolutionary’. However the point is that they coexist and as the PWE memo points out use many of the same tools.  While political warfare might be expected to  embrace instruments like deception that would not be acceptable within public diplomacy many of the same constraints apply; for instance building and maintaining credibility and relationships.  Even black propaganda needs to be based in truth.

The distinction between ‘normal’ and ‘revolutionary’  modes of external action may or may not be reflected in different organizations.  The arguments (and struggles) for separation and combination are a large part of the history of great power propaganda .

Both in the US and the UK the rise of ‘strategic communications’ can be seen as the reassertion of the political warfare paradigm growing out of the requirements of the War on Terror including countering violent extremism, Iraq and Afghanistan.  This is the source of Matt Armstrong’s lament that US public diplomacy wears combat boots.  But this is not confined to the military the State Department’s ‘ 21st Century Statecraft’ has a radical strand to it.

I think that the important step is to recognize that these paradigms co-exist and need to co-exist.  In criticising the rise of ‘strategic communications’ one of my concerns is that this paradigm fails to recognize the importance of public diplomacy as an element of diplomacy.  At the same time communications in conflict situations needs to be more focused and instrumental in its approach.

I don’t expect William Hague or Hillary Clinton to start talking about ‘political warfare’,  after all it contains two of the most offensive words in foreign affairs, but in my mind it has two major advantages over ‘strategic communications’.   Firstly, as a concept PW focuses attention on ends and the overall approach while SC is about means and secondly, it reminds us that politics matters – it’s not simply a matter of technique.

In what (I hope) will be the final part of this series I’m going to explore what we can learn from Marxist-Leninist versions of political warfare in an era of networks.