Archive for March, 2012


Thought for the Day: The Quest for Coordination

March 30, 2012

Public diplomacy is done by government agencies or organizations working on behalf of government so it’s important to pay attention to what this means.  This organizational dimension has to be seen as feature rather than a bug.  As a result I’ve been working my way through James Q. Wilson’s, excellent Bureaucracy: What Government Agencies Do and Why They Do It (New York: Basic, 1989).  This morning I came across this

Harold Seidman described the quest for coordination as the “twentieth century equivalent of the medieval search for the philosopher’s stone.” In words heavy with irony, he explained: “If only we can find the right formula for coordination, we can reconcile the irreconcilable, harmonize competing and wholly divergent interests, overcome irrationalities in our government structures, and make hard policy choices to which no one will dissent.”

Hmm, I can think of few PD coordinating committees that this might apply to.


Foreign Office Scraps Communications Directorate

March 23, 2012

I’ve noticed that the Foreign Office is prone to reorganizing itself without telling anyone – anyway they’ve done it again scrapping the central Communications Directorate discussed here

Despite a major trawl the only background that I’ve been able find so far is this  short piece from PR Week from last November that reports that

The size of the central comms team has been reduced from more than 100 to under 70, with much of the FCO’s strategic comms delivery being farmed out to its policy directorates.

The central department will now focus on media relations, digital comms, internal comms, professional development and relations alongside the FCO’s comms arms-length bodies, such as the BBC World Service and British Council.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office told PRWeek: ‘Like all government departments, we have had to review the size and structure of our comms function. We have taken a very clear decision that we will have a central planning department but not central delivery of strategic comms activity.’

What’s not clear is whether any resources have been reallocated from the centre to go with the additional responsibility for implementation being passed to the policy directorates.  This line of thinking is very much consistent with the typical UK view of PD as an extension of diplomacy.  It also fits with other steps that William Hague has been taking to devolve responsibility from the Centre of the FCO to policy directorates.

Of course while there is a policy dimension to it until we actually get some more background on the reasoning behind the change the suspicion is that saving money was the major factor here.  (William Hague had earlier announced a reduction in strategic communications spending from £3m to £2m – by way of comparison Coke spends nearly $3Bn a year on advertising)

The communications organization has now been integrated into the Policy Unit and consists of  Press and Digital under Carl Newns, the long serving FCO spokesman, and Communication and Engagement under Anna Clunes. It woudl be useful to have some clearer indications of what Communication and Engagement actually does.

From the PR Week story the reason for actually scrapping the directorate is that after the cuts in staff numbers the new unit was too small to have someone of director rank in charge.


British Foreign Policy and the Arab Spring

March 15, 2012

The Parliamentary Foreign Affairs Select Committee is holding an investigation into British Foreign Policy and the Arab Spring and they’ve just published a transcript of their evidence session with Lord Malloch-Brown, formerly of the UN and the FCO and now working for a political risk consultancy.  He’s got plenty to say about ‘electronic solidarity’ and the uprisings, the inapplicability of the Marshall Plan analogy and the state of language teaching in the UK education system.

A few highlights

The West, in this perverse situation, is not providing the one thing it should-money-and is providing a lot of what it shouldn’t, which is free advice and what is interpreted in the region as…meddling

The British Council is clearly having a good Arab Spring by all accounts, but the big players are really disappointing. The EU is disappointing, because it is quite unable to assert itself as the real strategic partner of economic and political change in the way it did in central and eastern Europe. The combination of major funds with the big carrot of, “If you guys reform you can join the European Union”, is completely missing. The one big funding source we have as Europeans is missing in action in any sort of evident way.

Lord Malloch-Brown: Gloriously, the FCO’s civil society involvement, or more informal involvement, in Egypt came around its different programmes to support moderate Islamic development, if I can put it that way, which did give the FCO, by promoting academics and scholarship, access into university campuses in Egypt, and certain other groups, which I have no doubt have been a spearhead of re-engagement after the revolt; but I think Britain, frankly, suffers from its perceived closeness in the Middle East to the US policies. I think its position on the Palestinian statehood request will have been widely noticed in the region.

I think the UK long since ceased the sort of Arab camel train UK foreign policy. To the extent that it has been seen as very closely linked to that of the US in the region there are many who are in a much better strategic position than the UK, at this stage-not just France, which is a very close ally and tends to act as one with us in that world now, but Nordic countries. Obviously Turkey is the absolute favoured country of the region, despite its own colonial past there. I think there are plenty of countries, which have had less history with the old regimes and therefore have been able to turn the page more effectively than we have.

Q119Ann Clwyd: Do you think that the Foreign Office needs to re-evaluate its whole approach to the region?

Lord Malloch-Brown: Look, the Foreign Office-I think from testimony you have received you will have seen its version of this-in a way which is a remarkable thing about it as an institution, scrambled to broaden its team. Some astonishing number of the whole of the Foreign Office were working on the Arab Spring at one point, so it was very adept in a Whitehall mandarin way at pulling people together to address this, but in terms of the strategy going forward, yes, it has not escaped its past in the region. It is doing bits and pieces to re-engage. It has played a pretty deft tactical hand over the past year, but there is a need for a back-to-basics strategic review of how we write our policy for the future.

Q120Ann Clwyd: You are critical of the EU. What should the EU be doing?

Lord Malloch-Brown: I think the EU needs to do something similar. I think the EU problem is, first, that this isn’t eastern Europe, so obviously it does not have the same carrots to offer; but, secondly, if ever there was somewhere where the EU could line up the 27 members behind a coherent approach, surely it is this. In my view there is not much evidence that it has, and that it is therefore able to show leadership. The blame for that is partly the Brussels system and the external affairs apparatus; but it is also the member states. As an old UN man I am always first to point the finger at the member state for failures on these occasions.

The full transcript is here



The Peaceful History of Chinese Expansion

March 11, 2012

Earlier this week Stephen Walt had a guest post from Yuan-kang Wang on his blog taking issue with the ‘official version’ of historical China’s peaceful nature that feeds into the narrative of ‘peaceful rise’

As you might expect on a realist’s blog the message is not the uniqueness of Chinese history but how much it shares with the history of other states.  Wang takes issue with three claims.

Myth 1: China did not expand when it was strong.

Myth 2: The Seven Voyages of Zheng He demonstrates the peaceful nature of Chinese power.

Myth 3: The Great Wall of China symbolizes a nation preoccupied with defense.

In each case he argues that the ‘official version’ leaves out the violent bits of the history.   Well worth a read.


British Council Kicks Confucius Institutes

March 10, 2012

Earlier in the week the International Herald Tribune carried an article discussing concerns over the effects of Confucius Institutes on discussion of China in the universities that host them.   The story ends with a nice paragraph

Bruce Cumings, a tenured historian at the University of Chicago who signed a petition protesting the Confucius Institute there, said that although he is on the board of the university’s East Asian study center, he heard nothing about the institute “until the day it was opened.” But such a low-profile approach, he said, is only possible while China itself remains calm. The network of institutes “are time bombs awaiting the next Tiananmen,” he said.

What really caught my attention were some quotes from the Chief Executive of the British Council, Martin Davidson where he

 says that the comparison, often made by Confucius Institute defenders, between his organization…and the Chinese effort, only goes so far. “We are a stand-alone organization operating out of our own premises. They are being embedded in university campuses,” he said in an interview. “The real question has to be one of independence. Are we seen as simply representing the views of the government? Or is there a degree of separation?”

The story makes the point that western cultural relations organizations aren’t based on university camputes

And according to Mr. Davidson, none adopt the same homogenous approach to their native cultures found in Confucius Institutes. “No one would regard Zadie Smith or Grayson Perry as someone controlled by the British Council,” he said.

“The Chinese are very clear on what they are trying to achieve,” said Mr. Davidson. “They want to change the perception of China — to combat negative propaganda with positive propaganda. And they use the word ‘propaganda’ in Chinese. But I doubt they have to say, ‘We’ll only give you this money if you never criticize China.’ The danger is more of self-censorship — which is a very subtle thing,” Mr. Davidson said.

The full story is here