This morning a copy of Michel Foucault’s Security, Territory, Population: Lectures at the College De France, 1977-78 dropped through my letter box. This is one of his main discussions of ‘governmentality’ and the state.
Have a look at the bottom of the title page…
It’s translated into English courtesy of a Quai D’Orsay cultural diplomacy fund….so even if Foucault’s point was to reveal the operation of power the state still exploits him.
Adding to my occasional series of posts on democracy support…
The European Court of Auditors has just issued a report on the EU’s efforts to support reform in Egypt in the period since 2007 (press release), the bottom line is that programme (involving €1Bn) has been ‘ineffective’. This programme had two main strands providing budget support to selected bits of the Egyptian state and grants to civil society organizations.
Reading between the lines the Egyptians have been taking the money and not worrying too much about the EU agenda of transparency, anti-corruption and human rights while obstructing grants to CSOs. While there are some differences between the Mubarak, military government and current periods the continuities are more obvious. In return the European Commission and the European External Action Service have failed to insist on conditionality and to use their leverage against the Egyptians. My reading is that in dealing with multiple programmes applying conditionality is just too difficult, further I suspect that a calculation was at work that continuing the dialogue was more important than applying pressure.
The full report also contains a spectacularly defensive paragraph by paragraph rebuttal by the Commission and the EEAS. Technically the report is into the management of the programmes and the response is concerned with showing that the Commission and EEAS did a good job ‘in the given circumstances’ which included ‘continuous resistance from the Egyptian side’ on some issues. Where the Auditors point out aspects of a programme have been ineffective the response is that as the programme still has some time to run there’s still room for progress to be made even though there’s no sign of it. I particularly enjoyed the phrase that occurs at several points ‘this file has been closely monitored’. The best though is the abbreviation of budget support to BS hence ‘future BS operations’.
In the end the report and the rebuttal are operating within a relatively narrow bureaucratic discourse and I’m left with a bigger set of questions about these programmes. Essentially the EU is attempting to generate change in a foreign country that doesn’t want to (or can’t) change; was there any realistic prospect for success? If this type of programme is unlikely to succeed are there alternatives? Is it possible to effectively use complex, multifaceted, technical programmes, executed through mediating organizations as an effective tool of influence – this doesn’t just apply to the EU but to large parts of contemporary statecraft.
The British Council have just put out a report Influence and Attraction: Culture and the Race for Soft Power in the 21st Century – sounds exciting doesn’t it? I’ve just read it and I’m not sure that was the most useful thing I could have done this afternoon.
What does it say?
- In the modern world culture is good…for everything…it can solve social and political problems, it can improve economic performance, social cohesion etc.*
- Cultural relations activities have to be less about projection. We are in a peer to peer world
- The BRICS and other new players (eg in the Gulf) are spending lots of money on cultural relations
- The traditional players in Europe are cutting back.
A few comments
- The report uses the term culture in such a broad way as to render it meaningless
- Cultural relations is used here both in the traditional British Council sense of what it and similar organizations do but also as a synonym for a large part of transnational relationships as a whole. See Comment A
- There’s an interesting tension between the view that we are in a new peer to peer world and the emphasis on the rise of the BRICS. It seems to me that in large part following traditional European models eg opening cultural centres, teaching languages etc, hosting expositions.
- Ironically one of the oldest tactics in the cultural relations book (going back to the 19th century at least) is to point at what your competitors are doing and say that we must do more or at least not do less. Which is what this report is doing.
- The intention of the report is to build support for cultural relations but because it does such a big job of lumping everything (sectors, regions, countries) together it is ineffective in doing so. If, as the report argues, governments are ‘relatively powerless’ then action needs to be focussed precisely through identifying what can and cannot be done and what should be prioritised. Making statements like ‘cultural understanding is a precondition to solving pressing global problems’ is just pie in the sky.
- There’s too many lazy cultural sector cliches here – I loved the comment that ‘political and corporate elites’ don’t understand the scale of the changes in global communications. Well maybe except these changes were brought to you by corporate elites who have handed all your data over to the US state.
- At several points the report emphasizes the importance of an arms-length autonomous relationship between organizations like the British Council and government – standard BC boiler plate. I’m sure that this is true in some cases but I’ve had numerous conversations with people from outside the UK who always say that the credibility of the BC is strengthened by the fact that they see it as being a UK government organization.
- I do like the compilation of which countries have cultural institutes where.
*Showing my age here but It’s like the snake oil in Big Audio Dynamite’s Medicine Show from 1985. (I’d never seen this video before so reading this report did some good.)
I get quite a lot of hits on the blog from people searching for material on France so I’m pleased to be able to draw your attention to a new publication from Liverpool University Press, French Scientific and Cultural Diplomacy by Philippe Lane. ‘Lane is Professor of French Linguistics at Rouen University and is currently seconded to the French Foreign Ministry as Cultural Counsellor to the French Embassy in Jordan.’
This was originally published in French as Présence française dans le monde: L’action culturelle et scientifique (I’ve no idea why cultural and scientific have changed places as they cross the channel) Before you rush over to Amazon to buy a copy a word of warning. Rather than an academic study this is in the vein of an official discussion; it has forewords by Foreign Minister and the head of the Institute Française. It deals with the recent changes in the organization of French cultural diplomacy such as the creation of the Institute Française. What it doesn’t do is put the changes in a historical or comparative context or really explain or justify the underpinning assumptions.
It provides a summary of a lot of things that have been happening and makes a connection to the discussion over the diplomatie d’influence but at the end I remained a bit puzzled about a lot of things; for instance even after the creation of the new organizational structures why does France continue to have so many mediating organizations? There’s a 120 pages of text and three full pages of abbreviations most of which identify some kind of organization with a connection to public diplomacy. There are quite a lot of areas where you’re left wanting more explanation – for instance Lane discusses the involvement of local government in development diplomacy but without some background the whole thing is a bit puzzling.
Despite these reservations it will be a useful resource and it does provide some useful references to contributions to the debate over French diplomacy.
Philippe Lane, French Scientific and Cultural Diplomacy (Liverpool: University of Liverpool Press, 2013) ISBN 978-1-84631-865-8, £20.
Two final thoughts on the relationship between the hidden hand and public diplomacy.
1. Particularly in dealing with closed societies material generated from intelligence has been an essential input for external communications: Effective communications draws on knowledge of who you are talking to and on having something interesting to talk about. People are interested in things that happen that affect them. In dealing with closed societies knowledge of relevant events and knowledge about the audience are in short supply and material gathered through covert means may become an important input into what you talk about. If you look at situations where you can’t just turn to the news agencies for news external communications operations develops some type of intelligence or quasi-intelligence function to provide inputs. This was clear as early as the First World War where control of ‘political intelligence’ was a bone of contention between the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Information. Information on developments in enemy in neutral countries was an input for the diplomats as well as the propagandists . In the Cold War we have the Information Research Department in London or the research organizations of RFE/RL where the gathering of information on Communism and the Communist bloc was seen as a vital resource in formulating relevant communications.
2. Aldrich explicitly discusses activities that were undertaken ‘covertly’ to influence foreign publics, yet a good part of this work was widely known about. The thought that struck me we need to think about the ‘covert’ and ‘overt’ in a more complex way. From an analytical perspective rather than thinking about a dichotomy it’s probably better to think of a continuum between the completely overt ie ‘this message comes to you courtesy of the government of x’ in big neon letters through all types of variants of the ‘discrete but not secret’ through differing levels of covertness. Keep in mind that a good chunk of the news in democratic countries comes from only partially identified sources; ie ‘sources close to the minister’, a surrogate spouting talking points or the press release minimally converted into a story with a byline.
The standard typology of ‘white’, ‘grey’ and ‘black’ propaganda is supposed to apply to the identification of sources. However, the assumption is frequently made that source identification maps onto levels of veracity. While it’s reasonable to assume that a black source is more likely to indulge in deception than a white one it doesn’t necessarily follow that black material is necessarily false. This would suggest that we need to think in terms of multiple dimensions.
I’m working my way through Richard Aldrich’s The Hidden Hand: Britain, America and Cold War Secret Intelligence(London: John Murray, 2001). This deals with the development of the covert dimensions of British and to a lesser extent American statecraft from the middle of the Second World War up until 1963. Richard Aldrich is one of the best know British academic historians of intelligence and the covert world. The story he tells directly impinges on the ‘engagement of foreign publics’ through the exploits of the International Organizations Division of the CIA and the Information Research Department of the Foreign Office but also raises broader questions about nature of modern statecraft. I’m going to reflect on this in three posts. The first deals with the origins of British and American information programmes in the post war period, the second considers the implications of this type of history for the way we think about foreign policy and the state, and finally, the nature of the relationship between overt and covert in public diplomacy.
I’ve been puzzled as to why the US developed an independent information agency and the UK didn’t. Although not specifically addressing the issue Aldrich puts this question in the broader context of how to incorporate the wartime instruments of statecraft; intelligence, covert action, psychological warfare into the postwar foreign policy organization. Anthony Eden, the wartime British Foreign Secretary, took the view that a) these organizations had caused enormous trouble for the diplomats and b) if they were going to exist in the postwar period they should under the control of the FO. His view was not universally shared within the ministry, Alexander Cadogan, the chief civil servant within the FO rejected this view noting in his diary that ‘we aren’t a department store’. He lost the argument and Eden and his successor, Ernest Bevin pushed hard to incorporate the remains of these agencies over the opposition of the agencies themselves and the armed services. While there was some support in the forces for the retention of a separate covert action service like the SOE there was also recognition of the need for better control of special operations. Indeed Aldrich points to comments in British documents of the time that praised the OSS and the benefits of uniting all covert activities in a single organization. Ironically, this end was achieved but under the control of the FO not of an independent agency. Overt and covert information activities as well as covert action came under the control of the FO. To the extent that the wartime capabilities were preserved the Foreign Office razed the organizational structures and forced any personnel to satisfy the Foreign Office that they were suitable people. In doing this the FO could draw on the fact that it had had a News Department in the pre-war period that had conducted overseas information activities and that it already controlled the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS or MI6) so had a ready made home for those that it took over from SOE or PWE.
There was a parallel debate in Washington. The Secretary of State James F. Byrnes favoured the incorporation of intelligence into State but as in the UK he was opposed by parts of his own department and by the Joint Chiefs. Truman’s position seems to have wavered before confirming the creation of the CIA as an independent agency. Despite the creation of the State Department Office of International Information and Cultural Affairs on 1 January 1946 information programmes remained a semi-detached element of State.
As tensions rose with the Soviet Union during the late 1940s they also rose with the British Chiefs of Staff who favoured a much more aggressive campaign of subversion against the Eastern Bloc. I would argue that the absorption of the remnants of the wartime agencies into the FO put it in much stronger position within the UK foreign policy establishment than State was. Another point to mention is that the British executive has much more freedom to organize itself that the American one does. While the state of the ‘overseas information services’ was a topic of parliamentary questions during the 1940s there was no scope for the kind of intervention that was mounted by Congressional Committees during the 1940s and 1950s.
Obviously this is a counterfactual but I think that if the FO hadn’t moved so rapidly to absorb the wartime organizations then by the late 1940s there would have been immense pressure to re-establish these agencies outside the FO and with a closer relationship to the military and that part of this would have incorporated at least a covert information agency. Aldrich speculates that the agreement of the FO for SIS to become involved in armed subversive activities against Albania in the late 1940s, despite doubts, was in part a strategy to buy off the pressure from the UK Chiefs of Staff. In the veterans of the wartime agencies like C.D. Jackson agitated for an information agency that wasn’t constrained by diplomats, while the elevation of John Foster Dulles to Secretary of State in 1953 saw the victory of the Cadogan ‘we’re not a department store’ line and overt information, like covert action and intelligence, were spun off into an independent agency.
Aldrich’s point is that victory of the FO in the struggles in the late 1940s meant that British foreign policy was less troubled by different agencies pursuing their own lines than the US. (Of course this didn’t mean that British policy makers were any less likely to make mistakes but that they were better coordinated while doing it!)