Archive for June, 2013


The Irony…..

June 25, 2013

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.


Inspecting the International Information Programs at State: Kicking Delivered

June 24, 2013

The empire of the American Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs has three parts:  Public Affairs, Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) and International Information Programs (IIP).  Last week the  Office of the Inspector General issued an inspection report on IIP and it’s not a pretty picture.  There are implications of cronyism and poor management and there have already been changes in the leadership of the Bureau.  Diplopundit has some comments here and here but I just wanted to comment on some of the more specifically PD aspects of the report.   OIG reports are always worth looking at because of the detail they give you about what’s going on at State.

  1. Firstly OIG is unhappy with the state of PD at State.  The last report in 2004 argued that the Bureau should be led by an assistant secretary but this requires Congressional action.  Recommendation 1 in this report is that IIP should be run by an Asst Sec.  Further State doesn’t have a “Departmentwide PD strategy tying resources to priorities” ie the high level vision documents that we’ve seen over the past few years haven’t been converted into action, hence a recommendation for a management review of PD at State.
  2. My reading of the report says that IIP operates in large part as a provider of content.  The effectiveness of this kind of operation depends on effective relations with the other parts of State and the report questions the degree to which these relations actually exist.
  3. The report criticises IIP for not paying sufficient attention to one of the classic tools of PD – writing articles that can be passed to foreign media. This gets a big thumbs up from me –  despite all the excitement about social media the reach that mass media gives you cannot be ignored.
  4. Evaluation has been limited and ineffective the report says that the whole operation should be passed over the ECA.
  5. Lots of translation work is done by outside contractors with very limited oversight.
  6. IIP is responsible for funding American Spaces, a programme that has had a major increase in funding, but (as you would expect from studying the history of any country’s PD) there are problems with staffing the work in the field and with coordinating with the embassies. IIP shipped thousands of e-readers overseas without  agreeing management procedures with local posts.
  7. The US may lead the world in Digital Diplomacy if you look at numbers of likes but as the report says it appears to have got those numbers through an exercise in maximizing numbers than in pursuit of a PD strategy – social media managers were worried that if they posted too much policy related material their numbers would drop.

What struck me in reading this report is how familiar these problems are -not just in American terms but in terms of the history of PD .  One of my general points about PD is that it operates between a complex set of pressures policy/communications. Post/MFA, different publics, centralization/decentralization these are tensions that are not going to be resolved but need to be managed.  My advice?  Push for greater engagement between IIP and the Bureaus, look for greater policy involvement and try to reduce the reliance on contractors.

From looking at OIG reports on Regional Bureaus it’s pretty obvious that the IG is less than happy with the way that PD is being embedded into the Department generally.  The one exception seems to be in Western Hemisphere Affairs where a 2010 report praises the integration of PD in to the work of the Bureau


EU Aid to Egypt ‘well intentioned but ineffective’

June 21, 2013

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.


New British Council Report on Influence and Attraction. Not Very Attractive

June 19, 2013

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?

  1. In the modern world culture is good…for everything…it can solve social and political problems, it can improve economic performance, social cohesion etc.*
  2. Cultural relations activities have to be less about projection.  We are in a peer to peer world
  3. The BRICS and other new players (eg in the Gulf) are spending lots of money on cultural relations
  4. The traditional players in Europe are cutting back.

A few comments

  1. The report uses the term culture in such a broad way as to render it meaningless
  2. 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
  3. 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.
  4.  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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.)


New Book on French Scientific and Cultural Diplomacy…in English

June 18, 2013

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.


The Global is Local At All Points: Latour on Globalization

June 14, 2013

Some of the things that have caused me to re-engage with Latour and Actor-Network Theory are issues that specifically follow from working on public diplomacy.  PD exists in multiple places at the same time – not least in foreign ministries and in embassies.  As a field of research it exists in Communications and International Relations but Communications tends to focus on ‘small’ things like effects and strategies while IR deals with ‘big’ things like states and states-systems.  How then do you bring together the global and the local and the micro and the macro  to use a couple of distinctions beloved of theoretically minded social scientists?

Latour offers an attractively radical solution: throw the whole lot out.  The addiction to big/small, micro/macro, local/global are just more of the misunderstandings that social scientists use to confuse themselves.

So what does he offer in its place?

You can sum it up in the maxim that the global is local at all points.  Here he introduces the analogy of the railway – although you can travel for huge distances it never becomes ‘global’ it is made up of stations, tracks, signals, ticket collectors that are located in places.  ‘global’ networks are just collections of local places that are connected in some way.  The railway has another valuable property for Latour, however far you travel you can’t go everywhere; either because the track doesn’t go there or because the train doesn’t stop.  Networks are full of holes so deploying ‘global’ is a rhetorical strategy not a description of reality.  ‘Electromagnetic waves may be everywhere, but I still have to have an antenna, a subscription and a decoder if I am to get CNN’ (Latour 1993: ), The same applies to ideas, norms, culture they circulate within particular networks.  The challenge that Latour lays down is to follow the connections.

The basic characteristic of the modern world is that we have built networks that that connect more things in more places together but have mistaken changes in size for the emergence of new levels.

What, for example, is the size of IBM, or the Red Army, or the French Ministry of Education, or the world market? To be sure, there are all actors of great size, since they mobilize hundreds of thousands or even millions of agents….However if we wander about inside IBM, if we follow the chains of command of the Red Army, if we inquire in the corridors of the Ministry of Education, if we study the process of selling and buying a bar of soap, we never leave the local level. We are always in interaction with four or five people; the building superintendent has his territory well staked out; the directors’ conversations sound just like those of the employees; as for the salespeople, they go on and on giving change and filling out their invoices…Could IBM be made up of a series of local interactions? The Red Army of an aggregate of conversations in the mess hall? The Ministry of Education of a mountain of pieces of paper? The world market of a host of local exchanges and arrangements? (Latour 1993: 120-1)

The key to making sense of this is to follow ‘the thread of networks of practices and instruments, of documents and translations.’  (Latour 1993: 121)

I think this is good advice for studying public diplomacy.  Follow the networks but keep in mind that the network doesn’t go everywhere; public diplomacy is frequently a story about failure and unintended consequences.

Latour, B. (1993) We Have Never Been Modern. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.



Public Diplomacy and the Hidden Hand: Part 3

June 10, 2013

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.