Archive for September, 2013


Reading the 2012 Survey on UK Attitudes to International Priorities

September 30, 2013

Yesterday was foreign affairs day at the Conservative Party conference with speeches from William Hague – (FCO), Justine Greening (DFID) and Philip Hammond (MoD) to the conference.   The only media coverage was about Hammond being heckled by a couple of retired army officers who were unhappy about cuts to their regiment.   Given the lack of attention to international issues at any of the conferences I was looking around for some data on public attitudes to international affairs.

Between 2010 and 2012 Chatham House did a series of annual surveys with YouGov which are particularly useful because not only did a representative poll but also did had a separate sample of opinion formers from various fields. The polling here was done in June 2012,  The report is here it’s worth looking at the tables as well.

A few highlights.  Respondents were asked whether Britain should remain a great power (defined as substantial military, UN Security Council seat) or should cut defence budget, give up the UNSC seat, and reduce contribution to international security, 56% of the public and 55% of opinion formers favoured the first option versus 25% of the public  and 38% of opinion formers for the latter.  There’s an interesting division between Labour opinion formers and Labour voters, 52% of the elites favour giving up great power pretensions versus 23% of voters.  The Lib Dems are the other way round with the opinion formers favouring a more active role with their voters leaning in the other direction.

There’s a substantial chunk of opinion that says the coalition haven’t changed British foreign policy at all  41% of the public and 52% of opinion formers.

What struck me on the EU polling is not that 49% of the public would vote to leave as against 30% to stay in but that 45% of opinion formers favour a looser relationship ‘amounting to little more than a free trade area’.  While 63% of the opinion formers say they would vote to stay in, they seem to be saying that what they want to stay in is a looser relationship ie the position being taken by David Cameron.

Dave’s policy on aid doesn’t enjoy the same level of support.  68% of opinion formers say that Britain should give  ‘about the same as other wealthy countries’ which would imply a substantial reduction in spending.  The ‘about the same’ position is supported by 39% of the public but 37% favour spending less.

Respondents were asked to choose three issues for UK foreign policy to focus on.  The top three favoured by opinion formers were trade promotion, access to vital resources and building relations with allies while the public selected protecting the UK’s borders, trade promotion and vital resources.

Asked about popular uprisings 43% of the public said that Britain should never get involved while 20% would support uprisings if it benefitted Britain, 23% said Britain had a moral responsibility to support them regardless.   The public favoured using force to defend British territory, protecting British nationals abroad  and humanitarian and peacekeeping reasons.  Unfortunately the opinion formers weren’t asked these questions and it would have been interesting to see if there were contrasts – particularly in light of the lack of enthusiasm for intervention in Syria.

Respondents were asked about the most useful instruments of British influence, the opinion formers selected the BBC World Service as number 1 (68%!), followed by UK multinational and diplomats while the public at large selected the armed forces, the BBC and the intelligence services.

And finally which countries do we like and dislike?  Adding favourable and unfavourable ratings we get

*Canada(+44) Australia (+43), US (+26) Netherlands (+24), Sweden (+21), Norway (+19), Ireland, (+18), Japan (+13), Italy (+10) and Spain (+8)  at the bottom Iran (-44), North Korea (-40), Pakistan (-31), Russia (-28), Argentina (-27), Ukraine (-22), Saudi Arabia (-16), China, Nigeria (-14) Israel, Greece (-12).  That is we feel comfortable with the northern Europeans and the Anglosphere,  and quite like Italy and Spain for going on holiday.

What’s the conclusion? OK we really need to look at some comparative polling but it just strikes me as terribly British: “we’re not that keen on getting involved with the rest of the world but I suppose we’d better. Just let’s not overdo it.”

*For any Kiwis out there the pollsters didn’t ask about New Zealand – complain to them not me.




UK International Education Strategy

September 26, 2013

Over the summer the British government put out a major component of its soft power strategy although oddly the term never appears… It’s the  Department of Business Innovation and Skills industrial strategy document International Education: Global Growth and Prosperity.

This covers the whole range of UK international education activity: international students coming to the UK, support for UK education providers operating overseas, the export of educational services and equipment, research collaboration etc.

The key messages are that this is a sector where the UK is strong but is facing challenges from lack of coordination, the conservative structure of schools and universities, visa issues, competition from commercial education providers and new countries as well as changing demands from customers.   From my reading the main policy push is to develop transnational provision, to support UK schools and universities in setting up overseas and to build system to system links with emerging countries: China, India, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, Colombia, Turkey, Mexico, Indonesia, and the Gulf.

You do get the sense of the importance and complexity of the sector in the UK.  The report is here.  (The executive summary is seven pages and is plenty).  There’s also an ‘analytical narrative’ which isn’t a narrative but provides the data underpinning the report.  The report covers a lot of ground but it seems a bit thin in terms of specific targets and timeframes rather than general aspirations.


UK Govts Head of Communications Doesn’t Like Press Releases or Strategic Communication

September 24, 2013

Since the beginning of this year Alex Aiken has been Executive Director for UK  Government Communications and has been pushing hard for change and savings – he certainly doesn’t seem to be short of opinions, there was some excitement on Twitter this morning when PR Week reported a speech he’d given last week announced the death of the press release

As far as he’s concerned too much PR is about SOS – sending out stuff  when it needs a much more OASIS – objectives, audience, strategy, implementation and scoring.

He notes that during the recent excitement over the culling of badgers in the UK the responsible department sent out one press release and 350 tweets.

His line seems to be that government spends too much money on old media and thinks in terms of ‘strategic communications’ which in his mind seems to imply old media based marketing campaigns.  His solution is that government communicators need to embrace a PR based campaign management approach.  Of course some people would argue that  OASIS is nothing but strategic communication 101 – I think his concern is to shake up the routines of government communications offices.

Another of his signature views is the importance of evaluation for government communicators and he argues that this is a skillset that everyone should have.  Can’t disagree with that but I can see a pathology here:  use social media because it gives us some nice easy to use metrics.  But…those easy to use metrics aren’t actually measuring policy outcomes.  But from the point of view of view of the professional communicator they are vital:

“If you’ve got ten people at a board meeting, ten of them will consider themselves communications experts,” he says. “As a head of communications, having the numbers helps to prove that you’re the expert.

There’s an interesting profile from his period in his previous job here.


Nadia von Maltzahn on Syrian-Iranian Cultural Diplomacy

September 23, 2013

Nadia von Maltzahn’s, The Syria-Iran Axis: Cultural Diplomacy and International Relations in the Middle East is one of the more unexpected contributions to the literature of public diplomacy on several grounds.  Firstly, there are few bilateral studies of public engagement, secondly, while there are many studies of public engagement by authoritarian regimes I can’t think of another one where the target is another authoritarian regime and thirdly, it’s about Middle Eastern authoritarian regimes.    Fourthly, this is a bilateral study where the author knows both the languages involved and has been able to get a degree of cooperation from people involved.

The study traces the development of cultural relations activities between the two countries since the independence of Syria after the Second World War up until the outbreak of the current conflict in 2011.  Although Iran and Syria concluded a friendship treaty in the 1950s and a cultural agreement in the 1970s relations between the two were a low priority.  After the Iranian revolution geopolitical interests – including antagonism to Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, Israel and the US brought the two countries together creating a relationship that has endured despite differences over Lebanon and Syria’s participation in the US led coalition that liberated Kuwait in 1991.  At its heart this is a relationship driven by politics and cultural relations work is there to support the diplomatic relationship.

As von Maltzahn shows there’s been a distinct imbalance in the relationship it’s Iran who’s been much more committed to cultural work.  Iran has a distinctive language and culture as well as its revolutionary tradition.  On the other hand Syria prides itself on its commitment to Arab unity which makes a claim of cultural distinctiveness problematic, how it distinguishes itself is through its hardline rejectionist stance.  The result is that Iran has spent heavily on a cultural centre in Damascus plus regional activities.  The instruments at work are familiar; language courses, magazines, lectures, support for the teaching of Persian in Syrian universities, film festivals, scholarships and so on.  The Iranian Cultural Centre in Damascus opened its doors in 1983, Syria did not reciprocate until 2005 and on a much smaller scale.  While Iran sees foreign public engagement as a routine part of its statecraft the Syrian Centre in Tehran is more of a one off – ironically, because of the state of relations between Iran and the rest of the Arab world, it had the potential to become a more significant part of the Iranian cultural scene than the Syrians perhaps realised.

As well as looking at the cultural centres von Maltzahn includes a chapter devoted to the experiences of students from the two countries and one on Iranian religious tourism in Syria.  As with other tourists Iran’s move within predictable patterns and don’t engage much with Syrians beyond that.  Rather than increasing Syrian understanding of Iran most of the tourists are relatively poor and rural and may have a negative impact on perceptions in Syria.

From the point of view of scholars of public diplomacy this will seem like a rather exotic study but the practices of cultural relations work will seem very familiar.  Highly recommended.


American Hypernationalism and Foreign Influence: A Last Word on Putin

September 19, 2013

I’m loathe to given any more attention to Vladimir Putin’s op-ed in the New York Times but I noticed Jeremi Suri’s piece at Foreign Affairs which places Putin’s intervention in a line of unsuccessful foreign attempts to influence American foreign policy debates that he traces back to the aftermath of the War of Independence through Khruschev.

For all the openness of American public debate, U.S. foreign policy has always been defined by individuals residing within its borders. American foreign policy is, above all, hypernationalist, and that is unlikely to change anytime soon. ….

The ongoing debate surrounding U.S. policy in Syria shows that Kennan was correct about the importance of “short-term trends of public opinion.” Those trends have always been defined by the words of prominent Americans, not those of foreign leaders.

Stirring stuff but America’s friends figured out at least a century ago that the key to influencing American policy debates was to work through Americans themselves.  The literature on the US as target for foreign public diplomacy is pretty substantial – some examples below.  Actually untangling what these campaigns did is tricky but it may be that students of public diplomacy are too reticent about making claims for influence.  For instance US entry into the two World Wars took place in a context of where the Allied powers were working very hard to shape the information environment.*   Of course the French or the British or anyone else who want to exert influence work with networks of collaborators who genuinely believe that the policies that they are advocating are in the best interests of the US.

*It’s actually people who want to argue against the impact of these campaigns who have to argue the counterfactual – that the debate and policy decisions would have played out the same way in the absence of these influence attempts.


Dubosclard A (2001) Diplomatie culturelle et propagande françaises aux États-Unis pendant le premier vingtième siècle, Revue d’histoire moderne et contemporaine, 48: 102–119.

Dubosclard A (2002) L’Alliance Francaise aux Etats-Unis, Outil de Diplomatie ou Association d’Hommes Libres?, in Dubosclard, et al A (ed) Entre Rayonnement et Reciprocite: Contributions a l’Histoire de al Diplomatie Culturelle, Paris: Publications de la Sorbonne, pp. 117–37.

Dubosclard A (2007) L’action artistique de la France aux Etats-Unis : 1915-1969. Paris: CNRS.

Young RJ (2004) Marketing Marianne: French Propaganda in America, 1900-1940. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.

Kim R (2011) South Korean Cultural Diplomacy and Efforts to Promote the RoK’s Brand Image in the United States and Around the World, Stanford Journal of East Asian Affairs, 11: 124–34.

Lee S (2006) An analysis of other countries’ international public relations in the U.S., Public Relations Review, 32: 97–103.

Snyder DJ (2010) The Problem of Power in Modern Public Diplomacy: The Netherlands Information Bureau in World War II and the Early Cold War, in Osgood KA and Etheridge BC (eds) The United States and Public Diplomacy: New Directions in Cultural and International History, Leiden: Martinus Nijhoff, pp. 57–80.

Tully JD (2010) Ethnicity, Security, and Public Diplomacy: Irish-Americans and Ireland’s Neutrality in World War II, in Osgood KA and Etheridge BC (eds),The United States and Public Diplomacy: New Directions in Cultural and International History Leiden: Martinus Nijhoff, pp. 81–102.

Anstey C (1984) The Projection of British Socialism: Foreign Office Publicity and American Opinion, 1945-50, Journal of Contemporary History, 19: 417–451.

Cull NJ (1995) Selling War the British Propaganda Campaign against American “Neutrality” in World War II. New York: OUP.

Cull NJ (1997) Overture to an Alliance: British Propaganda at the New York World’s Fair, 1939-1940, The Journal of British Studies, 36: 325–354.


Five Points on Putin and His New York Times Piece

September 13, 2013

Five quick points about Putin’s OpEd in the New York Times Yesterday

  1. Did it work?  Well it depends what he was trying to do.  If he was trying to curry favour with the US foreign policy elite and political class he failed miserably.  On the other hand if it was other parts of American society reaction (if they were paying attention) is probably more positive – after all most Americans don’t favour military intervention. But also what about the rest of the world?  I think that this report from Brazil and China sums up widespread reactions – Vlad’s sticking it to the man
  2. The reaction of some Americans  to criticism of their exceptionalism actually underscores Putin’s point.
  3. A lot of reaction to the Putin piece focused on his hypocrisy.  Absolutely: but keep in mind that the subtitle of one of the best books on sovereignty is ‘organized hypocrisy‘.  Regardless of the messenger the arguments about the UN and international law that Putin makes play much better in the emerging powers than do arguments about the responsibility to protect.
  4. Media work matters.  In public diplomacy terms working with a country’s mainstream media organizations is the most cost effective way to reach large numbers of people quickly.  It’s cheaper and easier than developing your own channels of communication.  Lots of social media commentary feeds off the MSM so you get the new media public too.
  5. Why not privatize your public diplomacy? You can get a marketing agency to do branding and promotion for you and a PR to work with the media.  OK there are lots of reasons not to but Putin has got his money’s worth from his contract with Ketchum on this one.

Beirut, France and the History of Cultural Relations

September 11, 2013

Working through the backlog of International Herald Tribunes left by my recent trips  I came across this article by Jay Cheshes on the continuing cultural presence of France in Beirut

“A Frenchman can easily live in Beirut without feeling displaced,” said Mr. Gougeon, who moved to the Lebanese capital from Paris in 1999, as he sipped local wine in Villa Clara’s leafy backyard after cooking a dinner of crispy-skinned duck confit and old-fashioned île flottante.

For more than a century, through all manner of turmoil, including a 15-year civil war and, more recently, ongoing conflict in neighboring Syria, a distinctly French character has pervaded the city. Much of it is the legacy of the French colonial period — the mandate that lasted from 1920 to 1943 — but a cultural kinship goes back much further than that.

But how did this cultural kinship come into being?  Well it was deliberately created.  Lebanon, and the Levant more broadly, is the founding site of modern cultural relations work.  From the middle of the 19th century France supported the work of the Lazarist order in developing a network of schools in the region – for the Lazarists education was their secret weapon to defeat the advance of protestant (mainly American) missionaries.  The schools taught French and drew on a mixture of private and state funding from France.  The result was that French came to displace Greek and Italian as the lingua franca of the region. Unable to match the military or economic strength of Britain France chose culture as its instrument.

In turn the Lazarist schools inspired the Alliance Israelite Universelle develop its own network work of schools in the region which in turn provided an inspiration for the Alliance Francaise.  Over the course of the 19th century the ad hoc system of support and encouragement in one region of the world provided the inspiration for France’s global cultural network.

If you are looking for evidence that cultural strategies work France’s position in the Eastern Mediterranean through the century after 1850 provides a pretty good case to look at.  The irony is that a really successful strategy becomes invisible because its results seem so natural.


Digital Diplomacy: Forget the Hype and Just Get on With It

September 10, 2013

I’ve been meaning to write about digital diplomacy for a while.  Two weeks ago Ben Scott (formerly one of Hilary Clinton’s crew at State) and I , were in Tallinn to talk  to Estonian ambassadors and this forced me to think about the issue.  I’ve always thought of myself as a bit of a sceptic about the whole thing but perhaps less so than I realized.

The argument for digital diplomacy typically advances in two parts.  1. The world is being revolutionized by digital technology.  2. Diplomats should use social media.  What I’m sceptical about is actually 1 but I’m totally on board with 2.

The problem with the revolution argument is that it really depends on the loss of perspective that I commented on here.  The reason that diplomats should use social media is exactly the same reason why I don’t think that there’s a revolution:  diplomacy has always been a matter of networks.  Diplomats are expected to build networks in order to find out what’s going on and create influence.  Ben made the valuable point that one of the great contributions of social media, particularly Twitter is as a tool for listening, by identifying important voices in country it offers a rapid way to get a broader understanding of what’s going on from there they can think about intervening in debates.  As a mode of gathering information and insight  It’s exactly the same thing, as  that staple of diplomatic routine, reading the papers

There is a bit of a digital diplomacy backlash going on at the moment (examples here and here) but the problem is not with the practice but with the overblown claims derived from the radical technology literature which tend to abstract the impact of digital media from any social, cultural or political context.

The point is not that social media changes nothing but it is better seen as part of the evolution of diplomatic practice. In a way the potential of Twitter is that it allows a diplomat to more rapidly explore the networks of their host society than it would be possible to do using other methods.  Jules Jusserand was the French Ambassador in Washington from 1902 to 1925 if you don’t have 23 years to build your networks maybe twitter is a useful accelerant to the process.


More from the House of Lords on UK Soft Power

September 5, 2013

Back from my summer travels back to the blog….

I’ve written before about the House of Lords investigation into UK Soft Power and Influence but if you’re keeping track they’ve posted transcripts of another five evidence sessions on the website

We’ve got a session on military aspects of soft power which contains the immortal line from the Defence Senior Adviser for the Middle East, Lt General Simon Mayall

‘I very much go the ambassador and say that I want to be used as a golf club in his golf bag of engagement.’

There’s a session with the British Council, BBC and British Museum

One with three representatives of business organizations looking at issues around trade promotion who are fairly critical of  UK Trade and Investment (UKTI) followed by a session with the head of UKTI

The final session so far brings together three representatives of the NGO sector with  a critic of international aid – unsurprisingly the spikiest of the sessions.

One thing that runs through all of these sessions is a concern with building and benefitting from relationships.  The British Museum representative talks about their relationships with other similar institutions across the world while the military contingent point to the way that arms sales provide a basis for a continuing relationship that opens the door to ambassadors.   There’s also a recurring issue between soft power as a property of the UK as a whole and as something that can be used instrumentally, unsurprisingly the representatives of the cultural organizations want to stay as far away from the latter as possible.

There is currently a public call for written evidence for the committee so if you’ve got anything to share you’ve got until the 18th of September.