Finland, Australia and Luxembourg at the 2012 Security Council Elections

In 2012 Finland stood for election to a two year term on the UN Security Council.  It was competing for one of the two vacancies for states from the Western European and Others Group against Australia and Luxembourg and against expectations failed to get elected.  As a result the Finnish foreign ministry contracted the International Peace Institute to find out why they didn’t get elected.  The IPI conducted 50+ interviews with delegates from across the members of the UN and came up with some ideas why Finland didn’t make it.

It’s an interesting document because it casts light on a process I didn’t know anything about but also because of what it says about the importance of image even among diplomats and national decision makers.

The process of getting elected takes a long time; Luxembourg declared its candidacy in 2001 and Finland in 2002.  Australia didn’t start until 2008 but is estimated to have spent about $25m while Luxembourg and Finland spent one and two million Euros respectively.  The report makes the point that one of the mechanisms at work is trading  promises of votes on other elections so I would guess that if you start earlier it gives you more elections to trade off.   The elections are conducted by secret ballot so there’s no real guarantee that promises of support actually translate into votes.

Campaigns work at multiple levels.  Firstly each country tries to put forward a general narrative particularly about its contribution to the UN, secondly, countries try to secure promises of support on a bilateral basis and thirdly, they try to use connections to particular blocs of countries to get support.

One of Luxembourg’s assets was its size – 105 countries are members of the UN Forum of Small States, it also tried to leverage its status as a Francophone state, as a monarchy and reached out to Lusophone states because it has a substantial Portuguese community.  Australia used the Forum of the Pacific and the Commonwealth, Finland was limited to the Nordic and Baltic States.

Australia appeared to have an advantage because it’s not an EU member, given that there are already two EU members as permanent members of the UNSC there was certain resistance to effectively giving the EU four votes on the Council.  Reading between the lines of the report Australia could count on support from Britain and the US and Luxembourg and the apparent lack of united EU support for Finland was seen to weaken its broader campaign.

There’s also a sense that the international identity forged by the Nordic countries during the Cold War has faded

Many delegates stressed that Australia, Finland, and Luxembourg were all seen as “Western” or “mainstream candidates, and that “despite the fact that all three pretended to be different and except for their take on Middle East issues, there was no real difference in their policies.”

One delegate is quoted:

The Nordics used to be seen as countries of social democracy, closer to the developing world than the United States or the Soviet Union or other European countries. But the world has changed. Their image is not so strong anymore.  Developing countries have their own models

One point where the Finland and the other Nordic countries do have something of a distinctive identity is that they are seen as particularly militant defenders of “western values”

 a number of delegates, in particular among the Group of 77 (G77) countries, also expressed frustration at attitudes that, they believed, are sometimes not respectful enough of cultural differences. This was particularly the case, according to some delegations, with issues related to women’s rights or freedom of expression. As one delegate put it, the “Danish cartoons saga reflected badly on all the Nordic countries.”

One delegate explained: “We have difficulties with the Nordic attitude on social and human rights issues. The Nordics impose their definitions, which sometimes are not acceptable to Islamic countries. Other EU members may think the same, but the Nordics are in the lead; they are more vocal. We want them to understand that there are different views, other cultures, and that the UN is not only Western. You cannot achieve your goal and make the others feel bad.”

It is difficult to assess if these views had actual consequences in terms of votes. However, in discussing Finland’s candidacy, several delegates did indicate during interviews their reservations on the profile of Nordic states at the UN and their preference for more “modest” candidates. One delegate noted: “Luxembourg was seen as the underdog, a modest country, not one that imposes its views among the Western countries. Being the small one among the West, Luxembourg was considered to be more understanding of the G77.”

The irony here is that Australia was seen as having the vulnerability of being particularly close to the US on Middle East issues.

The report suggests that as a UN good citizen Finland routes much of its aid through multilateral organizations which has the effect of reducing the country’s visibility.


From Latour to British Foreign Policy: Part V – It’s All About the Networks

Sorry about the delay but to finish off this series of posts I want to offer some suggestions about changing the way that we think about British foreign policy.  At the moment the combination of a Blairite vision and a fragile states doctrine leaves us with quite serious gaps in the way we think about foreign policy.  Although William Hague signalled some intention to place greater weight on bilateral relationships and on commercial diplomacy I don’t think that the basic framework of foreign policy thinking has changed.

I think that the Blairite ideas are both hubristic and disempowering.  They are hubristic in their confidence that if only we (the west) led by Britain try harder we can build a single world in which we solve the problems (those that the UK has identified) in the appropriate way (British solutions).  From the point of view of a British foreign policy these ideas are disempowering in that they specify a set of problems that are objectively given (by Science or Ethical imperatives) and that can only be solved by a global coalition.   Britain is constituted as an agent of global modernization, a modernization that it has no choice but to carry out.

The Blairite rhetoric is seductive because it appeals to a humanitarian instinct, while at the same time it seems sophisticated because of its emphasis on connectedness, for instance in the way it makes connections between say climate change, failed states and refugee flows and insists on interdependence.

From a realist point of view this is essentially the same ‘harmony of interests’ that Carr critiques in in The Twenty Years Crisis.  It could be argued that we now have had seventy plus years of increasing interdependence, globalization and so on so even if Carr was right then he isn’t now.   Here we need to reach into the network realist tool box.  Networks don’t automatically produce homogeneity.  Position in a network produces differences in perspectives and differences in interests, hence different versions of the world, different agenda, different solutions and differential capabilities.  Even in a connected world risks, interests and capabilities are distributed differently and that brings us back to politics – and the Latourian task of composing the world. 

Three network realist points.

Firstly, we (Britain or the west) can’t solve all the problems in the world because we don’t know how, we don’t have the resources, we can’t agree what the problems are or what the solutions are.  Hence British foreign policy needs to make ‘tough choices’* about what needs to be done and can be done in the world.  I think that key thing is recognizing the necessity to make choices and to justify the basis for those choices.   Talking in terms of ‘values’ and ‘rules based order’ isn’t enough we need to be able to answer the questions about which values in which places and which rules are the ones that really matter.  Thus we need to fill the gap between vision and doctrine with real policies and strategies.

Secondly, network thinking offers some useful intellectual tools for making sense of the world that can form the basis for acting in it.  Network concepts deal in variation not categories or essences.  Rather than being confronted with binary choices networks offer different ways of thinking about degrees and forms of connection.  Following Latour we also see that ‘big things’ are actually collections of ‘small things’ which may offer ways of exerting influence.  British foreign policy debates almost always devolve into in/out (of the EU) or Atlantic/Europe or Europe/wider world.  The Blairite vision offered one way of resolving these issues (the choice is made – there is no choice to make) network thinking offers a different way of breaking down the issues.

Thirdly, the Blairite rhetoric of interdependence is deterministic.  In contrast networks are sites where agency operates and where influence can occur.   We can make relationships stronger or weaker, we can make new relationships and end old ones, we can try to influence other relationships or exploit their absence.

Yes, we live in a world of networks but that fact does not abolish politics or the possibility of choice.  Political talk thrives on binary oppositions and necessity because it has to create the community and motivate action but it also functions to define possibilities, the problem is that the Blairite concepts continue to define, and limit, how we think about British foreign policy.  In a situation where the position of the US is under question, the EU is likely to undergo rapid change, other power centres are emerging which, democratic or not, certainly see the world differently from the North Atlantic axis, apart from the Blairite global agenda we need some creative thinking.

I’ll come back to the question of British foreign policy in future posts but that’s quite enough for the moment.

*Tony Blair liked to talk about ‘tough choices’ but he didn’t actually mean make a choice in the sense of choosing between alternative courses of action it was more like ‘I’ve made the choice and its tough if you don’t like it’

Latour to British Foreign Policy via Blair, Part IV: Still Looking for A Policy

In this post I want to make the connection between Blair’s globalist vision and some of the more normal concerns of this blog about the machinery of government in the UK.

The basic argument here is that we have seen the development of a gap between high level visionary abstraction of the Blairite persuasion and the workings of a modernizing government machinery.

I think a key element here is the conjunction of two factors at work in British foreign policy over the past decade and a half; firstly the failed state agenda and secondly, the push for modernization in government.

Failed/fragile states have attracted a lot of policy attention –  Bosnia followed by the interventions in Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan, Iraq in addition there’s been relatively sustained policy interest in countries like Pakistan and Somalia.

Modernization had many facets but it was ‘joined up’, getting different bits of government to work together and it developing defined objectives that would allow assessment of value for money.  This is not something that has just happened in the UK.  Here’s a comparison between the UK, Netherlands and the Nordics.

It’s the combination of these factors that has led to a degree of learning and innovation in British statecraft.  This also saw policy innovations such as the Conflict Pool – funding accessible by different departments – and efforts to think through how to deal with this problems eg the Building Stability Overseas Strategy.  The result was an extremely coherent account of British statecraft although accounts of the system in action are much less impressive.

Despite this in there has a been a growing concern over the lack of strategic thinking in British government.  Including in the military.

What’s going on?  How can we have strategies but no strategy?

I think that the Building Stability Overseas Strategy gives hefty clue.  It explains why stability matters to the UK, what produces instability and how, faced with a situation of instability, UK government departments will work together and with other people to address the problem.  If this was a military document it would be extremely clear what it is.  It’s doctrine not strategy.  Doctrine gives a common understanding of a problem and an approach to working together to address it.  It doesn’t tell you which circumstances the UK will become involved or in which cases, it doesn’t tell you about resources, it doesn’t give timeframes.

In 2010 The FCO put out a training booklet on policy skills which laid out a hierarchy in which  strategy was placed above policy. To a Clausewitzian like me this raises a red flag.  Clausewitz places policy at the top of the tree not because it’s a label but because politics is where different aspects of the world are composed.  It we have five different priorities which do we choose to pursue? How do they affect each other?  How do they affect other people?  Can we get others to support us in this particular situation?

There is a parallel with a critique that applies to the  British and American armed forces.  Because national  leaderships will not or cannot properly define objectives and strategies based on political realities military thinking has tended to expand the reach of operational thinking (Strachan 2005, 2010, 2013, Bailey, Iron and Strachan 2013, Ledwidge 2011) .   I think that the same has been going on in foreign affairs more generally;  there has been lots of thinking about means and instruments much less about politics, policy and strategy.  What we get is a gap between the broad generalities of the Blairite vision and the working level.  This is gap that capital D diplomacy should partially be filling.

In the UK as in the US it’s become more common to see diplomacy, defence and development referred to together but in the context of failed states it’s the diplomacy that gets squeezed between defence and development.  In the US it’s common to see complaints about the militarization of foreign policy but in the UK it would be more accurate to think in terms of developmentalization foreign policy becomes an adjunct to development.  If we’re thinking in terms of modernizing government development and defence do planning and projects, they spend money and as a result have lobbies, they also both feel nervous about politics.  That’s really what diplomacy should be doing but the 3D formulation tends also to reduce diplomacy to a small d instrument of policy rather than a mode of interacting with the world.

There’s a big gap at the heart of British foreign policy between a particular one world vision and a set of techniques and resources to build that world.

In the final post of this series I’ll try (emphasis on try) to suggest a way forward.

Bailey JBA, Iron R and Strachan H, eds (2013) British generals in Blair’s wars. Farnham: Ashgate.
Ledwidge F (2011) Losing Small Wars: British Military Failure in Iraq and Afghanistan. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Strachan H (2005) The Lost Meaning of Strategy, Survival, 47: 33–54.
Strachan H (2010) Strategy or Alibi? Obama, McChrystal and the Operational Level of War, Survival, 52: 157–182.
Strachan H (2013) British National Strategy: Who Does It?, Parameters, 43: 43–52.

Latour, Blair and British Foreign Policy, Pt 3 The Blair View

The legacy of Tony Blair hangs heavily over British politics.  The Labour Party is still marked by the Blair/Brown rivalry, David Cameron’s political strategy and style was modelled on Blair. In foreign policy the dominant ideas of British foreign policy come from the Blair era and the area is inevitably marked by the Invasion of Iraq.  This is often described as Britain’s worst foreign policy mistake since Suez but the Suez was over in a few months and we could get on with dealing with the aftermath.   Iraq dragged on for six years.

In this post I want to look at Blair’s foreign policy thinking because it provides a context for the way that Britain’s foreign policy priorities and organization have developed. What’s the connection between Latour and Blair?  Blair is perfect example of the tendencies that Latour was critiquing.

I want to take as my texts, Blair’s 1999 Doctrine of the International Community speech and his 2006 pamphlet A Global Alliance for Global Values

The first of these was given in Chicago during the Kosovo Crisis with Blair concerned to shore up US support for the war and made the argument for a broader doctrine of humanitarian intervention.   There are three characteristics 1) axiomatic globalization – everything is connected to everything else 2) ambition – he reels off a list of six projects to undertake once the Kosovo Crisis is over, overhaul global financial regulation, a new global trade round, a reorganization of the UN, a reorganization of NATO, action on global warming and addressing third world debt.  3) The rejection of a language of interests in favour of values.  ‘In the end values and interests merge.  If we can establish and spread the values of liberty, the rule of law, human rights an open society then that is in our national interests too.  The spread of our values makes us safer.’

A Global Alliance for Global Values is based on speeches that Blair gave in the year before he stepped down as Prime Minister as such it’s less rooted in concrete politics but I also suspect that it actually reflects the way that Blair’s thinking developed after 9/11.   The message is very simple: we need to work together to defeat extremism.  A few choice extracts

To win the battle of values, we must prove beyond any question that our world-view is based not just on power but on justice; not just on what is necessary, but on what is right.

Regrets?  Not enough intervention:

There are many areas in which we have not intervened as effectively as I would wish, even if only by political pressure. Sudan, for example; the appalling deterioration in the conditions of the people of Zimbabwe; human rights in Burma; the virtual enslavement of the people of North Korea.

Our opponents don’t just need to be killed but  first they have to admit that they are wrong about everything.

This ideology has to be taken on – and taken on everywhere. This terrorism, in my view, will not be defeated until we confront not just the methods of the extremists but also their ideas. I don’t mean just telling them that terrorist activity is wrong. I mean telling them that their attitude to America is absurd, that their concept of governance is prefeudal, that their positions on women and other faiths are reactionary. We must reject not just their barbaric acts, but their presumed and false sense of grievance against the West, their attempt to persuade us that it is we and not they who are responsible for their violence.

He then takes up the political strategy of radical Islam  but you wonder whether he’s talking about himself

Sometimes political strategy comes deliberatively, sometimes by instinct. For this movement, it was probably by instinct. It has an ideology, a world-view, it has deep convictions and the determination ofthe fanatic. It resembles in many ways early revolutionary Communism. It doesn’t always need structures and command centres or even explicit communication. It knows what it thinks.

This brings me to a fundamental point. For this ideology, we are the enemy. But “we” is not the West. We are as much Muslim, as Christian, or Jew or Hindu. We are all those who believe in religious tolerance, in openness to others, in democracy, liberty and human rights administered by secular courts.

This is not a clash between civilisations: it is a clash about civilisation. It is the age-old battle between progress and reaction, between those who embrace in the modern world, and those who reject its existence; between optimism and hope on the one hand, and pessimism and fear on the other.

The crucial point about these interventions is that they were not just about changing regimes but changing the value systems governing the nations concerned. The banner was not actually “regime change” it was “values change”. That is why I have said that we have done, by intervening in this way, is more momentous than possibly we appreciated at the time.

He has a solution although it sounds more like the Pope, or Habermas or Kant than a prime minister

The answer to terrorism is universal application of global values

And from the conclusion

In my nine years as Prime Minister I have not become more cynical about idealism. I have simply become more persuaded that the distinction between a foreign policy driven by values and one driven by interests, is wrong. Globalisation begets interdependence. Interdependence begets the necessity of a common value system to make it work. Idealism becomes realpolitik.

That is why I say this struggle is one about values. Our values are our guide. Our values are worth struggling for. They represent humanity’s progress throughout the ages. At each point we have had to fight for them and defend them. As a new age beckons, it is time to fight for them again.

Four comments

If Latour sees a plural world then Blair is with the modernists 110%.   Running through this is the drive to construct a single world based on the truth – although Blair is remarkably vague on what ‘our values’ are.

In The Passions and the Interests Albert Hirschman argues that the language of interests was developed in the seventeenth and eighteenths centuries as a check on the passions: the passions may be unlimited and a concern with interests can place a restraint on those passions.  The pursuit of values is inherently unlimited.  In these writings there are no concerns with resources or even with priorities, more fundamentally there is no discussion of how you balance different values Blair is a firm believer in the view that all good things go together.   Essentially he does what Schmitt accuses liberals of – replacing politics with ethics.

One of the key rhetorical strategies is what might be called axiomatic interdependence – everything is connected to everything else – so there is no option so we have no choice but to react.  The problem is that this isn’t true, not everything is connected and it is differences in exposure generate different positions which again produces politics.  The global is local at all points.

How can Blair advocate such a sweeping foreign policy with such unlimited ends?  Like previous British prime ministers Blair saw Britain’s role in building a bridge between the US and Europe.  He believed that if there could be a unified West that united around his mission  it would be possible to pursue the sweeping foreign policies that he advocated.   It can be argued that in the first half of his premiership he went some way towards achieving the (eg Clarke 2007) but with Iraq the wheels came off.  The result though is that British foreign policy thinking became focussed on the concept of global solutions to global problems with global coalitions.  This doesn’t require a very strong concept of British foreign policy because what he’s talking about is a Western foreign policy where, in his mind, the West can achieve anything that it puts its mind to.  My concern is that British foreign policy remains strongly marked by the Blairite assumptions even though the world is very different from what it was at the end of the 1990s.

In the next post I’ll take up some of these implications.

Clarke M (2007) Foreign Policy, in Seldon A (ed) Blair’s Britain, 1997-2007, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 593–614.
Hirschman AO (1977) The Passions and the Interests: Political Arguments for Capitalism before Its Triumph. Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press.

From Bruno Latour to British Foreign Policy via Tony Blair: Part 2

Latour refers to diplomacy quite frequently but his most extensive discussion is in his essay The War of the Worlds.  Originally dating from 2000 it was revised in the wake of 9/11. His target is partly Samuel Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations thesis but he’s also invoking all kinds of ‘science wars’ and ‘culture wars’ that concern his broader interests.

His argument here extends the line set out in We Have Never Been Modern.  Western modernity sees the world as consisting of a single nature and multiple cultures.  The claim to authority of the West is based on its mastery of science and hence of nature so other cultures are just wrong.  Hence, the export of Western modernity is seen by the West as simply the correction of error but by those outside as a war against them their culture and their nature.

It is not astounding that the modernists managed to wage war all over the planet without ever coming into conflict with anyone, without ever declaring war? Quite the contrary! All they did was to spread, by force of arms, profound peace, indisputable civilization, uninterrupted progress.  They had no adversaries or enemies in the proper sense – just bad pupils.  Yes their wars, their conquests, were educational! Even their massacres were purely pedagogical!

He points out Carl Schmitt’s view that you can only have a real enemy where there is no common mediator.  For the ‘modernizers’ there has always been a common mediator.

Even when fighting fiercely, they always deferred to the authority of an indisputable arbiter, of a mediator far above all possible forms of conflict: Nature and its laws, Science and its unified matters of fact, Reason and its way to reach agreement.  When one benefits from a mandate given by a mediator who oversees the conflict, one is no longer running a war but simply carrying out policy operations, Schmitt says.

Like Huntington he sees that the Western project can no longer proceed unchallenged because other points of view can no longer be ignored but more importantly because the separation between nature/culture/politics can’t be sustained.  Hence the need to recognize the nature of the project and to see that there are other points of view.  You can only have diplomacy where you have an enemy, where other people or entities can’t be simply obliterated or absorbed into the system, that is taking other views seriously.

It is not a matter of replacing intolerant conquistadors with specialists of inter-cultural dialogue.  Who ever mentioned dialogue? Who asked for tolerance? No conquerors should rather be replaced by enemies capable of recognizing that those facing them are enemies also and not irrational beings, that the outcome of the battle is uncertain, and that consequently, it may be necessary to negotiate, and in earnest. While the inter-cultural dialogue implies that ninety per cent of the common world is already common and that there is a universal referee waiting for the parties to settle their petty disputes, the negotiation we should be prepared for includes the ninety per cent—God, Nature and souls included—and there is no arbiter.

Later he points out

 one should add the long-term reason of the diplomat. To be sure diplomats are often hated as potential traitors ready for seedy backroom compromises, but they have the great advantage of getting to work after the balance of forces has become visible on the ground, not before as in the case of police operations. Diplomats know that there exists no superior referee, no arbiter able to declare that the other party is simply irrational and should be disciplined. If a solution is to be found, it is there, among them, with them here and now and nowhere else. Whereas rationalists would not know how to assemble peace talks, as they will not give seats to those they call “archaic” and “irrational,” diplomats might know how to organize a parley among declared enemies who, in the sense of Carl Schmitt, may become allies after the peace negotiations have ended. The great quality of diplomats is that they don’t know for sure what are the exact and final goals—not only of their adversaries but also of their own people. It is the only leeway they possess, the tiny margin of the negotiations played out in closed rooms. The parties to the conflicts may, after all, be willing to alter slightly what they were fighting for. If you oppose rationalist modernizers to archaic and backward opponents, there is no war, to be sure, but there is no possible peace either. Negotiation cannot even start. Reason recognizes no enemy. But the outcome might be entirely different if you pit proponents of different common worlds one against the other. Because then diplomats could begin to realize that there are different ways to achieve the goals of the parties at war, including their own. Nothing proves in advance that modernizers might not be willing to modify theways to achieve their cherished goals if they were shown that the cult of nature makes it impossible to reach them.

This all comes back to Latour’s basic world view we’ve built a world that is incredibly messy filled with all kinds of hybrid constructions but the categories we use to describe it are far too simple with the result that we are constantly confused about what we’re doing.  He makes the point that we like to appeal to Science but in fact that there are lots of sciences.

If you’ve read this far you’ve probably got an inkling of how Tony Blair matches up to this.

Tomorrow: Tony Blair, one world and all good things go together.

From Bruno Latour to British Foreign Policy via Tony Blair, Part 1.

I’ve been meaning to pick up my discussion of the potential of Actor-Network Theory for International Relations and the study of diplomacy but it’s got tangled up with something else I’ve been thinking about quite a lot recently:  the state of British foreign policy both as it is and as it should be.    The result is something of an impasse and as way of moving forward on this I’m going to take (probably) three or four posts to work through these issues.  The argument in a nutshell is that the UK has quite a coherent theory of foreign policy, developed under Tony Blair, which is quite possibly wrong, Latour’s discussion of diplomacy tells us why it’s wrong.  A subsidiary theme of this is the disconnect between the theory of Diplomacy as it’s talked about at ISA and the contemporary practice of diplomacy.

The parts of this discussion are probably in the wrong order but as I need to push this ahead then we’ll take them as they come.

Firstly, Latour on politics.

One reason that I’m interested in Latour is because he frequently talks about diplomacy and politics as positive activities, in fact one of the basic problems with the modern world is that there isn’t enough of them. 

The importance of politics follows directly from his sociology.  As he argues, particularly in Reassembling The Social, sociology has been too ready to use ‘society’ to explain things when the real question is how can society exist in the first place.  In Latour’s world the mystery that needs to be explained is how things hang together rather than flying off in different directions.  Thus, politics is the way that assemblage of people and things are brought together and maintained.  This is a practical art, that in dealing with people places a heavy burden on rhetoric.  In his essay ‘What if we Talked Politics a Little’ he argues that it is precisely this effort to create the community that ensures that political speech always seems slippery but to demand that it follows the requirements of ‘straight’ talk either in the everyday sense or in a Habermasian version of ideal communication is to fundamentally misunderstand what political speech is about.  Pandora’s Hope (Chaps 7+8) contains a long dissection of Plato’s Gorgias where he argues that Socrates’s defeat of the sophists effectively replaces the necessary practical skills of politics with a version of  science  that is useless in practice.   This affects both how we understand politics and science by theoretically separating the two we become unable to effectively deal with the increasing numbers of hybrid issues where they are intertwined.

Tomorrow: Latour on Diplomacy, on Thursday Tony Blair.

Latour B (1999) Pandora’s hope: essays on the reality of science studies. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.
Latour B (2003) What if we Talked Politics a Little?, Contemporary Political Theory, 2: 143–64. Copy here
Latour B (2007) Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-network-theory. Oxford: OUP Oxford.



German Democracy Support in Middle East

I’ve written before about the difficulties of democracy assistance programmes, so you might be interested in this piece from the International Herald Tribune, Judy Dempsey reports on the view of participants in a German scholarship programme for young people from the Middle East.

While welcoming the programme the graduates comment on who gets to participate –

The German Parliament’s scholarship has particular weaknesses. The Parliament’s administration asked the German Embassy in Cairo for help in finding participants. The embassy then contacted the foundations and other prominent nongovernmental organizations, choosing established, predictable channels rather than reaching out to different strata of society

The problem is that any programme large enough to make a difference is not going to fly because of the expense and because regional governments are not going to allow it.    As the report mentions

“Our government, for example, hates the foundations,” said Imen Nefzi, 29, who is involved in a nongovernmental organization in Tunisia. “They think we are foreign agents, that we are trying to undermine the system. It is not easy trying to build democracy even on a small level.”

Some German nonprofit organizations — like the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, which is affiliated with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union party — have been under constant pressure by the Egyptian authorities since 2011. Last June, its offices and property were confiscated.

Another issue was who to support

Others said that the Europeans were too selective. They supported only liberal parties while shunning the moderate Islamist movements that represent large parts of these countries’ populations

Well worth a read to get some local perspective on the democracy support activitity.


Japan, China and Soft Power

Last week I blogged about one bilateral PD study and here’s another Utpal Vyas, Soft Power in Japan-China Relations: State, Sub-State and Non-State Relations.  The concern here is with the extent to which Japan has been able to build soft power in its dealings with China.

Vyas looks at the impact of different types of actors in building Japanese soft power, so his case studies focus on a governmental agency, The Japan Foundation, a subnational agency, Kobe City and a non-governmental agency, the Japan-China Friendship Association.  He starts from an assumption that the Japan Foundation would be hampered by its quasi-governmental status but concludes that it’s done quite a good job relative to its limited resources.  His second case deals with the sister cities relationship between Kobe and Tianjin.  This goes back to the 1970s and was the pioneer of such relations between Japan and China, these are both port cities and determined efforts have led to the development of numerous mutually beneficial links around trade, port development, urban issues as well as cultural ones.  These relations appear unaffected by conflicts between the two countries.  The JCFA dates back to the early days of the People’s Republic, it contained a mixture of ideological sympathisers and businesspeople who saw an opportunity.  It was treated with suspicion by the government because of its politics.  The history of the organization was marked by political developments, not least the splitting of the Japanese left into pro-Chinese and pro-Soviet factions.  Despite these ructions the organization was able to prosper after the end of the Cultural Revolution because of its good relations with the Chinese government and was well placed to build links between the two countries after Deng Xiaoping came to power.

Having got to the end though I’m left with a puzzle.  Despite all this work political relations between Japan and China are not good,    there is a high level of popular anti-Japanese sentiment in China and people in Japan seem disposed to move towards a stronger assertion of Japanese interests.  How do we explain this?  It could be suggested that relations would be worse in the absence of these activities or that given the size of China they simply haven’t been conducted on a sufficient scale.

What do we mean by soft power? The concept was originally developed to explain outcomes in international politics (ie continued US dominance despite relative decline in material resources) but was rather vague in the mechanisms that underpinned this effect.  By looking at the organizations at work in the Japan and China Vyas is filling in some of the micro foundations of the theory of soft power Vyas tends to assume that the activities he’s examining produce soft power but there’s not much evidence of soft power in the original sense of impact on policy.  These activities certainly have an effect on the people involved and those around them but getting them to adopt Japanese procedures or develop a taste for manga isn’t the same as influencing foreign policy.   Part of the answer in this case is the role of the Chinese government: it’s used the cases studied here to aid its agenda while making sure that it maintains control of the whole process.

I think that there’s something to be learned from the historians’ debate over cultural imperialism vs cultural transfer (eg Gienow-Hecht 2000).  The point here was that the adoption of foreign cultural practices was seen as imperialism this implied two assumptions  that the adoption was forcible and that it had a political effect.  The cultural transfer argument was that it wasn’t safe to make these assumptions people might adopt foreign cultural practices because they liked them or thought they were useful and they might not have any political effect. The danger is that the soft power argument is making the same mistake it’s assuming the political effect.

What we need is need is  better theory that specifies the circumstances where impact will occur and when it won’t.

Gienow-Hecht J (2000) Shame on US? Academics, Cultural Transfer, and the Cold War-A Critical Review, Diplomatic History, 24: 465–94.