Archive for November, 2013


Looking for a Christmas Present?

November 27, 2013

Do you have someone in your life who is obsessed with public diplomacy or cultural relations?, do they read French? Is your other half asking you what you want for Christmas?  Then PD Networks can recommnent the perfect present: it’s the Atlas de l’Influence Francaise au XXIe Siecle new from the Institut Francaise

It’s exactly what it sounds like it’s an atlas with a set of maps that plot France’s influence in the world across numerous spheres of activity: language, development, health, architecture, books, cinema, science, the cultural network etc.  Each map is accompanied by a commentary and there are case studies of influence in different regions.   You can see pages from the atlas here and there’s an interview the editor here

My copy turned up today so I haven’t had much of chance to look at the contents carefully but there’s an effort to explain why the concept of influence is different from soft power, influence is a much broader concept.  For an up to date French view of where the game is this looks invaluable.

If you’re a foreign ministry or cultural relations organization that wants to make the case for what you do this looks a pretty valuable tool in two ways:  either you can go ‘we ought to have something like that’ or you can wave it at the people with the money and go ‘look at all the things that the French are doing’.

Amazon will even gift wrap it for you.

Thanks to Louis Clerc (@luikki) for alerting me to this.


It’s Complicated: Britain, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain

November 25, 2013

Last week the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee put out the report on their investigation into UK relations with Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.  The full report is here and the summary is here.

Three comments

  1. The relationship with the Gulf sets out the tensions within British foreign policy in a pretty spectacular way.  On one hand the British relationship goes back centuries and is embedded in a nexus of royalty, arms sales and oil.  On the other hand from a liberal perspective Saudi Arabia is one of the worst places in the world.  These poles are overlaid with concerns about terrorism and the Sunni and anti-Iranian direction of Saudi foreign policy. This is illustrated by how much of the report is draws on evidence from retired ambassadors and how much from human rights groups.
  2. The report does a good job of setting out the multiplex nature of international relationships.  Particularly with Saudi Arabia there are multiple strands to the relationship that make applying leverage on one of them hard.
  3. Then there’s the public diplomacy dimension.  What polling there is suggests a pretty negative attitude to the UK in Saudi Arabia with a net negative trust in ‘the British people’ of -10% and for the British Government of -34%, other polls suggest that Britain is seen more negatively than France and Germany and only slightly more positively than the US (32 vs 30%).  Of course as the report points out that British people have a pretty negative attitude to Saudi Arabia.   There’s a glass half full moment where the British Council says that participating in its cultural relations activities manages to improve things.* The report demands greater public engagement.  I would add though that there’s an issue that needs to be thought through – why are the ratings so low?  They are much worse than even for Pakistan or Turkey.  British public view of  of Saudi Arabia rests on a view of the place as quite alien – which of course it is – does this work in the other direction too?

*The report manages to confuse two diagrams taken from this British Council report (p.12), the BC report says that people in Saudi Arabia who have participated in any BC activities have a +2% trust rating and for those who participated in two or more activities the rating goes up to +12%.




New Thinking on Foreign Policy from the Labour Party?

November 21, 2013

Having been writing quite a lot about British foreign policy recently I noticed that Douglas Alexander, the Labour Party’s shadow foreign secretary, has co-edited a collection of essays called Influencing for Tomorrow: Future Challenges for British Foreign Policy  so have ideas moved on from the Blairite paradigm?

The essayists are drawn from the establishment think tanks (RUSI, Chatham House) with some Americans mixed in. The book has no less than 10 prepublication puffs telling us how great it is.

Some of the pieces have very little directly to do with the UK (eg Rolf Ekeus on a Middle East WMD free zone)

What’s noticeably missing is an attempt to answer the question how we got here or to take stock of British foreign policy generally. There’s also no discussion of spending levels for foreign affairs other than a commitment to the 0.7% development target.

Alexander concludes that Britain needs a foreign policy which is

Multilateral in character, innovative in the use of the power the UK still has, and respectful of international law.  We have called for an approach that is simultaneously Asia-conscious and pro-European, and simultaneously focussed on a mutually beneficial partnership with the US while still being concerned with matters across wider Europe.  And we have collapsed for an approach that is responsible as it exercises sovereignty and is informed by the challenges opportunities presented by new technology.


That list of regions can be read in at least three ways;  ‘the rest of the world is not a priority’ (is this strategic choice?) or   ‘we can’t make up our mind about where our priorities are’ or ‘we’ve forgotten to mention the Middle East, Africa or Latin America.’

The overall impression is that what we are getting is Tony Blair Lite foreign policy, at one point Alexander does say that we should reject ‘the hubris that the UK can “reorder the world”‘  and generally in most of the chapters there’s more of an emphasis on diplomacy than we might have expected a decade ago but without any sense of a major rethinking of what it means to do foreign policy for Britain.  In contrast the contributions on climate change and responsibility to protect you see the Blairite paradigm in full force.

There are some interesting chapters here.  Mark Leonard’s contribution on ‘Making Britain China Proof’ is blunt in its assessment that the rise of China is hollowing out the global liberal order and this needs to be resisted and it includes what I take to be a dig at previous Labour foreign secretaries:

‘British foreign policy-makers have clung to some heroic assumptions about the power of multilateral institutions to socialize emerging powers.  It is vital to hang on to the values and strategy of promoting a world bound by law rather than power, but the tactics will need to be revised’.

Charles Grant’s chapter on the EU has a section on the rise of Germany hegemony in Europe which is a theme that is becoming increasingly common.  Robin Niblett argues for a the UK as an insider/outsider power without being entirely clear what that means but I think that there’s something there – we’re part of lots of networks and that has the potential using the arbitrage between them more effectively. Paul Collier has an interesting chapter on development – for instance improving capacity for tracking how money flows out of developing economies by corruption.

You can get a second hand copy on for £3.08.


News-Work and Public Diplomacy

November 20, 2013

Another package from Amazon; another fascinating dissection of the place of culture in the foreign relations of country y.  Don’t get me wrong I like reading about cultural relations and cultural diplomacy as much as the next person but I’m thinking that we need to think more about the importance of working with foreign media organizations. Newswork remains fundamental to the practice of public diplomacy but I think that it gets neglected in both the academic and policy literature.   Part of this is the perception that the question of news supply has become much less important because of the internet but news is shaped by the routines of journalists and news consumers and the online version of newspaper may well be looking in the same places for news as its print version did years ago.

Why does news matter for PD?  News influences foreign publics but news also influences foreign elites.  News is one of the basic components of policy making.  So if an actor can influence the news diet of foreign publics there should be some benefit from it.

So what I want to do in this post is to lay out the components of a public diplomacy newswork agenda.

How does this happen?  Here there are three sites that we need to think about.

Firstly, there’s the infrastructure of news – the role of news agencies in supplying ‘wholesale’ news.  If I’m running a newspaper where does my foreign news come from? I either steal it from other media or I subscribe to news agencies.  Language and cost are issues here.  If I can only subscribe to one news agency which one do I subscribe to?  Well news agencies, particularly those from different countries offer different news, you can be pretty sure that they’ll have more news about one country and less about others and the stories that they carry will be framed in different ways – not necessarily for any manipulative reasons but because agencies frame news in particular ways.  Hence one strategy that has recurred at various times is subsidizing your own country’s new agency or creating other organizations that provide news stories to foreign media at reduced rates or even for nothing.  By switching a news organization’s foreign news source from one country to another you increase the availability of information about one country and decrease news about another.  For plenty of examples of this see the history of the various news agencies, this is basically what’s going on with Xinhua’s penetration of Africa.

Secondly, there’s the role of the overseas post.  The press job there is to cultivate the local media, make sure that you can deal with their requests for information but also get them to carry your country’s news.  But…the post level depends on a good supply of material from home.  Good in the sense of plentiful, up to date and relevant to where the post is.  There are lots of cases of posts from all kinds of countries complaining about the crap that the ministry sends them: not enough, too late, boring, wrong language, not relevant.  MFA’s needed to run their own mini-news agencies to provide news that overseas posts could try to pass onto local media – the US version of this was the Washington File but other countries operated something similar.

Thirdly, the ministry needs to keep the posts supplied with material that they  can use, alert them to things that are happening and provide lines that they can use, feed the foreign correspondents who cover their country and try and steer the domestic media.  The latter is particularly importance because very often the foreign correspondents take their cue from the home media.  Particularly when countries are in some type of conflict situation (hence paying attention to each other) you get dynamics where the media in one country report criticisms in the other’s media triggering spiral of media antagonism.

How much of this has changed across time?  The further we go back in time the more the operation of the system was shaped by the scarcity of news.  If you can’t just go on the internet and look something up where are your sources of information? In the abstract we can argue that there is more information around but news is shaped by routines – if you’re a journalist where do you look for news.

We also have to factor in variation between sending and receiving countries.  In some countries at particular points of time it was quite normal to pay for news to appear in particular outlets in others this was a complete non-starter.  Some countries are seen as more newsworthy than others.

Some of this stuff has been chewed over in different parts of the International Communications literature – for instance the historical domination of news in the global south by American, British or French sources – but not really at the level of agency, how have official news policies shaped the news and to what extent do they continue to do so?  And for the practitioners out there how can we do it better?




French to Anglo-Saxons: English? Who Needs It?

November 15, 2013

I loved this report from the New York Times from earlier in the week Education First, a commercial education provider, has been compiling an index of proficiency in English across various countries.

And apparently the French have been slacking:

The study put the country’s average English language skills in the “low proficiency” bracket, between China and the United Arab Emirates — and last among European nations. It also found that France was one of only two European countries where proficiency had decreased over the past six years.

According to Ms. Bell, the level of English proficiency among French adults suffers both from inadequate teaching at high school level and the reality that — despite fears of French culture’s being overwhelmed by American pop culture, very little English is actually used in everyday life.

France’s secondary school system, which has only recently started testing English oral skills as part of the Baccalaureate, is a major reason for poor language skills, she said.

There’s a nice idea here.

“English is the de facto language of communication today between people who don’t share a native language,” Ms. Bell. said “Measuring English proficiency is in many ways a proxy measurement of international integration.”

Conversely, the EF study suggests that weak proficiency in English may correlate with weak integration into the global economy.

“The Middle East and North Africa are the weakest regions in English,” the study said, with Iraq ranked 60th, at the bottom of the list.

So what needs to be done? You need to stop dubbing foreign programmes

Unlike its smaller northern European neighbors, France dubs most American films and television shows into French. The top English speakers in continental Europe — Norway, Sweden and the Netherlands — all tend to use subtitling.

“It’s a vicious-virtuous cycle,” said Ms. Bell: Audiences not used to subtitling tend to shy away from it, which in turn diminishes their capacity to understand English.

I rather admire this refusal to get with the programme.  Perhaps the French response would be to compile an index of French competence that correlates with the degree integration into the world of culture….

The actual report is here.







‘A subversive use of facts’: Soldatensender Calais and Black Propaganda

November 13, 2013 has an endless supply of interesting historical documents on psychological warfare.  They’ve just posted this copy of a 1943 memo from the British Political Warfare Executive to its twin supervisors the Foreign Secretary, Anthony Eden, and the Minister of Information Brendan Bracken.  The context is the launch of the most successful British ‘black’ station of the war Soldatensdender Calais, this pretended to be German forces station and was intended to encourage dissension and defeatism.  The BBC feared that it would soon become obvious that Calais was a British station and that this would damage their credibility.  The PWE who controlled the station dissented and this memo sets out the arguments.

I quite often see it asserted that ‘black propaganda’ means that the content of service is false.  The PWE is at pains to point out that even ‘black’ needs facts and goes on to defend the use of black stations even if their cover is paper thin.

(vi) “CALAIS”, while admittedly a “fundamental lie”, relies on a subversive use of facts, not on untruth. Its news is convincingly true; its comment is intelligent selection and presentation of facts and of intelligence derived, in the main, from Service sources.

(vii) For a station such as “CALAIS” an apparent German origin is a necessary and useful convention. That is to say, even those Germans (vide prisoners’ evidence about Atlantik) who suspect its British origin will nevertheless accept its arguments because it is essentially German in its approach, in tune with their feelings and emotions as Germans and providing a psychological alibi which an avowedly enemy station does not. (It provides an actual alibi if caught listening – “We thought it was a German station”). Moreover, “CALAIS” can talk of “We Germans” while the B.B.C. must talk of “You Germans”; the first removes inhibitions, the second creates them.


Edward Luttwak Explains Why China Should Be Nice to People

November 12, 2013

Edward Luttwak always writes interesting stuff – a couple of my favourites are his Strategy and The Grand Strategy of the Byzantine Empire.  I’ve just come across his 2012 book on The Rise of the China vs the Logic of Strategy.  I don’t think that this is one of his best but there are a couple of public diplomacy angles that deserve comment.

The argument is that if China thinks that using its rapid economic rise to fuel its military build-up will increase its influence in the world it’s wrong.  In order to increase its influence China should minimize the expansion of its military forces and revert to a policy of peaceful development.

His argument is essentially the lateral pressure view that I wrote about here but put in a rather more pungent version involving fat people in a lift.  The economic rise of China affects other people regardless of what China does but coupling the economic expansion to a military one guarantees a negative reaction.

As others have done he points to the analogy with the rise of Germany before the First World War but he also points out the extent of German cultural, industrial and scientific prestige at the end of the 19th century.  What derailed Germany’s rise to world power was their decision to build a navy to challenge Britain.  In this argument Luttwak is echoing the debate that did take place in Germany before 1914; was it was possible to become a world power without war – the position advocated by Karl Lamprecht and which formed the basis for the post 1918 cultural foreign policy.  Although Luttwak does not refer to this debate he is arguing that weltmacht with and without war were not alternatives for Germany as it was only the peaceful version that would maximize influence in the world.

Does he think that China can learn from the German case?  The short answer is no.  In his view all great powers tend towards ‘strategic autism’ but China has some disadvantages.  Firstly, because it sees itself as the middle kingdom it lacks a well-developed understanding of how to deal with other countries as equals and as such fails to see how its actions appear to others.  Secondly, its much vaunted tradition of strategic thinking represented by Sun Tzu simply provides a set of stratagems that may have worked within the common culture of ancient China but which are much less effective in a context dominated by nation states.  Thirdly, China just isn’t very good at strategy which explains why it’s been ruled by foreign dynasties for so much of its history.   Luttwak also takes a dig at Henry Kissinger for being far too impressed with the claims of China’s ancient wisdom.

The result is that Luttwak expects China to keep on annoying the neighbours and for an anti-China coalition to emerge.  The second half of the book is a country by country examination of how this is happening.

Following on from yesterday’s post if we want to think about China’s public diplomacy we have to keep the structural dimension in focus.  Whatever CCTV or the Confucius Institutes say about China they are operating in an environment structured by the reality of China’s increasing weight in the world.  While communication and psychology matter in public diplomacy they’re not the whole story.


Public Diplomacy and the WEIRD World

November 11, 2013

I recently came across a reference to Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind, thought that sounds interesting so I ordered a copy and was bit bemused to find the copy that I got had “A landmark contribution to humanity’s understanding of itself – New York Times” on the front cover.  I’d never heard of him or his book so it shows how plugged into modern culture I am.  If you’ve been absorbing his insights for years please ignore this post.

The first part of Haidt’s argument is that David Hume’s view of human action where reason is the slave of the passions is empirically correct – he goes through a lot of previous research and his own experiments that back this up.

He then argues that human beings have evolved to have six moral tastes: care/harm;  liberty/oppression; fairness/cheating; loyalty/betrayal; authority/subversion; sanctity/degradation.

The interesting point is that people from what he terms the WEIRD world; that is Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich and Democratic tend to reason about morality in terms of care, liberty and fairness but only pay marginal attention to the other three.  In American terms this particularly applies to ‘liberals’ while ‘conservatives’ tend to strike a balance between all six.  If you were to look at this in global comparative terms you would probably find that most westerners lean towards the first three.

If you were that way inclined you could construct a typology of public diplomacy appeals based on the prevalence of particular moral tastes among your target audiences – Haidt points to the perceived effectiveness of Republican messaging in the US because of its greater balance – but I think where you would end up is with something like the reified view of culture critiqued here.  I think that the more interesting lesson for public diplomacy practice is in the challenge that this kind of view poses to Western practices and assumptions about the way the world works.

Haidt then goes on to look at what he takes to be the social role of morality but ends with a definition that morality is basically anything that holds society together.  I think psychologists like to think that sociology can be reduced to psychology but I’ve always been sceptical about that.  I’ll pick this point up tomorrow when I talk about a very different book.

Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided By Politics and Religion (London: Penguin 2013)


Does The EU Need a More Pluralist Approach to Democracy Support

November 8, 2013

Last week the European section of the Carnegie Endowment put out a paper by Richard Youngs and Kateryna Pishchikova calling for ‘a more pluralist approach to European democracy support’ it’s quite helpful in making sense of the current state of thinking on democracy support but I have a strong sense that the prescriptions don’t follow from the analysis.

The paper starts by arguing that the EU has approached democracy support indirectly as an offshoot of its theory of integration. Essentially if you are outside the EU you want to get access to its market to get access you need to sign up to its rules, regulations and systems of governance.  If you do this you will end up with something that looks like democracy.   The problem is that particularly since the economic crisis countries outside the EU are less convinced that the EU actually has all the answers.  Further, authoritarian regimes are getting wise to the democracy support toolkit and are seeing the EU as something to be managed.

The nuts and bolts of the EU approach have been about ‘exporting rules and conditions’ in the assumption that if you accept and implement enough you are going to move governance in a positive direction.  But in both the Middle East and the former Soviet space this doesn’t seem to be doing the job.  In the former democrats can’t see what EU rules have to do with democracy.

What is to be done?  The EU needs more coherency across its own programmes and across those of its member states.  It also needs to be willing to be more directly political in its approach.

There also needs to be a broader rethinking that recognizes

  • That there are now multiple scenarios of change – I think that the point here is that the EU thinking is dominated by the Eastern European experience – and the EU needs to be able to recognize and deal with different situations.  A telling point is that the paper uses the term  ‘transition’ at several points even as cites the argument that we should stop thinking in terms of transition.
  • The EU needs better ways of dealing with the range of restrictions on civil society organizations.  Here the paper hedges its bets on one hand arguing that the EU should make its democracy activities more transparent so it is clear that they are not partisan but on the other hand considering whether they can be hidden within larger development packages.
  • The EU should do a better job at recognizing the possibility of different models of democracy  and of working with rising democratic powers such as Brazil and India.

The paper concludes

Democracy support is at a crucial juncture. It could either be reinvented or begin to lose both credibility and traction. Organizations that promote and support democracy face multiple challenges in this environment. But there are also new opportunities for organizations to seize a leadership role in rethinking crucial aspects of democracy support.

The democracy support community has known for a number of years that democracy policies cannot merely continue as before. Yet organizations tend to continue with their short-term, day-to-day business of running projects instead of seeking to coordinate a higher-level and deeper reassessment of how democracy support strategy needs to adapt to stay relevant and useful in a reshaped world order.

The conclusion complains that situation today is one of ‘abundant eclecticism’ and that we need ‘greater pluralism’

This all leaves me a bit puzzled.  I’m persuaded that the EU model isn’t working as effectively as it did in the past.  But if you’ve got ‘abundant eclecticism’ I’m not sure that ‘greater pluralism’ is the answer unless pluralism is somehow going to impose more order on the situation.   I think what’s needed is much greater degree of realism about what can be achieved.  That means focusing efforts on a smaller range of countries that are important to the EU and require a greater concentration of resources.  The chance of the EU doing agile and flexible is zero, so there’s no point pretending that it can.  If we look earlier discussions of similar activities in this sphere the record isn’t good and if states are bad at joined up statecraft the EU is worse.


Confucius Institutes Again

November 1, 2013

The distinguished anthropologist Marshall Sahlins has a long piece on Confucius Institutes in the latest issue of The Nation which contains a few pieces of information that I don’t remember having seen before (or I’ve seen and hadn’t registered.

  • Confucius Institutes are under the Chinese Language Council International, better known as the Hanban, the governing council of the Hanban is chaired by a deputy Premier and includes among its members the Foreign Ministry, the State Council Information Office, and the State Press and Publications Administration not just the Ministry of Education.  As Sahlins puts it ‘Hanban is an instrument of the party state operating as an international pedagogical organization’.
  • The model agreement for establishing an Institute is secret and contains a non-disclosure agreement.  This tends to obscure just how much influence that the Chinese side has over staffing and curriculum.   In particular Chinese staff are vetted for political reliability – Falun Gong members need not apply – and CI programmes won’t deal with Taiwan, Tibet, Tianmen or human rights.
  • In negotiating terms for Institutes the Hanban appears to be more flexible in the US than in Canada, and the more prestigious the University the more that it is able to set the terms of the contract.  However Sahlin speculates that as top American universities are getting involved with the programme they are seeing them as icebreakers to improve their access to China so they’re not driving as hard a bargain as he would expect.
  • Sahlin is particularly interested in the University of Chicago, which seems to have managed avoid delete the secrecy clause from the contract and have a say over staffing but is still acting as if the whole thing is secret and isn’t engaged in the selection of staff.
  • He also makes the point that CIs only teach students to read simplified Characters – ie the script that is used in the PRC but not in other Chinese speaking populations (Hong Kong, Taiwan, Malaysia)
  • There’s also an evolution in the CI strategy away from language and culture and towards greater involvement in teaching and research in other areas.

One of the take aways from my current research is that engagement with a country’s educational system is one of the most powerful ways of building connections and China is doing this big time.