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If it’s not PD and its not aid what is it?

April 16, 2014

A couple of weeks ago the Public Diplomacy Council posted a piece by Joe Johnson on the ‘Cuban Twitter’ Fiasco where the US Agency for International Development set up an SMS based social network with the intention of circulating anti-Castro messages. What really attracted my attention was the title ‘Cuban Twitter Wasn’t Aid and it Wasn’t Public Diplomacy Either’.

Johnson sternly denounces the fact that

Over the past twenty years, the lines between aid projects and public diplomacy have blurred.  I have sometimes heard PD staffers cast their work as “aid lite” social development. And aid officials undertake public communication and educational exchange projects that look just like PD programs.

This leaves the question: if it’s not aid and it’s not public diplomacy what was it? This intersection between aid and (public) diplomacy is a fact. I wrote a while back about the Danish-Arab Partnership Programme – conducted via the aid agency. I would also argue that the UK’s largest effort to engage foreign publics for purposes of foreign policy is the attempt to influence Pakistan via the improvement of education and governance in Pakistan – managed by DFID

This opens up two sets of problems.

Firstly, from a research perspective there’s the fact that development agencies tend to get studied by scholars of development using a development perspective and PD/diplomacy activities by different sets of scholars with different perspectives. The result is a gap where the practice of statecraft has evaded the way most researchers look at the area.

Secondly, and more importantly, it creates an issue for the management of foreign policy.  In many cases the bulk of the national resources employed in a country are controlled by an aid department that will frequently be concerned to talk and operate in a way that maximizes the distance between them and the MFA and which structures its work as a series of projects. The problem is that you can find yourself in a situation where policy is being implemented and discussed in the technical language of development not in the language of politics.  This doesn’t apply in every aid relationship but in a case the like UK and Pakistan you have security objectives pursued via development means.

It is in this space between that a project like Zunzuneo gets started. The comment has been made that this was really a job for the CIA but the irony is that if it had been a CIA project it almost certainly would have been discussed by an NSC subcommittee, signed off by the President and subject to a rather rigorous analysis of costs, benefits and risks and probably would have been scrubbed before it got started.

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