Strategic Communication at NATO

In March the National Defence Academy of Latvia put out a report by Steve Tatham and Rita Le Page on Nato Strategic Communication: More to be Done?

They argue that despite the importance of Strategic Communication in NATO’s operations in Afghanistan the alliance has failed to properly institutionalize the practice or develop a doctrine for it. If the key argument within the US military has been over whether Strategic Communication is a communication function or an approach to operations Tatham and Le Page argue for the latter while seeing NATO as too committed to former.   In addressing this they argue that responsibility for Strategic Communications should move from the Public Diplomacy Division to the International Military Staff.

Public Diplomacy and ‘The Good Project’

Cardinal Richelieu saw diplomacy as process of ‘continuous negotiation’. States have an ongoing relationship that is subject to continuing adjustment and that is the job of the diplomat. The same can be said of the ‘classical’ modes of public diplomacy or cultural relations – the operation of an information service or a cultural institute is seen as an ongoing activity. Yet over the past 30 years an increasing volume of PD/CR work (as well as aid/development activity) has been organized as projects. This comes both from the attempt to ensure the effectiveness of government activity but also from the movement of resources from geographical to functional bureaux within MFAs. I’ve been wondering what the implications of this ‘projectization’ of diplomacy are. How much difference does it make to think of diplomacy as a set of discrete projects rather than as the maintenance of a relationship?

As a result I was intrigued to come across a new book that explore the impact of project working on humanitarian relief NGOs.   In The Good Project: Humanitarian Relief NGOs and the Fragmentation of Reason Monika Krause of Goldsmiths College, London argues that instead of analysing humanitarianism in terms of lofty goals or hidden interests we need to pay attention to how an organizational dimension shapes what actually gets done. Based on research on NGOs desk officers she concludes  that they are concerned with developing a portfolio of projects that can demonstrate that they have achieved their specified objectives.  NGOs will avoid projects that are too difficult but also where effectiveness cannot be demonstrated because their reputation for effectiveness is important for in getting funding from donors.  The donors are frequently government aid agencies that need to demonstrate to politicians and taxpayers that they are getting value for money. The logic of the ‘good project’ drives attention away from the ultimate ends of policy towards good execution of discrete activities. In some foreign ministries (the FCO is one) much of the discretionary programming spend is allocated as project funding either to embassies, mittlerorganizations or other NGOs. Would a similar investigation into how funding was allocated find that the organizational requirements of the ‘good project’ (and the skills needed to write a good application) were the overriding factor in determining the allocation of resources. My suspicion would be yes.

Four Thoughts on William Hague as Foreign Secretary

William Hague has stood down as Foreign Secretary after four years so four quick thoughts.

  1. Hague’s general approach to foreign policy can be seen as a continuation of New Labour minus the messianism plus a greater focus on bilateral relationships. Key elements of the Blairite approach such as the continued use of the ‘our interests are our values’ formulation and the importance attached to the Building Stability Overseas Strategy remained
  2. One of Hague’s major emphases has been on the FCO as an institution and the skills required by its staff hence initiatives like the reopening of the language school and efforts to benchmark against other ministries. Further he pushed efforts to expand the diplomatic network to give more weight to rising countries.
  3. On the other hand the FCO is increasingly hemmed in within the national diplomatic system. Hague seems to regard the National Security Council as the source of policy, even though successive Parliamentary reports have pointed to its inability to formulate strategy. Hague accepted the need for the FCO to make cuts in order to contribute to the austerity programme. At the same time with a shrinking budget the FCO has been forced to make an increasing contribution to the government’s commitment to spend 0.7% of GNP on development aid. One would expect the consequence of rising funding for DFID versus a cash strapped FCO led by a one of the most senior of the party’s leaders to be ongoing interdepartmental warfare yet from the outside there’s hardly been a whiff of this.
  4. This absence of conflict suggests to me that Hague’s incumbency has been fundamentally shaped by his loyalty to Cameron’s political project: to promote a modern caring Conservatism hence the unwillingness to rock the boat. Although this may have been to the good of the party I take the view that we need a rethink of British foreign policy and this certainly hasn’t happened under Hague. Even if Philip Hammond is seen as less close to the Cameron/Osborne axis at the heart of the government we’re still only 10 months from an election so don’t hold your breath for new thinking.

State Department Still Doesn’t Have Public Diplomacy Strategy

About 12 months ago the I blogged about the State Department’s Office of Inspector General’s critical report on the Bureau of International Information Programmes.  This aspect of the report that attracted most attention was that State’s digital diplomacy operation was essentially buying followers.  Now the OIG has conducted a second inspection to measure compliance with the 80 recommdendations from the report.  Of the original 80, 15 were closed before the re-inspection, 43 have been closed as a result of the inspection but 7 have been reissued and 15 have been revised and reissued.

While the report acknowledges improvements in IIP several of the recommendations that remain open affect more of State that just this  bureau.

Among the more significant issues:

  • State lacks a proper department wide public diplomacy strategy
  • the head of IIP should have Assistant Secretary Status
  • IIP and Public Affairs need to develop a department wide social media strategy
  • IIP and Public Affairs need a clearer division of labour that includes roles and audiences.

As you would expect it’s easier to fix how you buy airline tickets than it is to sort complex strategic questions.