Archive for May, 2015

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Why It’s Worth Reading the Austrian International Cultural Policy Concept

May 27, 2015

Austria has recently issued a new version of its Auslandskulturkonzept.   I haven’t worked through previous versions of this document and from a quick look at the 2011 version I can’t see that much change (previous versions are here) but I thought I’d flag it for two reasons, firstly, it strikes me as a succinct and typical representation of how a small-medium continental European country approaches the outreach to foreign publics in a cultural mode, secondly, there’s an English version and it struck me that it would be a useful example for teaching.

European cultural relations concepts take for granted nations as cultures as a result the concept of culture is pretty fluid – it includes the arts, sciences, religion and view of the world. Implicitly cultural representation is also national representation. There’s an emphasis on dialogue but at the same time a concern to project the image of Austria. Politics creeps in via a commitment to ‘building trust and securing peace’ through intercultural and interreligious dialogue.

The concept with the minister’s foreword totals five pages but the annexes are useful in that they lay out the different elements of the Austrian cultural network; 80 embassies, 29 Cultural Fora, 64 Austria Libraries (collections of resources in foreign universities) and eight Austrian Institutes (which provide language teaching). Much of this representation, as is typical of European states, is in the neighbouring countries plus major capitals. The concept also draws attention to the possibilities of cooperation with Austrian Trade Centres, the Tourist Office, Austrian Centres in foreign universities, foreign representation of the federal provinces, the development organization and foreign Austrian associations – there’s a lot more to the foreign representation of modern states than embassies.   There’s also a list of methods that can be employed by the different types of representation.

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Ask Max Weber: What’s Wrong With British Foreign Policy

May 20, 2015

Britain’s lack of appetite for international affairs attracted some negative commentary during the election campaign, even the Iranians weight in calling for a more active foreign policy. Given that there’s a widespread belief in Iran that the British are as malevolent as the Americans this was a pretty big deal. The three main parties all had pretty much the same foreign policy in their manifestos so it wasn’t going to become a big issue.

So what’s going on? One explanation is that it’s to do with popular war weariness after Iraq and Afghanistan. Public opinion won’t wear an active foreign policy. Given that Chatham House’s regular survey continues to show 60% support for a significant international role I’m not convinced. In fact Max Weber offers an alternative explanation; it’s the elites that are the problem.

Weber’s argument goes like this.* Support for active foreign policies come from elite groups who gain material (arms contracts?) or other benefits (status, promotions) from success in the international sphere. The success generates prestige that serves as one mechanism to legitimize the elite. In this scheme nationalism is the tendency of the ruled to identify with the rulers – and the more successful they appear to be the more popular they are.

So how is British foreign policy going? Well we invaded Iraq and then having told everyone we knew what we’re doing discovered that we didn’t. The army decided to have another go and got us involved in Helmand, and made it clear that we still didn’t know what we were doing. David Cameron’s Libya mission has gone south and on Syria I’m not convinced that he was really trying that hard. The political, military and foreign policy elites have all been thoroughly deflated on foreign policy. The politicians don’t know anything about foreign affairs and are more interested in clinging to office. I get the impression that senior military, FCO, and intelligence people are anxious to pass the buck – which explains their enthusiasm for the NSC. And the Iraq fallout isn’t over yet because we’ve still got the Chilcot Inquiry into the Iraq War to come it covers the period up to 2009 which means that there are people still in senior positions who are implicated in events – so don’t expect brilliant new initiatives coming up from below to enthuse the political leadership any time soon.   New thinking is going to have to come from outside the government.

*Randall Collins discusses this in chapter 6 of Weberian Sociological Theory (Cambridge: CUP, 1986), this draws on the argument in Chapter 9 of Weber’s Economy and Society (Berkeley: University of California, 1968).

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UK Defence Decision-Making: Still Broken

May 19, 2015

As the election approached Parliamentary Committees were clearing the decks and one of gems that you may have missed came from the Defence Committee on Decision-Making in Defence Policy. Guess what? It’s still rubbish.

The report looks at five decisions: the decision to deploy UK forces to Helmand, Afghanistan in 2005 and the decision to disperse available forces in small bases the following year; the 1998 decision to build aircraft carriers without catapults and rely on the short take off/vertical landing version of the F-35, the decision in 2010 to switch to catapults and the 2012 reversal of this.

In all of these cases there was a disturbing lack of clarity about how decisions were reached, who made the decisions and an absence of knowledge about the implications of those decisions.

The report looks at two set of reforms that were intended to improve things the 2011 Levene report on the Ministry of Defence and the creation of the National Security Council.

The Committee, consistent with previous reports, are less than convinced that these have helped that much. The Levene reforms have downgraded the role of the service chiefs of staff in strategic decision-making. NSC discussions tend to ignore prepared papers. There is a general lack of interest in strategy, decision-makers lack knowledge of strategic issues, even senior military officers lack the advanced education of their American counterparts. Civil service reforms aimed at increasing mobility across Whitehall and between the Civil Service and the outside world have had the effect of placing a premium on general management skills and have downgraded specialist expertise.

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Five Quick Thoughts on the Diplomacy and Development Review

May 13, 2015

I’ve been reading Enduring Leadership in a Dynamic World, the State Department’s recent Quadrennial and Development Review. There been some interesting commentary  for instance here, here and here

Four quick thoughts

  1. A few years back people began to talk about the fusion of diplomacy and public diplomacy. If you do that though what happens to the identity of diplomacy and public diplomacy?  On the basis of this report the dialectic gives you something new. There is remarkably little diplomacy or public diplomacy (or for that matter development) in this report what you get is diplomacy as the construction of a civil society centred model of governance.
  2. If you follow the Western practice of statecraft this isn’t surprising but I think that this is something of a challenge to academic Diplomatic Studies (either in the ‘classical’ or ‘modernist’ variants) and International Relations – the routine theoretical opposition between states and civil society doesn’t work when civil society is the chosen instrument of foreign policy.
  3. Practically every page of this report has new examples of programmes, initiatives, partnerships with business, civil society, foundations, international organizations and I’m left wondering how much of this is ‘real’ in the sense of making a significant difference and about the fragmentation of management attention and resources that this implies.
  4. Joe Nye and others have argued that in the contemporary world that there is diffusion of power from the established power centres to rising powers and a diffusion of power from states to non-state actors.  The key bet in this report is that it’s the latter that will win out but the resulting civil society will be a liberal and pro-American one.   I’m not convinced that this end run around nation-states will work out as well as the QDDR seems to suggest, not least because, as I’ve argued civil societies have a substantial national component.