The opening of James M. Dorsey’s latest on Saudi Arabia’s turn to ‘moderate Islam‘ is well worth thinking about from the perspective of public diplomacy effects
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman may be seeking to revert his kingdom to an unspecified form of moderate Islam but erasing the impact of 40 years of global funding of ultra-conservative, intolerant strands of the faith is unlikely to be eradicated by decree.
Not only because ultra-conservatism has taken root in numerous Muslim countries and communities, but also because it has given opportunistic politicians a framework to pursue policies that appeal to bigoted and biased sentiments in bids to strengthen their grip on power. Nowhere is that more evident than in Asia, home to several of the Islamic world’s most populous countries
One element of my theoretical rethink is the question of effects outside the framework of organizational planning. Looking at things through an organizational lens affects how we understand effects and the role of intention. So six points.
- The Crown Prince makes a decision but the effects have been generated by decisions and actions taken over a long period. Hence the current decision may have limited effect.
- The effects discussed here are not being generated directly by Saudi actions that have influence on information or attitudes (ie classical communication effects) but by the creation of institutions embedded in the target society.
- This embedding will, in some cases at least, have permitted the institutions to become independent of Saudi support.
- Embedding autonomous institutions that promote your values in another country is pretty much the pinnacle of success for public diplomacy.
- Unfortunately all public diplomacies end in failure because at some point you change your mind about the objective and instantaneously any success becomes error. This seems to be a pretty good example.
- The effects of any public diplomacy action are not just those that fit within the organizational plan – ie intended positive effects within a specified time period. They all include unintended negative effects.
There an interesting new paper in the Journal of Public Policy by Jordan Tama on why government agencies conduct major strategic reviews. Tama uses the case of the US Quadrennial Defence Review as his starting point. Given the high degree of scepticism about the value of this document in shaping the development of US defence strategy why has the practice spread across other government departments (including, of course State with its two Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Reviews)? The answer is that the reviews are politically useful – either to Congress or the White House in influencing an agency – or to the leadership of the agency in staving off external threats. Tama also argues that the you can trace the diffusion of these reviews via networks of people who were originally associated with the Department of Defense.
The moral of the story: next time you print out a pdf of an organizations strategic review keep in mind the strategic threat that it is supposed to address may not be ‘out there’ but actually closer at hand in the legislature or treasury.
Tama J (2015) The politics of strategy: why government agencies conduct major strategic reviews, Journal of Public Policy, FirstView: 1–28.
The Elcano Global Presence Index doesn’t get the same attention as the indexes of national branding but if you’re interested in questions of influence and soft power it’s actually more useful.
In its latest version the index ranks 80 countries from the US (1099.6) to Syria (3.5). The aim is to construct an index of ‘external projection’ based on three elements; economic, military and ‘soft presence’. The economic element is composed from exports of energy, primary goods, manufactures, services and investment and is weighted at 38.5%. Military presence is troops overseas (including in international missions) and naval and air systems weighted at 15.52%. Soft presence is a mixture of elements; attractiveness to migrants, tourists and students; sports; export of audiovisual products; patents; academic publications; internet bandwidth and development cooperation weighted at 45.98%. With an index like this you can argue about what’s in it and the weightings, there are discussions of the evolving methodological issues here and here. It’s been published since 2011 but the index has been calculated back to 1990.
The strength of the index is to allow comparison between countries and to look at change over time, the index also allows an exploration of the changing composition of presence. Presence isn’t the same as influence or power but it’s a start, from my historical research on public diplomacies governments tend to notice changes in the ‘presence’ of other countries. It’s also worth thinking about an index like this in relation to brand indexes, for instance China may not have great sentiment but its rapid increase in standing on an index like this indicates opportunities for other people which translate into influence.
OK if you haven’t looked at the Index who are the top 10 for 2014?
One of the issues that French embassies are supposed to keep on top of is the status of French in the local education system. Of course French opens the way to the French education system but there’s also the saying that if you speak French you buy French.
Given this belief there’s an interesting paper forthcoming in International Studies Quarterly that probes the link between language and Foreign Direct Investment. Previous research has found a relationship between official languages and investment but the new paper by Kim et al looks at data on which languages are actually taught in schools and finds a robust relationship between language teaching and inward investment. That is if you want to attract investment make sure that your country teaches the language of the country that you want to attract investment from. They recognize that English is a special case but what’s especially striking is the consequences of starting to teach Chinese. A country gets that gets a Confucius Institute can expect a 900% rise in Chinese investment five years later.
I’m less convinced by some of the discussion of the causal mechanisms behind the quantitative relationship but here’s some evidence that diplomats can use to persuade host governments that language teaching has some benefit.
Kim, Moonhawk, Amy H. Liu, Kim-Lee Tuxhorn, David S. Brown, and David Leblang. ‘Lingua Mercatoria: Language and Foreign Direct Investment’. International Studies Quarterly, 1 October 2014, n/a – n/a. doi:10.1111/isqu.12158.