Archive for the ‘Foreign Ministries’ Category

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The Future FCO Report

May 11, 2016

On Monday the FCO issued Future FCO a report commissioned by the Permanent Undersecretary in the wake of the November 2015 Spending Review that looks at how the FCO can improve its ‘internal working, policy making and impact’.  Given that the lead author was the FCO’s leading digital diplomacy enthusiast Tom Fletcher it wasn’t surprising that press coverage focused on technology and how the ministry needed to become more like Spooks or 24 and it was hopelessly out of date.  There’s some of that here but surprisingly little.

This is a report the management of the FCO and its staffing not foreign policy.  It is not written for public consumption it assumes a high degree of knowledge of systems and procedures and it rarely bothers to explain its reasoning.  In fact much of the conclusions are foreshadowed in the terms of reference the first of which is ‘identify opportunities for better, flatter and more flexible organization of policy capabilities, including through delayering and greater clarity on roles and responsibilities.’  The report claims that this is the ‘first post-internet review of the FCO’ which is pretty odd given the serial reviews that went on under the Labour government.

I’d pick out three  particularly interesting aspects

  1. Shrinking the Whitehall Ambition.  One of the things that leapt out a me was this ‘the FCO should neither seek to lead not dedicate significant standing resource in London to thematic work’.  Non-security thematic work should be brought under a single multilateral directorate.  This isn’t really explained but it does imply a concession of policy space to the National Security Council and to other ministries, it’s not something I can imagine the ministry in Paris or Berlin doing without a big fight.
  2. Defend the Embassies.  There is quite a bit in the report about strengthening the capability of the embassies to support all UK overseas functions this is something that has been going on for a while under the banner of One HMG – trying to get as many departments as possible under the same roof.   There is a definite push to get the Embassy to be a more joined up activity with a more of a country plan and a soft power plan.  There are some good ideas for trying to take some of the ‘corporate’ weight off embassies and to provide a better service to other government departments.  If the FCO is conceding policy space to other departments I’m not sure that ambassadors will have much success in keeping those other departments under control in the field.
  3. Flexibility at all costs: Since the days of the Know How Fund in post communist Europe the work of the FCO has increasingly been organized around projects.  There’s an interesting discussion in the report about way this works in managerial terms – with strict oversight of relatively small amounts of money  – and some suggestions for reforming ‘programme’ as its referred to here.  Future FCO goes further and suggests that FCO directorates should have 25% of their staff in campaign pools rather than in permanent jobs in order to give more flexibility, in fact in an appendix the possibility is raised that the relationship with some countries (Nigeria is an example) should be managed on a campaign basis.  I can see the argument for flexibility but at the same time one of the features of diplomacy is its permanence.  As a student of British government I can also predict that the campaign pool will be the first thing to be cut when things get tough.

This report is very much in line with the past 20 years of FCO managerialism.  I think the difficulty is that in the UK these reports can be written without any consideration of foreign policy.  In them the FCO inhabits a kind of abstract policy space where what it does is ‘delivers policy objectives’ without any consideration of what the world is like and how well things are going.  In reading French or German reports the ministry is located within a more recognizable geopolitical world which gives some sense of what it has to be configured to do.

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Cuts and Capabilities at the FCO

February 27, 2015

Back from the International Studies Association and back to the blog..

The House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee has just issued its response to the FCO’s Annual Report and they are seriously concerned about the effect of the government austerity programme on British overseas representation. In their view the FCO is short of staff and the reliance on locally engaged staff is creating problems for the future by reducing the experience that UK staff can build up overseas.

One issue that they point to is the inadequacy of language skills at the FCO. This is an issue that they’ve flagged up before and one that came up last week in a report on the EU response to the Ukrainian Crisis. The new report points out that only 28% of FCO posts in Russia and Eastern Europe are occupied with staff with the required level of linguistic competence. The really interesting point though is that the situation in the Middle East and North Africa, there the figure is …27%. Now you might think that the situation in Ukraine has come as a surprise hence the low priority for the languages but given the recent history of Britain in the Middle East the need for Arabic can’t be a surprise. This backs up the argument that despite the support for language training expressed by the leadership of the FCO the management system doesn’t value it.

This is supported by a November 2013 report from the British Academy on the state of language capacity across British government that documents concern among diplomats that putting in the time to learn and maintain hard languages is damaging to their career progression and can cause them to become too ‘niche’ given the need.

My conclusion: modernization, in terms of rationalizing management, may be good for the efficiency of your foreign ministry but it doesn’t also add to its effectiveness.

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Public Diplomacy and ‘The Good Project’

July 28, 2014

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.

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Inspecting the International Information Programs at State: Kicking Delivered

June 24, 2013

The empire of the American Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs has three parts:  Public Affairs, Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) and International Information Programs (IIP).  Last week the  Office of the Inspector General issued an inspection report on IIP and it’s not a pretty picture.  There are implications of cronyism and poor management and there have already been changes in the leadership of the Bureau.  Diplopundit has some comments here and here but I just wanted to comment on some of the more specifically PD aspects of the report.   OIG reports are always worth looking at because of the detail they give you about what’s going on at State.

  1. Firstly OIG is unhappy with the state of PD at State.  The last report in 2004 argued that the Bureau should be led by an assistant secretary but this requires Congressional action.  Recommendation 1 in this report is that IIP should be run by an Asst Sec.  Further State doesn’t have a “Departmentwide PD strategy tying resources to priorities” ie the high level vision documents that we’ve seen over the past few years haven’t been converted into action, hence a recommendation for a management review of PD at State.
  2. My reading of the report says that IIP operates in large part as a provider of content.  The effectiveness of this kind of operation depends on effective relations with the other parts of State and the report questions the degree to which these relations actually exist.
  3. The report criticises IIP for not paying sufficient attention to one of the classic tools of PD – writing articles that can be passed to foreign media. This gets a big thumbs up from me –  despite all the excitement about social media the reach that mass media gives you cannot be ignored.
  4. Evaluation has been limited and ineffective the report says that the whole operation should be passed over the ECA.
  5. Lots of translation work is done by outside contractors with very limited oversight.
  6. IIP is responsible for funding American Spaces, a programme that has had a major increase in funding, but (as you would expect from studying the history of any country’s PD) there are problems with staffing the work in the field and with coordinating with the embassies. IIP shipped thousands of e-readers overseas without  agreeing management procedures with local posts.
  7. The US may lead the world in Digital Diplomacy if you look at numbers of likes but as the report says it appears to have got those numbers through an exercise in maximizing numbers than in pursuit of a PD strategy – social media managers were worried that if they posted too much policy related material their numbers would drop.

What struck me in reading this report is how familiar these problems are -not just in American terms but in terms of the history of PD .  One of my general points about PD is that it operates between a complex set of pressures policy/communications. Post/MFA, different publics, centralization/decentralization these are tensions that are not going to be resolved but need to be managed.  My advice?  Push for greater engagement between IIP and the Bureaus, look for greater policy involvement and try to reduce the reliance on contractors.

From looking at OIG reports on Regional Bureaus it’s pretty obvious that the IG is less than happy with the way that PD is being embedded into the Department generally.  The one exception seems to be in Western Hemisphere Affairs where a 2010 report praises the integration of PD in to the work of the Bureau

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Public Diplomacy and the Hidden Hand: Part 2

June 7, 2013

In the second post inspired by Aldrich’s The Hidden Hand  I want to reflect on two parallels between intelligence and public diplomacy; firstly as an area of study and secondly as an aspect of statecraft.

Intelligence Studies and the Missing Dimension

A famous contribution to the historical literature on intelligence is called The Missing Dimension (Andrew and Dilks 1984) and it took historians to task for failing to engage with the way that intelligence (and its failings) had shaped twentieth century politics.

Is public diplomacy and its cognate activities another missing dimension?  At one level it certainly is.  We have simply failed to appreciate the scale of these activities over the past century.  At another level it is harder to say.  Intelligence historians can (if they have the access to the archives) trace the progress of intelligence reports through the archives and  hopefully, make the connection to decisions and actions.  The impact of public diplomacy is harder to measure but the first step is to look for it.

Aldrich offers an insight into why intelligence was a missing dimension.  After 1945 the British intelligence services were determined to hide the fact that they had broken German codes.  At the same time they suspected that ‘intelligent historians’ would deduce what had happened from the speed of Allied reactions to Axis moves.  Aldrich argues that historians failed to look for the impact of intelligence because of their acceptance of ‘conceptual horizons’ defined by the official history.  I think that this requires students of public diplomacy to think about what impact would look like and how they can detect it.  Two thoughts here.  Firstly, the impact of PD may be much more obvious on governments than it is on publics.  For instance one of the staples of information programmes is attempting to influence the foreign news media.  In the foreign policy process news media are both a source of information about events but also about public opinion.  Secondly, the impact of PD may be more important not in changing opinions but in keeping them the same and in defining what is normal.

Department Stores and Industrialized Statecraft

In the last post I quoted Alexander Cadogan’s fear that the Foreign Office would become ‘a department store’ if it took on board the instruments of intelligence, special operations and information.

Regardless of whether the Department store was created as in the UK or shut down as in the US after 1945 the machinery of statecraft involved more people and organizations in more places.  Post 1945 intelligence wasn’t about running a few high level agents it was an industrialized process of data gathering.  The largest and most expensive of the intelligence gathering processes was signals intelligence (SIGINT), but in  the decade after 1945 hundreds of thousands of refugees or returning PoWs were debriefed,  scientific literature had to be monitored.  Covert action whether, funding political parties, operating front organizations or running paramilitary forces need to be supported.  Although the information and cultural activities of the US and the UK spent a lot less money than the intelligence apparatus they represent part of the broader evolution of the foreign policy machinery to one where there were more international linkages.  Foreign ministries had always had a degree of competition from other actors, whether the armed forces, secret services, colonial offices or the personal networks of rulers but the post 1945 marked a quantum leap in the level of complexity of the foreign policy machinery, particularly for the most global powers of the era.

Intelligence, like information offers a different way into thinking about the state.  If the traditional discussion of foreign policy is about decisions being made by national leaders the study of  intelligence shifts attention to the way that one of the basic sources of that decision-making is a product of complex networks that gather, process and try to distribute information.  The literature of intelligence studies is full of discussion of failures.  Public diplomacy is different in that it is more concerned with a foreign policy output but is also dealing with a complex, distributed network that seeks to reshape the state’s environment in favourable ways. By focusing on the logistics of foreign policy this kind of view undermines the traditional focus on decisions as the key element of foreign policy and on as states as unified actors.   This is one of the factors that is encouraging me to explore actor-network theories.  From this perspective even the most powerful states look rather ramshackle entities at the best of times – perspective that reading of The Hidden Hand will only reinforce.

Aldrich, R. (2001) The Hidden Hand: Britain, America and Cold War Secret Intelligence. London: John Murray.

Andrew, C., and D. Dilks, eds. (1984) The Missing Dimension: Governments and the Intelligence Communities in the 20th Century. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

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Public Diplomacy and the Hidden Hand: Part 1

June 5, 2013

I’m working my way through Richard Aldrich’s The Hidden Hand: Britain, America and Cold War Secret Intelligence(London: John Murray,  2001).  This deals with the development of the covert dimensions of British and to a lesser extent American statecraft from the middle of the Second World War up until 1963. Richard Aldrich is one of the best know British academic historians of intelligence and the covert world. The story he tells directly impinges on the ‘engagement of foreign publics’ through the exploits of the International Organizations Division of the CIA and the Information Research Department of the Foreign Office but also raises broader questions about nature of modern statecraft.  I’m going to reflect on this in three posts.  The first deals with the origins of British and American information programmes in the post war period, the second considers the implications of this type of history for the way we think about foreign policy and the state, and finally, the nature of the relationship between overt and covert in public diplomacy.

I’ve been puzzled as to why the US developed an independent information agency and the UK didn’t.  Although not specifically addressing the issue  Aldrich puts this question in the broader context of how to incorporate the wartime instruments of statecraft; intelligence, covert action, psychological warfare into the postwar foreign policy organization.   Anthony Eden, the wartime British Foreign Secretary, took the view that a) these organizations had caused enormous trouble for the diplomats and b) if they were going to exist in the postwar period they should under the control of the FO.  His view was not universally shared within the ministry, Alexander Cadogan, the chief civil servant within the FO rejected this view noting in his diary that  ‘we aren’t a department store’.  He lost the argument and Eden and his successor,  Ernest Bevin pushed hard to incorporate the remains of these agencies over the opposition of the agencies themselves and the armed services.  While there was some support in the forces for the retention of a separate covert action service like the SOE there was also recognition of the need for better control of special operations.  Indeed Aldrich points to comments in British documents of the time that praised the OSS and the benefits of uniting all covert activities in a single organization.  Ironically, this end was achieved but under the control of the FO not of an independent agency. Overt and covert information activities as well as covert action came under the control of the FO.  To the extent that the wartime capabilities were preserved the Foreign Office razed the organizational structures and forced any personnel to satisfy the Foreign Office that they were suitable people. In doing this the FO could draw on the fact that it had had a News Department in the pre-war period that had conducted overseas information activities and that it already controlled the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS or MI6) so had a ready made home for those that it took over from SOE or PWE.

There was a parallel debate in Washington.  The Secretary of State James F. Byrnes favoured the incorporation of intelligence into State but as in the UK he was opposed by parts of his own department and by the Joint Chiefs.  Truman’s position seems to have wavered before confirming the creation of the CIA as an independent agency.  Despite the creation of the  State Department Office of International Information and Cultural Affairs on 1 January 1946 information programmes remained a semi-detached element of State.

As tensions rose with the Soviet Union during the late 1940s they also rose with the British Chiefs of Staff who favoured a much more aggressive campaign of subversion against the Eastern Bloc.   I would argue that the absorption of the remnants of the wartime agencies into the FO put it in much stronger position within the UK foreign policy establishment than State was.  Another point to mention is that the British executive has much more freedom to organize itself that the American one does.  While the state of the ‘overseas information services’ was a topic of parliamentary questions during the 1940s there was no scope for the kind of intervention that was mounted by Congressional Committees during the 1940s and 1950s.

Obviously this is a counterfactual but I think that if the FO hadn’t moved so rapidly to absorb the wartime organizations then by the late 1940s there would have been immense pressure to re-establish these agencies outside the FO and with a closer relationship to the military and that part of this would have incorporated at least a covert  information agency.  Aldrich speculates that the agreement of the FO for SIS to become involved in armed subversive activities against Albania in the late 1940s, despite doubts, was in part a strategy to buy off the pressure from the UK Chiefs of Staff.  In the veterans of the wartime agencies like C.D. Jackson agitated for an information agency that wasn’t constrained by diplomats, while the elevation of John Foster Dulles to Secretary of State in 1953 saw the victory of the Cadogan ‘we’re not a department store’ line and overt information, like covert action and intelligence, were spun off into an independent agency.

Aldrich’s point is that victory of the FO in the struggles in the late 1940s meant that British foreign policy was less troubled by different agencies pursuing their own lines than the US. (Of course this didn’t mean that British policy makers were any less likely to make mistakes but that they were better coordinated while doing it!)

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The Anglo-French Diplomatic Mutual Admiration Society

February 9, 2013

When William Hague become Foreign Secretary in 2010 he expressed concerns that under the Labour government the FCO had become too dominated by managerialism and was losing focus on core diplomatic skills such as reporting, writing and negotiating, languages and area expertise.  The response  was to launch (in true managerialist fashion) a ‘Diplomatic Excellence Programme’ including a bit increase the budget for language training.   This activity was accompanied by new performance targets and a benchmarking exercise . The FCO convened a panel of outside experts from NGOs, business etc who compared the performance of the FCO to other foreign ministries and reached the conclusion that the FCO was the second best in the world.  Who could be number 1?

It’s worth saying that I haven’t seen a list of who composed this panel or what their methodology was.  But just on my experience of the FCO if you were going to get them admit they were second best who might they just be willing to admit a certain admiration for? If you were going to give them a competitor to catch up with?  Of course their could only be one answer: the Ministere des Affaires Etrangeres et europeennes of the Republique Francaise – The Quai d’Orsay (sorry about the missing accents)

In giving evidence to Parliament in November  last year the chief permanent official at the FCO, Simon Fraser,  discussed this  comparison.  Somewhat conveniently the reasons for the superiority of the French echo areas where William Hague had previously voiced the need for improvement in British perfomance.

I think that the group felt that the French diplomatic service like Britain’s has a very long diplomatic tradition and culture and they are very effective in advancing their national interest through diplomacy. They are effective in supporting their commercial and economic objectives. For those reasons they were felt to be a very effective diplomatic service.

One of the things that has been stated in the past is that the French Government as a whole are more organised in their collective support of French economic interest through diplomacy.

The Quai D’Orsay probably is a more focused organization with a stronger sense of its own history and mission as the representative of France than the FCO is in regard to Britain (which is not to say that the FCO is exactly lacking in this) Dgging into the self descriptions  on their web site you do get something of the romance and history of diplomacy.

But the reason for this post is that if we open the Winter 2011-12 issue of Mondes: Les Cahiers du Quai D’Orsay the ministry’s version of Foreign Affairs things are not so rosy.  This is a special issue devoted to la diplomatie d’influence.  (Thanks to Ellen Huijgh for flagging up the importance of this concept).  In the editorial the head of the forsight unit at the Quai relates  diplomatie d’influence to soft power but much of the discussion is more about the use of diplomatic influence beyond bilateral relationships rather than the very diffuse way that soft power is used in some other contexts.   The lead essay by Nicolas Tenzer, ‘The Global Influence of Major Powers and their Strategies for the Future’ argues three key areas for influence to operate are in are

    1. Tendering processes by which states commission major projects
    2. International processes for standards setting
    3. The international processes of opinion formation, the conferences, think-tanks and media where  agendas are formed and issues framed.

The point is that influence in these spheres works through relatively diffuse international networks and that countries other than France have been working hard to build their positions.  Which country get the most mentions in this article as having been doing this?  The UK (Sweden, Canada, Germany also get multiple mentions).  In Tenzer’s view linkages betweens government, NGOs, professional organizations and universities  allow the formation of a national view on issues while at the same time allowing that perspective to be advanced in multiple arenas.

Genuinely influential states have that ability to operate in multiple registers.  All those countries understand that influence requires strong public diplomacy but mainly an ability to promote certain ideas and concepts discreetly in the right international places

These networks also allow the rapid deployment of expertise.  This an area where France has been building up  a new organization to allow it to compete (this is taken up in another article)

The issue also includes a piece on strategy in international organizations where the French approach of trying to place candidates at the top of the organization is contrasted unfavourably  with the British method of placing experts at the working  level.  There’s also an article on ENA, L’Ecole Nationale d’Administration as a tool of soft power.

It’s interesting to look at these two discourses together.  There’s an element of the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence here but we may be looking at two different points on a continuum.  The Quai is narrower, more focussed, more closed while the FCO is operating in a more diffuse, open manner.  Following the type of analysis that Ronald Burt in Brokerage and Closure you can see both of these positions have their own strengths and weaknesses.  More closure will build identity and performance while openness offers benefits through better information gathering and a greater range of connections to operate through.

Burt, R.S. (2005) Brokerage and Closure: An Introduction to Social Capital. Oxford: OUP Oxford.

Tenzer, N. (2011) ‘The Global Influence of Major Powers and their Strategies for the Future’, Mondes: Les Cahiers du Quai D’Orsay, 117–123.

[ Mondes publishes its articles in French and English but it was noticeable that the formatting of the French articles was sometimes clearer than the translations so its worth checking the French version even if you’re reading the English version[