Archive for the ‘Public Diplomacy History’ Category

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The Everyday IRD: British Covert Information in the Early 1960s

March 21, 2019

The Information Research Department (IRD), the Foreign Office’s Cold War covert information agency, has been back in news this week as the latest release of material from the Public Records Office confirms the involvement of the IRD in the production and use of forgeries aimed at Soviet aligned fronts organizations.  This report provides some detail on an operation against the World Federation of Democratic Youth in 1963.

By coincidence I’ve been looking at a couple of pieces on the IRD in this era which really focus on the day to day to activities of the organization.  These are a top secret review of the IRD conducted by the former Permanent Under Secretary of the FO Lord Strang in 1963  that was been dug out of the archives and transcribed by pyswar.org.  The second is a PhD Thesis by Simon Collins on the IRD in the Middle East and Africa between 1956 and 1963.  Strang’s report is redacted and is very much a Whitehall focused document while Collin’s thesis actually gives a pretty strong sense of what IRD was doing.

The Strang report seems to have been motivated by concerns over whether an expansion of IRD was providing value for money. The agency had been authorized to appoint up to 24 field officers who  could be sent overseas.  Part of the background here is that the IRD was largely funded by the ‘secret vote’ that financed the intelligence services and wasn’t subject to the same level of financial stringency that affected the overt overseas information services of the FO, the British Council and the BBC.  Neither was it subject to the same staffing policies as the FO.*  There’s a similarity with situation in the US during the early Cold War where the Marshall Plan information activities and those of the CIA had more money and more freedom than those of the State Department.  Although Strang accepts the argument that the IRD should be maintained as a covert organization I also get a sense in that part of the importance of the IRD  in this era is because of the additional resource it brings to the overall information effort.

At this point the IRD is the largest department in the FO and is several times the size of the overt information departments.   Strang gives a figure of 288 whereas the total staff of the Information Policy Department, Information Executive Department and the Cultural Relations Department is 83.  The key to the difference is that IRD is producing its own content and has its own people in the field.  I would assume that information officers at overseas posts did not count as part of the IPD establishment somewhat reducing the discrepancy.

I think Collins gives a good sense of what is happening with the IRD at this point.  From 1955 the IRD is  tasked against Nasserite Arab Nationalism as well as Communism.  This continues to be a priority well after the Suez Crisis.  Egypt’s external communications are attacking the British position in Africa not just  conservative Arab regimes.  In the late 1950s Britain wants to rebuild diplomatic relations with Egypt while containing the Nasserite influence.  The result is Transmission X; a sort of asymmetrical rebuttal service to Egypt’s radio broadcasting.  Instead of a classic mid-20th century radio war with competing radio stations directly attacking each other – which might have undermined the goal of repairing diplomatic relations – Transmission X used near real-time reports on Cairo’s broadcasts from BBC Monitoring Service as a basis to produce materials: opinion pieces, scripts that could be rapidly circulated to posts and to their contacts in government and media in the Middle East and North Africa.  The initial concept was to undermine the credibility of the Egyptian broadcasts by pointing out flaws and inconsistencies. Collins sees some success with this activity.  But from an organizational point of view  the consequences are bigger.  IRD is no longer just producing background materials but is now also operating as a full time information service.  The content and scope of Transmission X expanded beyond the narrow agenda of countering Egyptian broadcasts to take in anti-Communist material and even non-political ‘projection of Britain’ fare.   Certainly one gets the impression from the two studies here that one of the consequences of the expanding IRD field presence was for it to be used to fill gaps in the official information services.

The idea that 1955-65 represents a ‘golden age’ for Western public diplomacies crops up  in discussions of the  France and the US as well as the UK.  In this era public diplomacies are expanding as colonial countries gain their independence, public diplomacies are also pressed into service to fill gaps in national media systems and commercial international news services.  From the mid-60s the costs of this start to become apparent, the Soviet and Chinese threats in Africa seem less immediate and gaps in media systems are being filled in so that the scope of these information activities can be scaled back.

The main point is that while the involvement of the IRD in black activities will always be of interest the bulk of what they were doing was much more mundane.  In making sense of British Cold War information activities the covert and the overt need to put into context.

*I’m wondering if the exemption from the normal staff regulations meant that there were more women in IRD. The field staff were carefully selected and included at least three women, at least two of whom had intelligence connections going back the Second World War.

References

Collins, Simon MW (2013). “Countering Communist and Nasserite Propaganda: The Foreign Office Information Research Department in the Middle East and Africa, 1954-1963.” PhD, University of Hertfordshire. https://uhra.herts.ac.uk/bitstream/handle/2299/14327/04085529%20Collier%20Simon-%20Final%20PhD%20submission.pdf?sequence=1

Strang, Lord (1963). The Unavowable Information Services of Her Majesty’s Government Overseas. CAB 301/399. https://www.psywar.org/content/strangIRDreport.

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Egypt’s Strategy of Teacher Secondment as International Influence under Nasser

March 18, 2019

I recently came across a couple of very interesting papers by Gerasimos Tsourapas (2016, 2018) of the University of Birmingham on Egypt’s use of seconded officials, particularly teachers, as an instrument of statecraft during the regime of  Colonel Nasser.

Before discussing the case there is a broader point about the nature of historical research on public diplomacies. The problem is that our understanding of the historical record is inevitably shaped by ‘big battalions’ of organizations like the Comintern, the USIA, the British Council, the Goethe Institute – relatively enduring specialist organizations with extensive programmes of activities which leave sizeable archival records.  At the same time it is clear that these organizations don’t capture the full extent of public diplomacies, there are many other activities that have been much less enduring, more narrowly focused and on a smaller scale and don’t leave well defined archival trails.  These activities are only likely to become visible as the offshoot of other research, take for instance Kristine Kjærsgaard’s (2015) contribution on the Danish diplomat Bodil Begtrup who launched a whole series of one woman projects across different countries in the course of her career.    Tsourapas’ research has been driven by an interest in migration questions.  His research shows doing the state of the archives doesn’t make things easy, despite using different archives in Egypt he’s had to use the British archives and contemporary media reports to reconstruct the programme.   From the point of view of understanding public diplomacies as a whole  absence of knowledge is not the same as absence of activities or absence of effect only absence of research.

Eight summary points

  1. During the period under study Egypt dispatched thousands of teachers across the Middle East.  These teachers were vectors of the Egyptian version of Arab Nationalism, and they tended to indoctrinate their students into the greatness of Egypt and the importance of Colonel Nasser as the leader of the Arab World, including organizing protests and boycotts.
  2. The root cause of this was the effort under Mohammed Ali (ruled 1805-49) to reform the Egyptian state, which included the creation of formal systems of education and teacher training, publication of school books etc.  As the rest of the Arab world achieved independence after the Second World War the relative development of the Egyptian education system created an opportunity by which other states welcomed the supply of trained, Arabic speaking teachers.
  3. In this context, Egypt made a strategic choice to promote this system of secondment.  Some of the teachers were paid for by the Egyptian government while others were selected by Cairo and paid for the host government.  This process of secondment continued despite the fact that there were teacher shortages in Egypt.  This was part of the ‘Cold War’ (Kerr 1967) between the Arab Nationalists and the conservative Arab States.
  4. Money Talks: This strategy was greeted with alarm by the British, not just because of the anti-imperial views propagated by the teachers, but because they supplanted British teachers who were much more expensive to employ.   The cost issue cushioned the whole programme against the opposition of host governments who tended to be unenthusiastic about the political views of the teachers.  Although there were numerous expulsions the fact of Egyptian subsidies to meant that the expelled teachers tended to be replaced by new  Egyptians.
  5. The fact that the teachers were Egyptian and the books that they used were also Egyptian tended to raise the prestige of the country.  In addition they emphasized the role of Nasser in resisting the imperialists and the Israelis further underlining the country’s importance.  Cultural promotion and political campaigning were two sides of the same coin.
  6. Context Matters:  The reception of the secondment policy varied depending on the supply of qualified personnel.   Tsourapas notes that the break-up of the United Arab Republic was partly driven by the feeling among Syrian officials that the Egyptians were taking their jobs.
  7. Although the role of Egyptian radio broadcasting in Nasser’s foreign policy is relatively well known this other strand of foreign public engagement hasn’t attracted attention arguably would have had longer lasting effects.
  8. At a theoretical level it’s more evidence for my usual argument that separating ‘attraction’ from material resources and from contexts as many formulations of ‘soft power’ really doesn’t fit with the historical record.

References

Kerr M (1967) The Arab Cold War, 1958-67: A Study of Ideology in Politics. Second Edition. London: Oxford University Press.

Kjærsgaard K (2015) A Public Diplomacy Entrepreneur: Danish Ambassador Bodil Begtrup in Iceland, Switzerland and Portugal, 1949–1973, in Jordan P, Glover N and Clerc L (eds) Histories of Public Diplomacy and Nation Branding in the Nordic and Baltic Countries, Leiden: Brill, pp. 102–122.

Tsourapas G (2016) Nasser’s Educators and Agitators across al-Watan al-‘Arabi: Tracing the Foreign Policy Importance of Egyptian Regional Migration, 1952-1967, British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, 43: 324–41. Ungated version.

Tsourapas G (2018) Authoritarian emigration states: Soft power and cross-border mobility in the Middle East, International Political Science Review, 39: 400–416. Ungated version

 

 

 

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A Short History of ‘Cultural Relations’ Organizations

March 1, 2019

When I started researching the history of public diplomacies I assumed that the idea of cultural relations came from the French, after all they invented much of the practice but the term doesn’t appear in their organizations until 1944  with the Service des Relations Culturelles, which the following year was elevated to Direction-Génèrale des Relations Culturelles.

American readers will point out that the State Department’s Division of Cultural Relations was created in 1938. Some of the French officials involved in the DGRC were in the US during the war and probably the more immediate source for the French was the rather broader ‘democratic’ version of cultural relations advocated by Nelson Rockefeller and Archibald McLeish.  This American connection also accounts for the spread of the term into British usage in the same era.   It probably also accounts for the Norwegian Kontoret for kulturelt samkvem med utlandet, established in 1950.  This is  translated into English as the Office for Cultural Relations although samkvem on its own wouldn’t be translated as ‘relation’.

However I suspect that it was probably the French example that inspired in 1945 the Spanish foreign ministry to create the Dirreción General de Relaciones Culturales y Cientificas and in the following year the Italian Direzione generale delle Relazioni culturali con l’estero.

Can we work backwards from 1938?  In the same year we Italy creates the Istituto per relazioni cultura all’estero. Before this the best known interwar organizations was  the Soviet VOKS Vsesoyuznoye obschestvo kul’turnykh svyazey s zagranitsey which is usually translated as All-Union Society of Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries which dates to 1925.  I guess this is the source for the 1954 Chinese People’s Association for Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries,  Zhongguo renmin duiwai wenhua xiehui (CPACRFC).

But the earliest use of the term in the name of an official organization is in the 1921 Oficina de Relaciones Culturales Éspañolas created in the Spanish foreign ministry 1921.  The idea was to carry out the kind of activities that the French were doing via their institutes, the Alliance Française and higher education exchanges.

‘Cultural relations’ is best read as a name applied to an institutionalized official or semi-official body rather than a very specific description of what they do.  One of the more interesting features of exploring this area is how the scope of ‘culture’ changes across time and across countries.  Also what ‘culture’ means is also a function of how the organization that owns the name fits into a broader organizational environment.

UPDATE: I forgot Japan’s  Kokusai bunka shinkôkai,  the Society for International Cultural Relations created in April 1934.

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Some Implications of the Organizational State

April 5, 2018

A couple of weeks ago I pointed to the neglected significance of the modern state as a set of bureaucracies and policy networks for its external relations.  Here I want to point to three implications of this.

The first point is that the modern state has evolved a set of bureaucracies and policy networks that are concerned with international relationships but academics and policy makers take the legal singularity of the state as their reference point.  In every day speech and writing we shift from a language of strong intention ‘what Tehran’s strategy is…’ to a language of factions (hawks and doves) or intergovernmental struggle (eg ‘the foreign ministry is pushing for more conciliatory stance but the army is concerned about its prestige’) without drawing any broader theoretical conclusions.  Diplomats routinely manage the complexity of their own and foreign states but this does not show up in theoretical accounts even though it often forms a large part of their memoirs.  From my historical work it is clear that this multiplication is not new.  The era of the First World War saw a transformation in foreign affairs organizations.  In the 1920s some countries are seeing the need to coordinate the numerous public and private organizations.  It might be argued that the Soviet Union is sui generis but the demand for coordination is quite visible in Weimar Germany and Fascist Italy. In France there were also efforts to produce a comprehensive national statecraft which (as happens in many cases) just proves too difficult to sustain in practice.  Since then the trend of development has been to more extensive sets of international linkages.

This suggests a need for a comparative research agenda on the pluralization of foreign relations and how they have been managed, and with what effect.  Coordination is hard to achieve and it is not obvious that it is always desirable;  Stalin shows achieving a high level of coordination may simply produce coordinated stupidity or the coordination of things that are best left uncoordinated.

Secondly, the multiplication of foreign linkages is not just a matter of bureaucratic scope; the modern state is inherently pluralist.  As Isaiah Berlin would put it we don’t live in a ‘jigsaw world’ where all the pieces can ultimately be made to fit together.  If you have multiple outward facing agencies they tend to develop their own conception of how the world works, to systematically promote policy that emerge from their worldview and work towards these goals regardless other concerns.  In looking at the history of public diplomacies it pretty apparent that many states have had, and continue to have, several foreign policies pursued by different agencies.

Thirdly, there is a tension between the tendency of bureaucracy towards rationalization and the logic of politics and diplomacy.  In Richelieu’s formulation diplomacy as continuous negotiation implied a constant vigilance, flexibility and opportunism that would allow the trading off of different relationships.  The growth of the organizational state has added a rationalized bureaucratic logic to foreign relations. Communications campaigns, exchange programmes, or development projects need to unfold in an orderly way but there is a tension here between a shifting political world and the pursuit of bureaucratic rationalization and stability

One of the core implications of this perspective is that it requires us to look at the agency of the state in a different way – rather than imagining a single strategic sovereign we may be dealing with a multiple autonomous organizational logics.

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First World War Propaganda: Thoughts and Lessons

January 8, 2017

In writing about the emergence of public diplomacies as part of the practice of statecraft I’ve recently run up against the First World War and the importance that was given to propaganda. My main concern has been with the way that First World War affected the development of public diplomacies after the conflict but in doing this work I’ve been forced to think about two other issues;  how was the term ‘propaganda’ used in the period used and how should we analyse the effects of ‘propaganda’ during the First World War?  This is important as not only is ‘propaganda’ part of 21st century political discourse but also of academic discourse.  I’ve commented before that I’m not a big fan of the idea as an analytical term.  So three sets of thoughts on the meaning, effects, and relevance of First World War propaganda.

The concept: In looking at the First World War one struck by 1) the frequency with which the term ‘propaganda’ is used and 2) compared with later periods, certainly by the 1940s, the lack of nuance.  Essentially ‘propaganda’ is ‘the internet’ of the era: something new is happening but the conceptual frameworks for thinking about it are not well developed.  This is consistent with a general pattern I see in the history of public diplomacies that practices are improvised first and rationalized afterwards. Obviously the people who are doing ‘it’ have some idea what they are doing but the differentiations of the 1940s – publicity, political warfare, propaganda, information; white/grey/black; source, message, channel receiver aren’t there so ‘propaganda’ gets thrown over everything.  This doesn’t immediately change after 1918   many people (Hitler, Ludendorff, Northcliffe) believe  it to have produced such big effects (collapse of Russia, Austria-Hungary, Germany)  it is also approached as this huge thing that can has to be explained in sweeping concepts ie Lasswell’s ‘control of public opinion through the manipulation of symbols’.

Why was ‘propaganda’ given such importance?  It was a way of talking about the importance of public support (and lack of support) for the war.  Where support was lacking authorities were quick to attribute it to enemy propaganda.  The comparison with the Second World War is also helpful here.  First World War states had to improvise organizations to mobilize people and resources to fight the war, often relying on civil society organizations, ‘propaganda’ was used to cover this process.  This also means that there was a close relationship between propaganda and organization.  Propaganda was a tool to build organization but organization created the capability to mobilize the population.  As we move to the present there has been an increasing tendency to treat ‘propaganda’ as communication and to lose sight of this organizational dimensions.  In the later war, drawing on the experience of 1914-18, states construct bureaucracies to carry out these mobilizational tasks.  Further, states have much systematic programmes for monitoring morale and repressing dissent.  There is still lots of ‘propaganda’ but it is broken down into specific tasks and harnessed to state organizations so for instance that ‘publicity’ to encourage growing vegetables by the Ministry of Food is differentiated from political warfare carried out by the Political Warfare Executive.  In the First World War this organizational and conceptual differentiation it much more embryonic.

The Issue of Effect:  Recent historical writing (for instance Mark Cornwell’s The Undermining of Austria-Hungary) has made the point that in the post 1918 period there were lots of people on both sides who had an interest in emphasizing the role of ‘propaganda’ in causing the collapse of the Central Powers rather than really analysing what happened.  On one side were the Allied propagandists who could write about what they did (activity and outputs) and could see the collapse of Germany and Austria-Hungary (outcome).  On the other side were those who could see the outcome plus some of the outputs and were quick to connect the two.  Neither group were keen to think about the question of context (activity+implementation+context =outcome).  The impact of propaganda activity cannot be separated from the context in which it occurs.  Effects have multiple dimension.  Some people may be directly affected by an activity but if you cannot produce strategically significant effects leaders are not going to be proclaiming the value of the effort.  Leaving aside the case of the United States, First World War combatants had never waged conflicts with such a level of protracted mobilization and where all, to greater or lesser degrees had significant unresolved social tensions that were exacerbated by the war.  Any discussion of the effects of propaganda needs to locate the activity in the context.

Some pointers to current issues and questions for future research, that I’ve taken away from this work on the First World War.

  1. Influence activities work best on divided targets. For instance, in attacking the Central Powers the Allies could work with nationalist and socialist networks. Divisions allow the attackers to play on existing lines of cleavage but they also inhibit repression and control.  The authorities in Berlin and Vienna were playing a difficult balancing act and were not in a position to clamp down on their opponents,  these divisions also inhibited their own counter propaganda.
  2. This leads to a corollary to arguments about indexing (elite consensus limits the sphere of permissible dissent in the media) and CNN effect (lack of policy certainly leads to media influence on policy).   Elite consensus/policy certainty also enables repression of dissent further reinforcing elite + media consensus (and spiral of silence?).
  3. What’s the relative importance of counter-narrative versus repression or counter-organizational work in dealing with foreign influence operations?  During the 1920s the country that was most sensitive about propaganda was the UK, not least because the Comintern was constantly using agent networks to mobilize against imperial rule.  However, as far as I can see the British response was not counter-narrative but surveillance, arrests and deportations.   In discussions of foreign influence operations and how to counter them breaking up organizations where feasible is an important part of a response.
  4. This leads to a question about changing media environments.  The academic literature on propaganda tends to treat it as a media/communications phenomenon while political writings (eg Communists, Nazis, US/UK political warfare) always connect it to organization.  How does social media effect this communication/organization balance?  Can you get the effect of organization without the costs/risks of building one.

That’s question for another day.

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French and German cultural action in Brazil in the 1960s and 1960s

February 25, 2016
Lanoe E (2012) La culture au service de la diplomatie? Les politiques culturelles extérieures de la RFA et de la France au Brésil (1961-1973), PhD, Lille: Universite Charles de Gaulle – Lille III.

 

680 pages of text on French and German cultural relations strategies in Brazil in the 1960s and 70s probably isn’t top of your reading priorities but it if is I’d recommend this, even if you’re not it raises some important points about how to go about analysing public diplomacies.

Lanoe works across France and Germany both at the level of institutional and policy developments at home and at the country level. This allows her to compare perspectives and developments across the two countries as well as between field and HQ. By looking at France and Germany together she’s able to track the way that changes in the Brazilian context, for instance the military coup, generated different responses from France and Germany.

The thesis also underlines some themes that I’ve seen in my research. Public diplomacies aren’t just about the country to country dyad but also about third parties. In the period under consideration France’s position in Brazil was affected by the conflict in Algeria and the activities of Algerian national sympathisers while that of (West) Germany was also influenced by the activities of East Germany. By covering a relatively long time frame it’s also possible to see the partial unwinding of the priority given to the Cold War in West German activities. There’s also an interesting discussion of generational conflicts within the German system where younger Goethe Institute directors chafed against the older central management of the organization and the foreign ministry many of whom had careers dating back to the Nazi era.

Because the thesis is looks at activities on Brazil it adds quite a lot to more general treatments that focus more on what’s happening at home – for instance Kathe (2005) on the Goethe Institut.  I think that this is important because it helps to put the German debate  on Auswärtige Kulturpolitik that unfolded during the 1970s into the context of changing priorities during the previous decade and of real practices.

Kathe SR (2005) Kulturpolitik um Jeden Preis: Die Geschichte des Goethe-Instituts von 1951 bis 1990. Munich: Martin Medienbauer.

You can download Lanoe’s thesis here

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90 Years of Russian Public Diplomacy

December 2, 2015

This year Russian cultural centres have been holding events to mark 90 years of ‘Russian public diplomacy’. April 1925 marked the formation of the All Union Society for Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries frequently usually referred to, even in the West by its Russian acronym, VOKS. Rossotrudnichestvo (Federal Agency for the Commonwealth of Independent States, Compatriots Living Abroad, and International Humanitarian Cooperation), which has responsibility for what are now known as Russian Scientific and Cultural Centres, is making the explicit connection back to the Soviet era.  In the West we tend to treat Soviet external outreach in terms of Communist Parties, propaganda the KGB and the Bolshoi, but there was also a substantial component that followed the practices of  other nation-state cultural relations.   In Egypt or India the anniversary is being used as a reminder of the 40-50 year history of the cultural centres in the country. The important point is, as Tobias Rupprecht emphasizes in relation to Latin America, the the Soviet Union ‘looked fundamentally different from the South than from the West’ and this was as much about government perceptions as those of would be revolutionaries.

As far as I can tell there has been no attempt to track the development of the Soviet Cultural Centres networks, we don’t know how very much about how they were managed or what they did.*  There are good reasons for neglect of this in term of access to archives, language skills etc but the neglect of Soviet public diplomacies during the Cold War is signficant gap in our knowledge of the period.

*If you know different I’d really like to know what I’ve missed.