Archive for the ‘Public Diplomacy History’ Category


Twenty Years of Digital Diplomacy Part 1

October 10, 2015

I was happily reading Brian Hocking and Jan Melissens’ report on Diplomacy in the Digital Age and largely agreeing with it when it struck me:  reports about diplomacy and tech stuff haven’t changed in 20 years.*   Why is ‘digital diplomacy’ permanently new? Why isn’t it old? Why are we still writing about it in the same way?

What I mean is that the core analytical structure hasn’t changed. You set up (implicitly or explicitly) an ideal type of ‘the digital age’ or something similar and this then serves as a standard for evaluating the diplomatic practices of a country or as comparison for another ideal type ‘diplomacy’. The ‘digital age’ is assumed to provide a singular standard that national practices or ‘diplomacy’ must conform to. This gives rise to a narrative of modernization where certain MFAs are assumed to be advanced and others retarded in the process of adaptation to a singular ‘digital’ future.

The problem with this mode of analysis is that ideal types are tools and shouldn’t be mistaken either for accounts of the real world or for theories – warnings that Max Weber offered in his original discussion of ideal types (Weber 1949: 101-2). In 1995 we didn’t have any real world experience with ‘digital’ and an informed guess was the best we could do. But now the field of practice is 20 years old as is the history of writing about it.

For example, the FCO got its first web pages in 1995, in June 2000 it produced an E-business strategy that covered issues such as the ability to deliver services on-line and knowledge management as well as external and internal communication. in the second half of the ’90s most of the foreign policy think tanks in Washington were running projects on ‘virtual diplomacy’ or similar, and by the turn of the decade we had both theoretical perspectives (Off the top of my head Nye and Owens 1996, Rothkopf 1998, Arquilla and Ronfeldt 1999a, 1999b) and some early discussions of the impact of the web on diplomatic practice (eg Potter 2002). We even substantial comparative pieces of research that address the adaptation of foreign ministries to ICTs that have been around for a few years (eg Batora 2008, Archetti 2012 and I’m sure that there’s more). What concerns me is that the discussions that we are having today don’t seem to reflect this 20 years of experience but instead reflect a constant year zero (or perhaps zero day would be more appropriate) in the area.

In part 2 I’ll offer some thoughts on why we are still writing that same report and how we ought to think about the question of digital diplomacy.

*Whatever happened to diplomacy 2.0, internet diplomacy, web diplomacy, virtual diplomacy, the revolution in diplomatic affairs etc?



Archetti C (2012) The Impact of New Media on Diplomatic Practice: An Evolutionary Model of Change, The Hague Journal of Diplomacy, 7: 181–206.

Arquilla J and Ronfeldt D (1999a) The Emergence of Noopolitik: Toward an American Information Strategy. Santa Monica, CA: Rand Corporation.

Arquilla J and Ronfeldt D (1999b) The Nature of a Revolution in Diplomatic Affairs, International Studies Association Convention, Washington DC.

Bátora J (2008) Foreign ministries and the information revolution: going virtual? Boston: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers.

Hocking B and Melissen J (2015) Diplomacy in the Digital Age. The Hague: Netherlands Institute of International Relations.

Nye JS and Owens WA (1996) America’s Information Edge, Foreign Affairs, 75: 20–36.

Potter EH, ed (2002) Cyber-Diplomacy: Managing Foreign Policy in the Twenty-First Century. Montréal, London: McGill-Queen’s University Press.

Rothkopf DJ (1998) Cyberpolitik: The Changing Nature of Power in the Information Age, Journal of International Affairs, 51: 325–59.

Weber M (1949) The Methodology of the Social Sciences. Glencoe Il: Free Press.


USSR-PRC Cultural Relations and the Soviet Tyler Brule Part 2

March 14, 2014

At the Cold War History Project there’s an interesting collection of documents on cultural relations activities between the USSR and the People’s Republic of China during the 1950s.  Several of the documents express the fears that rather than cementing relations between the two countries they are actually undermining them.

I’ve written before about the ‘Soviet Tyler Brule’ Boris Polevoi and his fears that the poor standard of Aeroflot was undermining the image of the USSR and he pops up again here with a blistering report to the Central Committee of the CPSU which ends with him returning to his critique of air travel in the USSR

And finally, concerning the Soviet side of the airline which is currently contributing to the connection between Moscow and Beijing.  Our international lines have improved their work somewhat to the western countries, but this portion is as before in extremely bad shape, and revealing this for all to observe, as this line is used by a large collection of people from diverse nations, from Europe and China, is becoming a matter of political significance.  Our airplane, on which there was a Chinese state security delegation headed by members of the CC returning from Poland, on 16 October was delayed for an entire day on the trip from Krasnoiarsk to Irkutsk because they could not find the appropriate fuel.  On the return trip in Novosibirsk we had to change from an international airplane, as there was a smaller collection of passengers continuing on to Moscow.  And on this plane there was a Czechoslovak delegation headed by the Minister of Foreign Trade, and a Chinese delegation.  Two flights were cancelled.  The airport building was magnificent, but the service remained the same as when it was a peasant’s hut.  In three places along this route, maintaining the connection to China, hang copies of the well-known, if it might be said, pictures of Nalbandian, which illustrate Stalin and Mao Zedong, with Mao Zedong with the appearance of an agitated student attempting to pass an exam given by a professor.  These pictures are nauseating even in the original, and here hang like copies from a bazaar.  In general it would be better to decorate the airport in the foreign fashion, with large, colored and beautiful photographs and cities and locations traveled to by the planes, instead of pot-boiler copies of well-known works which can only evoke shudders from someone possessing even a limited amount of taste.  In Novosibirsk across from the entrance to the airport on two columns hangs an enormous plywood shield, entitled “The USSR—the leading socialist power in the world.”  A giant red map of the USSR is drawn on it, and to the side are two columns, in alphabetical order, of the some ten countries of the people’s democracies; thus China in this list comes after Albania, Bulgaria, Hungary (Vengrii), and the GDR.   The Novosibirsk comrades, seeing this map, are completely devoid of a sense of humor, even as the following is written on the large map:  population 200 million people, and on the small map—China—600 million.  We ourselves have seen the amusement of foreigners as they look at this map.


‘A subversive use of facts’: Soldatensender Calais and Black Propaganda

November 13, 2013 has an endless supply of interesting historical documents on psychological warfare.  They’ve just posted this copy of a 1943 memo from the British Political Warfare Executive to its twin supervisors the Foreign Secretary, Anthony Eden, and the Minister of Information Brendan Bracken.  The context is the launch of the most successful British ‘black’ station of the war Soldatensdender Calais, this pretended to be German forces station and was intended to encourage dissension and defeatism.  The BBC feared that it would soon become obvious that Calais was a British station and that this would damage their credibility.  The PWE who controlled the station dissented and this memo sets out the arguments.

I quite often see it asserted that ‘black propaganda’ means that the content of service is false.  The PWE is at pains to point out that even ‘black’ needs facts and goes on to defend the use of black stations even if their cover is paper thin.

(vi) “CALAIS”, while admittedly a “fundamental lie”, relies on a subversive use of facts, not on untruth. Its news is convincingly true; its comment is intelligent selection and presentation of facts and of intelligence derived, in the main, from Service sources.

(vii) For a station such as “CALAIS” an apparent German origin is a necessary and useful convention. That is to say, even those Germans (vide prisoners’ evidence about Atlantik) who suspect its British origin will nevertheless accept its arguments because it is essentially German in its approach, in tune with their feelings and emotions as Germans and providing a psychological alibi which an avowedly enemy station does not. (It provides an actual alibi if caught listening – “We thought it was a German station”). Moreover, “CALAIS” can talk of “We Germans” while the B.B.C. must talk of “You Germans”; the first removes inhibitions, the second creates them.


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!)


UK Public Diplomacy in the Middle East 2003

May 20, 2013

Going through some material on British public diplomacy I came across a paper put out by the Foreign Policy Centre in February 2003 with recommendations for British PD strategy in the Middle East.

It takes you back to a  different era.  Post 9/11 sympathy for the US has rapidly waned and the US  and the UK are poised to invade Iraq although awkwardly for the authors this wasn’t a done deal.

What are their recommendations?

  1. In the short term policy communication needs to reposition the UK away from the US and make the UK look more European.

COMMENT: Given that the UK is about to invade and occupy Iraq this isn’t going to get very much traction.  I don’t think that alternative strategies would help too much but if you’re invading another country at least come out and explain why you’re doing it.

If you read Vaughan’s book on the 1945-57 period you see that the US and the UK had a long tradition of working together in the Middle East while stabbing each other in the back via their PD – so nothing new here then.

2. A strategic communication to campaign to underline that this is not a ‘clash of civilizations’

COMMENT: What’s ironic here is that despite this theme the whole study is shot through with references to ‘Islam’ and ‘Islamic’ as was most of the policy discourse at the time.  Given that the Al-Qaeda narrative was about the ummah under attack I wonder whether alternative framings would have been better.

3. A strategy of relationship building to foster opportunity in the region

COMMENT: This is inspired by the then newly published Arab Human Development Report and locates the problems in the region in the need to modernize governance, economy, education system.  In the light of the Arab Spring this is undoubtedly true but in the context of 2003 there are uncomfortable echoes of the neocons.

There’s a suggestion that the British Council should work with the Goethe Institut and the French on this.  If they’d read recommendation 1. I’m sure that they would have been running as fast as they could to get away from the British.

There are some good points here, for instance in the interaction between UK domestic media coverage and that in the region but the suggestion that this can be handled by some townhall meetings in the UK covered by Arab journalists smacks of the New Labour belief in the power of spin.

A depressing read but an interesting one to see how our concepts of public diplomacy and the Middle East have changed over the past decade.

Leonard, M., and C. Smewing (2003) Public Diplomacy and the Middle East. London: Foreign Policy Centre.

Vaughan, J. (2005) The Failure of American and British Propaganda in the Arab Middle East, 1945-57 : Unconquerable Minds. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.


The Warring Tribes of US Cold War Public Diplomacy

May 8, 2013

In working on the book I’ve been trying very hard not to allow the formulation of the problem to be too influenced by the American experience as a result I’ve been putting off reading a stack of books on American Cold War PD.

Anyway I’m now coming to the end of them…and what can I say: American Cold War Public Diplomacy = warring tribes

This isn’t exactly a surprise but it does reinforce the four paradigms argument.  You’ve got the culturalists (represented by Coombs (1964) and Frankel (1965) and the informationalists (represented particularly by Sorensen (1968 – who is really advocating a proto-strategic communications line) – I was interested to see that he was explicitly dismissive of Coombs and Frankel and their pursuit of an autonomous cultural relations programme – of course Sorensen is one of the main villains in Arndt’s  First Resort of Kings (2005).

Then you’ve got the broadcasters but they are really three different tribal federations; however much they tone it down RFE/RL are cold warriors but the Eastern Europeans aren’t too keen on the Soviets but then within the two stations the different language services don’t necessarily get along too well.  VoA is  fighting a much deadlier set of foes than the communists: The State Department and The USIA.  It took me a while to realize that the struggle that  Alan Heil (2003) keeps talking about isn’t against communism or for democracy but for the independence of the VoA. (Even in 1988 Gifford Malone referred to this as the ‘eternal struggle’)

Then of course up to the late 1960s there’s the ‘hidden’ clan with its subsidies to anyone who might look useful the:  CIA (Laville and Wilford 2006, Wilford 2008, Saunders 1999)

Then there are dark overlords who threaten this little ecology of struggling tribes  First, there’s State (who when they notice them) would like to use the tools of PD to directly support their activities.  Particularly in discussion of the radios (eg Puddington 2000) there are many examples of embassies who really wish that they could dial the volume of PD up and down at will in order to influence US relations.  Second, particularly in the 1950s and the 1980s there are the political warriors (many from the White House) who want to coordinate and subordinate the whole machinery against the Communist foe.

And of course there are the gods of Congress who must be appeased.  It’s pretty clear that Congress is like Olympus where the deities are conspiring against each other and somewhat randomly intervening in human affairs.

Is this degree of tribalism normal?  I think a degree of conflict is normal.  Strategy is an art so some conflict will emerge from routine disagreements. In a national public diplomacy system where you have a foreign ministry, a cultural relations organization, an international broadcaster, trade, investment and tourism organizations conflict will be rooted in the need to engage different publics in different ways.  However, the American case does seem particularly prone to argument.  One aspect of this that recurs in the literature is that different bits of the system (culture, information, broadcasting), particularly at the beginning, were staffed by people from different professional backgrounds. I would also point to an argument from social movement theory, that is people mobilize when they see an opportunity, what’s called political opportunity structure.  The involvement of Congress plus changes in Administration offered opportunities to reengineer the institutional structure which in turn encourage the expression of identities and interests.  If you look at other countries you do find strong expressions of differing perspectives during periods of organizational change.  Almost continuously across the Cold War period there was some project for the reorganization of US PD floating around Congress.  In comparison with UK, France, Germany the US carried out more reorganizations of its PD.  The USSR can probably be placed between the Europeans and the US but I’ll save that for another post.



Arndt, R.T. (2005) The First Resort of Kings: American Cultural Diplomacy in the Twentieth Century. Washington  D.C.: Potomac Books.

Coombs, P. (1964) The Fourth Dimension of Foreign Policy: Educational and Cultural Affairs. Published for the Council on Foreign Relations by Harper & Row.

Frankel, C. (1965) The Neglected Aspect of Foreign Affairs: American Educational and Cultural Policy Abroad. Washington, D.C: Brookings Institution.

Heil, A.L. (2003) Voice of America: a history. New York: Columbia University Press.

Laville, H., and H. Wilford (2006) The US government, citizen groups and the Cold War : the state-private network. London: Routledge.

Malone, G. (1988) Political advocacy and cultural communication : organizing the nation’s public diplomacy. Lanham: University Press of America.

Puddington, A. (2000) Broadcasting Freedom: The Cold War Triumph of Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty. University Press of Kentucky.

Saunders, F.S. (1999) Who Paid the Piper?: The CIA and the Cultural Cold War. London: Granta.

Sorensen, T.C. (1968) The Word War: The Story of American Propaganda. New York: Harper & Row.

Wilford, H. (2008) The Mighty Wurlitzer : how the CIA played America. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.


Mapping the World of the Mittlers: Mediating Organizations in Public Diplomacy

March 31, 2013

Last week I reflected on why the field of International Relations has paid little attention to Public Diplomacy and argued that one of the reasons is that the conceptual fragmentation of the field obscures the volume of foreign public engagement.  Thinking about this question a bit more I would also add that the organizational fragmentation of foreign engagement also tends to hide the volume of activity.

Particularly in cultural relations countries have relied on operating agencies outside the foreign ministry to actually conduct their work.  Some of these organizations have quite a high profile and are relatively close to government (The British Council) but many others are much more obscure and much more distant – to the extent that we may be talking about a private organization that is providing services to a government programme or a government programme  funding the activities of a private organization.

It would useful to have a term to cover this universe of organizations.  We could call them operating agencies or for the sake of sounding exotic we can borrow the German term mittlerorganisation. This is normally translated as the British quango – quasi autonomous non-governmental organization – something that looks like an NGO but actually has authority devolved from government.  My German English dictionary tells me that the sense of ‘mittler‘ is actually mediating so I’m going to apply the term mittlerorganization to any of the organizations that stand between policy and the publics even if the they are not technically a quango.*

Let’s look at a few cases to illustrate the variety of mittlers.  Firstly, the UK is unusual among the big PD players because it has so few of them.  The British Council offers a broad range of services that in other countries are done by multiple organizations.   Having said this the scope of the BC’s work isn’t fixed in stone: the FCO’s Chevening Scholarships are now managed by a private company.  If we look at France there’s a movement towards a British model with the French Institute as more of centralized quango but this a recent development.  Historically the picture is much more complicated.  Just to take one example between 1922 and 2006 the Association Francaise d’Action Artistique,  the operating agency for music, theatre and the plastic arts, mounted tens of thousands of activities but was little known even in France.  The author of a history of the organization (Piniau 1998) complains that few records that remain and suggests that it suited both the Quai d’Orsay and the artists concerned to keep their sponsorship discrete. In Germany the Goethe Institute coexists with the DAAD, the Alexander Humboldt Foundation  and the IFA not to mention the network of German schools (Maaβ 2009).

In the US there is a network of organizations that grew up in the area between the private sector and government.  To take two examples the Institute of International Education is a private organization established in 1919 to develop international education relationships but which over periods of a decades was closely connected to the development of American cultural relations work.  Another example is IREX, originally set up in 1968 by American universities to manage exchanges with the Soviet Bloc today it operates all around the world.  (In a later post I’ll look at another set of American ‘mittlers’ that revolve around the National Endowment for Democracy).

The world of the mittlers is does not have neat boundaries some are simply extensions of government, for others government sponsored work may be a minor part of what they do.  Many will provide services to private or non-profit actors not just government.  They will also do work for government agencies that is nothing directly to do with advancing foreign policy.   Also priorities evolve over time as I pointed out a couple of weeks ago external cultural policies (and higher education activities) may have originally been seen as tools of national projection but have become more important in their own right.  A necessary step will be develop a typology of mittlers classifing them in terms of legal status, funding, control, proportion of government work in order to provide a basis for a structured comparison.

Scholars of the cultural cold war (eg Laville and Wilford 2006) have argued for the importance of state-private networks but when you begin probe the world of the mittlers you see that this kind of hybrid activity has been pervasive in lots of places.

States have used mittlers because cultural relations work requires the mobilization of expertise, artists, scholars and hospitality within their own society and that have links with foreign countries and this is seen as easier to do by organizations outside government. Sometimes the organizations have been created at the behest of government other organizations existed anyway and have been brought into partnership.  To some extent this mode of working may have hidden government sponsorship from the foreign publics but it has also had the effect of reducing the visibility of this activity to scholars.


*Of course ‘mediating organization’ would do the trick.


Laville, H., and H. Wilford (2012) The US government, citizen groups and the Cold War : the state-private network. London: Routledge.

Maaß, K.-J., ed. (2009) Kultur und Außenpolitik: Handbuch für Studium und Praxis. Nomos Verlagsges.Mbh + Co.

Piniau, B. (1998) L’Action Artistique de la France dans le Monde. Paris: L’Harmattan.