Archive for the ‘Public Diplomacy Theory’ Category

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Octopus Intelligence and the Tentacle State

March 31, 2017

I’ve mentioned Karl Lamprecht’s discussion of the tentacle state before

In 1903 Lamprecht was writing about the ‘tentacle state’ that national influence could no longer be thought of in terms of the narrowly defined territorial nation state but one also had to include overseas political organization, the diaspora, investment and ‘atmospheres of exports and ideas’. In writing a history of foreign public engagement it’s pretty clear that 20th century states have been ‘tentacle states’ (given that the octopus is a staple of propaganda posters maybe network state is better).

This fits very much with what I see in studying public diplomacies:  states are networks of networks and rather than seeing inconsistency as a malfunction it’s the odd occasions where things work together that needs to be explained – they work along multiple lines at the same time.

With that in mind I came across this discussion by Daniel Little of Peter Godfrey-Smith’s book on octopus intelligence, discussing how the octopus addressed not having a shell Godfrey-Smith says:

Octopuses have not dealt with this challenge by imposing centralized governance on the body; rather, they have fashioned a mixture of local and central control. One might say the octopus has turned each arm into an intermediate-scale actor. But it also imposes order, top-down, on the huge and complex system that is the octopus body.

This was done through developing a decentralized system of intelligence

much of a cephalopod’s nervous system is not found within the brain at all, but spread throughout the body. In an octopus, the majority of neurons are in the arms themselves— nearly twice as many as in the central brain. The arms have their own sensors and controllers….Even an arm that has been surgically removed can perform various basic motions, like reaching and grasping

So maybe it’s less that the rational actor model was wrong but that it was the rationality of the octopus we should have been seeing a model.

 

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Public Diplomacies and the Pathologies of Liberal Statecraft

March 29, 2017

Judy Dempsey at Carnegie Europe has offered some suggestions about what the EU can do in response to the cycles of protest and repression in Belarus and Russia, she calls for a public diplomacy response: broadcasting, internet freedom, student exchanges and preparing for the day after Putin and Lukashenko by supporting opposition movements.

Seems reasonable but it also seems to reflect the basic patterns of Western statecraft over the past 25 years: make some tactical responses and wait for history to do its job.  The problem is that is precisely what has produced situations like Syria or Libya.  It’s like the plan of the underpants gnomes: phase 1: steal underpants  phase 3: huge profits while  phase 2 is a blank.

It also reflects an older realist critique of liberal statecraft and its displacement of politics. Reinhart Koselleck makes the point that enlightenment political thought shifted the moral and political burden of revolution onto History ie revolutionaries don’t kill people, History does.  Max Weber’s demand for an ‘ethic of responsibility’ is for politicians to deal with the consequences of their choices and not to retreat behind empty formulae or abstract categories.

In confronting the situations in Russian and Belarus the position is effectively we support regime change and we’ll take some steps that possibly push things in a regime change direction but we don’t want to take responsibility for this. What we don’t want to do is to think through possible consequences, for instance Russia deciding to ‘help’ in Belarus, or to recognize that not all values are consistent with each other and that choices need to be made about which should be prioritized.  It is this refusal to recognize, let alone fill, the space between the present and History that creates the impasse of Western statecraft.

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Analyzing Public Diplomacies: Four Dimensions

January 26, 2017

In thinking about how countries engage foreign publics I normally talk about public diplomacies in the plural.  I do this to signal that American public diplomacy is not the only way that countries conceptualize and carry out this work and that very often countries have engage multiple foreign publics for different purposes using different networks.

However in doing comparative historical work it has also become clear that discussion of public diplomacies often get stuck at the level of ideas and definitions.  This really isn’t enough to properly make sense of public diplomacies you need to understand what gets done and with what effect and that concepts don’t get you very far.

This means that I would argue for separating out four analytical dimensions:

  1. ideas and concepts
  2. activities and programmes
  3. organization and organizational fields,
  4. networks

Let’s briefly look at this in turn.

Concepts: There are lots of different aspects to this but I’m particularly interested in how do countries answer the why question? Why are we running these activities?  This can be broken down into two sub issues: a big question which often touches on questions of identity (to make our country known to the world, to spread the revolution) and a more precise question about how public diplomacies fit into statecraft more generally.   While some countries have quite clearly defined answers to these questions other don’t.  For instance in looking at the UK you can (literally) go through nearly 30 years from the late 1960s with minimal discussion of what the whole overseas information activity was for.  On the other hand if you look at contemporary Germany there are all kinds of policy documents as well as strong tradition of public discussion.

Activities: What do countries do?  Can you track activities over time, where they happen, where the resources go?  If you can do this there’s a good chance that discrepancies between concepts and practice will emerge.  Germany is a good example again because much of the conceptual activity is around areas like peace building  but the money goes into schools.  Also discussion at the level of ideas tends to mask the geopolitics behind lots of this activity.

Organizations: A lot of discussion tends to focus on organizations because they are visible (and they produce archives) but you can have activities without having a distinct organization and changes in organization may not change the activity very much.  Mapping the organizational universe that an organization that you are interested in inhabits is important because it helps you to recognize cross national differences.  This is directly relevant to the issue of whether to the US needs a new USIA

Networks: This dimension asks about how activities are supposed to have an effect.  Who do they act with or on.  How do activities, organizations and concepts align?  The networks you have aren’t necessarily the ones that you need but changing them is slow and painful.

I’ve found it useful to separate out these dimensions because they are often quite weakly connected. Changes in concepts or organizations may have quite limited effects on programmes and networks.  This is important because often research starts from theory or from top level policy documents.

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The Russian Firehose of Falsehood

September 1, 2016

I haven’t been able to keep up with the torrent of publications on Russian propaganda/soft power/deception etc but I’d recommend the newish RAND paper by Christopher Paul and Miriam Matthews on The Russian “Firehose of Falsehood” Propaganda Model.

They characterise this by four features

1. High volume across multiple channels

2 Fast, continuous and repetitive

3. It doesn’t seem to be concerned with ‘truth’ and

4. Neither is it interested in consistency.

They also connect each of these four elements with discussions in the psychological literature  It’s the third and fourth of these that draw particular attention since they go against what might be thought of as the conventional wisdom on propaganda contests (and in political communications) that consistency and credibility are important.

Their conclusions and recommendations are also important – particularly in the context of discussions of ‘post-truth politics’.  They are sceptical that efforts at rebuttal can work against the volume and speed of the Russian attack as they put it “don’t expect to counter the firehose of falsehood with the squirt gun of truth” – emphasis in original.  While some degree of rebuttal is required they place more weight on forewarning people about the existence of the Russian information effort.  Here what I called the propaganda panic probably serves a role in flagging the presence of the effort.  They also emphasize the importance of focusing on blocking the achievement of the objectives of Russian activities, for instance if the Russian objective is to undermine NATO solidarity focus on supporting the factors that consolidate this rather than on rebutting falsehoods.  There are other types of asymmetric responses that can be used such as full enforcement of broadcasting rules.

Although Paul and Mathews look for explanations of the lack of concern over truth and consistency in the psychological literature an alternative explanation might come from the changing media environment.  In the era of the Second World War or The Cold War information is in relatively speaking in short supply so a piece of news gets raked over and its credibility assessed, the result is the kind of personalized propaganda duel discussed here where recognized individuals get drawn into personalized tests of credibility ‘X said that y would happen.  It didn’t. Why should you believe anything else they say?’  Where there’s a continuous stream of information individual statements don’t get subject to the same average level of attention – for most people they just get replaced by another tweet – after all as McLuhan argued media is an environment.

It’s also worth noting that in a Second World War style duel(you also probably find this in exchanges between Arab radio stations in the 1950s and 1960s)  the protagonists confronted each other directly with the intention of damaging each other.  This is something that under normal circumstances diplomats are reluctant to do or that modern international broadcasters do.

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The Secret of Public Diplomacy

February 22, 2016

One of the most stimulating books that I’ve read in the last couple of years was Ray Pawson’s The Science of Evaluation: A Realist Manifesto which is a book about….evaluating policy interventions.

There’s a lot in there but a core idea that recurs is this:

The outcome of a policy intervention is a function of what you do and how you do it in what context.

or to put it another way

Outcome = intervention + implementation + context

There are a lot of implications of this  but here’s four

  1. An outcome is not necessarily one you expected or wanted
  2. A great idea badly implemented will produce different outcomes from the one you expected even if the context is supportive.
  3. An intervention that produced a great outcome in one context may not produce the same outcome in another situation.
  4. In the right context a poorly implemented, badly conceived intervention might still produce a desirable outcome. The problem is that the lessons drawn will be that the intervention worked.

In terms of the analysis of public diplomacies a disciplined application of these four categories is very useful.  Much discussion of public diplomacy tends to focus on the design of the intervention ie communications strategy, message, narrative without too much attention to implementation or context.   The analysis of real cases tends to show a different pattern where  interventions are often a function of the context (we must do something!) and the mode of implementation (organizational repertoire) rather than any careful design process. Much more of this at ISA!

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National Public Diplomacy…Systems, Machines, Assemblages, Fields….?

September 18, 2015

Over the last few years Brian Hocking (eg 2013) has introduced the concept of the national diplomatic system – the idea that ministries of foreign affairs exist in the context of a set of other agencies that are involved in foreign affairs. A while back I argued that it is important to analyse national systems of public diplomacy holistically. What I had in mind was the tendency, for instance, to discuss the British Council and the Alliance Française as if they were directly equivalent, rather than the latter being much more of a specialist language organization than the former.  From my perspective it makes if you look at ‘national public diplomacy systems’ as a whole you understand how different countries do things in different ways and how the parts fit together.

When I presented this at a conference Eytan Gilboa objected to the term ‘system’ because it made things sound too organized. The funny thing was I nearly didn’t use the term on precisely those grounds. I had thought about ‘network’ but given my propensity to label everything ‘network’ I’d restrained myself. I’d also thought about ‘assemblage’ which, to an English speaker at least carries a connotation of being thrown together, randomness and likely to fall apart (which actually seems a  fairly  accurate description of the situation in many countries).but. It also seemed a bit pretentious.* I toyed for a bit with ‘field’ in the Bourdieuan sense while I thought that this was good for thinking about the relationships between different organizations I was uncomfortable with the idea that a field can be an actor.  Maybe the public diplomacy ‘ensemble’ or collective’ would work?

More recently I’ve come across the idea of ‘la machine diplomatique‘, this originally comes from the work of Jean-Baptiste Duroselle (1979) on French diplomacy during the interwar period but has been taken up by other French scholars to indicate that diplomacy has multiple components (Frank 2003, Arthus 2012).

I think that the idea of the collective nature of diplomacy or public diplomacy is an important idea but it’s important to have the capacity to recognize  that the parts of whatever we call it don’t always fit together very well and the relationships between them vary with changing situations.

*Not that that had ever stopped me before.

Arthus WW (2012) La Machine diplomatique française en Haïti (1945-1958). Paris: L’Harmattan.

Duroselle J-B (1979) La decadence 1932-1939. Paris: Imprimerie Nationale.

Frank R (2003) La machine diplomatique culturelle française après 1945, Relations internationales, 115: 325–348.

Hocking B (2013) The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the National Diplomacy System, in Kerr P and Wiseman G (eds) Diplomacy in a Globalizing World: Theories and Practices, New York: Oxford University Press, pp. 123–40.

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Why Do Government Agencies Have Strategic Reviews?

August 24, 2015

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.