Archive for the ‘United States’ Category

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Plans! We Don’t Need No Stinking Plans!

April 5, 2016

One of the points I was making at the ISA Convention a couple of weeks ago was that in the real world public diplomacy organizations find it difficult to be strategic in the sense of creating a strong connection between their objectives and their means.  In part this is because public diplomacy organizations are always on, the routine logistical requirements of running a programme both on a day to day basis and in the longer term overwhelm the capacity of organizations to be strategic.   There’s no point worrying about SMART goals if you are more worried about keeping the show on the road at all.

Anyway another exhibit to buttress my cases emerged yesterday a US State Department Inspector General’s report on how the public diplomacy work of the embassy in Baghdad was contributing to the counter messaging part of the overall strategy against ISIL

The first item from the summary:

“Embassy Baghdad’s public diplomacy activities operate without formal strategic planning and goals.”

Public diplomacy is not discussed within the embassy’s Integrated Country Strategy  and there is no Public Diplomacy Implementation Plan.

The report obviously thinks that there should be plans but that’s not my point: lots of public diplomacy is reactive, and improvised rather than strategic.  From an analytical perspective it’s often better to look public diplomacies it through an organizational lens rather than an intentional one.

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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.

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State Department Still Doesn’t Have Public Diplomacy Strategy

July 2, 2014

About 12 months ago the I blogged about the State Department’s Office of Inspector General’s critical report on the Bureau of International Information Programmes.  This aspect of the report that attracted most attention was that State’s digital diplomacy operation was essentially buying followers.  Now the OIG has conducted a second inspection to measure compliance with the 80 recommdendations from the report.  Of the original 80, 15 were closed before the re-inspection, 43 have been closed as a result of the inspection but 7 have been reissued and 15 have been revised and reissued.

While the report acknowledges improvements in IIP several of the recommendations that remain open affect more of State that just this  bureau.

Among the more significant issues:

  • State lacks a proper department wide public diplomacy strategy
  • the head of IIP should have Assistant Secretary Status
  • IIP and Public Affairs need to develop a department wide social media strategy
  • IIP and Public Affairs need a clearer division of labour that includes roles and audiences.

As you would expect it’s easier to fix how you buy airline tickets than it is to sort complex strategic questions.

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American Hypernationalism and Foreign Influence: A Last Word on Putin

September 19, 2013

I’m loathe to given any more attention to Vladimir Putin’s op-ed in the New York Times but I noticed Jeremi Suri’s piece at Foreign Affairs which places Putin’s intervention in a line of unsuccessful foreign attempts to influence American foreign policy debates that he traces back to the aftermath of the War of Independence through Khruschev.

For all the openness of American public debate, U.S. foreign policy has always been defined by individuals residing within its borders. American foreign policy is, above all, hypernationalist, and that is unlikely to change anytime soon. ….

The ongoing debate surrounding U.S. policy in Syria shows that Kennan was correct about the importance of “short-term trends of public opinion.” Those trends have always been defined by the words of prominent Americans, not those of foreign leaders.

Stirring stuff but America’s friends figured out at least a century ago that the key to influencing American policy debates was to work through Americans themselves.  The literature on the US as target for foreign public diplomacy is pretty substantial – some examples below.  Actually untangling what these campaigns did is tricky but it may be that students of public diplomacy are too reticent about making claims for influence.  For instance US entry into the two World Wars took place in a context of where the Allied powers were working very hard to shape the information environment.*   Of course the French or the British or anyone else who want to exert influence work with networks of collaborators who genuinely believe that the policies that they are advocating are in the best interests of the US.

*It’s actually people who want to argue against the impact of these campaigns who have to argue the counterfactual – that the debate and policy decisions would have played out the same way in the absence of these influence attempts.

 

Dubosclard A (2001) Diplomatie culturelle et propagande françaises aux États-Unis pendant le premier vingtième siècle, Revue d’histoire moderne et contemporaine, 48: 102–119.

Dubosclard A (2002) L’Alliance Francaise aux Etats-Unis, Outil de Diplomatie ou Association d’Hommes Libres?, in Dubosclard, et al A (ed) Entre Rayonnement et Reciprocite: Contributions a l’Histoire de al Diplomatie Culturelle, Paris: Publications de la Sorbonne, pp. 117–37.

Dubosclard A (2007) L’action artistique de la France aux Etats-Unis : 1915-1969. Paris: CNRS.

Young RJ (2004) Marketing Marianne: French Propaganda in America, 1900-1940. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.

Kim R (2011) South Korean Cultural Diplomacy and Efforts to Promote the RoK’s Brand Image in the United States and Around the World, Stanford Journal of East Asian Affairs, 11: 124–34.

Lee S (2006) An analysis of other countries’ international public relations in the U.S., Public Relations Review, 32: 97–103.

Snyder DJ (2010) The Problem of Power in Modern Public Diplomacy: The Netherlands Information Bureau in World War II and the Early Cold War, in Osgood KA and Etheridge BC (eds) The United States and Public Diplomacy: New Directions in Cultural and International History, Leiden: Martinus Nijhoff, pp. 57–80.

Tully JD (2010) Ethnicity, Security, and Public Diplomacy: Irish-Americans and Ireland’s Neutrality in World War II, in Osgood KA and Etheridge BC (eds),The United States and Public Diplomacy: New Directions in Cultural and International History Leiden: Martinus Nijhoff, pp. 81–102.

Anstey C (1984) The Projection of British Socialism: Foreign Office Publicity and American Opinion, 1945-50, Journal of Contemporary History, 19: 417–451.

Cull NJ (1995) Selling War the British Propaganda Campaign against American “Neutrality” in World War II. New York: OUP.

Cull NJ (1997) Overture to an Alliance: British Propaganda at the New York World’s Fair, 1939-1940, The Journal of British Studies, 36: 325–354.

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Do We Need American Political Warfare in the Middle East?

August 9, 2013

Max Boot and Michael Doran  have posted an essay at the Council for Foreign Relations calling for the United States to reinvigorate a campaign of  political warfare to counter anti-American influences in the Middle East.  Among the challengers they list “Iran, al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, the Muslim Brotherhood, and various Salafist organizations.”

They explicitly cite the inspiration of the early Cold War in the approach and quote from one of George Kennan’s PPS memos from 1948

Political warfare is the logical application of Clausewitz’s doctrine in time of peace. In broadest definition, political warfare is the employment of all the means at a nation’s command, short of war, to achieve its national objectives. Such operations are both overt and covert. They range from such overt actions as political alliances, economic measures (as ERP—the Marshall Plan), and “white” propaganda to such covert operations as clandestine support of “friendly” foreign elements, “black” psychological warfare and even encouragement of underground resistance in hostile states.

They complain that none of America’s foreign affairs agencies has political warfare as a core mission with the result that (to use two of their examples) if an Iraqi politician or an anti-regime Iranian film-maker wants support who will provide it.  Boot and Doran argue for using the existing Counter Terrorism Strategic Communication set up as a basis for a cross-government coordinated programme, further State, DoD, USAID and CIA should create political warfare career tracks.

Given that America’s various public diplomacy strands tend to take on an unacknowledged tinge of political warfare it’s nice to see the issue being explicitly addressed.  In principle the ability to coordinate all the instruments of national power in pursuit of a ‘national goals’ is a good thing.

But I’m not entirely convinced

At the end of their first paragraph Boot and Doran call for the US to develop a political warfare strategy but their entire piece is about the instruments and methods of political warfare.

This leads to the central question: what is the political strategy and how does it fit with US objectives and policies in the Middle East and globally?

As an approach to statecraft political warfare inverts Clausewitz and treats politics as the continuation of war in that the other is to be defeated or destroyed.  Indeed the most enthusiastic embrace of political warfare has been from regimes that deny the legitimacy of their opponents (for instance the USSR facing the capitalist world) or see themselves dealing with an existential threat that requires the use of any and all means, the situation that Kennan saw in 1948.   The reason that Clausewitz subordinates strategy to policy is because policy is the level at which different objectives and political considerations are integrated, balanced and ranked.  The problem with political warfare is that it tends to pretend that this political complexity can be ignored and that it is possible to simply focus on damaging the opponent.

In contrast diplomacy seeks to manage the relationship with the other and to balance multiple objectives and relationships.  The historical record shows that the targets of peacetime political warfare tend not to collapse and that the country employing PW finds itself  managing the interaction between the two approaches to statecraft with greater or lesser degrees of success.   Fans of political warfare methods (the USSR or Hitler) frequently found their diplomacy torpedoed because their unconventional methods hadn’t managed to overthrow the opponent merely to irritate them.

Hence the number one requirement for political warfare is a political strategy that allows not just the coordination of means but the prioritization of objectives.  So in thinking about a political warfare strategy for the Middle East the US needs to consider what sort of Middle East it would like to see (and what sort of region it can actually produce), and how the methods and consequences of PW (intended and unintended) will feed into outcomes given the reaction of other players.  Just developing a strategy based on countering hostile forces isn’t sufficient.  For instance Boot and Doran’s list of threats suggests an elementary set of political strategies (Sun Tzu 101): promote conflict between extremist Shia and Sunni factions (and provide covert help to both sides) – while this would weaken anti-US factions and distract them it would also escalate the level of violence and instability in the region.

A few lessons from Cold War experience.

  1. One of the basic strategies of US Cold War political warfare was to support anti-communist socialists, what was known as the non-communist left (NCL). This was not to the taste of many congressmen.  If we are looking at the Middle East who is your NCL?  Who can you back that can actually make a difference and is acceptable to congressional oversight?
  2. There are many examples of Cold War groups taking the money and following their own agenda. Just because a politician says that he’s pro-American don’t expect him to follow your agenda.
  3. By the second half of the 1950s it was already clear that covert support for anti-communist groups was a trap in that the support could not be kept hidden indefinitely and that when it came out it would have consequence both for the US and the groups that they had supported. Discussions of some sort of overt funding mechanism that would eventually yield the NED have quite a long history.
  4. One of the basic criticisms of covert methods of statecraft is that they often function as a substitute for policy resulting in a series of opportunistic improvisations that do not lead anywhere in particular.

 

I would argue that Boot and Doran are right that the US should look hard at coordinating its tools, looking at ways in which it can undermine and block threatening forces.  I would also look at the ability to use covert methods to support friendly forces in particular circumstances (this is a job for the CIA).

But…I’m sceptical about a broad PW push in the absence of a broader political strategy for the region, I don’t just mean some general aspirations but a theory of change that will get you there  – Kennan’s advocacy of PW was in the context of a strategy of containment in a bipolar international order,  the Middle East is a much messier environment.  I’m not convinced that the US can formulate or execute a coordinated programme of political warfare in support of a coherent political strategy.

 

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A Lesson from the BBC World Service for VoA?

July 5, 2013

US international broadcasting seems to be in a permanent state of meltdown;  I’ve given up on trying to keep track of the posts on BBG Watch.  I was interested to see reports on the testimony given to the House of Representatives last week – which given that the witnesses couldn’t agree doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.

Gary Thomas, a long time VoA journalist, correctly identifies the core of the problem in the multiple roles of US International Broadcasting in particular the tension between public diplomacy (that is broadcasting is an instrument) and journalism.  Interestingly there’s a degree of slippage in the piece between journalism and international broadcasting – this is striking because most of his criticisms of VoA are about dumbing down as a result of a management imported from the commercial sector not about the instrumentalization by diplomats.  His solution is that the VoA should be centralized around a newsroom overseen by a journalist.  If the station focuses on journalism everything will be fine.

The problem with this is that non-commercial international broadcasting (like public diplomacy in general) is constructed around multiple objectives.  Firstly, we would like an audience.  Secondly, we would like to do something for or to that audience beyond just getting them to listen, watch or click.   The identity of our intended audience is a function of what we want to do to or for them.  The instrumental aspect is probably necessary to justify the funds that we need to broadcast at all.   These tensions are inherent in the activity.  The key step is recognize that they exist and then work out how to manage them.  Pretending that they don’t exist is just sowing the seeds for more trouble down the line.

In this context have a look at how the BBC World Service squares the circle.  Last week the BBC Trust – ie the regulatory board for the BBC issued a draft of the license that that the BBC will operate under when the Trust takes over funding of the World Service from the FCO.  There’s also a position paper explaining things in a bit more detail.

Have a look at the ‘remit’ from the license:

BBC World Service broadcasts and distributes accurate, impartial and independent news and content in a range of genres aimed primarily at users outside the UK. The editorial agenda of the World Service should provide a global perspective on the world, not one based upon any national or commercial interest. BBC World Service should contribute to the BBC’s international news mission to address the global gap in provision of trusted international news, by providing accurate, impartial and independent news and analysis of the highest quality. In developing countries the World Service aims, through journalism that contributes to accountability and g ood governance, to improve the welfare and economic development of citizens. It should aim to provide a distinctive service tailored to its audience’s need, and maximise reach of all services in their target markets, subject to value for money. BBC World Service should make a significant contribution to promoting the BBC’s public purposes.

What’s interesting here is the notion of the ‘global news gap’.  Why do you have a shortage of good news coverage? Either because poverty means that your local broadcasters don’t have the resources to do the job or because you have an authoritarian government.  Then look at what journalism is supposed to do in developing countries – contribute to accountability and good governance.

The remit brings together three things; we’re a journalistic organization; but our journalism is part of an organization that has some non-journalistic purposes; and we’d better make sure that we get an audience.  How you balance out these three things on a day to day basis requires work but a remit like this starts from the premise that there isn’t a simple answer.

My advice for US international broadcasting?  Start with a purpose, generate a strategy and then look at the organization.

 

 

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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