Posts Tagged ‘Bureaucracy’

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The Nationalized State as an International Actor

March 22, 2018

I’ve really been wanting to get back to blogging but over the last 12 months I’ve spent a considerable amount of time trying to work through the question of how do public diplomacies fit in to international politics and rather than just start commenting on current events I want to sketch out some of the conclusions of this theoretical work so that I can refer back to it.   One big concern for me has to close the gap between our theoretical and policy discourses (and has been for a very long time) but as Clausewitz would tell you if the theory doesn’t fit the practice you need a new theory.  Most of the themes have been discussed here before but I think that I can now pull them together in a more coherent way.

This argument and what follows is developed at much greater length is some forthcoming work but I want to start off with the question of the state, what we mean by it and how it acts.

Corollaries of the Infrastructural State

Modern international relations is a product of the changes in the nature of the relationship between state and society that emerged during the 19th century.  In thinking about this I started from Michael Mann’s concept of the development of the transition from a despotic to an infrastructural state.  Essentially, the modern state embeds itself into the social order and can extract more resources/capability but at the same time it becomes constrained by these relationships (Mann 1988).  There is a trade-off between embeddedness and autonomy  (Evans 1995).*

If you think about this in a broader context you can see two corollaries which are usually discussed in different literatures.   Firstly,  the state as organization becomes much larger but more functionally differentiated hence less coherent.  At the same time different components of the state organizations build their own relationships with other social actors.  The political science literature has all kinds of concepts for making  sense of this phenomenon; sub-governments, policy domains, issue communities, policy networks, the organizational state etc (McCool 1998).

The second corollary of the infrastructural state is the need to legitimize and naturalize this new order in cultural and ideological terms hence the importance of education, cultural, media infrastructures and small d democratic ideologies in producing a field within which entrepreneurs both from inside and outside the state can operate.  Although we tend to label this as a nation-state but I think that this places too much weight on the ideas of ‘nation’ and ‘nationalism’ and too little on processes of nationalization and of the principle of nationality.  We live in an order where everything is assumed to have a nationality and I think neglect how fundamental this is to the contemporary world.  Even people who strive to escape this are still frequently shaped by their national habitus (Kuipers 2011, 2013, Stroup 2012).

Drawing on Andrew Abbott’s work this line of analysis leads a view of the modern state as an ecology (2005, 2016).

The Nationalized State as an International Actor

If we translate this argument into international terms we largely still talk about IR as if we were dealing with an imagined rational unitary sovereign and ignore 1) the rise of diverse state bureaucracies and their policy networks and 2) the way in which everything within or attached to the nationalized state can be turned into an instrument or vulnerability within statecraft.

Pretty much all histories of statecraft that have been written over the past century document the increasing complexity of the organizations of the modern state and conflicts and irrationalities that follow from this.  Yet this is hardly ever taken as a basis for theorizing.  The best known treatment of this idea in the International Relations literature focuses on one of the most intense international crises ever but bureaucracies do their things all the time and it is the fact that they may do them over long periods that means we need to look at things other than ‘decisions’ (Allison 1971).  The agency of the modern state is bureaucracy and even relatively small states have multiple channels of international action.  This is neither new or unusual.  The First World War produced an expansion in outward facing organizations and the problem of coordination between them was becoming an issue in the 1920s (eg Düwell 1976, Garzarelli 2002)

What is the relationship between a country and its people, business, cuisine, art, science, pop culture beyond its borders?  Who or what counts as belonging to a country.  These relations are not that straightforward, claims to ownership or membership are complex and ambiguous and absolutely endemic to international politics in general and public diplomacies in particular.

The corollary of this is that this nationalized state is also something that is acted on but the effect needs to be seen in terms of its impact on this ecology.

In talking about the ‘nation-state’ as an international actor we are addressing a fluid, fragmented and rather ambiguous entity that works at coherence.  Although some of the forms have changed this is not a new set of developments.    These themes of fragmentation and ambiguity are ones that I will return to but in making sense of contemporary international politics they seem like better places to start that with a mythical Louis ‘L’etat? C’est moi’  XIV

 

*Even back in the 1980s Martin Shaw was discussing this as the warfare-welfare state and questioning whether nuclear weapons and the end of mass armies were eroding this bargain (Shaw 1988).

Abbott A (2005) Linked Ecologies: States and Universities as Environments for Professions, Sociological Theory, 23: 245–274.

Abbott A (2016) Processual Sociology. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Allison GT (1971) Essence of decision: explaining the Cuban missile crisis. Boston: Little Brown.

Düwell K (1976) Deutschlands auswärtige Kulturpolitik 1918-1932: Grundlinien und Dokumente. Köln: Böhlau.

Evans P (1995) Embedded Autonomy: States and Industrial Transformation. Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press.

Garzarelli B (2002) Fascismo e propaganda all’estero: Le origini della Direzione generale per la propaganda (1933-1934), Studi Storici, 43: 477–520.

Kuipers G (2011) Her Majesty’s Bicycle: On National Habitus and Sociological Comparison, Figurations: Newsletter of the Norbert Elias Foundation, Special Supplement 34.

Kuipers G (2013) The rise and decline of national habitus: Dutch cycling culture and the shaping of national similarity, European Journal of Social Theory, 16: 17–35.

Mann M (1988) States, War and Capitalism: Studies in Political Sociology. Oxford: Blackwell.

McCool DF (1998) The Subsystem Family of Concepts: A Critique and a Proposal, Political Research Quarterly, 51: 551–70.

Shaw M (1988) Dialectics of War: An Essay in the Social Theory of Total War and Peace. London: Pluto.

Stroup SS (2012) Borders Among Activists: International NGOS in the United States, Britain, and France. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

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The Chilcot Report and the Problem of Strategy

July 6, 2016

I’ve got no intention of spending too much time on the Chilcot report but I was interested to see some of the comments about policy making after the initial invasion in light of the repeated concerns about the quality of UK foreign policy decision making.

From Section 9.8 Conclusions – The Post Conflict Period

175. Between May 2003 and May 2007, there were more than 20 instances in which UK strategy and objectives were reconsidered

177. Crucially, UK strategies tended to focus on describing the desired end state rather than how it would be reached. On none of the 20 occasions when UK strategy was reconsidered was a robust plan for implementation produced. Setting a clear direction of travel is a vital element of an effective strategy, but strategies also require a serious assessment of the material resources available and how they can best be deployed to achieve the desired end state. That is especially important when the strategy relates to an armed conflict in which it will be actively opposed by organised and capable groups. There is very little evidence of thorough analysis of the resources, expertise, conditions and support needed to make implementation of UK strategy achievable.

179. In the absence of a Cabinet Minister with overall responsibility for Iraq, leadership on strategy rested with Mr Blair…

180.… Mr Blair’s ability to solve the strategic problems he identified therefore relied on his Cabinet colleagues, and the departments they led, working together.

181. A recurring issue between 2003 and 2007 was the difficulty of translating the Government’s strategy for Iraq into action by departments. The system that drove policyon the invasion of Iraq, which centered on No.10, could not be easily transformed into a system for the effective management of the aftermath, in which a coherent collective effort was needed to pull together the many interrelated strands of activity required. Although Iraq was designated the UK’s highest foreign policy priority, it was not the top priority within individual departments. As a consequence, Whitehall did not put significant collective weight behind the task

I’ve added the emphasis here.  This was the era of modernization in government, of the apogee of Gordon Brown’s influence.  From my work on the FCO its possible to see how in the first years of the Labour government departments got targets but by the middle of the noughties the expectation was that resource allocation should follow targets.

Another factor which comes out quite clearly is the impact of the decision made in June 2004 to deploy the HQ of the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps to Afghanistan in 2006.  Once this decision is made it placed a major constraint on what could be done in Iraq because of the need to resource the new deployment.  Given the way the bureaucracy seems to have operated this effectively removed the option of increasing the forces deployed in Iraq.  Indeed it appears, to me at least that there was reluctance to acknowledge the deteriorating situation in Iraq because of the disruption that might cause.

183. Throughout the UK’s engagement in Iraq there was a tendency to focus on the most positive interpretation of events.

184. One manifestation of that was failure to give weight to the candid analysis that was regularly supplied by the JIC, by some commanders in theatre, and by others that things were going wrong.

185. The default position was to judge that negative events were isolated incidents rather than potential evidence of a trend which should be monitored and which might require a policy response. This meant that underlying causes were not always investigated and brought to light.

 

Des Browne, the Minister of Defence from May 2006 to October 2008 gets a particular battering for this

The report notes

197…. On several occasions, decision-makers visiting Iraq (including the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and the Chief of the General Staff) found the situation on the ground to be much worse than had been reported to them. Effective audit mechanisms need to be used to counter optimism bias, whether through changes in the culture of reporting, use of multiple channels of information – internal and external – or use of visits.

It seems to be me that the British government and armed forces managed to get into two wars without considering that it might be necessary to stop following its normal bureaucratic routines.

 

 

 

 

 

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Thought for the Day: The Quest for Coordination

March 30, 2012

Public diplomacy is done by government agencies or organizations working on behalf of government so it’s important to pay attention to what this means.  This organizational dimension has to be seen as feature rather than a bug.  As a result I’ve been working my way through James Q. Wilson’s, excellent Bureaucracy: What Government Agencies Do and Why They Do It (New York: Basic, 1989).  This morning I came across this

Harold Seidman described the quest for coordination as the “twentieth century equivalent of the medieval search for the philosopher’s stone.” In words heavy with irony, he explained: “If only we can find the right formula for coordination, we can reconcile the irreconcilable, harmonize competing and wholly divergent interests, overcome irrationalities in our government structures, and make hard policy choices to which no one will dissent.”

Hmm, I can think of few PD coordinating committees that this might apply to.