Posts Tagged ‘Saudi Arabia’


Looking for Public Diplomacy Effects

March 23, 2018

The opening of James M. Dorsey’s latest on Saudi Arabia’s turn to ‘moderate Islam‘ is well worth thinking about from the perspective of public diplomacy effects

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman may be seeking to revert his kingdom to an unspecified form of moderate Islam but erasing the impact of 40 years of global funding of ultra-conservative, intolerant strands of the faith is unlikely to be eradicated by decree.

Not only because ultra-conservatism has taken root in numerous Muslim countries and communities, but also because it has given opportunistic politicians a framework to pursue policies that appeal to bigoted and biased sentiments in bids to strengthen their grip on power. Nowhere is that more evident than in Asia, home to several of the Islamic world’s most populous countries

One element of my theoretical rethink is the question of effects outside the framework of organizational planning.  Looking at things through an organizational lens affects how we understand effects and the role of intention.  So six points.

  1. The Crown Prince makes a decision but the effects have been generated by decisions and actions taken over a long period. Hence the current decision may have limited effect.
  2. The effects discussed here are not being generated directly by Saudi actions that have influence on information or attitudes (ie classical communication effects) but by the creation of institutions embedded in the target society.
  3. This embedding will, in some cases at least, have permitted the institutions to become independent of Saudi support.
  4.  Embedding autonomous institutions that promote your values in another country is pretty much the pinnacle of success for public diplomacy.
  5. Unfortunately all public diplomacies end in failure because at some point you change your mind about the objective and instantaneously any success becomes error.  This seems to be a pretty good example.
  6. The effects of any public diplomacy action are not just those that fit within the organizational plan – ie intended positive effects within a specified time period.  They all include unintended negative effects.



(Not) The Freedom House Guide to Policy Advocacy

March 2, 2015

I’ve been thinking quite a lot about the place of civil society in public diplomacy and International Relations. One of the things that is interesting is the way that the use of the term gets narrowed down to mean ‘liberal, cosmopolitan, pro-Western elites’ and forgets that the religious extremists protesting outside the embassy or the guy sitting in his mother’s basement and inciting nationalist hatred on the internet are part of civil society too. The result is that civil society in the first sense is less popular and less influential than it appears when you put it in the context of civil society as a whole.  This has been a recurring problem in public diplomacy programmes over the last decade.

This was the frame of mind that I encountered a new article in The National Interest Power to the People: Taking Diplomacy to the Streets, written by Mark Lagon (the president of Freedom House) and Sarah Grebowski it demands ‘societal diplomacy’ that is a

” more nimble, realistic foreign-policy strategy requires diplomacy with civil society. At best, it will contribute constructively to political change brought about by domestic actors, serving more liberal rule and U.S. interests.”

I read it with some scepticism but then I realized that it offered a practically perfect guide to how to write a policy advocacy piece – so here’s what I learned.

1. DO make it clear that you policy is completely new and has nothing to do with any policy that has ever been tried before. This is much easier than having to explain the difference from public diplomacy, democracy support, human rights work or any other sort of contemporary diplomatic practice. This has the added advantage of ensuring that you don’t have to respond to any criticisms of these previous policies and strategies.

2. DON’T hide any of the massive advantages your new policy has

“can catalyze change at a minute fraction of the cost the United States pays to maintain its military dominance. It also aligns with U.S. values, since aiding civil society is a way for the United States to bolster universal human rights and cultivate democratic aspirations….restore America’s reputation as a force for good. Above all, it can serve a dynamic understanding of U.S. interests by anticipating and, where possible, influencing shifts in countries’ leadership…gain flexibility in responding to unpredictable outcomes…the United States can position itself on the “right side of history,”….societal diplomacy would have positive ramifications for the United States’ legitimacy as a global leader”….”the United States can chip away at the false idea that its goal is to spread democracy by force—and the well-founded suspicion that its support for democratization is self-servingly selective in practice.”

3. DO ignore or minimize any downside to your new policy (this particularly applies if you choose the People’s Republic of China and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as priority targets) but don’t completely ignore them as they can be easily overcome – if the Saudi government is unhappy: “the United States should exercise leverage over the regime”

4. DO assume that the targets of your new policy won’t expel your diplomats or act in a way that can damage US interests.

5. DON’T waste space on practicalities like the kind of resources needed to execute this strate

Keep those rules in mind and policy innovation will be no problem!


It’s Complicated: Britain, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain

November 25, 2013

Last week the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee put out the report on their investigation into UK relations with Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.  The full report is here and the summary is here.

Three comments

  1. The relationship with the Gulf sets out the tensions within British foreign policy in a pretty spectacular way.  On one hand the British relationship goes back centuries and is embedded in a nexus of royalty, arms sales and oil.  On the other hand from a liberal perspective Saudi Arabia is one of the worst places in the world.  These poles are overlaid with concerns about terrorism and the Sunni and anti-Iranian direction of Saudi foreign policy. This is illustrated by how much of the report is draws on evidence from retired ambassadors and how much from human rights groups.
  2. The report does a good job of setting out the multiplex nature of international relationships.  Particularly with Saudi Arabia there are multiple strands to the relationship that make applying leverage on one of them hard.
  3. Then there’s the public diplomacy dimension.  What polling there is suggests a pretty negative attitude to the UK in Saudi Arabia with a net negative trust in ‘the British people’ of -10% and for the British Government of -34%, other polls suggest that Britain is seen more negatively than France and Germany and only slightly more positively than the US (32 vs 30%).  Of course as the report points out that British people have a pretty negative attitude to Saudi Arabia.   There’s a glass half full moment where the British Council says that participating in its cultural relations activities manages to improve things.* The report demands greater public engagement.  I would add though that there’s an issue that needs to be thought through – why are the ratings so low?  They are much worse than even for Pakistan or Turkey.  British public view of  of Saudi Arabia rests on a view of the place as quite alien – which of course it is – does this work in the other direction too?

*The report manages to confuse two diagrams taken from this British Council report (p.12), the BC report says that people in Saudi Arabia who have participated in any BC activities have a +2% trust rating and for those who participated in two or more activities the rating goes up to +12%.