Posts Tagged ‘State Department’


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.


Five Quick Thoughts on the Diplomacy and Development Review

May 13, 2015

I’ve been reading Enduring Leadership in a Dynamic World, the State Department’s recent Quadrennial and Development Review. There been some interesting commentary  for instance here, here and here

Four quick thoughts

  1. A few years back people began to talk about the fusion of diplomacy and public diplomacy. If you do that though what happens to the identity of diplomacy and public diplomacy?  On the basis of this report the dialectic gives you something new. There is remarkably little diplomacy or public diplomacy (or for that matter development) in this report what you get is diplomacy as the construction of a civil society centred model of governance.
  2. If you follow the Western practice of statecraft this isn’t surprising but I think that this is something of a challenge to academic Diplomatic Studies (either in the ‘classical’ or ‘modernist’ variants) and International Relations – the routine theoretical opposition between states and civil society doesn’t work when civil society is the chosen instrument of foreign policy.
  3. Practically every page of this report has new examples of programmes, initiatives, partnerships with business, civil society, foundations, international organizations and I’m left wondering how much of this is ‘real’ in the sense of making a significant difference and about the fragmentation of management attention and resources that this implies.
  4. Joe Nye and others have argued that in the contemporary world that there is diffusion of power from the established power centres to rising powers and a diffusion of power from states to non-state actors.  The key bet in this report is that it’s the latter that will win out but the resulting civil society will be a liberal and pro-American one.   I’m not convinced that this end run around nation-states will work out as well as the QDDR seems to suggest, not least because, as I’ve argued civil societies have a substantial national component.

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.


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


Diplomacy in a Time of Scarcity

March 25, 2013

Last October (yes, I’ve only just got around to reading it) the American Academy of Diplomacy, The Cox Foundation and Stimson put out a paper looking at the challenges faced the State Department in an era of declining budgets.  The key reference point is a report that they put out in 2008 on A Foreign Affairs Budget for the Future.  The earlier report  called for large increases in staffing at State and USAID.  The new report recognizes that there have been staffing increases but notes that changing in staffing levels don’t map on to empty posts.  In particular there are big gaps in the mid career posts with the Public Diplomacy specialization the worse affected being unable to fill 220 posts, 22.5% of the total.  Their argument is that because diplomatic jobs require experience it’s difficult to make up for staffing losses in the past.  Their solution is to ease restrictions on retired FSOs being brought back on a temporary basis.  Their earlier report also called for a 64.8% increase in PD spending (including the creation of a network of cultural centres, more academic and professional exchanges) but the actual increase in funding has been only 28.8%

In an effort to avoid similar staffing problems in the future the report argues that any cuts should be focused on programmes rather than personnel  The rationale for this is that programme spending can be easily reconstituted while trained staff can’t be. They also suggest that if it’s faced with big cuts in personnel State should look to cut its network of embassies and consulates in order to demonstrate to Congress that cuts have real costs. ‘There could be no more visible metaphor for  “America in Decline” than the closing of some of our embassies.’ –

One thing that struck me is this list of what America’s diplomats are supposed to do

Today’s and tomorrow’s diverse diplomatic challenges all require frontline activity by skilled diplomatic professionals. They must:

›     Highlight and demonstrate American values;

›     Strengthen the growth of civil institutions and the rule of law;

›     Promote democracy;

›     Serve and protect the millions of Americans who live and travel abroad;

›     Promote trade and investment;

›     Fight illicit drugs;

›     Stop the trafficking of persons;

›     Support sustainable development to combat poverty;

›     Prevent genocide;

› Strengthen foreign cooperation and capacity to address global security challenges such as terrorism, weapons proliferation, international crime, disease, and humanitarian disasters.

America’s diplomats will still seek to influence foreign governments—bilaterally and multilaterally. But in a pluralistic world changed by information technology, they will increasingly work directly with other nations’ emerging interest groups and future leaders—businesses and academia, urban centers and remote villages, and religious institutions—who shape their nations’ values over the long term.

The traditional business of diplomacy, managing relations between states, is almost reduced to a footnote.