What a Kafuffle (old English word) Wikileaks has caused. Governments are moaning and getting quite aggressive, activists are up in arms and getting quite aggressive, the media are stoking it up and getting more excited than aggressive – all wonderful stuff. People are taking sides and the noise of opinion, dissent, anger and outrage is pumped up to maximum volume. But regardless of whether Wikileaks is a good thing or not, whether Julian Assange et al are the new media Messiahs or Cyber-Satans, the whole notion of what Wikileaks represents and the impact of this new ‘cost-effective political action’ is worthwhile pondering.
Is the phenomena anything new? The capability to issue confidential information to a global audience – leak – has been gathering pace since the internet became a mainstream interactive information platform, or Web 2.0. Wikileaks itself is in fifth year and had garnered over one million documents within its first year. And as a phenomenon, the are other organisations akin to Wikileaks such as the Chaos Computer Club, The Bureau of Investigative Journalism and more recently openleaks and tradeleaks. Being an information guerilla is suddenly all the rage. But that’s the thing – it’s not new, it’s just become fashionable and has gained prominence in the mind of the public, despite being a fundamental part of the developing networked world. To those in smeared or embarrassed governments who have been shocked and surprised by this phenomenon, the question must be asked, where have you been for the last few years? And where they, and many of us, have been, to paraphrase BBC’s Bill Thompson, is ‘calling forth the network age, whilst carrying on in our daily lives as if nothing has really changed’. Wikileaks and all it entails is a fundamental and immutable fact of life in the 21st century information environment – that’s just the way it is going to be, rightly or wrongly. And alongside that will come a general recognition that information, whilst always a powerful tool, has become a lot easier to wield to massive effect, not only by governments and corporate behemoths but by the common man, sometimes called the ‘Whistleblower’.
Alongside this potential information tsunami, is the issue of privacy. What the Wikileaks phenomenon is doing for secrecy and privacy of diplomatic information (and let’s not forget also of corporate information) may have repercussions on personal privacy and our view of it. Facebook, wifi networks, internet purchasing, personal databases, google streetview etc have come under scrutiny regarding the breaching of personal privacy. If mighty governments cannot protect really important classified stuff what hope for me and my bank details? Undoubtedly many computer security consultants are already licking the lips in preparation for cyber-fortresses to be built to protect information. Despite the fact that it is a human being, not a machine at the core of leaking, via the internet or otherwise, will general concern generate universal measures over time which will drive the information environment back to the 1980s? Remember when there was no wifi, no USB memory sticks, no internet in workplaces, you still bought stuff using real money not electronic transfer? Are we heading back that way?
Perhaps not completely, but there will be no doubt some sizeable shifts as the potent mix of wikileakmania and IT security bubbles up. And then there’s cyber-warfare. The Chinese are often accused of being a menace in cyber-space, or the Russians when they close down It infrastructures of tiny Baltic states. Yet the activist backlash against suppression of Wikileaks – attacking Paypal, Visa etc – has highlighted another potent threat, one spawned and aided by a positive internet-age outcome: collaborative networking. Through collaboration, focussed around a passionate cause, a mighty army of computer-literate operatives, from Delhi to Dallas, can present a cyber-threat that maybe even the Chinese may baulk at. This may be slightly far-fetched but does indicate that cyber-conflict is not the preserve of governments or the occasional lone-wolf hacker and powerful counterinsurgencies have the potential to cause huge effect not only in cyber-space but on our daily lives.
The stuff that is being released by Wikileaks is undoubtedly of interest and in some cases has strategic significance, but is not necessarily all that shocking. What may be more of a shock is where the consequences of the Wikileaks phenomenon takes us.
The International Symposium on Cultural Diplomacy 2010:
“Culture, Globalization, and International Relations over the next Two Decades” – Berlin, May 23rd 30th, 2010
The International Symposium 2010 will be split into three complementary parts. The program will begin by looking in greater detail at culture and identity and how these terms are used and understood today. During this part of the program participants will have the opportunity to experience Berlins famous “Carnival of Cultures”.
The second part of the program will build on these components by considering the role that culture plays in contemporary international relations and the process of globalization. During these three days the concepts of cultural diplomacy and soft power will also be explored in more detail.
The final part of the program will apply these discussions to one of the key issues that will determine global politics over the coming years: Afghanistan and stability in Central Asia.
The Symposium will be split into the following three parts:
“Defining and Understanding Culture in an International Context” : 23rd – 25th May)
A Three Piece Puzzle – “The Relationship between Culture, International Relations and Globalization” : 26th – 27th May
“Understanding Afghanistan and Central Asia: Supporting Democracy and Stability – The Path Ahead” : 28th – 30th May
This final part is being held in cooperation with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the German Marshal Fund (GMFUS), UNESCO, the European Commission, the US State Department and in partnership with leading international organizations.
Further details about the event can be found at the icd website:
Organised by the University Association for Contemporary European Studies (UACES), Monday 22 March 2010 sees the final event of Communicating European Citizenship project, with a conference hosted by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London, uniting academic experts in communication, citizenship and European integration from a range of disciplines (politics, law, sociology, communications). Programme highlights include:
1) The FCO’s Role in Communicating the EU to Young People – Alison Rose, Head of the Europe Communications, Institutions, Treaty and Iberia Group
2) Perceptions of the EU and the Challenge of Communicating with Young EU Citizens – Jenny Fairbrass, Co-convenor of project/UACES Treasurer and Stephen Fairbrass, Co-convenor of project/Senior Lecturer in Citizenship Education, with feedback from the Continuing Professional Development and Year 9/10 conferences held earlier in 2010.
3) Round Table to Consider Perceptions of the EU and the Challenge of Communicating with Young EU Citizenschaired by Alex Warleigh-Lack, Brunel University
* Albert Weale, University College London
* Don Rowe, Citizenship Foundation
* Jean Lambert MEP
* Andy Thorpe, Bradford Academy
* Anna Neale, Longdendale Community Language College
4) Ten Research Panels, each comprising three papers, on the following themes:
* National dimension and citizenship
* Economic issues and citizenship
* Participation and elections
* Education and citizenship
* The media and citizenship
* Social and Environmental citizenship
* Legal issues
* Civil Society
* Active citizenship and local/regional issues
* Communication strategy and discourse
Please see http://www.uaces.org/events/conferences/cec/for details of the project (co-funded by the European Commission), the programme of research panels, and in order to register.
As the Lisbon Treaty comes into force, a little reflection into the perception of the European Union as a global power as seen almost five years ago (2005). A bit of nostalgia but may be an appropriate starting point to assessing where the EU is now, and where it might be going.
That the European Union (EU), being the world’s largest economic entity, has influence in today’s world is generally without doubt, but to be a true global actor requires influence across a wide spectrum. In defining it as a global actor, one should consider seven, often interdependent, aspects to be fundamental in affording the EU any global influence. These are: economics; international or regional cooperation; promotion of human rights, democracy and good governance; prevention of violent conflict; fight against international crime and terrorism; and military capability. Each should be examined so as to assess how far the EU can currently be considered a global actor. However, regardless of the EU’s potential capacity in these areas, economic, political and military weight count for little on the world stage without the political will to engage that weight and the capacity for, and autonomy of, decision-making.
With an annual GDP of almost 11 trillion euros, accounting for, on average, some 25% of world GDP, contained within a unique and successful customs union, in economic terms the EU can be seen as a superpower, with undoubted global influence. Via the customs union it has largely pooled the economic trading capacity of its member states, such that it is the world’s leading exporter of goods, services and Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) and the main export market for some 130 countries around the globe. Through the European Community pillar, it possesses its most powerful foreign policy instruments: the capacity to enter into trade, economic cooperation and development agreements with other economic entities, national or regional, especially through the European Community’s General System of Preferences (GSP); and direct financial assistance to third countries. Its very success in regional economic integration is held up as an example across the world, allowing for some degree of influence globally. Its sheer trading power, economic capacity and prominence make it easy to regard as a global actor in economic terms.
With its significant economic power, it has considerable influence with the global institutions (International Financial Institutions – IFIs) which influence global trade and finance regulations, such as the World Trade organization (WTO) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). This is regardless of the lack of an EU seat, but due to the fact that cohesion and concensus is relatively strong over trade issues. Yet, there are brakes upon the already significant EU influence, but these are less a fault of the EU than the rigid and hierarchical structures of such bodies. Further, the EU is often seen as falling foul of WTO rules, being a respondent in disputes almost as often as a complainant, but this does not diminish the EU’s global influence and possibly proves its existence. Regardless, technically proficient in economic management and with competent control mechanisms, expressed exclusively through the Commission, the economic weight of the EU is by far its biggest ‘stick’ and ‘carrot’, available for exercise outside the strictly economic sphere.
Closely aligned to economics, in regards to international, or more specific to the EU, regional cooperation, the EU is most exemplary, largely through its own identity and origins. Relying on legal frameworks and diplomacy, it rather uniquely fosters regional cooperation within its own neighborhood and further afield, to a degree that few can match. With cooperation agreements between the EU and Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN), the Andean Community, African, Caribbean and Pacific countries (ACP), the Central American Community, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and Mercosur, there is now also a plethora of regular high level political meetings between representatives of the EU and other regional groups across the globe. In this, the EU has considerable international profile and a modicum of global influence.
However, whilst the will is there, there is a growing ‘capabilities-expectations’ gap, in which EU institutions are finding it difficult to address all groupings, ‘to the detriment of Europe’s international profile’. Further, this ‘new regionalization’, although largely driven by the EU, is only incumbent upon the trend of globalization which is by no means irreversible.
HUMAN RIGHTS, DEMOCRACY AND GOOD GOVERNANCE
The promotion of human rights, democracy and good governance is seen as a significant
element of the EU’s international image, although rather more reactive than proactive. However, detailed analysis reveals limits. Having looked at these issues relatively late on, other European organizations stole a march on the EU and feature heavily in promoting common European standards. The European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) is a creation of the Council of Europe, to which the individual EU member states have signed up. The Organization for Cooperation and Security in Europe (OSCE) also plays a significant part the promotion of democracy. Although the ideals of the ECHR have been incorporated into EU charters and conventions, they tend to be non-binding and have little legal basis, providing limited legitimacy when it comes to addressing the issue on a global stage. Similarly, with the EU being accused itself of a ‘democratic deficit’, legitimacy here is also sketchy and good governance is difficult to codify anyway.
Although other organizations crowd into this field, the EU does possess powers unavailable to them through its economic and political weight. The use of conditionality, the provision of aid (via the EU’s European Initiative for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR)) and diplomatic instruments are the EU’s strong hand. However, conditionality can be difficult due to existing member state, especially ex-colonial, bilateral ties, EIDHR’s budget is paltry and security concerns over hasty democratization bringing civil strife mean that EU policy in this area is fairly inconsistent and decision-making is hampered.
Yet, there is a collective will, based upon largely shared history, development of common values and a perception of insecurity in not doing so, within the EU member states to promote human rights, democracy and good governance. If the practicalities prove difficult there is a global platform which proves more amenable to the EU itself: the United Nations. Despite recent rifts over Iraq, there is increasing convergence of EU member state voting in the UN General Assembly, approaching some 85%, making it an effective machine within the UN. Despite it being accused of being mostly reactive, the EU has been seen to be a powerful UN actor when cohesive and committed, such as over the Kyoto Protocol and the International Criminal Court (ICC).
The EU itself can be seen from its inception as a mechanism designed to prevent conflict in Europe and the concept is now enshrined within the European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP). Outside its own borders, the EU has become increasingly involved as a mediating element in conflicts within its neighborhood, such as the Former Republic of Yugoslavia and in FYROM, with varying success, and the Mediterranean. Increasingly, the EU features as a party, within a larger grouping, normally including the US, to conflict resolution and/or prevention, such as efforts in the Middle East. However, US interests cause EU influence to wane over distance, inherently displaying the EU’s limited global scope. Aside the Middle East and Central Asia, Africa does appear to be progressively showing on the EU’s radar, with growing commitment, although far short of direct intervention, being promised from the Council. The EU’s provisions for conflict prevention have improved considerably, with the Goteberg European Council of June 2001 sparking a drive towards coherent policy in this area.
Yet, despite impressive improvements and significant will, the EU’s conflict prevention capacity is diplomatically weak. Despite the political influence afforded by the EU’s economic standing, conditionality and sanctions often fail in poverty stricken and violence ridden areas and limits have been apparent with more developed states, such as between India and Pakistan in May 2002. The Iraq crisis presented the epitome of a lack of vigourous and clear diplomatic signals from the EU; signals most necessary in conflict management. Yet, some see the EU’s ‘soft’ power, without the threat of military force, as its unique strength in conflict prevention.
TERRORISM AND INTERNATIONAL CRIME
Although international terrorism is nothing new to the EU region, the full impact of international organized crime was only fully realized as the Cold War ended, allowing infiltration of crime syndicates from the former Soviet Bloc. Thus, whilst national policies developed, the EU has had a late start in this field. Through the provisions of EUROPOL, the Schengen Agreement, European Judicial Cooperation Unit (EUROJUST) and other capabilities within the third pillar, Justice and Home affairs (JHA), the EU’s capacity in fighting international crime and terrorism, within its own borders, has been improved, especially since the events of 11 September, 2001. In November 2002 EUROPOL’s competences were expanded: it is now authorized to participate with member states in joint investigation teams and request member states to initiate investigations. In February 2002, EUROJUST was established to coordinate cooperation between prosecution authorities in EU member states. These are largely of an internal dimension but provide for some high levels of coordination, which have eased cooperation with other national governments and crime-fighting authorities. In December 2001, the EU’s impact upon global crime and terrorism issues expanded through the signing of cooperation agreement with the US, demonstrating a new emphasis on its external crime-fighting remit, which extend to judicial cooperation, immigration and asylum.
The diplomatic instruments of dialogue and conditionality, such as use of GSP, are also major features of the EU’s commitment in tackling these issues. However, JHA is largely internal and effectively tackling international organized crime and terrorism requires the evolution of significant cross pillar coordination, which is proving slow. As a global player in this field, the EU has still further steps to make.
The legacy of the Cold war, in which Western European states, EU or not, relied upon NATO, remains problematical for the EU in terms of developing its own globally capable military capabilities. The EU lacks deployable forces for expeditionary warfare, that is, forces for worldwide combat missions. The member states of the European Union have approximately 1.7 million men and women under arms but are capable of deploying only approximately 10 percent of these forces for missions abroad, largely through a lack of strategic resources, such as airlift capacity. The’ headline goals’ of the Rapid Reaction Force (RRF) and development of the more realistic battlegroup concept show commitment to the idea of EU military capability but compared to a truly global military machine, the US, the effort is rather small scale and the will to follow this path is confused by the NATO aspect. Hence the view that the EU is still a military midget with grand aspirations.
However, many of the armed forces of the EU member states, are relatively capable in terms of the missions required of a global actor, ideally suited to and with considerable experience in peacekeeping and policing missions. As such, EU missions to the Democratic Republic of Congo (Artemis) and Macedonia (Concordia) have demonstrated this limited but competent global capability. Whereas the RRF may find itself vying with the embryonic NATO Response Force (NRF), the Battlegroup concept, allowing the EU much more flexibility, realistic force generation options and simpler command and control issues, from political to tactical, may allow for a truly global military capacity, worthy of a global ‘soft’ power. Ironically, some see this ‘militarization’ of the EU as a direct threat to its agency as a ‘soft’ power and to its identity, if fragile, as a ‘civilian power’ based upon liberal humanitarian principles.
Endorsing a policy of ‘effective multilateralism’, the EU’s ethos is well suited towards the ideals of global governance. As previously mentioned, the EU does have influence within various global institutions such as the WTO. Within the UN, where broad EU member state concensus exists, which, although overshadowed by high profile rifts, is common, considerable pressure can be brought to bare, especially when a powerful, if temporary, EU ‘caucus’ exists within the Security Council. In the fast-growing relationship between the EU and the UN, to the extent that the multilateral UN is shifting towards a ‘soft’ power approach to global issues, the EU is seen as a major contributor to the agenda. Now, as the combined contributions of the EU and its member states make the EU the largest contributor to UN programmes, the authority and recognition of the EU as a major global actor within the UN is widely recognized.
The EU is not a traditional global actor in realist terms, which the US epitomises, but in a relatively short time span it has developed significantly its international reach and as a ‘soft’ civilian power it has considerable global weight, across a wide spectrum. Much of its weight rests upon its massive economic consequence in world terms, which is a mighty instrument capable of use outside the economic sphere. Such use is dependent upon the cohesion of perspective of its member states but with such a concrete economic basis, it is developing politically as a global player, even though it is hampered a hazy sense of identity and interests and by the weakness of its foreign policy institutions and decision-making processes. Despite this, although recent years have seen fragmentation, a general will to maintain cohesive foreign policy, supporting its global influence, is being maintained. Many have played down the EU’s global influence, yet its development as a global player does continue, although often at a glacial rate. Even so, the EU’s global influence across the spectrum is currently patchy, partly due to its own priorities, inherent capabilities, member state inconsistencies and external agency. Further, its autonomy in exerting influence remains indeterminate. In allowing the EU to exert some wide authority, some parts of the globe and some global issues are much more difficult than others. These areas and issues are defined by the global actor: the United States.
 Within which are included environmental issues.
 Coolsaet and Biscop, (2004), p. 7.
 ‘Making globalisation work for everyone: The European Union and world trade’, European Commission Information Brochure, December 2002.
 Smith (2003), p. 53.
 This is relative, as there remain several disagreements, not least over agricultural products.
 ‘Critics claim structures are rigid, outdated and overly hierarchical and that working practices lack transparency and openness to input from non-governmental players.Pascal Lamy, after Seattle, described the WTO as “medieval” while Franz Fischler, after Cancun, stated that there needed to be an overhaul of WTO structures.’ Cameron (2003), p. 13.
 Alasdair R. Young in ‘The EU and World Trade: Doha and Beyond’, Cowles & Dinan (2004), pp. 213-5.
 Smith (2003), p. 95.
 Linked together via the 2000 Cotonou Agreement, replacing the Lome agreement of 1975. Nugent (2003), pp.433-4.
 Regelsberger, cited in Smith (2003), p. 91.
 Gilpin (2001), p. 341.
 Smith (2003), p. 121 & 144.
 Johansson-Nogues, ‘The Fifteen and the Accession States in the United Nations General Assembly, CFSP Forum, Vol 2 Issue 1, January 2004, p. 10.
 Cameron (2003), p. 15.
 Anand Menon in ‘Foreign and Security Policies of the EU’, Cowles & Dinan(2004), pp. 231-2.
 Smith (2003), p.151.
 Smith (2003), p.170
 Smith (2003), p.175
John D. Occhipinti in’Police and Judicial Co-operation’, Cowles & Dinan (2004), pp. 192-3.
 de Wijk, ‘European Military Reform for a Global Partnership’, The Washington Quarterly, Winter 2003-04, pp. 197–210.
 Peterson & Sjursen (1998), p. 179.
 Dedring, Reflections on the coordination of the EU member states in organs of the United Nations’, CFSP Forum, Vol 2 Issue 1, January 2004, p. 3.
 Graham, (2004), pp. 14-15.
 Laatikainen, ‘Assessing the EU as an Actor at the UN: Authority, Cohesion, Recognition and Autonomy’, CFSP Forum Vol 2 Issue 1, January 2004, p. 4.
 Peterson & Sjursen (1998), p. 184.
 Hill, ‘Renationalizing or Regrouping? EU Foreign Policy Since 11 September 2001’, Journal of Common Market Studies Volume 42, Number 1, March 2004, pp. 160-62.
Cameron, Fraser. The European Union and Global Governance European Policy Paper No 7, November 2003. Available at http://www.epc.orgp.
Coolsaet, Rik and Biscop, Sven. A European Security Concept for the 21st Century, Egmont Paper 1 Royal Institute for International Relations (IRRI-KIIB) Brussels, April 2004. Available at http://www.irri-kiib.bep.
Cowles, Maria Green and Dinan, Desmond, Developments in the European Union 2 Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.
Dedring, Juergen. ‘Reflections on the Coordination of the EU Member States in Organs of the United Nations’, CFSP Forum, Vol 2 Issue 1, January 2004.
de Wijk, Rob. ‘European Military Reform for a Global Partnership’ The Washington Quarterly Winter 2003-04.
Gilpin, Robert. Global Politcal Economy: Understanding the International Economic Order Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001.
Graham, Kennedy. Towards Effective Multilateralism – The EU and the UN: Partners in Crisis Management European Policy Paper No 13, November 2004. Available at ^http://www.epc.orgp.
Hill, Christopher. ‘Renationalizing or Regrouping? EU Foreign Policy Since 11 September 2001’, Journal of Common Market Studies Volume 42, Number 1. March 2004.
Johansson-Nogues, Elisabeth. ‘The Fifteen and the Accession States in the United Nations General Assembly, CFSP Forum, Vol 2 Issue 1 January 2004.
Keens-Soper, Maurice. Europe in the World: The Persistence of Power Politics Basingstoke: Macmillan Press, 1999.
Laaitkainen, Katie Verlin. ‘Assessing the EU as an Actor at the UN: Authority, Cohesion, Recognition and Autonomy’, CFSP Forum, Vol 2 Issue 1, January 2004
Nugent, Neill. The Government and Politics of the European Union (Fifth Edition) Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003.
Peterson, Jogn and Sjursen, Helene. A Common Foreign Policy for Europe: Competing Visions of the CFSP London: Routledge, 1998.
Smith, Karen E. European Foreign Policy in a Changing World Cambridge: Polity Press, 2003.
‘Making globalisation work for everyone: The European Union and world trade’ European Commission Information Brochure, December 2002.
See below some wise words from Major Mehar Omar Khan (Pakistan Army) from his article “Afghanistan: Seven Fundamental Questions” found at Small Wars Journal (http://smallwarsjournal.com/blog/journal/docs-temp/319-khan.pdf)
Who should the coalition try to impress: Afghans or rest of the world?
While the pressure to present tangible results in terms that sound familiar to domestic and global audience is understandable, lives of young men should not be ‘wasted’ in pursuit of hollow ideals and empty slogans that mean woefully little to the people of Afghanistan. While there is essentially nothing bad about transparent ballot boxes, soap opera television, Afghan movies and a few dozen bold and beautiful women in the legislative assembly, the Afghan people look wearily at all these things. They are not impressed with these ‘achievements’, not just because they have an outdated mindset, but because it means so little to them in terms of alleviating some of their most basic concerns like hunger, malnutrition, disease, violence and fear. Coalition soldiers should not have to die for anything less noble than helping the people of Afghanistan forge a new future and a new destiny for themselves – a destiny that they will themselves determine in ways that they feel comfortable with.
Here are some ideas.
One, please understand the hearts and minds that you are trying to win. Most of these minds are illiterate, unschooled and locked in the last century. Most of these hearts are raw, romantic, sentimental and pure as a pearl. Help them start where they actually are and not where you want them to be. At their present level of socio-economic development, Afghans do not truly need a majestic parliament building, a palatial house for the president, five star hotels and nicely suited dummies as rulers in Kabul and Kandahar. They need small schools, clean drinking water, some pills for that headache which refuses to go away, some money to buy food for their kids and some assistance to kick-start their farming or that little shop in a mud-hut. People want their liberators to know that they need ‘electricity before they are asked to destroy their kerosene lantern’ and that they need to at least be able to read names before they are asked to choose one out of a long list of people vying to be their President.
Two, coalition must refuse to lock itself in a fight that tramples the people. This will involve some sacrifice in the short term but huge dividends in the long term.
Three, people need soldiers that respect their values and their traditions because, however outdated they may be, these are their values and their traditions. This land belongs to a ‘people’; it’s not the property of ‘a state’. In this context, is it not fair to ask how much of an effort, in terms of resources, has gone to ‘Afghanistan the state’ and how much to ‘Afghanistan the people’? How much of the money and resources and security has stayed and stagnated in Kabul guarding criminals and drug-lords; and how much of it has actually reached a far flung Helmand village caught in the center of the storm? How much of attention has gone to people most bitter about being ousted from power (Pashtuns) and how much of it has been lavished on communities that have generally always enjoyed a relative peace? Asking the right questions is the true test of honesty. Giving the right answers is a test of leadership. Questions carry their own correct answers as well as consequences for wrong answers.
Last night (Aug 17) on BBC’s Newsnight, Professor Kiron Skinner (assistant professor of political science at Carnegie Mellon University and research fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University), talked of US commitment to liberal interventionsim continuing, but, with Somalia as an example, noted that the non-military dimension – development, capacity building etc – would be proportionately more pronounced. She claimed much discussion around this, especially from the NGO world, was rife in Washington, and this included ‘on the Track Two side’.
CB3 initially took note because of the little hint of Somalia, in what was an Afghanistan package -elections, are we achieving anything, does liberal interventionism work? The oft-quoted reasons for the UK, US, NATO and the rest being in Afghanistan become a little hard to swallow when Somalia is brought into focus – if we’re in Helmand for those reasons then logically we have even more reason to be in Mogadishu, right now, in force. Explain that one, Mr Spokesperson. Of course, Somalia hardly registers on the general public knowledge radar, so the questions are hardly raised.
However, it was the casual reference to Track Two that also caught CB3’s ear. The presenter, Kirsty Wark, didn’t bat an eyelid, nor did her other scholarly guests (including Rory Stewart – agree with him or not, CB3 likes a maverick) but how many laymen, even in the relatively intellectual audience of Newsnight, would have picked “Track Two” up and understood what it meant? And how many communications practitioners would readily identify it?
Whereas Track One refers to traditional diplomacy (or high level B2B), Track Two diplomacy is loosely defined as unofficial policy dialogue, focused on problem solving, in which the participants have some form of access to official policymaking circles. Track Two refers to non-governmental, informal and unofficial contacts and activities between private citizens or groups of individuals, sometimes called ‘non-state actors. Or, put another way: informal and unofficial interaction between private citizens or groups of people within a country or from different countries who are outside the formal governmental power structure. Even simpler: dialogue through back channels. Whilst these definitions are so broad that any nongovernmental activity could constitute Track Two, including business contacts, citizen exchange programs, advocacy work, or religious contacts, they are often borne of a specific hard objective and that objective will entail, to a significant degree, persuasion, education, understanding, informing etc – all those objectives associated with communication.
Call it what you will – unofficial fireside chats, key leader engagement, cultural diplomacy – the point is that whilst communication activities press on with radio spots, leaflets, media campaigns, digital strategy and the like, Track Two, or the corporate equivalent, continues (it always has done) away from the glare, often unnoticed. Yet all activities may be servicing the same objective.
As a communicator, Track One, involving the big boys – the Ministers or chief execs – may be seductive but the constant but distant rumblings of Track Two should not be forgotten, should be listened to, facilitated and coordinated. Of course, sometimes Track Two can be highly sensitive, as it was during the Oslo peace process, but at some point both overt and covert dialogue and communication must be on the same table, under the same scrutiny, synergised. As Professor Skinner hinted, Track Two is being seriously discussed regarding Somalia. This should be equally the case in Afghanistan, where back channels are potent. Any major communications efforts in either ignore the effects of Track Two at their peril.
Who’s the ‘Man’? You know – the ‘Man’! Jack Black, School of Rock? The ‘Man‘! What we’re talking about is The Establishment, The Elite, Them – sometimes elusive to pin down and definitively categorise but definately there – that’s the ‘Man’. Yet if you live in certain societies, then the ‘Man’ is very visible – think of Iran right now – or if not so visible, then presenting a pervasive and omnipresent shadow – think of the People’s Republic of China. However, today even the serious ‘Man’, wielding his riot baton or spying on every move, is facing a problem – a serious problem. And at the core of that problem is communicating with its subjects, or publics.
There was a time when government enforcement and counter culture knew their places – the former within officialdom, ceremony, uniform and a conventional media who knew not to rock the boat too much, and the latter in dark, smoky bars (where have they gone?), underground leaflets, Che Guevara t-shirts, folk/pop songs and grassroots communication. It was all so straightforward. But then came the Summer of Love, Winter of Discontent, Punk, fall of the Berlin Wall and loads of other stuff which really messed up the status quo of society and state. And throughout that period there was a growing and rich seam of information, through modern technology (we all think its so now but the microchip began life in the 1960s and zero-G (as opposed to 3G) mobile telephone network kicked off in 1971 in Finland).
With little choice, democracies have rolled with this wave of universally availablable information capability, have even been created as a by-product of it, and democratic governments have had to adjust to the competetiveness of the contemporary information market. But after years of staving it off, trying to eliminate it or simply ignoring it, governments with a less than unblemished democratic credentials are really starting to feel the impact of this ubiquitous wave of communicative ability.
In Iran, much has been made of the effects of a technologically savvy and educated population using digital technology, via twitter, youtube, e-mail and blogs, to make their voice heard by the government. The Iranian government, too late, appeared to understand that they no longer had the monopoly on information via their state-owned outlets. Regardless of the political outcome of the Iranian situation, whether Ahmadinjad and Ayatollah Khamenei retain power or not, a fire has been lit which will have lasting repercussions in how that society is governed. Not least, communication and access to information will be at the heart of Iran’s future. A crackdown is likely but the genie is out of the bottle – empowerment of the counter culture is not going away. In Iran, the ‘Man’ will have to think hard about what to do about the information factor.
And as likely as it is in the short term, crackdown is not an easy option, as China now testifies. After years of developing Green Dam, a compulsory software system to allow a degree of government control over the internet, the government is now wavering. Further, as Al Jazeera reported last week, the Chinese government is appreciating that it has to enter the information ring, not merely block it. The government is taking steps to make its own state-controlled media operation more competitive in the market, making it more attractive and of consequence to possible viewers – it is entering, like in any other democracy, a battle to grab ratings. With some 300 million Chinese online and therefore having a choice over who informs them of what’s going on (and most not referring to Chinese state media), the government is going to try to win them back, not coerce them back. Even if Green Dam does eventually get the green light, this is a major change of attitude by the ‘Man’.
This realisation is ground-breaking. If essentially undemocratic regimes are finally understanding that they cannot control information, then they will have to seek methods of joining the battle for audiences, just as democracies have had to do gradually over the last fifty years. The ‘Man’ is waking up to the fact he is playing a new game with different rules, and he’s going to have to learn fast if he is to survive. The problems are manifest – there is no legacy for playing this game, information structures will have to undergo major transformations, the very game encourages democratic and free market ideologies and the old guard may just never accept or understand the rules. Public relations, public affairs, new media, public diplomacy – these are all big factors in the game, all of which will have to be recalibrated, and dialogical communications must feature as part of a new engagement strategy. The impact will have deep political and socio-cultural consequences. There is historical precedent – post-Gutenberg, it took some time before the pamphleteers of the 16th Century would contribute considerably to the demise of the Ancien regime, the ‘Man’ of the day. Sure, the new game may not bring forth real revolution in the near future – it’s all about playing for the long term – but democratic or not, the ‘Man’ will have to adjust and will also have to accept that some accession of power will be necessary.
There are several regimes out there who are finding themselves at this juncture – they know who they are and we know who they are. In these regimes, the ‘Man’ has a stark choice – adjust to the new game, understand the rules and accept the limitation on state power, or die … slowly.
Interesting snippet caught on Newsnight last night (28/04/09) about energy and climate change issues in the US. Ethical man Justin Rowlatt covered Powershift 09 as part of his series. But the crucial communications aspect of Powershift seems to be that a green activist movement, normally shunned by mainstream governments, is being seen as a method of encouraging and persuading American voters of Obama’s climate change agenda, using activists (seen being trained in how to resist arrest) as ambassadors for a government policy.
Now this proximity of traditional enemies is not new – Shell and BP have taken considerable steps to be seen as green through apparent (and only occasional) connectivity with activist groups like Greenpeace, although emnity is deep and remains for obvious reasons. And there are many political groups who will support political pitches, including that of the incumbent government. But the use of strident activists to promote a government policy against a generally accepted stance i.e. the fossil fuel economy, seems to be a new leap. This is not Astroturf but using genuine activism for policy endorsement.
The circumstances may be unique to the cap and trade issue in the US, but this approach does beg several questions – are there other circumstances where political policy can be matched with vocal activists against a form of accepted, conventional wisdom? And further, are there circumstances in developing and post-conflict countries which can be used in a similar way?
This is not necessarily countenancing covert support to student groups under totalitarian regimes, but where foreign agencies are already engaged (be they UN, NATO etc) do we make full use of grass roots activism (as limited as it may be) to achieve policy goals, or do we still tend to go down the route of mainsteam key leader engagement because it’s easier, more straightforward (relatively!) and more in line with our conventional
Western way of doing things? Are developing embryonic government institutions, struggling with democracy, encouraged to look towards the power of activist groups or are they merely maintaining their traditional opposition towards them? Are they, and therefore we, missing a trick?
After all, most governments have always had difficult relationships with autonomous grass roots organisations, unless, of course, they’re onside already. As ever with trying to improve the performance of public diplomacy and foreign policy communications in a rapidly changing information environment, the above requires some serious unconventional and politically risky thinking.
But that thinking, at the very least, should be done.