//CGCS Media Wire and AlbanyAssociates.com bring you a preview of Co-Founder & Director Simon Haselock’s recent article on strategic communication, the definition of diplomacy in McLuhan’s global village, and recent implications in the context of the conceptual Soft War. This work is cross-posted with thanks and permission, as posted originally at the Albany Associates’ Notebook blog on 10/03/20112
Comprehensive Communications or communicating comprehensively?
My God, this is the end of diplomacy!” So Lord Palmerston apparently retorted when the first telegram was delivered to his desk in the 1840s. Certainly as far as he had known it until then he was probably right. For Palmerston it was a seminal moment, heralding the nineteenth century information revolution, which would result from the separation of the means of communication from the means of transport. Palmerston, of course, was the then British Foreign and Colonial Secretary whose name, at the height of the Pax Britannica, became synonymous with the concept of gunboat diplomacy that defined the second half of the nineteenth century. Foreign intervention was a much simpler business then than in the age of the Pax Americana, carried on outside direct public gaze and away from what the BBC’s Nik Gowing describes as, the ‘Tyranny of Real-Time journalism’. Public Diplomacy has perhaps now become the defining term as far as foreign affairs is concerned as the digital successors to the simple telegraph define our times.
But the digital revolution has not been the only factor that has redefined the relationship between foreign affairs, diplomacy and the use of force. As General Rupert Smith asserts in his book The Utility of Force, there has been a fundamental shift in the reasons why and how wars are fought. Rather than the interstate industrial wars of the twentieth century, the new paradigm is of “war amongst the people”. The insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan and the uprisings of the ‘Arab Spring’ in North Africa and now Syria are prime examples of this paradigm shift. These new wars are, in a classically Clausewitzian sense, much more about achieving specific political outcomes than the old wars of the past. They have not been about territorial domination or national survival but about ideology, legitimacy and representation. As such they have been about the essence of politics, the lifeblood of which is opinion, belief and the power of persuasion.
Counter-insurgency theory has long recognized the centrality of the civil-political aspects of any campaign. In 1952 Sir Gerald Templer, who was the British High Commissioner charged with defeating the communist insurgency in Malaya, wrote to a colleague “the shooting side of the business is only 25 percent of the trouble and the other 75 percent lies in getting the people of the country [Malaya] behind us.” Indeed it was Templer who first coined the well-worn phrase about the “battle for hearts and minds”, which is now even being used by Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden’s successor as al-Qaeda leader. As Templer recognised, winning hearts and minds was not about the hard pushing power of force but about the soft pulling power of persuasion and attraction. In the global information age this is even more important than it was in 1950s Malaya.
Soft power, as Joseph Nye has written, is about getting others to want the outcomes that you want. It co-opts people rather than coerces them. Politicians in democracies instinctively understand this. Firstly they have to persuade and attract voters to get elected and once in government they need to explain why they do the things they do. They also know that they have to listen and respond to what people think about their actions. Most also understand the old adage that all politics is local and that they need to focus on the grassroots if they want their programs to work and to get re-elected. And yet in the area of foreign policy they seem to have little understanding of how the nature of power has changed and even less about how to wield the softer versions of it. Certainly there has been much discussion about it. Indeed the previous administration in the United States constantly bemoaned the apparent lack of understanding for American engagement abroad. To remedy this President Bush appointed a succession of public relations professionals as Undersecretaries of State for Public Diplomacy to sell US foreign policy. But by focussing only on the process of presentation and marketing rather than the policies themselves he failed to understand the nature of the soft power they were hired to project.