Noam, Me and the Media

Not too far back, I  promised to share with readers a short blast of vintage Chomsky which I received while researching Guerrilla Diplomacy. That posting will have to be perused in order to establish the context for the passage which follows.

Fasten your intellectual safety belts:

The suggestion you make is not consistent with the facts.  Timor was covered quite extensively in 1974-5, when Washington was greatly concerned with the break-up of the Portuguese empire.  Coverage began to decline as soon as the US invaded, and literally reached zero (in the NY Times; there was very little elsewhere) when atrocities peaked in 1978, along with US aid.  That continued until the end, and it continues today.  Here’s a report on ET in yesterday’s NYT:  “East Timor was torn by civil war in 1975 after the abrupt end of colonial rule by Portugal, and virtually razed in 1999, when the people voted in a United Nations-sponsored referendum to end 24 years of occupation by Indonesia, prompting an angry reaction from the losers.” In fact, the civil war was a minor affair that lasted a few weeks, and from December 1975 (well after the marginal civil war was over) and through mid-September 1999 (well after the Indonesian terror that is the “angry reaction” he refers to) the US gave decisive support, along with Britain, to some of the worst atrocities of the 20th century.  But it’s crucial to suppress our vicious role.  The cowardice and servility to power surpasses comment…

…As for the bitter US condemnation of the Vietnamese invasion, that cannot be accounted for by presence of journalists.  Authentic journalists would have hailed Vietnam for opening a new era of humanitarian intervention by kicking out the KR just as their atrocities were reaching their peak in 1978.  Servants of state power, in contrast, would join Washington in bitterly condemning Vietnam’s actions to terminate Pol Pot’s atrocities.  As they did.  The same journalists were there when Washington supported a Chinese invasion to punish Vietnam for daring to end Pol Pot’s crimes, and when the Reagan State Department officially declared that it supported Democratic Kampuchea (that is, the Khmer Rouge) but not Fretilin (the resistance in ET) because DK was more representative of the Cambodian population than Fretilin.  Of course that was not reported, and my repeated citation of it in books and articles cannot be mentioned, not because of distribution of reporters, but because of what it tells us about the US government and about the intellectual and moral culture.  In Canada and Europe as well.

The explanation throughout is clear and simple, and reinforced by the fact that the pattern is routine….  But the conclusions are doctrinally unacceptable, so all sorts of evasions are tried — or usually the overwhelming record is simply ignored.

While readers are invited to reach their own judgements, in my view the distribution of media representation remains a salient element in determining what becomes a mainstream story, rather than the other way around.  This seems to me true even if the pattern of representation, and hence the amount of coverage, does  reflect the interests of media owners, especially in the early stages. Exceptions could include cases of natural disasters, most notably if the areas hit are popular with Western tourists.

On a more day-to-day level,  when it was announced that the 2008 summer Olympics would go to Beijing, a capital formerly on the margins, correspondents were despatched and filing from that location joined the circuit of regular coverage. With that comes all of the trimmings and the endless spin-offs, from documentaries on human rights and the environment to the vacuity of infotainment,  features on fashion and the  vicissitudes of film stars. Catastrophic suffering  – civil war, mass migration, unspeakable violence and vicious criminality – continues daily in many parts of the globe, yet it’s almost invisible in the news stands, not least because no journalists are not there to bear witness.

And of course that, after Chomsky,  might be explained at least in part by an absence of deeply implicated Western interests…

So, are we both right?

Quite possibly. After all, one of the mature pleasures of adulthood is learning to live with unresolved issues, ambiguity and paradox.

The Meaning of Obama’s Nobel Prize? Diplomacy Rehabilitated

The saturation coverage of Obama’s big win has focussed overwhelmingly, and almost exclusively  on whether or not he deserves the prize based upon his performance in presidential office to date.

That is a worthwhile debate, and  a formidable case can be made on either side of the issue. No, Obama has not yet managed to deliver on much of what has been promised, perhaps especially as regards that hardy, and extremely thorny perennial, Middle East peace. But yes, there have been some very promising initial signs, such as substantially reprofiling of European missile defence, reaching out to the Islamic world, banning of torture and extraordinary rendition, moving to close Guantanamo Bay and the global network of  so-called “black” interrogation sites and secret prisons, repairing transatlantic relations, and so forth.

Much of this has already paid measurable dividends in terms of the restoration of America’s global image, reputation, soft power and influence.  Brand America is again showing some global lustre.

In any case, so far, we can see elements of both continuity and change in US international policy, and in these still early days the jury is out as to which trend will in the end prevail.

There is a sense, however, in which simply framing the question in that way obscures what seems to me the more profound political signal transmitted by the Nobel Committee. That message boils down to a very public gesture of support for diplomacy in general, and for American diplomacy in particular. After a protracted period of languishing on the sidelines, unilateralism and pre-emption have given way to dialogue, and diplomacy, which was mentioned three times in the Committee’s four paragraph announcement, has been restored as a legitimate tool of statecraft.

For the USA – and the world – the return of a preference for talking over fighting is well worth celebrating.

That conclusion, I believe, is unassailable, and to my mind represents the most compelling interpretation of Obama’s award.

For a much fuller treatment of the theme of diplomacy in rehab, please go here.

Back to Chomsky in my next post.

Me, Noam and the Media

In the last posting, I noted that the existence of a carefully considered, broadly-based, and widely-subscribed grand strategy could help countries situate themselves, and stay on a chosen international policy course, in constantly whirling world.

The reality, however, is that most governments, and their policies, are blown around like the flotsam and jetsam on the pond in Central Park. And much of the wind which causes the movement is generated by the conventional media. If a story is on the front page or featured as the lead item in the network news, then you can bet that politicians and officials will respond. For that reason – and more –  diplomats must understand how the media works.

And how to work the media.

Most of the stories which receive prominent coverage,  it must be added, either originate in the metropolis – or the A-world, in GD parlance – or have some direct connection to metropolitan interests. Events in planet’s margins, whether a homeless shelter in Toronto or a barrio in Rio, will rarely receive protracted prime-time attention or main event billing. If vital interests are not at risk, coverage will be limited to disasters or conflicts, and treated as unfortunate sideshows, instantly terrifying and just as soon forgotten. If the scale of the tragedy is sufficiently overwhelming – like the December 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean – or if the news media happens to be fully engaged, as during hurricane Katrina in August 2005,  then the popular resonance may linger.

For the most part, however, mass suffering in Darfur or the disintegration of the Congo receive at best episodic treatment. Indeed, much of what happens outside of the metropolis, or at least outside of areas of immediate metropolitan interest, commands about as much serious or sustained international attention as the Maoist insurrection in Assam, the aftermath of the civil war in Sri Lanka or the struggle of the Sarahawi people for independence from Morocco in what was once the Spanish Sahara.

In the early 1990s, while working in the Canadian Foreign Ministry as the intelligence analyst for Central, South and Southeast Asia, I had an interesting exchange with Noam Chomsky on this issue. I had heard him in a radio interview attribute the intense negative media coverage of the 1979 Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia (to remove Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge) to the slavish adherence of the Western press to the political ends of its owners and masters. Chomsky compared this to the almost negligible coverage of the Indonesian invasion of East Timor in 1975, which he suggested was equally worthy of coverage but was not accorded similar treatment because of ideological inconvenience and Western support for the Suharto regime.

I wrote to Chomsky to say that while I was not in principle unsympathetic to his analysis, I believed that some of his observations might be explained by the structure of media representation and the geographic location of foreign correspondents and stringers.  In the late seventies, I suggested, Bangkok and Hong Kong were still brimming with reporters desperate for stories in the wake of the Indochinese conflicts, and renewed Vietnamese activity on their doorstep gave them something to write about.

On the other hand, almost no international reporters were anywhere near the island of Timor, nor was there an easy or fast or easy way to get there. That might help to account for the paucity of coverage.

Professor Chomsky did not agree.

I checked my (quite possibly flawed) recollection of this exchange with Chomsky during the preparation of the Guerrilla Diplomacy manuscript. He e-mailed me back, on the same day, making clear that his views had not changed. His arguments, I think, are vintage, and although I decided in the end not to use the material as a sidebar in the book, the contents nonetheless bear repetition.

They will be coming to this screen presently.

Guerrilla Diplomacy and Grand Strategy

This fall I have begun to tour in support of the release of Guerrilla Diplomacy. Last week I addressed undergraduate and graduate students at the University of Toronto, and participated in a forum before a mixed group at Dalhousie University in Halifax. That institution’s Centre for Foreign Policy Studies has a special place in the overall scheme of the book project, and as such I was particularly delighted to appear there at this early juncture.

Next week I speak in Montreal and Ottawa.

I tend to open these events with a few prefatory remarks about guerrilla diplomacy as both an approach to diplomatic practice and a framework for the understanding and management of international relations and global issues. Following that introduction I usually set out a statement of the book’s main argument, to the effect that if development is the new security in the era of globalization, then diplomacy must displace defence at the centre of international policy. I then outline several the essential building blocks of the analysis, such as the ACTE world order model, and suggest some of the implications for public administration and international policy.

Over the course of the these, and the previous discussions which have followed my presentations, the question often comes up: how can your program be implemented?

How do we get from where we are to where you are advocating that we should be?

I reply that there are at least three prerequisites:

  • The rehabilitation and popularization of diplomacy per se, bringing it in from the far reaches of esoterica and closer to the mainstream of public and political discourse by making it relevant and real
  • The radical reform of, and reinvestment in, the foreign ministry and foreign service
  • The formulation and articulation of a grand strategy in which guerrilla diplomacy can be situated

With the publication of the book and related articles, increasingly frequent forays into journalism, and now with an extended road show, I hope to be able to contribute in some way to the realization of the first and second goals.  It is the third element, however, which I would like to elaborate somewhat at this point.

The notion of grand strategy comes up at various points in the volume, and I consider it a core element of statecraft. Few other analysts, however, seem to share that view. As a term, it is largely unknown outside of specialist circles, and is rarely mentioned in the media. Even in academia it is rarely taught, particularly at North American universities. Canada does not have one; the last effort to cobble together such a document collapsed in a smouldering heap following  a change in government, and nothing has been offered since. A grand strategy may be under construction south of the border, but the Obama administration has yet to set out anything comprehensive.

All of this, I think, is unfortunate, because grand strategy is an extremely useful concept.

In the absence of grand strategy,  international policy tends to be ad hoc, incoherent and splattered. Perhaps the only thing worse than no grand strategy is one which is flawed or failed,   such as the notorious Bush Doctrine of the Global War on Terror, pre-emptive defence and unilateral intervention. If bad or non-existant, poor decisions are made, lives are squandered, finance is wasted, and insecurity – often in concert with underdevelopment – is advanced.

In the particularly memorable words of Oxford University historian and theoretician Hew Strachan, without grand strategy, policy can become an instrument of war, rather than the other way around.

In the next posting or two, we are going to drill down into the concept of grand strategy, identifying the critical elements and assessing their significance vis-a vis guerrilla diplomacy in the age of globalization.

In the interim, a provisional definition might read something like this:

Grand strategy is a unifying, long-term vision of a country’s global values and interests; an expression of where that country is, and wants to go in the world, and; an analysis of its potential and capacity to achieve the objectives, and to reach the destination set forth.

Well worthy of some sustained reflection, wouldn’t you say?

Science, Technology and Diplomacy

In his typically excellent September 1 – 2 press and blog review of the burgeoning discourse on public diplomacy (PD), John Brown cites a quotation by Manuel Castells, author of the magisterial Information Age trilogy:

Public Diplomacy is the…projection in the international arena of the values and ideas of the public… The aim of the practice of public diplomacy is not to convince but to communicate, not to declare but to listen. Public diplomacy seeks to build a sphere in which diverse voices can be heard in spite of their various origins, distinct values, and often contradictory interests.

Among the almost infinite variety of subjects which might form the basis for that kind of conversation, science (because of its universality, inclusivity and relevance to almost everything) and technology (because of its power and ubiquity) represent one area which is is particularly well-suited to international ventilation.

For those reasons, among others, scientific exchanges, alongside similarly popular educational and cultural programs, were prolific during the Cold War. Although not necessarily considered an element of public diplomacy at the time, international S&T programming nonetheless played a prominent role in both the American and Soviet camps.  In those days, wide-ranging ideological, strategic and geopolitical competition provided the framing and context, both directly and through third parties whose allegiance was being sought. One of the sources of continuing Russian influence in places such as India, Syria and Iran, for instance, stems from the scientific training received in the Soviet Union by at least a generation of  students.

In the globalization era, however, world order has become more hetero– than bi- or even multi-polar, and the institutional memory of those Cold War activities is fading fast. Now, markets rule, and much of the scientific research and technological development has  been either moved out of government and privatized, or has remained focussed on defence-related objectives.

None of that, of course, makes S&T writ large any less relevant. But it does make it harder to understand why so little is said about it outside of a few specialized, and somewhat isloated and obscure circles.

Although many of the most pressing issues facing humanity are based in science and propelled by technology, with critical downstream implications for development and security, most governments have not made significant efforts to ramp up the level of scientific and technological interchange globally. Were this to become a priority, foreign ministries, as the primary points of contact between the national and international interests of states, would almost certainly have to become involved.

All of which brings me to offer an account of a session I attended recently on “The Foreign Ministry of the Future”. Senior officials spoke at some length about matters related to to the creation of an international platform for the efficient delivery of common services abroad to other federal government departments, about the need to transform various aspects of the bureaucratic process, and about a number of human resource initiatives.

S&T?

It never came up.

In fact, the entire episode was suffused with a somewhat surreal air, not least because of the complete absence of any references to either diplomacy or foreign policy, which one might otherwise think would have to be germane to such a discussion. Nor did the acute shortage of resources, which is at present wreaking havoc upon operations at home and abroad, attract any commentary. All of which is quite surprising.

One dimension of S&T which might have come up regards the issue of virtuality and foreign ministries, by which I mean the application of information and communications technology (ICTs) and the use of the new media. Especially in OECD countries, and particularly in the USA and UK,  diplomatic methods and practices after a slow start have in fact have in fact adapted quite well to the possibilities inherent in the new media and ICTs. Ambassadors and foreign ministers are blogging, the web is being used interactively for the conduct of outreach and public diplomacy, foreign service officers in the field are being enabled through the issue of mobile communications devices such as Blackberries, and personnel departments are experimenting with telework and distance learning.

Among the many factors subversive of  the lingering elements of hierarchy, secrecy, cultural conservativism and top-down control still prominent in contemporary diplomatic institutions, these sorts of developments, and the revolution in S&T more generally, are likely to figure centrally.

In my view, that can’t happen too soon.

I began with a quotation from communications theorist Manuel Castells; let me conclude with a passage from Canada’s own Marshall McLuhan:

The vested interests of acquired knowledge and conventional wisdom have always been bypassed and engulfed by new media.

Enough said.

Science, Technology and International Policy – Part II

Remember the 20th  century?

At that time international relations revolved, variously, around geopolitical confrontation, ideological competition, territorial disputes, alliance politics, and multilateral  organizations. Today, clearly delineated empires are no longer colliding, the spectre of world war and mutually assured destruction has receded, and the centre of gravity in global relations has shifted. States are still with us and remain important, but they are now only one actor among many.

In the globalization era, the most profound  threats and challenges to human survival – public health, food security, alternative energy sources, to name a few – are rooted in science and driven by technology. The management of this sprawling suite of transnational  issues cannot be left to governments alone; it requires not only relentless creativity and tireless collaboration, but the engagement of cross-cutting civil society networks – NGOs, business, universities, think tanks and the media.

All of this is germane to guerrilla diplomacy, which at the highest level of analysis  is about advancing innovation in response to a world of complex and multiple insecurities, about charting the way from where we are to where we need to be. This means finding ways to get from looking to seeing, from hearing to listening, and from diktat to dialogue.

What better place to do that than at the intersection of science, technology and international policy?

What better means to spread the benefits of research and development,  and in so doing to help bridge digital divides, than diplomacy, which privilages talking over fighting, is powered by continuous learning and can tap into the global political economy of knowledge in order to solve problems non-violently ?

It all sounds just great…  except that it isn’t happening. Diplomacy has been marginalized as a result of the  militarization of international policy – probably the worst of our collective Cold War carry-overs. Foreign ministries are in large part without scientific expertise or technological savvy.  Except for certain defense-related issues, S&T is almost completely absent from the mainstream international policy mix.

Yet a capacity to generate, absorb and use S&T plays a crucial role in international relations, not least by improving development prospects and addressing the needs of the poor. Poverty reduction contributes to development, and development is the flip side of security.

All of which leaves the world in a rather precarious and exposed position – precision munitions can’t help much with increasing crop yeilds; legionaires are not very concerned with diminishing biodiversity or species extinction. Nor are international S&T issues much like the familiar suite of  political, economic  and ideational differences to which diplomacy, to the extent that it was engaged, had become accustomed. Those kinds of issues are by nature highly subjective and dependent upon perception – where you stand depends in large part upon where you sit.

Scientific and technological issues, on the other hand, are different in kind, and that may help to explain why the institutions of international policy have had such difficulty cooperating with S&T organizations or otherwise accommodating those sorts of considerations. Foreign ministries and international organizations are in the main just not culturally sensitive or attuned to S&T.

But the more intractable problems are even deeper:

  • Public and private sector interests in and perspectives on S&T are not necessarily complimentary
  • NGO representatives, academics and diplomats do not always agree on the role and place of S&T in the assessment of threats to international peace and security
  • S&T issues have not been accorded a central place in the non-specialist discourse on development/underdevelopment.

Each of these observations is troublng, and each requires some further unpacking.

Science, Technology and International Policy – Part I

Underdevelopment and insecurity, much like globalization itself, are intimately connected to science and technology (S&T). A capacity to absorb and use  S&T can confer significant competitive advantage upon individuals, groups, cities, countries and regions , while the absence of that capacity can be costly. Together, science and technology present both a very complex challenge to, and a critical opportunity for all members of the international community.

In the best of all possible worlds, S&T can be prime movers in propelling the planet forward towards a more peaceful, prosperous future.

In a worse case scenario, they may be our undoing.

At present,  S&T quite clearly is not delivering on its potential. Indeed, inadequate science and inappropriate technology seem much more closely associated  with all kinds of global problems – pandemic disease, climate change, genomics, resource shortages, weapons of mass destruction, environmental collapse – than with their solution. And this catalogue, it must be emphasized, represents a fair summary of the most pressing threats facing political leaders everywhere.

In a world of the polio vaccine and digital imaging, stem cell research and the i-pod, why do we find such radical underperformance in the face of such inspiring possibilities?

When I began construction of the research base which underpins Guerrilla Diplomacy, I was surprised to learn that there was very litttle in the mainstream literature which explores the links between S&T, on one hand, and international policy and relations, on the other. Today, I have a clearer understanding of of that lacuna. With few exceptions, and especially at the level of macro policy and grand strategy, there simply are no significant connections. That state of dis-integration, moreover, has become a key issue  facing both scholars and diplomatic practitioners, whether they know it, or (as is more likely) not.

In the day-to-day business of diplomacy and foreign ministries, S&T exists in a kind of floating world. It is there, but ensconced in a shiny bubble which few really understand or can easily penetrate.

These observations, and several closely related conceptual and theoretical issues, might be illustrated as follows. Imagine a town hall style meeting between employees and senior managers in the headquarters building of a foreign ministry most anywhere in the world. The purpose of the gathering is to identify and discuss the key issues likely to face policy makers and decision-takers over the medium to long term. A new recruit, for instance one of the candidates who has recently entered the State Department under the Jefferson Fellows Program, goes to a microphone and asks the panel of assembled Undersecretaries these three  questions:

  • What is the relationship among and between science and technology, research and development, and innovation, and how does this impact on the formulation of international policy and the management of international relations?
  • How has the nature and role of S&T changed in the transition from the Cold War to the globalization age?
  • Do transnational S&T issues differ in kind from more traditional challenges faced by analysts and policymakers?

While I am not in a position to guarantee that such a trio of questions would necessarily generate mainly an assortment of nervous glances, punctuted only by an awkward silence on the podium,  my experience would lead me to to predict exactly that sort of outcome.

Just why this might eventuate, and how those questions might have been broached, will be taken up in subsequent posts.

Underdevelopment, Insecurity and Suicide Bombings

The news last week of suicide bombings at hotels in Indonesia was unsettling. The knowledge that places you have stayed, or had a meal or a meeting in have become the targets of suicide bombers gives rise to a strange, uncomfortable sensation. The scenes of death and destruction at the Marriots in Jakarta and Islamabad, and, not long before, the Taj in Mumbai, the Pearl Continental in Peshawar, even if recorded on the other side of the world, strike a chord disturbingly close to home.

One of those people leaving on a stretcher could easily have been me.

Or, perhaps, you.

These incidents were not the first, and are unlikely to be the last of their kind. And in the short term, it will remain difficult, if not impossible to secure or defend almost everything, almost anywhere against the type of attack in which the perpetrator is prepared to give his or her own life in order to carry out the mission.

Even if authorities could suppress such action, the option would hold little appeal. The economic and political costs – something akin to totalitarianism – would be horrendous, the cure worse than the disease.

A better response, at least in the immediate aftermath of such incidents, is to rely, patiently, on careful police and intelligence work to apprehend the criminals responsible, while maintaining the rights, liberties and freedoms which can make life, at least for some, rich and fulfilling.

This is not necessarily the most attractive  option for decision-makers, and it is certainly less telegenic or newsworthy than the prospect of near-immediate retaliation through the despatch of Hellfire missile equipped predator drones to annhilate some distant compound or convoy. That said,  it will almost always produce better results, and without the risk of collateral damage or the possibility of inflicting suffering upon innocents, as has so regularly been the case with the global war on terror or any of its more recently fashionable derrivatives, such as overseas contingency operations or stabilization.

Over the longer term, the prognosis could brighten. But that will require major changes to the way in which the global political economy is organized and functions. It is poverty and inequality that drive those unable to benefit from globalization towards radical alternatives, and a small minority, bereft of reasonable, viable alternatives through which to express their convictions, turn to political violence or religious extremism.

Underdevelopment and insecurity, after all, are not two solitudes.  They are opposite sides of the same coin.

There is now a large corpus of research which indicates that the vast majority of those recruited to become human bombs are not insane, but alienated, angry and resentful, often over the occupation of their land by foreign troops. That condition of bitterness and desperation, may turn street vendors or agricultural labourers into true believers, or even zealots, but very few are crazy.  Most elect to do what they do on the basis of rational choice – compensation for the surviving family members, the promise of martyrdom, the belief that they will be rewarded with a better life in heaven. And more than a few are educated and relatively prosperous, their disaffection rooted less in the immediate experience of oppression than in the kind of global empathy made possible by the creation of virtual communities over the internet.

Political space has become deterritorialized.

The enduring reality of suicide bombing, then, is that it is more a symptom than a cause of deeply rooted insecurity and persistent underdevelopment. As such, it can be interpreted as one among many possible illustrations that aid alone – the quintessential, donor interest serving, bandaid solution – won’t work in support of genuine development. When advanced countries use aid to generate employment for home country contractors, to dispose of surplus commodities, or to dump uncompetitive or dangerous industrial products, recipients end up with road graders rusting in jungles, sacks of wheat rotting in rat-infested wartehouses and skim milk powder used to whitewash  mud walls in places where most of the population is lactose intolerant.

Whether or not these sorts of outcomes represent the exception or the rule, they serve to give international cooperation a bad name, and are the antithesis of sustainable, equitable development, which is human need centred and long term. Characterized by broad citizen access to representative political institutions, economic opportunities, and social services, this kind of development, elaborated in previous posts and elsewhere, implicates those involved in the design of their own destiny.

The literature on globalization is rife with references to “interdependence”, but the reality resembles more a complex, multiple-layered  pattern of dominance and dependence which is replicated in many places and among and between individuals and groups, cities, countries and regions. It is not something limited to the so-called economic south.

The persistance of that kind of world order makes human security elusive, aid inevitable and development difficult, if not impossible.

Whither Development?

Or, should that be withered development…?

It was not that long ago that terms such as  “international development”,  “development cooperation”, “development assistance” and even “aid” were in heavy rotation in the discourse on international relations. This was true not only in places like the United Nations, but also in many capitals, great and small.

Today development, like diplomacy, has becom somewhat of an exotic.

And yet, and yet… It wasn’t always that way. Remember the would-be New International Economic Order? The North-South Summit in Cancun? How about calls for a New International Information Order? The Rio Summit on Environment and Development, surely?  That meeting produced, among other things, a sweeping manifesto intended to guide development into the next century: Agenda 21.

Its contents make interesting reading even now, almost two decades later.

Even without reference to the much more recent, but already forlorn Millennium Development Goals,  I think it fair to say the the internatnational community, as it is so euphemistically known, has come up a bit short on its commitments. Indeed, the discussion of international development per se has has pretty much disappeared from the mainstream, especially in the wake of 9/11 and the launch of the Global War on Terror (GWOT).

The GWOT continues. Whether restyled as the Long War, or Stabilization, or Overseas Contingency Operations, the epicentre of international policy remains heavily militarized. This has imposed all kinds of costs, ranging from the emaciation of diplomatic alternatives, to the hijacking of the post- Cold War peace dividend, to the reallocation of scarce public resources at the expense of vital social programmes.

Among the less noticed impacts, however, has been the effective marginalization of development  – and diplomacy – in the name of security.  It is not so much that development itself has become “securitized”, as occured during the Cold War with the competition for hearts, minds, and client states. Instead, it has simply been shunted aside, a victim of “compassion fatigue” and competing priorities in metropolitan centres where the development constituency is typically thin to non-existant.

Not so for defence, where the launching of the open-ended GWOT and its successors has put the military industrial complex back into business.

In previous posts I have set out the case that security is not entirely, or even mainly a martial art. You can’t garrison against climate change, or call in an air strike on resource shortages,  or pay Blackwater to protect you from pandemic disease. Among the many redeeming qualities of the human security doctrine is its insistance on the link betweeen development and security.  Expressed in a few words, you won’t achieve freedom from fear in the absence of respect for basic rights, the rule of law, good governance and, not least, freedom from want.  Met needs are the well-spring of dignity, and basic needs must be fulfilled before much else becomes possible.

In important respects, as I argue at some length in Guerrilla Diplomacy, development has become the new security.

Development, though, is not just a matter of engineering the achievement of various qualitative measures, such as economic growth or increasing trade and investment flows. While each of these may well figure in the overall development mix, for instance, none will guarantee a decrease in poverty if the issue of distributive justice remains unaddressed.

Nor, popular opinion notwithstanding, is development much related to disaster relief or emergency humanitarian assistance. These may certainly be required, as was the case, for example,  following the 2004 tsunami, or in the wake of  various earthquakes or famines. But the beneficial effects of such interventions are often fleeting, and tend to give rise to lingering distortions, such as changes in diet or a debilitating reliance on charity.

At the end of the day, development is in my view all about improving the quality of life for the majority of the population, about finding ways to encourage the emergence of circumstances which will afford each citizen  opportunities, such as access to education an health care, through which they might achieve their full potenial.

Genuine development, then, must be long term, equitable and sustainable. It must be grass-roots and participatory, whereby those affected are the subjects, not objects of their fate. And that  implies the necessary existance of significant political and social components in any grand development strategy.

Most of all, and as implied by these sorts of measures, development, like security, must be human-centred. And, like globalization, it is best thought of as a process rather than a condition or an end state. It is that dynamic relationship – between development and underdevelopment, security and insecurity –  which I have tried to capture in the ACTE world order model.

In the midst of the most sever economic crisis since the Great Depression, official development assistance budgets are shrinking, overseas remittances are falling and corporate philanthropy is drying up. In a world in which so many have so little, and so few have so much, one might expect rather more by way of discussion and debate on all of this.

Clearly, we will have to delve more deeply.

Putting the Human back into Security – Part II

A decade and more ago, the human security doctrine  was all the rage. Books, conferences, and even the foreign policy platforms of some governments were organized around it.

Today, while some embers still glow, the fire is out.

What happened?

From the very beginning, some analysts, mainly, but not exclusively those subscribing to the realist school of international relations, were skeptical about an approach which seemed to them  mushy and vacuous. Human security was seen as a thinly veiled excuse for reducing expenditures on international policy tools  generally, and on traditional security instruments, such as the military and intelligence agencies, in particular.

Still, for much of the 1990s human security withstood the criticism, and indeed enjoyed significant prominence in the broader discourse.

A decade later, little remains.

An explanation of at least part of the mystery may lie in the relationship between domestic and international politics. In Canada, which had been one of the most enthusiastic cheerleaders for  human security, the disappearence of official reference to the concept coincided with changes in political leadership that occurred around the turn of the century. Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy’s successors, beginning with John Manley and Bill Graham, acting in a pattern which is both familiar and understandable, wanted to put some political space between themselves and their high-profile predecessor. As a result, official Canadian support for what had come to be known as the human security agenda, always controversial, gradually withered.

Public diplomacy,  the technique which was relied upon to move that agenda, later took a similar hit.

That said, in international relations single factors rarely tell the full story, and in this case, too, forces much greater than changes in the Canadian political firmament were in play.

For starters, the definition of human security was always rather vague and contested. There was real tension between those seeking to limit the application of the doctrine to considerations related to the freedom from fear (ending war, building peace, furnishing emergency assistance) and those who preferred to include as well the more sweeping aspect of freedom from want (disasters, disease, and underdevelopment more generally).

That debate remains unresolved.

Secondly, the human security approach was never very evenly applied, and when it was attempted, the results often differed. Human security imperatives were  ignored in the case of the international community’s failure to stop the genocide in Rwanda, and they are still overlooked in Darfur. Humanitarian interventions in Somalia and Bosnia (Srebrenica), on the other hand, ended in disaster. The one case study which might be judged a success, East Timor, was small scale, expensive, and has not been replicated since.

So, the record is mixed. And the reputation of the term has not been helped by its appropriation – if not hijacking –  from time to time by certain parties in support of military intercessions in places like Iraq and Afghanistan.

Among many contributing elements, however, it was the cathartic events of 9/11 and subsequent launching of the Global War on Terror which achieved most in terms of bringing concerns about the protection of the nation-state front and centre. Suddenly, hard security was back, and its primacy has been largely unchallenged since. Almost overnight international policy was re-militarized, and infused with aggressive new theories such as pre-emptive defense.  Not only was the world deprived once and for all of the much-anticipated peace dividend, but 9/11 also restored defense departments, the arms industries, and the vast edifice which supports them to the pre-eminent position which all had enjoyed throughout the Cold War.

Threat conjuring and the politics of fear returned, big time, and human security has yet to recover.

In Guerrilla Diplomacy,  I argue that in the age of globalization, development and security, like underdevelopment and insecurity, are fused. The challenge for policy-makers now is to find a way to insert diplomacy into the spaces between the two – spaces now occupied physically, intellectually, and in terms of resource allocation, by defense.

The human security doctrine, even if the time is not yet ripe for its rehabilitation, offers diplomats some useful insights towards that end. And it is that critical component of development to which we will presently turn.

Putting the Human back into Security – Part I

Security, not unlike globalization or development, is a very, very big idea.

To talk about about it in any meaningful way, you need to know where to  begin, and what to focus on.

In terms of security, might that be:

National, or international?

Common, or cooperative?

Collective, or individual?

State?

Personal?

Homeland?

And what of any one of the welter of other, non-traditional security possibilities, ranging from environmental, to resource, to economic, to …?

I set out this catalogue  to illustrate a recurrent point in the discussion of international relations and global issues: the effective confrontation of these sprawling topics requires precise descriptive  language. Finding that language, however, can be almost as difficult as identifying possible remedies. Our vocabulary has not kept pace, and that may help to explain why the accurate diagnosis of the world’s many afflictions remains so elusive.

This is particularly true in the case when speaking of security, where it is crucial to be specific. Nations resort to violence, and sometimes go to war over perceived threats to security.  When security is thought to be in jepoardy, diplomacy quickly comes to be seen as appeasement , and is consigned to the margins.  Generals and admirals come to the fore. Fighting trumps talking.

Whenever the the notion of security is invoked, therefore, it is absolutely essential to be concrete, to know what is seen to be at risk or under threat. Yet this is rarely the case. In fact, “security” is probably one of the most over-used, and abused terms in the lexicon of international relations.

I have written elsewhere of the acute need for new analytical tools, and have tried to come up with a few of my own, such as the ACTE world order model outlined in an earlier post.  In the case of security, however, I believe that kind of enterprise is unnecessary. The concept of human security provides most of the elements needed to understand the pre-requisites of peace and preosperity in the globalization age. Moreover,  it the widespread absence of human security – and the concommitant presence of fear, want and exploitation and suffering – which in my view lies at the root of much of the instablity and conflict around us.

Security is critical to diplomacy because most diplomats work for states, and the highest calling of the state – roughly speaking, the apparatus of national government –  is to ensure the security of the citizenry.

That is, the population.

In other words, humans.

That would be – us.

Human security puts people first. As an objective, it involves the pursuit of demonstable rights and freedoms, subscription to the rule of law, and the existance of the kind of fundamental human dignity which is sustained and nurtured by met needs. This goal seems to me unassailable, both morally and practically, and commitment to attaining it carries significant implications across the board, not least in terms of our thinking about development.

Why, then, have we heard so little of the profoundly people-centric notion of human security in recent years? Never very popular with great powers, human security nonetheless once provided the foreign policy lens, if not grand strategy, favoured by a number of middle and smaller powers. In the second half of the nineties, the doctrine was championed by Canada, and became the core principle animating a string of initiatives – the land mine ban, International Criminal Court, blood diamonds, children in conflict, small arms control, and the Responsibility to Protect, which seeks to provide a political and legal framework for humanitarian intervention.

Since about the turn of the century, however, human security has been largely exiled from the mainstream discourse. With a few notable exceptions, it lives on mainly in academic circles, international organizations and in the NGO community. Yes, the  Human Security Network still exists, although that institution appears to be on life support, there is still a Human Security Gateway on the Internet, and human security reporting and analysis continues. On balance, though, human security as an operative policy tool is now at most a faint shadow of its former self.

What happened?

Therein lies a tale. In broaching those issues, I hope that readers will come to understand why I tried to avoid excessive reference to the term human security in my volume on guerrilla diplomacy, notwithstanding my belief that it remains the concept best suited to understanding the complex political dynamics which prevail in the world today.

A more detailed deconstruction of that paradox comes next.

Grappling with Globalization

Working in a foreign ministry is as good a place as any, and better than most, to observe the world in transition.  I did it for 28 years. From that vantage point, it was near impossible to avoid thinking about why diplomacy has been performing so dismally, especially in recent years when diplomats have been sidelined, and departments of defence favoured as the international policy instrument of choice.

In trying to assess the crisis of diplomacy, I was led repeatedly to the same observation. Simply put, many of diplomacy’s failings can be attributed to its failure to adapt effectively or well to the challenges of the globalization age.

As a result of that early finding,  readers will notice that many of the constructs which support the arguments presented in Guerrilla Diplomacy are based upon my understanding and analysis of the paramount features of the phenomenon popularly referred to as globalization. But, what, exactly,  is that?

Globalization is both over-used and under-appreciated. It also a highly contested term, and has been ascribed a variety of different meanings. At the highest level of apprehension, globalization can be thought of as the successor era to that of the Cold War.

Yet that would be too easy. Globalization is clearly more than that. I would define it as a totalizing historical force which is conditioning, if not determining outcomes across a broad range of human enterprise. Among its effects and at a planetary level, globalization tends to integrate economically, fracture politically, polarize socially and homogenize culturally. It is multifaceted, vexing, and above all, enormous. Might I venture to say that from both practical and ideational perspectives, globalization is the dominant theme of our times.

But its essence cannot be captured in a single narrative.

Images of Nike, Mercedes, McDonalds and Clinique are only the tip of the iceberg. Globalization compresses space, accelerates time, and has unleashed a hornet’s nest of threats and challenges, many rooted in science and driven by technology. A sampling would include:

  • climate change
  • pandemic disease
  • environmental collapse
  • genomics
  • weapons of mass destruction

This catalogue demonstrates that globalization has framed and populated the contemporary  international policy agenda. These issues, moreover, differ in kind from the territorial disputes, ideological rivalry, military confrontation and competition for client states which were the hallmarks of the Cold War.

But even all of this is only a very small part of the story. Like a scythe, globalization  cuts all ways, bringing comfort, choice, power and influence to a few, and hardship, constraints,  anger and resentment to many.

For the beneficiaries, globalization contributes to prosperity and capital accumulation.

For those lost on the periphery or trapped on the underside – at any level and in any location –  globalization can breed insecurity, exacerbate inequality and abet undervelopment.

Globalization has on balance been good for corporations and bad for governments. It jeopardizes fragile states and increases the liklihood of their failure. The backlash against globalization has contributed to violent extremism, often religiously affiliated, world-wide.  It is percieved in many places as the latest incarnation of something more familiar, empire.

Absent the institutions of effective global governance, globalization will remain largely beyond the purview of either popular sovereignty or the public interest.

Like so much else in life, then, where you stand on the question of globalization depends in large part upon on where you sit.

In the midst of the worst international economic downturn since the Great Depression, it would be tempting to conclude that the age of globalization is over.  Indeed, many have. Yet that kind of conclusion would be based upon a relatively narrow understanding of the term, one rooted mainly in observations about trade liberalization, investment flows, resource prices and other, for the most part  macro-economic indicators.

Even by those criteria, I would hesitate to subscribe to the “end of globalization” thesis.  These sorts of measures are highly variable, and in the overall scheme of things, these are early days still. Reports of globalization’s passing are at best premature.

Staggeringly complicated and  immensely consequent, globalization may be  down, but it is far from out.

The implications for security, development and diplomacy, as we shall see, are far-reaching.

Rethinking World Order – Part III

Why think about world order?

Because diplomats, like everyone with a practical or intellectual interest in international political economy,  need an analytical tool suitable for understanding the big picture.  Today, the  marketplace for world order models is littered with paradigms and prototypes.  Some aren’t labelled as such. Many have next to no predictive or explanatory capacity. Most take inadequate account of global issues.

That’s a problem.

To recap…

Bipolarity is history.

The unipolar moment of US hegemony has passed, flaming out in a spectacularly violent starburst of shock and awe.

Multipolarity doesn’t readily fit the circumstances inherent in the globalization age – the power of nations is no longer easily compared.

Heteropolarity, a term first applied to international relations by Brown University scholar James Der Derian in 2004,  might be more apt, but it its analytical power is somewhat limited by its association with polarity per se, and as such it can  take us only us so far conceptually.

The notion of worlds – First (advanced, capitalist); Second (defunct, communist) Third (less developed); and perhaps even Fourth (least developed) – comes closer to getting at what we see today. But this model, too, fails to take account of the emergence of worlds within worlds at all levels. It is too state-centric, too territorial, and it does not adequately reflect the dynamic flux which is globalization.

Though now almost forgotten, and to some extent discredited, in my view it was the dependency theorists, whose influence peaked in the 1970’s, that contributed the elements of an analysis which comes  closest to capturing the underlying patterns of development and underdevelopment. Readers may find it worthwhile, even revealing, to return to the work of Raul Prebish, Samir Amin, Andre Gunder Frank, Osvaldo Sunkel , Fernando Cardoso, Theotonio Dos Santos, Paul Baran, and others, with a view to comparing the applicability their diagnoses and prescriptions against current conditions in the world political economy.

To be sure, some of their prescriptions – self-sufficiency, or import substituting industrialization, for instance – did not stick. Yet there are many points of continuing relevance and insight – the critique of free market economics, the focus on transnationalized elites, the perils of reliance upon commodity exports and the associated difficulties with terms of trade, the idea of the poverty trap.

None, however, is more appropriate to the early 21st century than the notion of core-periphery relations at many levels between and within states, regions and social groups.

I have tried to draw on some of this prescient thinking in the construction of the arguments adduced in support of the ACTE world order model set out summarily in Part II above. I have also tried to abstract various insights offered by the dependency school in setting out the defining elements of both guerrilla diplomacy and the guerrilla diplomat, and will elaborate these at greater length in future.

Unlike traditional diplomacy, and even more so than public diplomacy, guerrilla diplomacy, and indeed guerrilla diplomats, are designed to perform effectively within and across the full spectrum of conditions encapsulated within the ACTE world order model.   Part of that alternative predisposition is borne of a very different understanding of two key terms, development and security. So, too, with the diagnosis of globalization’s  darker  side, underdevelopment and insecurity.

In the era of globalization, these two concepts are fused. Security is no longer the exclusive preserve of departments of defence, or a function of arms and  force.  Development has implications which extend well beyond the machinations of aid agencies, or notions of modernization and growth. To a great extent, development has become the new security, and guerrilla diplomacy, both as diplomatic method and as an alternative approach to understanding international relations, proceeds from that conviction.

Globalization. Security. Development.  These sprawling topics are the touchstones of our times.

A closer examination of each is coming up next.

Rethinking World Order – Part II

Polarity is a static concept, and its expression is spatial. Various poles, be they considered of the hetero or multi-polar genus, can be named, mapped and fixed on a world atlas. In the dynamic, de-territorialized environment that characterizes the globalization age, each of these aspects is highly problematic.

To construct a model of international relations that puts people, rather than states or measures of GDP at the centre of notions of security and development, a more fluid and supple approach to modelling is required.

A quick survey reveals this point starkly. Today, parts of the USA, such as the abandoned neighbourhoods of Flint, Michigan or Akron, Ohio, or New Orleans, Louisiana, look as bad or worse worse than much of anything that might be found in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, or Santiago, Chile, or Accra, Ghana. The downtowns of Shanghai, Sao Paulo or Dubai outshine those found in many major centres in Europe or North America. For the homeless in Los Angeles, life is at least as tough, and likely moreso, than it is for those at the bottom of the social pyramid in Singapore.

All of which is to say that the old distinctions just don’t work any more. First World conditions are enjoyed by many people, and found in many places in what used to be known as the Third World. The upscale opulence associated with the better districts of Capetown or Caracas attest to this emphatically. At the same time, nominally Third World lifestyles and environments are found among many individuals, such as the disposessed, and groups, such as aboriginals, as well in many places, such as inner cities and social housing estates, all over what we used to call the First and Second Worlds.

How might such diverse and shifting characteristics be incorporated in the construction of a new world order model? Not easily. But that is no excuse for not trying.

I would propose moving beyond both the now obsolete First, Second and Third World labels, as well as the centre-periphery model and its variants favoured by the dependency theorists and their successors, to adopt four broad categories of people and places affected by globalization:

•    The A- or advancing, world, whose economic and political advantage is growing

•    The C- or contingent world, whose prospects are uncertain and will be determined by future developments which could tip in either direction

•    The T- or tertiary world, whose relative position is subservient or dependent; and

•    The E- or excluded world, who find themselves for the most part outside of globalization’s matrix.

Put the four categories together and there you have it –  a user-friendly and adaptable world order model, the ACTE.

World order modelling is, of necessity, undertaken at a high level of abstraction, and hence exceptions will be inevitable. But these do not the rule make, and the rules, I think, hold up quite well. Each category could contain individuals, social or cultural groups, cities or parts thereof, states or parts thereof, regions, or multilateral combinations. The hybrid formulation, which is transnational and not ordered by geography, combines the utility of labelling with the dynamic quality of the dependency analysis. It avoids undue association with immobile national political space, while allowing for the constant movement upwards, downwards and sideways within and between the principal groups associated with globalization.

The point here is that it is no longer useful or even possible to attempt to classify entire countries, regions or groupings into this or that particular intellectual or geographic box. There is just too much complexity and swirl out there, and much less stratification and rigidity, for any of that. In the globalization age, the concept of de-territorialization – of power, agency, nationality, language, even of ethnicity – has become a defining attribute. While it is very difficult to avoid completely the use of spatial and geographic terms, economic and political relations in the globalization era are less and less between territorially based units and more and more between social agents – individuals, classes, and other groups of various description.  It is these billions of people, almost one half are under twenty-five and live in cities, rather than entire countries, that experience development and underdevelopment.

The situation of the BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India, China) is illustrative. In these resurging or aspiring great powers, there are very large elements of A-, C-, T- and E-worlds internally. There are also elements of each in Europe and North America, although in those cases the A- component would be larger, the E- component smaller, and the C- and T- components perhaps more mobile.

Unconvinced? More on all of this, and why it is germane to guerrilla diplomacy, in Part III.