All posts by Mark Burrell

The Shutdown Diplomacy

The current US government shutdown isn’t unique: there have been eighteen shutdowns since fiscal year (FY) 1977. Under President Clinton the most recent shutdown took place. In 1995/1996 federal employees had to deal with two shutdowns, one for a period of five days, the other took 21 days. After the closure ended in January, political stability didn’t return immediately: in the first four months of the year, government was dependent on eight continuing resolutions (CRs) to keep agencies going. A CR is what Congress passes when they can’t pass appropriation bills. The CRs started to become pretty common during the 2000s. In FY2001 Congress passed about 20 CRs!

This week I’ll focus my efforts on two articles that addressed public diplomatic efforts during last year’s U.S. government shutdown. Earlier in the semester we read an article that framed the U.S. government shutdown as favorable to diplomatic efforts in China. Some of the bloggers in China viewed the U.S. shutdown as government transparency and the result of a free and democratic society controlling the government instead of vice versa. Here’s the post if you’re interesting in reading more. 

However, Max Fisher, a journalist for the Washington Post, had a different take on how Asia and China viewed the fallout of the shutdown. Fisher viewed it as just another setback in America’s proposed Pivot to the Pacific. Since Obama was embroiled in congressional molasses, he wasn’t able to give his full attention to wooing Asian partners. Thus, many Asian countries are being pulled closer and closer to China’s orbit believing that America can’t be counted on for the long haul.

This has been a problem in America’s foreign policy toward eastern cultures for a long time. U.S. diplomats often entice the East with promises of capitalism, free-trade and economic benefits if they align themselves with the West. However, business propositions never trump relationships in this part of the world. Foolishly, Americans believe good business savvy trumps relationship building worldwide. Slowly, America is beginning to recognize that China’s regional influence is a combination of proximity, relationship building and economic stimulus.

The article by Rausch and Murtaugh, illustrates the importance of building relationships in politics. Though the U.S. Institute for Peace workers were in Libya working on Justice and Security while the U.S. government was being shutdown, they found similarities between the two countries. Every citizen wants the feeling of ownership during the diplomatic process. How can the U.S. stress the importance of citizens participating in government when their own government shuts down? Well, the USIP workers found common ground to create a useful dialogue about the realities of democracy.

In these two articles, there were two different takeaways from the fallout of the government shutdown. Overall, however, the shutdown didn’t help U.S. foreign policy and created a hurdle for U.S. public diplomacy efforts. We’ll see if we can recover or if our competitors truly gained an advantage.

Rising Hard Power in the Pacific

As the U.S. is looking to trim the number of troops serving in the military, the Austrailian Defence Force is recruiting U.S. servicemembers join its ranks. Many troops, especially enlisted servicemembers, stand to make more money in the Australian military. DAVID BYRON/U.S. AIR FORCE

 

 

I came across an interesting article while some of my military friends were considering retirement. They were thinking about doing their time in the U.S. military, retiring and then joining the Australian military to continue serving while getting two pay checks and a new experience.

According to the article, the Australian “government plans to increase defense spending — estimated at $26.5 billion this year — to $50 billion by 2023.”

This means that they have increased recruiting efforts to include foreign troops, as the U.S. military is being cutback. However, there hasn’t been much media attention to the increase of hard power in Australia and the rest of the world seems OK with this. They generally view the Aussies as a decent nation. How did this come about?

While reading  Joe Johnson’s views on how Swedes promote their culture and Yul Sohn’s article about Korean soft power and networked power, nothing really comes to mind about the public diplomacy efforts of the Aussies.  Those middle countries used branding to increase their public image, but I don’t think Foster’s beer is making the same soft power strides as Ikea and Samsung.

The Australians have been close allies to the Brits and Americans, and have fought in both Iraq and Afghanistan. However, the Aussies haven’t been condemned as much for doing so as their allies. And now they are doubling their defense budget and recruiting foreign troops. So what’s the lesson to take away from this? Make sure you’re isolated in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and you’ll seem harmless? Hardly. But I would be interested to hear anybody else’s opinion on how the Aussie’s have a better international image than their allies while continually increases their hard power stance.

Hollywood and Israel’s Cultural Diplomacy Venture

 

Joseph Nye wrote an article in 2008, “Public Diplomacy and Soft Power,” discussing power as “the ability to affect others to obtain the outcomes you want.” This is a short definition of power, but one that can be used in the international communications realm easily. In discussing soft power and cultural diplomacy, they go hand in hand. Most of America’s soft power relates to exporting cultural products throughout the world. However, some countries have used Hollywood as a tool to help build cultural diplomacy with the rest of the world.

In a recent news article, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu collaborated with Hollywood producers to create a film series highlighting the tourist industry in Israel.

“It’s not only a vehicle to increase tourism, it’s also to dispel various calumnies about the State of Israel,” Netanyahu said.

Nye would definitely consider this type of vehicle a soft power approach to dispel the previous stereotypes of Israel. The proposed interest in their culture and the added influx of tourism can be a huge benefit for the country. Nye might have seen this as a way of shaping soft power.

“Once broadcast, Greenberg’s [the director’s] program is expected to draw at least 200,000 more tourists to Israel, according to Tourism Ministry estimates, giving its economy a boost and possibly setting yet another record,” the article explained.

Nye brings up another interesting term that I wanted to discuss. He thinks of hard power as diplomacy through threats and coercion., like Israel has been portrayed in the media with Palestine. However, Nye states that there can be a “smart power” that works to combine soft and hard powers in order to inform and influence. The upcoming movie might be able to influence other countries culturally, politically and diplomatically.

If the movie is viewed by different countries elite populations, then this could indeed affect viewpoints on foreign policy toward Israel. However, the unintended side-effect of this production could be that non-Western governments will view this as another Israeli partnership with the U.S. and could further perpetuate myths of coercion and incite further violence against the U.S. or Israel. Both sides of the coin have serious repercussions, but the overall viewpoint of Netanyahu is that it will help pull back the curtain on the history and culture of his country. Either way, it does bring the idea of using the media as a medium for strong discourse about perceived foreign stereotypes and possibly leading to a change in attitudes of foreign diplomacy toward Israel.

 

Public Diplomacy Hypocrisy in Uzbekistan

With the deadline for withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan, there are many questions to be answered about the Northern Distribution Route that runs through Central Asia. Unfortunately for these 5 ‘stans, when the Northern Distribution Route stops flowing, so will the aid.

During the past five years, the U.S. has almost completely ignored humanitarian violations by the Uzbekistan government, mainly perpetrated by President Karimov, because of their reliance on the supply route through the region into Afghanistan. The U.S. has a placed aid sanctions on countries that commit human rights violations, however, they have kept their relationship with Uzbekistan despite the government’s violations.

In a recent article highlighting these political problems, U.S. public diplomacy is making the case that if they need a country’s help badly enough, then human rights violations can be overlooked.

“’While U.S. officials make it clear the bilateral relationship cannot deepen absent improvements, there is no element of public diplomacy that signals there are red lines Uzbekistan can’t cross,’ as Steve Swerdlow, Human Rights Watch’s Central Asia researcher, puts it.”

If the U.S. cannot provide a steady policy for public diplomacy toward countries that are clear human rights violators, then it puts diplomats in the difficult position of trying to justify why one country receives aid and another doesn’t. The U.S. has also promised to leave behind non-lethal (debatable…) military gear behind in Uzbekistan when it departs. It is willing to give military aid to a country that has suppressed and killed its citizens in the past. What diplomatic message is this sending to countries where the U.S. doesn’t have any interests?

Uzbekistan is a slippy slope for U.S. public diplomacy and one that has not received much media attention. However, as the troops withdraw from Afghanistan, pay attention to the amount of aid and military-to-military assistance that is provided in Central Asia. It will be telling to determine whether or not this is a practice that the U.S. will continue to adopt in the future or not.

Pitfalls of Public Diplomacy Through the Media

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http://www.zimbio.com/Afghanistan/articles/tcNI-RXSAAl/Troop+downsize+Afghanistan+2014+under+consideration

A recent NPR radio piece detailed the difficulties that the U.S. has had in brokering an agreement for troops staying in Afghanistan after the 2014 deadline. The two governments have been at odds with each other about the way forward for GIRoA. Karzai is making decisions in a black hole while getting terrible advice from his inner circle. He hasn’t been on the same page as the White House for quite some time and doesn’t believe that the U.S. will leave Afghanistan despite its constant threat. However, the biggest factor compounding the problem has been the White House using the media to conduct public diplomacy.

Instead of closed-door meetings and one-on-one diplomatic efforts, the back-and-forth threats have been playing out in the public sphere of the media. That is no way to conduct diplomacy. Governments shoot themselves in the foot each time they let their enemies or allies know of their intentions through the media. That’s like hearing about a friend that’s been lying to you from the playground gossip queen. It always feels like a low blow and can never amount to any positive reconciliation on each entities behalf.

Karzai hasn’t been making the right decisions, but he is being publicly criticized in the media by the White House. That further distances himself from reaching an agreement. The NPR piece mentioned that the “two governments don’t understand each other’s politics and don’t know how to talk to each other.” However, it is a more deep-rooted problem in public diplomacy today. Governments are not using the media to their advantage. Instead, the push for 24/7 instantaneous coverage has been a detriment to building strong, lasting state-to-state bonds. Throughout the semester, this is probably going to have a lasting impact on different state-to-state relations. However, the immediacy of the media can have huge positive impacts on state-to-non-state relations. For example, the White House can reach the people of Afghanistan in their homes through the media. The question is: Does this ability to reach the people help or hurt the White House’s ability to close a deal with GIRoA?

Only time will tell and the clock is ticking…

NANGARHAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan – An Afghan boy, who fell a few days ago, is held by his father as U.S. Army Pfc. Jonathan V. Bachtel, a forward observer from Burleson, Texas, assigned to Troop C, 3rd Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment, Task Force Raider, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, Task Force Bronco provides security during a patrol in Rodat District in eastern Afghanistan's Nangarhar Province, July 18. The boy is related to a wood worker who just received news that his business will receive a small business grant to help stimulate the economy and provide for his family. (Photo by U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Mark Burrell, 210th MPAD)
NANGARHAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan – An Afghan boy, who fell a few days ago, is held by his father as U.S. Army Pfc. Jonathan V. Bachtel, a forward observer from Burleson, Texas, assigned to Troop C, 3rd Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment, Task Force Raider, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, Task Force Bronco provides security during a patrol in Rodat District in eastern Afghanistan’s Nangarhar Province, July 18. The boy is related to a wood worker who just received news that his business will receive a small business grant to help stimulate the economy and provide for his family. (Photo by U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Mark Burrell, 210th MPAD)