Protector or Meddler? Strategic Narratives and Foreign Policy

As Alister Miskimmon and Ben O’Loughlin assert in their work, narratives are central to human relations. They shape the world and constrain behavior. They are a loose script of detailing on how we should interact with our environment. This can be applied on both micro and macro levels. At a micro level example, a single individual can create a self-narrative of victimhood, ascribing it as part of his/her identity. This lens of reality will presumably affect how s/he interacts with others, validating his or her choices. On a macro level, nation states are no different. Governments are keenly aware that creating a narrative is an essential tool in diplomacy and foreign policy as it can provide legitimacy and set expectations. As Miskimmon and O’Loughlin write, “Strategic narratives are means for political actors to create a shared of the past, present and future of international politics to shape the behavior of domestic and international actors.” Besides simply having control on the information flow with media systems and crafting content, it is also important to create a conducive atmosphere. Narratives are a means for actors to extend influence, manage expectations and change the operating environment (Miskimmon and O’Loughlin). An essential part of priming an environment for strategic goals is being able to provide a context for citizens to understand actions. This is achieved, as the authors state, by creating a collective memory and identity within a nation and a space for establishing norms and rules in which to operate. The relationship between strategic narratives and policy is cyclically reinforcing. A national narrative influences and justifies policy, but policy will also strengthen the public’s conception of the narrative.

After World War II, the U.S. created a strategic narrative of being a world leader of democracy and a “liberator” of other nations. Under this narrative, it is the U.S.’ duty to mediate conflicts, spread ideals of freedom and lead the way for other nations. This narrative has persisted and supported the country’s turn to interventionist foreign policies. The nation transitioned from an isolationist framework, that marked the period between World War I and World War II, to becoming involved in other nation’s affairs even if it was not a direct threat to national security. Barbara Conry from the Cato Institute wrote, “…referring to Vietnam, America’s most ambitious intervention since World War II, one of Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara’s top aides conceded that ‘it takes some sophistication to see how Vietnam automatically involves [our vital interests].’” While Vietnam was a failed war, the historical narrative conveyed to the public was “great powers did not lose, did not turn their back on their allies and acted with honor. Leaders designed and supported Vietnamization…” (Miskimmon and O’Loughlin). This framing of historical events at the time supported the U.S.’ strategic narrative of being a world leader and liberator for democracy, making it palatable to the public, but ignored the mass protests from citizens who could see the disjointedness between the narrative and the policy.

The post World War II narrative also symbiotically supported the locked competition with the Soviet Union. The rivalry fostered motivation for interventionist policies and adjusted the U.S. narrative to include a specific responsibility to fight against the spread of communism. Because the threat (an ideologically opposite, powerful country) and policy aligned with the narrative, it was widely accepted. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, along with the change in media ecology, the U.S.’ security strategies slightly shifted to incorporate changes in the international arena and to keep the national narrative relevant. According to Miskimmon and O’Loughlin, President George W. Bush set out to focus on combatting non-state actors and rogue states and how the U.S. needed to be involved.

The U.S. strategic narrative of being the world’s leader and liberator continues today. President Obama’s speech discussing Russia’s actions in Ukraine to the UN General Assembly last September is a prime example. The President said,

“Big nations and small must meet our responsibility to observe and enforce international norms…America stands for something different. We believe that right makes might—that bigger nations should not be able to bully smaller ones; that people should be able to choose their own future…We call upon others to join us on the right side of history—for while small gains can be won at the barrel of a gun, they will ultimately be turned back if enough voices support the freedom of nations and peoples to make their own decisions.”

One can easily recognize themes of the U.S. as a “protector” (on the side of good) of freedom/democracy with a responsibility to involve itself in a conflict even if it does not have direct effects on national security. The British paper, The Guardian published an article on Russian citizens’ reactions after the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight 17 over the Ukraine. The expressed views of Muscovites illustrate a stark contrast to the U.S. narrative and perhaps the ability to recognize a strategic narrative when it is not an embedded in a group’s reality or consciousness.

“There is another side” to the disaster. ‘Who benefits from portraying Russia as the monster? The Americans do. They want to go to war with the whole world.’ the US has every capability to frame ‘either Russia or the rebels.'”

Qatar’s Knowledge Diplomacy

In a 2012 Globe and Mail article, His Excellency David Johnston defines the “diplomacy of knowledge” as “our ability and willingness to work together and share our learning across disciplines and borders.” He points to 3 critical C’s of learning including creativity, communication and co-operation. A blog posted by KMbeing entitled “The GG’s 3 C’s Of Knowledge Diplomacy” expands on this definition, drawing on the blogger’s work on “knowledge mobilization” and stating that knowledge diplomacy should “’open up relationships between peoples’ at all levels and ‘foster harmony in an interconnected world.'”

A fascinating example of the application of knowledge diplomacy/knowledge mobilization can be found by looking at the Qatar Foundation’s WISE Summits. For example, the recent 2014 WISE Summit, entitled “Imagine-Create-Learn: Creativity at the Heart of Education,” brought together 1,500+ experts, innovators, and political/corporate leaders from more than 100 countries to explore the current challenges facing education.

In the April 2012 Issue No. 218 of University World News, Hans de Wit, co-founder and past president of the EAIE, states in his article “Thoughts on the international education conference circus,” that though there seems to be an education conference somewhere in the world each month, they tend to be primarily national or regional in nature and attendance. He calls for the internationalization of international education conferences, suggesting that it would be profitable to have a global international education conference including all the major national and regional IE associations every 3 to 5 years.  Furthermore, he suggests that it should not be held in Europe or the US, but rather on a different continent.

This is why Qatar’s WISE Summits are so interesting because they are truly international and engage leaders across many different sectors.  However, can WISE Summits really function like the type of international forum that Hans De Wit is talking about? The thing about WISE Summits is that they are definitely a strategic way for Qatar to engage in educational diplomacy, utilizing what Joseph Nye would refer to as soft power. As Jane Knight points out in a CBIE Briefing Note entitled “Higher Education and Diplomacy,” “Given higher education’s current obsession with branding, rankings and competitiveness, it is strongly attracted to the concept of soft power… But, the common motivation behind soft power is self-interest and dominance through attraction – whether the benefits are political, economic or reputational. This reality raises hard questions. Are the primary goals of international higher education to serve self- interests and achieve dominance? Is the term soft power, really hegemony dressed in attractive new clothes?”

In a 2011 article posted on the USC Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership & Policy website, Philip Seib talks about how Qatar is using its plentiful financial resources to invest in public diplomacy and becoming a “new kind of superpower.” Not only has it invested in education but it has also invested in architecture and put in a successful bid to host the World Cup in 2022.

Seib goes on to say, “Qatar’s ascendancy, like that of nearby Abu Dhabi, represents a change in the contemporary world order. Small but enormously wealthy states are using their resources to become centers of culture and education as well as finance, and they seem intent on proving that in this new century spending money to enhance intellectual capital is a viable means of wielding global influence.”  So, though Qatar is not necessarily using education to try and achieve political dominance, it is certainly using it to increase its influence in the world.

There seems to be a fundamental tension within knowledge diplomacy. “Are the values of self-interest, competition or dominance going to effectively address issues of worldwide epidemics, terrorism, failed states, the bottom billion in poverty, environmental degradation and climate change? The answer is no,” according to Jane Knight.  However, she argues that knowledge diplomacy can be used for more than States’ interests but actually for the public good. It will be interesting to see if Qatar does use its growing educational expertise and influence to address the pressing problems of the world.  Ultimately, nations should move beyond soft power to John Arquilla’s and David Ronfeldt’s Noopolitik, which Arquilla asserted in his recent Building Peace article is “about acknowledging what is right and just, as a basis for negotiated settlements to conflict, peaceful interactions, and the protection of human dignity.”

Internet Governance

In her book, the Global War for Internet Governance, Professor Laura DeNardis states that the question over who should have authority over “critical Internet resources” (CIRs) is the most tangible disagreement when it comes to a potential central authority governing the internet. Most nation states actually do not have direct jurisdiction over the distribution of CIRs and this distribution also tends to occur outside traditional economic markets. 

So who governs the internet?  The answer: Multiple institutions which have multiple stakeholders.  These institutions include the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA), regional Internet registries (RIRs), Domain Name System registries, and domain name registrars. Because of the United States’ relationship with key parts of this governance infrastructure, especially ICANN, it has played a key (and what some have criticized as overly influential) role in internet governance.

The current global internet governance structure brings to mind questions of equitable allocation of resources and undue influence of the nations that are most closely intwined with the key governing institutions.

Governance vs. Government

Governance and government.  Two words that sound a lot alike but actually are different.  Government is the actual system that governs a state: makes rules, regulations, etc.  It’s the official, structural form of regulations within a state.  Governance is much broader and can be various types of organizations or groups making rules and regulations; sometimes official, sometimes unofficial.  When thinking of governance, the power is much more widely distributed.  The ability to set standards, rules, expectations, etc can be divided between the official government, corporations, society, NGO’s, or any group.

For example, as we discussed in class, the role of society and governance.  While the federal government and the FCC may not restrict certain images or words being used on broadcast television, society can certainly regulate by their consumption habits.  Right or wrong, we as Americans have a low threshold for graphic images of war, certainly compared to other international news organization’s standards.  While legally the American news could show more graphic images, their viewers would probably either change the channel or write letters in anger.  Thus, society is governing the news media, not just the government.

Governments and Governance

According to Avshalom Ginosar’s article, Media Governance: A Conceptual Framework or Merely a Buzz Word?, the definition of “governance” is ambiguous and disagreed upon by media and communication scholars. Ginosar suggests viewing the term as a way to classify communication systems within six components:
1. modes of governing;
2. institutions;
3. level;
4. stakeholders;
5. mechanisms of control;
6. products of the policy process

The definition of “governments,” however, is less contentious and traditionally viewed as institutions that create public policy to govern a nation-state. The traditional regulation process and power structure of governments are vertical with no private actors. But because of globalization and a shift of power among actors (private sector, NGOs, etc.), Ginosar asserts that this old school concept of national government and its role in public policy has been challenged. Governance is a complex, new control system that can be multileveled with multiple actors–from traditional state institutions to international institutions, to private corporations to public organizations, etc.– that both create policy and participate in various ways. This process can be pluralistic, thereby distributing the power. Importantly, the differences between the two terms/concepts helps to establish a sliding scale of the different types of governance possible within communication systems.

Internet Governance: Public versus Private.

When we we hear the term “governance”, we often think of sovereign, independent nation-states and their central powers of government. However, as many emerging governments have been unable to handle the responsibilities of managing nations with limited resources in unstable political environments, governance is often shifted to other actors. For example, the “governance” of Cambodia is not independently handled by the Cambodian government, but also several other entities like the World Bank, transnational corporations and even celebrity philanthropist, Angelina Jolie. Similarly, the governance of the internet is handled by no one single entity or organization. In fact, debates over governance still exist and actively contribute both the nation of Cambodia and the internet as a platform for communication. Just as globalization in the post-colonial era has shifted the responsibility of the governance of nation-states to various actors, the internet is increasingly diversified and everyone seems to be fighting for a piece of the pie.

Professor Milton Mueller describes internet governance as, “The simplest, most direct, and inclusive label for the ongoing set of disputes and deliberations over how the internet is coordinated, managed and shaped to reflect policies.” But what is being fought for? Many international communications scholars believe the deliberation for ownership of the internet has to do with where power is centralized. According to Laura Denardis in her book, The Global War for Internet Governance, “A significant question of internet governance addresses the appropriate balance of power between the nation and the privatized.” Allocations of the limited internet resources will determine who can use these communication platforms and in turn, who can profit economically and politically from them. Internet governance will continue to be a multi-stakeholder debate, and the results will effect the power relationships between different nations and private actors in the future.

Ramifications of Media’s “Participatory Turn”

In Part 3 of the International Journal of Communication 8 (2014), Henry Jenkins states: “To what degree has the rise of networked computing encouraged us to reimagine the public sphere?”  We are seeing the ramifications of media’s participatory turn played out across the world from Hong Kong to Iraq.  However, as Moya Bailey in that same journal, asserts that “political participation via social media often feels reactionary,” and may lead to higher levels of burnout. In the case of Hong Kong, it remains to be seen whether the movement will continue to go strong or be subject to intimidation and burnout.