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Democracy, Lies, Deceit and Coercive Diplomacy



Diplomacy used to mean dealing between governments. That changed when Woodrow Wilson called for open agreements openly arrived at. As a substitute for that, there is now something called "public diplomacy". Typical of a society in which advertising plays such a role, the State Department has appointed to run it a woman advertising executive who has just visited Egypt in an attempt to explain the US position on the Israeli-Palestine dispute. According to the New York Times (1/31/92) the visit was a disaster. The opinion of all the Egyptians with whom she spoke said the didn't "get it", she has no understanding of what was going on.

Press conferences are another form of public diplomacy. Paul Simon says: "Lying to your host government as a diplomat is not at all the same as lying to the press, which was where this thread started. I doubt Tim or Raul would equate the two. I'd be interested to hear if they had any compunctions about a little of that terminological inexactitude or selectively withholding of the truth when speaking to the media. I bet no". The problem is that if the public were told about the fights going on, the result might be chaos. However, this justifies the prodding of inquisitive journalists.

Meanwhile, old-fashioned diplomacy, combined with public diplomacy, goes on. Brian Hamlin says:

"My surmise is that governments do this a lot - have the front man say one thing while planning something different. The Stalin kept Maxim Litvinov as Foreign Minister until the Spring of 1939 before replacing him with Molotov. Keeping a Jewish Foreign Minister was a good foil while secretly negotiating the pact with Hitler. Once the negotiations were nearing completion, Litvinov was put under house arrest before he could protest the Hitler-Stalin pact then made public. The irony is that two years later, when Hitler invaded the USSR, Litvinov was then brought out of retirement and made ambassador to the USA. He was later able to say that he knew nothing of the Russian-German negotiations in 1939".

Then there is "coercive diplomacy", described in a new book by Kenneth A. Shultz of Princeton University, Democracy and Coercive Diplomacy (Cambridge University Press, 2001, pp. 301. It is volume 76 in the important "Cambridge Studies in International Relations", sponsored by the British International Studies Association. It discusses the use of threats. The story goes that a British warship was sent to Zanzibar to protest against something. He was told that if the Sultan refused to comply, he should do nothing. He presented the protest to the Sultan, who asked what would happen if he refused to comply. The British commander replied stiffly "In that case, I shall have regretfully to carry out the second part of my instructions". The Sultan complied.

Shultz discusses the disadvantage of democracy in this context: "The relative transparency of their political processes means that,while democratic governments cannot easily conceal domestic constraints against using force, they can credibly demonstrate resolve when their threats enjoy strong domestic support. As a result, compared with their non-democratic counterparts, democracies are more selective about making threats, but those they do make are more likely to be successful". This explains the efforts of the Bush administration to whip up support for its anti-terrorism threats. Opinion polls also play a role in this. They are a relatively new phenomenon; Schultz uses the older category, "public opinion". He discusses modern, in particular neorealist theories, and he brings up the prisoner's dilemma, which is part of the game theory.

Ronald Hilton - 2/1/02


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