State’s QDDR and Its Academic Cognates

by Peter Spiro

Secretary Clinton yesterday released the much-awaited first Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review.  It’s an important document, and if implemented (a big if, given the shift in Congress and threats to cut State’s funding) it would have important consequences on the ground.  The central theme of “civilian power” has a nice ring to it in the context of situating diplomacy, a riff on the now-popular concept of non-military “soft power”.

It’s a practical blueprint, along the lines of the best sort of consultant work.  (The only quibble with its recommendations might be the call for creating several new assistant secretary positions — we ran the world with only six of them in 1944, now there are more than 20.)  One wouldn’t necessarily think it the product of an effort led by two international law professors, Anne-Marie Slaughter and Bill Burke-White (see pp 213-14 for the staffing).  In fact, the term “international law” makes not a single substantive appearance in its 200+ pages.  That’s savvy; any strategy document showcasing international law as such would be DOA.  Public diplomacy gets much more of an institutional push.  The report recommends that all regional bureaus now include deputy assistant secretaries for public affairs; no mention of increased legal staffing.  But there is a strong explicit focus on reshaping and enhancing the architecture of multilateral institutions.  As a practical matter, that would translate into more robust law generation at the international level (which in turn will create a natural demand for more in-house lawyers at State).

At a more subtle level, the report maps onto Slaughter’s academic work.  First, it prioritizes interagency training for US diplomats.  That looks like the practical equivalent of Slaughter’s efforts to advance interdisciplinarity in international law scholarship.  Second, there is an acknowledgment that non-state actors are an important part of the global picture.  The report does this with more than a nod; there’s a whole section entitled “engaging beyond the state.”  This, too, reflects Slaughter’s academic work (though that has focused more on governmental networks, and less on non-state actors as such).

But, finally, the report still sees the world through the lens of the state. Civilian power may be “the power of the public—of NGOs, corporations, civil society groups, and individuals around the world who share our goals and interests.”  But engaging them is about “designing programs, projects and partnerships with them to advance America’s security, prosperity and values around the world.”  Their role remains subordinate; they are tools of policy, not policymakers.  “They expand our potential, bring additional expertise, and leverage our resources.”  Of course any report from the State Department has to maintain that orientation.  It also happens to be consistent with the continuing state-centrism of international relations theory, in whose models non-state actors remain epiphenomenal.

2 Responses

  1. I would say, based on my conversations with George Kennan & Samuel Huntington, that some foreign policies have been constituted from non state actors, at least increasingly, because of the democracy promotion efforts as well as human rights/humanitarian agendas. The competition for their ideas and observations has been intense; and parallels the state of the media environment which is continuously in search for new content. So I’m not so surprised that such a search would reflect in the QDDR and other think tank reports I’ve come across. It’s a lot about building  social networks and new thinking.

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