Friday, April 29, 2011

Music and the Cold War

Music and the Cold War

April 7, 2011

Charles Rosen, New York Review of Books

My friends let me know that Professor Richard Taruskin has written an article entitled “Afterword: Nicht Blutbefleckt?” (Not Blood-Stained?) in The Journal of Musicology,1 partially devoted to answering my review of his Oxford History of Western Music in The New York Review.2 In this answer he declares himself “one who regards Rosen’s literary output—all of it—as Cold War propaganda.”

This seems sufficiently extreme and provocative to warrant a few observations. For the most part, Taruskin maintains that whatever success and prestige in music and painting American modernism has achieved are mainly due to the efforts of promotion by the CIA and the US State Department in order to counter Soviet propaganda during the cold war years.

The claim that the prestige of American modernism is basically due to the programs of the CIA and the American government is simply a warmed-up version of a French theory of some years ago that the success of American Abstract Expressionism was due to a conspiracy of art dealers, aided by official American propaganda. This was inspired by indignant patriotic panic at the replacement of Paris by New York for a few years as the major center of artistic innovation and interest. The principal expression of the attack was a book by Serge Guilbaut; the title is sufficiently explanatory and indicates the level of the argument as well: How New York Stole the Idea of Modern Art: Abstract Expressionism, Freedom, and the Cold War (1983).

This thesis has recently become fashionable among a small group of American musicologists largely hostile to modernism, and Taruskin seems to have decided to ride along with them. He acts as a prosecutor, determined to corner the criminals and convict them. He writes:

But the guilt and blood a critic like [Louis] Menand will admit into a discussion of [Jackson] Pollock is presumably only guilt over booze and fornication, and the blood shed in a fatal car crash…. But Pollock was an entirely knowing beneficiary of Cold War promotion, and so were John Cage, Morton Feldman, and any number of others of whom it is still conventional to say that they were far better appreciated in Europe than at home. The role of Cold War policy in their histories is part of our history, and we must report it.

It would appear that Jackson Pollock was stained with blood by having allowed his paintings to be exhibited in a show arranged by the Congress for Cultural Freedom. That is the same accusation that Taruskin levels against Elliott Carter. He dates what he calls Carter’s “superlative prestige” precisely from the European performance of Carter’s First Quartet at the 1954 Rome festival of contemporary music, an event sponsored by the Congress for Cultural Freedom—the cultural organization on the Western side of the cold war that became notorious thanks to its subsequently disclosed CIA secret financing and support.

Nevertheless, Professor Anne C. Schreffler, the most distinguished and brilliant of all the musical scholars on whom Taruskin relies for evidence on the subject of the effect of cold war propaganda, makes it clear that he is wrong on this point. In this festival, she says: “Carter’s quartet received wide exposure but mixed reviews…. The recording by the Walden Quartet probably did even more than these early performances to make the work known.”3 In any case, before the festival, the quartet had won the first prize in the International Competition for the Composition of String Quartets at Liège.

It is evident that the success of this quartet—which, to Carter’s surprise, was soon in the repertory of a number of ensembles in spite of its length and difficulty (at the competition at Liège, the players broke down trying to perform it)—was not due principally to the CIA-sponsored performance at the Rome 1954 festival of contemporary music but to admiration for the work and recognition of its quality. This is grudgingly admitted by Taruskin as he writes:
I did little else [in The Oxford History of Western Music] but quote rapturous comments—from Stravinsky, William Glock, Joseph Kerman, Andrew Porter, Bayan Northcott, and Rosen himself, among others—testifying to their belief in Carter’s eloquence and allure (an enthusiasm that in the case of the First Quartet, among other works, I fully share, although the Oxford History was not the proper place for me to say so). [my italics]
But he wants to claim that these responses are not “wholly innocent and spontaneous,” and he does not believe that a historian should be an advocate. The quoted testimonials he boasts of repeating, however, are not criticism, and are only a facile substitute for historical explanation. The responsibility that a historian owes his readers, particularly in a textbook for college students, is not a list of advocates, but a critical explanation of how the “eloquence and allure” work.

However, the role that Taruskin has laid out for himself is simply that of a whistleblower. He finds it scandalous, as many of us do, that the financing of the Congress for Cultural Freedom by the CIA was clandestine, unavowed, and publicly denied. After the war the intellectual prestige of the Communist parties in France and Italy was very great, as they had been among the principal organizations of the resistance to Mussolini and to the German occupation of France. The intent of the CIA was to enhance the intellectual reputation of America with exhibitions and concerts and the literary magazines Encounter and Tempo Presente in Britain and Italy. The few performances and exhibitions arranged by the Congress for Cultural Freedom did not establish prestige, but presented musicians and artists who had already achieved some success.

There is no evidence at all that the CIA was interested in twelve-tone music or even simply in difficult and dissonant modernism. Taruskin says nothing about the fact that works of Samuel Barber, hardly a representative figure of the modernist school, were also played at the very same festival in Rome at which Carter’s First Quartet was introduced to a European public, including a song cycle sung by Leontyne Price and the Capricorn Concerto. It is not clear why Barber should not be tainted by the blood-guilt smeared on the figures of Jackson Pollock and Elliott Carter.

That works of avant-garde music and painting attracted more attention in Europe at that time than the neoromantic and neoclassical styles is understandable if one thinks of the European work in those fields after the war, with Pierre Boulez and Karlheinz Stockhausen. Nor does Taruskin even mention the US State Department’s international promotion at this time of African-American jazz musicians like Louis Armstrong. Maybe he felt that calling attention to this would be politically incorrect, or perhaps he just wishes to imply that any prestige that attached to their work was well deserved, or that it is all right for the government to promote popular music.

In his History Taruskin maintains that “both [Carter and Rosen] were beneficiaries of the prestige machine in which both were willing partners.” It is agreeable to benefit from prestige, but it is obviously wicked to receive it from a “machine.” Any success whatever in the arts is always due to some kind of promotion, whether the beneficiary be the Beatles or Jackson Pollock or Richard Taruskin. But the implication of the phrase “willing partners”—that Carter knew that the CIA was paying for the performance of his quartet—is a boldfaced misrepresentation.

The appearance of the name of William Glock, head of music at the BBC, among the advocates of modernist works, with little mention of him elsewhere, reveals the essential poverty and irrelevance of Taruskin’s account of the success of modernism. He has made no serious attempt to explore how the music was actually promoted and who was fundamentally interested in the promotion; he simply wants to yoke modernism with an organization secretly financed by the CIA, as if that is an adequate comment on the music and art.

The really efficient work to make musical modernism better known and acceptable came from the public radio stations in Europe, above all the BBC. Taruskin mentions only the German stations, and then simply to claim that their financing of modernist music ceased with the fall of the Berlin Wall, the end of the cold war, and the reunification of Germany. He fails to observe that the reunification nearly bankrupted the German state by the granting of parity between the relatively worthless East German mark and the mark of the West. Support for all forms of culture diminished, not just for modernism.

Considerable promotion for the avant-garde was also offered by the Italian radio system. The French held back, and the major representative of French modernism, Pierre Boulez, was systematically refused access to official channels in the 1950s, although he was financed as the resident composer by the German radio station at Baden-Baden, run by Heinrich Strobel, who had also engaged Hans Rosbaud, the greatest contemporary interpreter of the modernist orchestral repertory.

The most important promotion of musical modernism came above all from the BBC when William Glock became Controller of Music. He hardly needed any stimulus from cold war ideology, as he had been for many years the editor of The Score magazine, the foremost voice for avant-garde music in the world at the time. Upon taking over the BBC, Glock’s first action was to transform the Promenade Concerts, which took place every summer in the Albert Hall, the largest concert space in London. These had become largely popular middlebrow concerts with works by Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, and Gilbert and Sullivan.

Before starting his reign at the BBC, Glock said to me, “We get three thousand people every night at the Proms, and we don’t know why they come, so we are going to change the programs and see what happens.” He programmed Stockhausen’s Gruppen for three orchestras in his first season—only 2,500 people came, but that seemed a success—and continued with unusual works like the Berlioz Requiem, Mozart’s unfinished opera Zaïde, as well as music from the standard repertory. There was a huge injection of the modernist tradition that caused an outcry in Parliament, with protests at “Gauleiter Glock,” who was inflicting subversive foreign art upon innocent concertgoers. The Prom Concerts under Glock gained a reputation for a number of years as the most distinguished and exciting music festival in the world. For chamber music, the Thursday Invitation Concerts were created as broadcasts with an invited audience (the public could request free tickets) that mixed adventurous recent scores with music of the past.

Glock had hired Pierre Boulez as principal conductor of the BBC Symphony (along with Antal Dorati, who lasted only two years but helped to raise the technical level of the orchestra), and sent it on tour to America playing four programs of difficult twentieth-century music in two weeks in New York’s Carnegie Hall (a project that few orchestras could have matched at the time). The two concerts directed by Boulez were a revelation and a critical sensation, creating on the spot his international fame as a conductor. He received a contract from Columbia Masterworks (first from the British outlet and then the American, where Goddard Lieberson—who had already done a good deal for the promotion of difficult new music, Stravinsky above all—was head of artists and repertory). Boulez’s contract gave him carte blanche for repertory and a guarantee of a recording of all his own works. He immediately elected to do a complete set of Anton von Webern, although Columbia already had one that Lieberson had authorized.

A year or so later Glock said to me, “Pierre is going to break his contract with me and go to the New York Philharmonic. Do you think I should sue?”

“Would it do any good?” I asked.

“None at all,” he replied.

In his New York years, Boulez presented a small amount of difficult contemporary music, the largest part of it not on the main subscription concerts but in small events in Greenwich Village. He steadfastly refused to perform his own works with the Philharmonic, claiming that there was not enough time for rehearsal. After a few years in New York he had become one of the highest-paid conductors in the world, and France set about enticing him back with the promise of a lavishly subsidized modern sound laboratory and a highly paid chamber orchestra.

Taruskin remarks with a certain undignified satisfaction that American modernist composers were and are better known in Europe than in their native country, and explains this by the machinations of the CIA and the State Department, which is absurd. All contemporary music is better known in Europe, since almost all the countries there had a public radio system with some stations devoted entirely to classical music, and the musicians’ unions had enforced regulations that strictly limited the use of commercial recordings, requiring that most of the music must be either live or recorded by the stations. Many of the stations have their own orchestra. Their budgets far exceed that of any of the few classical music stations in America.

The relative, or even absolute, lack of success at home of the modernist American composers is not due to the absence of brainwashing propaganda, but to the fact that a great deal of modernist art (including painting, poetry, and novels) is rebarbative and challenging at first encounter and generally requires several experiences of it to be appreciated. This has, in fact, been true of most innovative music since the time of Mozart. Even modernist works that were, because of a dazzling display of different sonorities, great successes at their premieres, like Boulez’s Pli selon pli or Carter’s Double Concerto for Piano and Harpsichord, are, at the same time, initially disconcerting as well.

The lack of a public radio system in the United States that presents live performances regularly and has staff musicians means that there are many music-lovers in America who have never heard even one piece by Milton Babbitt, Roger Sessions, or Carter; or Béla Bartók, Aaron Copland, or Bohuslav Martinu˚, etc.; and the possibility of hearing any piece more than once is very dim. Of course, in addition, many of the performances are likely to be inadequate. Of Elliott Carter’s works, for example, I heard the song cycle Syringa based on poetry by John Ashbery three times and disliked it before enjoying it a year or two later on a fourth hearing.

I remember that my first experience of Bartók’s Fifth Quartet in 1944 caused a feeling of nausea. And when I first brought the Schoenberg Suite op. 25 to a lesson taught by Hedwig Kanner-Rosenthal, she said, “It sounds terrible: perhaps if you played it like Chopin, it would be better.” She was half right: played like Brahms, it improved, as she helped me to do with a few lessons. Curiously, she had studied harmony with Schoenberg, but like most Viennese musicians, had never heard any of his music. However, after the last lesson, she remarked, “It’s distressing. After this piece, when my other students bring me Mozart and Schumann, they sound too tame and simple.” The surest way of getting hooked on modernism is to try to make it sound significant and beautiful.

Taruskin begins his article with the figure of the composer Milton Babbitt and oddly ascribes to the cold war the formation of the Ph.D. program in musical composition at Princeton University, where Babbitt taught. As Taruskin puts it:

Babbitt’s composing and theorizing have always been symbiotic…; and for a while that symbiosis of music and analysis was powerfully institutionalized in the pioneering Princeton Ph.D. Program in composition and in its clones, the countless other degree programs that Princeton’s made not just possible but necessary…. That Princeton degree program, inaugurated in 1962, was a major trophy of the Cold War. The call for it had come in 1958, the year after Sputnik, in Babbitt’s celebrated if generally misunderstood manifesto “Who Cares If You Listen?”
Taruskin is surely too intelligent to claim seriously that Sputnik was an actual cause of the creation of the Ph.D. program, but he strategically places the phrase “the year after Sputnik” in the hope that his readers will be stupid enough to believe it.

Nevertheless, a Ph.D. in musical composition was created for reasons that Taruskin either does not know or does not wish to know but had nothing to do with international politics. In the 1950s, American universities were rated by the number of Ph.D.s on their faculties (although many prestigious professors did not then have a Ph.D., including the distinguished literary critic R..P. Blackmur, who did not even have a BA—he left Harvard in the middle of his undergraduate work, because, as he said, it interfered with his reading). Nevertheless, a Ph.D. became necessary to a job applicant. Graduate students in musical composition were awarded only a Doctorate of Music, while the prestigious Ph.D. was reserved for musicologists. This meant that when a post in a university music department for teaching harmony, counterpoint, and composition became open, it generally went to a young musicologist—a composer, as a mere D.Music was shut out of the job market.

This leads Taruskin to an attack, which has some justification, on the pretensions of artists to be uninfluenced by political considerations. It is true that we are all sometimes unaware of how politics impinges not only on our aesthetics but on our view of life and morals in general as well. Taruskin is inspired to affirm:

Equally squeamish—and equally strategic—is Charles Rosen’s phobic reaction to reception studies, by now the most widely practiced and uncontroversial aspect of contextualization.

This effectively confuses two issues. Contextualization treats the conditions, social and economic, of the moment in which the music was created. Reception studies, however, deal with the later history of the music, its influence, and its performance. I have, on the contrary, always insisted on the importance of reception studies, merely remarking from time to time that they do not totally replace the understanding that comes from listening to the music, and are not a substitute for an assessment of the inner workings, individuality, and effectiveness of the music.

Nor am I an enemy of contextualization, only of the cut-rate version that Taruskin is selling, which downgrades all serious studies by determining the ideology or significance of a work of music or art solely and simple-mindedly by the ideology of the social class of the individual patrons who paid for the work. (Since Professor Taruskin teaches at Berkeley, a traditional center of interest in the avant-garde, applying his variety of contextualization would identify the ideology of his crusade against difficult modernism with the policy of a state close to bankruptcy.)

In the end, this kind of historical criticism based upon a facile identification with class interest is what used to be stigmatized as “vulgar Marxism,” and it is astonishing to see its reappearance on the stage of postmodernist theory. Such criticism is only a novel way of avoiding any serious engagement with a work or a style that one happens not to like, a way of indulging one’s prejudices without admitting them, a way, in fact, of giving the impression of objectivity—exactly what I have charged Taruskin with in his writing on the twentieth century. Contextualization is an important tool of the historian, but it is never by itself a complete account of artistic success. Politics will inevitably influence some of our judgments, but to imply that all the favorable reactions quoted to Carter’s First Quartet were due entirely to political propaganda is not only ungenerous, but historically irresponsible—and it does not explain why the prestige of Carter’s work has endured for half a century.

Taruskin was admittedly psychologically troubled by the atmosphere of the cold war, much more so, I think, than most Americans, as he writes:
I believe it is fair to say that the Cold War gave Americans a far greater scare than any of our actual wars our armies fought overseas…. How could anyone’s psychic equilibrium remain undisturbed? (Mine was definitely unbalanced. I could never take seriously plans or promises that had to do with anything that lay more than a few days in the future.)
For me, on the contrary, the cold war years were a time of hope and looking forward. I got a Ph.D., made my first recordings and my New York debut, and obtained a two-year Fulbright fellowship to work in Paris. The 1950s were the time when I found stronger ties to modernism, which already interested me. But I was never a dodecaphonic fanatic, finding, as Elliott Carter did, that Schoenberg’s system was too constraining. On one occasion, however, I was indeed guilty of being promoted by the State Department. I had played a recital in New York, which received a favorable review in Time magazine with a two-column picture. The American embassy in Paris, when I returned to finish my Fulbright, was so impressed by the magazine’s attention that I had to repeat the concert in the embassy concert hall for an invited audience, although I had included no American music on my program.

I also confess that in 1953–1954 I played concertos with the symphony orchestra of the occupying 7th Army of the US stationed in Stuttgart, all young soldiers drafted from Juilliard, Curtis, and other music schools, and we toured Germany, Austria, France, and Denmark, performing the Schumann, Beethoven no. 4, and Brahms no. 2, promoting goodwill between the occupying forces and the local populace. I even persuaded the army radio to broadcast a performance by three members of the orchestra and myself of the Trio Sonata from the Musical Offering of J.S. Bach. As far as I know this was how I benefited from a “prestige machine” run by the US government.

(1) The Journal of Musicology , Vol. 26, Issue 2 (2009), pp. 274–284. ↩

(2) February 23 and March 9, 2006 .

Friday, April 22, 2011

Public Diplomacy as a Linguistic Phenomenon

Public Diplomacy -- according to the US State Department, "engaging, informing, and influencing key international audiences" -- was coined in the mid-1960s by Dean Edmund Gullion of the Fletcher School of Diplomacy as a term meant to be more acceptable than propaganda.

Public diplomacy continues to undergo interesting linguistic evolutions, as few persons can agree on what it actually means. Take, as a recent example of the opacity of the term, the headline of a front-page article (print version; also available online) in The Washington Post piece by Annys Shin, with the following headline: "DC Water chief turns on the public diplomacy to make tap hip again"
You may not think of George Hawkins when you flush your toilet, but Hawkins wants you to know that when you do, he’s thinking of you.

Hawkins is the endlessly upbeat head of DC Water, the agency that many District residents still associate with leaded tap water, ineffectual fire hydrants and chronic water main breaks. For 18 months, Hawkins, 50, has been trying to persuade the District’s residents to forget all that and get excited about the future. He wants to clean up the Anacostia River and cover the city with “green” roofs. And he wants D.C. residents to pay more to do it. A lot more — without getting angry.

To that end, he has shelved the bureaucratic sounding “D.C. Water and Sewer Authority” for the more Evian-worthy name “DC Water Is Life.” He has footage of himself on YouTube doing the robot at an office holiday party. And he’s trekked to every ward in the city, handing out bags of fresh popcorn and free water bottles while he regales his audience with the wonders of sewage treatment and the complexities of water distribution.
While The Post article focuses on Hawkins's domestic "public diplomacy" (Ms. Shin is evidently unaware of the little-known 1948 Smith-Mundt Act, which legislates that public diplomacy is a foreign, rather than domestic, USG activity) it does include a photograph

(above) with the following caption: "DC Water’s general manager, George Hawkins, right, points out features of the Blue Plains Advanced Wastewater Treatment Plant to a delegation from China."

And in USA Today, we have an article by Richard Wolf and David Jackson about White House Easter egg roll keeps getting bigger, noting that President Obama
has a $14.3 trillion national debt, an 8.8% unemployment rate, two wars and a re-election campaign to worry about. Even so, President Obama is making time Monday to have 30,000 people over for eggs. Not just any eggs: Easter eggs. ... Why all the fuss? ...

Public diplomacy. Over the years, its [the egg roll] popularity has grown, creating a backlog of disappointed children who didn’t make the cut. This year, 205,739 tickets were requested through an online lottery.
"The term 'public diplomacy,' US International Broadcasting guru Kim Andrew Elliott wisely noted, "is now attributed to so many activities that it has lost useful meaning."

If everything is public diplomacy, then nothing is public diplomacy. But that in itself may be an interesting subject of discussion, an intellectual pursuit on the essence of things that medieval monks and American academics, both concerned, in different historical periods, with how many angels can dance on a pin, share in common.

Yet in some ways, the below bluntness of Richard Holbrooke, who was a practicing diplomat, regarding public diplomacy -- a comment which, while lacking in subtlety and nuance, and somewhat oblivious to our new so-called "networked" world, where everyone is supposedly "interactive" and centrally-controlled Messages don't really count anymore -- is actually quite refreshing (like an icy shower), especially after one has endured yet another DC thinktank/ university discussion on the infinite varieties of PD, each suited to the "turfs" of various agencies/NGOs eager to increase their budgets through federal funding:
Call it public diplomacy, or public affairs, or psychological warfare, or -- if you really want to be blunt -- propaganda.
A comforting (after it's over) icy shower, but, I would agree, ultimately misleading. The world is indeed more complex than ever  -- a world where any kind of "definition" is actually an anachronism, as "defining" anything anymore in our multilayered societies has become increasingly impossible.

So no wonder the cottage industry of "what is PD" is thriving, not necessarily for the worst (or the best), in our age of uncertainty.

Yes, USG PD doesn't quite know what it's doing (is that just as well?), despite its so-called roadmap and the money we, the US taxpayer, spend on it.  Quite ironically a country challenging US hegemony  -- China -- is, to assert itself on the changing global stage, using the US Cold War model of public diplomacy, at the very time that some in the US (including in the current administration) are abandoning such a oh-so-twentieth century activity as too "top-down." Take, as an  example, the very words of the Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, Judith McHale (November 11, 2010):
I think that the more we can have people having direct conversations with each other — and through those conversations and initiatives, through history of cultures we can learn about each other and if we do that, at the people-to-people level, that will provide us with a path to a more peaceful and prosperous future. So it's a key part of what we're trying to do, to really have people engage with each other, to learn about each other. So it's not public diplomacy, it's not messaging, it's not just a marketing campaign [my highlight]. It's really fostering an environment where you can strengthen relationships between people.
US PD: Paradox? Rip-off? Investment? An Act of Faith? Winning Hearts and Minds?  Information War (as Hillary Clinton at one point suggested)? Mutual Understanding? Propaganda? Hit 'em Hard Through Our Message? Engagement? A Conversation? That monster of a word, "Strategic Communication"?

Maybe only God knows the answer.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

South Korean convicted of 'retweeting' North Korean propaganda

South Korean convicted of 'retweeting' North Korean propaganda - Herald Sun

A South Korea court today convicted a 55-year-old man for "retweeting" North Korean propaganda, the Yonhap news agency reported.

The man, surnamed Cho, was given a two-year suspended sentence for violating South Korea's National Security Law, in the first conviction of its type.

Cho relayed Twitter messages from communist North Korea's official website, Uriminzokkiri, which also releases information through the micro-blogging service.

Cho retweeted messages to 3,000 followers between August and December last year, the report said.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Public Diplomacy: Subtle vs Smart

Smart power vs subtle power By David Gosset, April 15, 2011

The United States administration has rebranded the country's foreign policy around the grand concept of "smart power", an expression which envelops great confidence if not self-satisfaction, and which, to a certain extent, presupposes a strategic dominance.

But if it wants to maintain a real capacity to influence world affairs, the West should not assume a position of intellectual superiority. Instead, it should try to comprehend what makes the success of the new global forces. While the US public diplomacy apparatus works to persuade the world of its benevolent "smart power", China is quietly reshaping the global village with the effectiveness of its "subtle power".

In the first half of the 21st century, the major redistribution of power and the great game of influence are obviously taking place between Washington and Beijing.

At the end of each decade which followed Deng Xiaoping's opening-up, all China watchers had to formulate the same observation: The gain of Beijing's relative power in the international system anticipated at the beginning of the period had always been underestimated.

Fundamentally, the analysts have been unable to assess and anticipate accurately China's momentum because they were preoccupied by what they viewed as China's structural inadequacies and did not comprehend Beijing's "subtle power" or its extraordinary adaptability. After all, Chinese leaders are not only in charge of the People's Republic of China, but responsible for the renaissance of a civilization state as well.

While China's re-emergence corrects a development imbalance triggered by Europe's industrial revolution in the 18th century - Kenneth Pomeranz's "great divergence" - the re-entry of one-fifth of mankind on the center stage of history also marks the beginning of a period where different types of modernity have to coexist. Beyond more tangible economic or political multipolarity, one should pay great attention to a global contention of ideas without complacency or condescension, and realize that China's role in the global intellectual debate will be proportionate to the depth of its ancient civilization.

The unique combination of size, speed and scope, which characterizes China's transformation, has no equivalent in world history. At the end of last month, Justin Yifu Lin, World Bank vice-president, declared at the China Economic Development Forum in Hong Kong that China's economy will be the world's biggest by 2030; in 1978, China's economic output was less than 2 percent of the world total.

When Goldman Sachs made its first forecasts for the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) economies in 2003, experts said China would overtake the US by 2041. But now they mention 2027 as being the year of the highly symbolic shift. Standard Chartered has announced that the change would take place by 2020.

Some figures are more explicit than lengthy prose: In the 1980s, China's contribution to total world GDP growth was 3.6 percent; in the 1990s, 9.6 percent; and in the first decade of this century, 25.5 percent. With such momentum, the results of a 2010 Pew Research Center survey are not surprising: 74 percent Chinese are optimistic about the future against 52 percent Americans and 40 percent Europeans.

Despite the acceleration of a process which puts China in a position of growing strength, many still point to what they perceive as Beijing's weak soft power. This is, for example, the view of the venerable American political scientist Joseph Nye.

But such an emphasis may be explained in relation to a perceptive remark of Italo Calvino in Invisible Cities: "It is not the voice that commands the story: It is the ear." Or, more precisely, the China story is often rewritten in fiction which can be reassuring for Western ears but which does not always reflect reality. One should not approach China as an intrinsically imperfect entity whose reach will be limited by some essential inadequacies. Rather one should look at it as a developing force on the way to fully realize truly unique potential.

While the West would like to believe that China's progress is synonymous with Westernization, the Chinese renaissance is in fasct the renewal and reaffirmation of the Chinese identity. In other words, the West would like to re-create China in its image - and, by doing so, help to solve the so-called China's image problem. But China's representation of itself cannot correspond to such a fantasy.

Interestingly, the Western discourse on China's so-called lack of soft power could be another case of Western-centrism. Indeed, it can be argued that China is not trying to conform to Western models, to adopt foreign standards or to operate according to exogenous references but developing a sui generis modus operandi in a permanent effort to maximize effectiveness.

If the notion of "smart power", an approach strongly advocated by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, is generally defined as the combination of hard and soft powers, "subtle power", China's way of extending influence, can be described as the art of using three minimalist axioms - non-confrontation, non-interference and readiness for paradigm change - compatible with classical Chinese strategic thinking.

As to what the West perceives as a Chinese soft power deficit, China can be puzzled - sometimes amused - by what it frames as the US' lack of "subtle power".

China can, of course, work to increase its "smart power" as much as the US or others can be inspired by the idea of "subtle power", but the US will remain more at ease with the grand principles of "smart power" and China more in its element with the restrained but penetrating force of "subtle power".

Laozi, 2,500 years ago, prepared the Chinese mind to a world of paradoxes: "The sage relying on actionless activity (wu wei) carries on wordless teaching". He also famously described the most subtle skills necessary to maintain internal political equilibrium, an ideal preparation for the infinite nuances of effective diplomacy: "Ruling an immense country is like cooking a small fish."

Also, he noticed that "the highest good is like that of water", and explained that "nothing under heaven is softer or more yielding than water" even if "one cannot alter it". In the 21st century, China's "subtle power", softer than Joseph Nye's soft power, will quietly extend its influence and it is in the highest interest of the West not to underestimate the force of the Chinese momentum. In a sense, as it might be smart for China to increase its soft power by articulating a universal narrative, the wise thing for the West to do would be to learn from China's "subtle power" by showing less but achieving more.


The author is director of the Euro-China Center for International and Business Relations at China Europe International Business School, Shanghai & Beijing, and founder of the Euro-China Forum.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Turning US Public Diplomacy into "Counterterrorism"
The State Department's Counterterrorism Office: Budget, Reorganization, Policies

Daniel Benjamin

Coordinator, Office of the Coordinator for CounterterrorismTestimony Before the Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade of the House Foreign Affairs Committee

Washington, DC

April 14, 2011

U.S. Department of State

Chairman Royce, Ranking Member Sherman, and Distinguished Members of the Committee:

Thank you for the opportunity to appear before this Committee today. I thought this would be a good opportunity to discuss the State Department’s concept of strategic counterterrorism and the plans outlined in the QDDR for the State Department to work with Congress to transform the Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism (S/CT) into a full-fledged bureau. We certainly feel that the change will strengthen our work within the interagency and with partners around the world. S/CT and the State Department have assumed a growing role in counterterrorism over the past several years and have moved beyond coordination into an essential policymaking and programming role for the U.S. Government.

When S/CT was established more than 30 years ago, its primary mission was to help coordinate the U.S. Government’s counterterrorism-related activities. Since counterterrorism was not the priority for the U.S. Government in the early 1980s that it is today, it was envisioned that S/CT could carry out these responsibilities with a fairly small staff. In the wake of 9/11, the resources and attention devoted grew across a wide spectrum, and while coordination remains important, we do much more.

Within the U.S. Government, a Bureau of Counterterrorism, of course, would continue to be the State Department lead on U.S. counterterrorism strategy and operations, and would continue its formulation and implementation of relevant policy and programs. The Bureau would work to both thwart imminent terrorist acts while also reducing recruitment and radicalization and promoting the relevant capabilities of partner states. Furthermore, it would advance the Department’s views on the management of counterterrorism and homeland security issues within the broader context of our bilateral, regional, and multilateral relationships. It would thus work to safeguard American security interests while promoting our values, including our support for human rights, democracy, and the rule of law. It would also coordinate the Department and interagency response to complex counterterrorism crises through a variety of mechanisms including leading the Foreign Emergency Support Team. Finally, it would manage a wide range of programs, within the department, that build partner capacity in the areas of law enforcement, countering violent extremism, counterterrorism finance, and terrorist travel.

Over the past ten years, the United States has made great strides in tactical counterterrorism – taking individual terrorists off the street, disrupting cells, and thwarting conspiracies. Yet if we look at the strategic level, we continue to see a strong flow of new recruits into many of the most dangerous terrorist organizations. A Bureau of Counterterrorism would continue to work aggressively with our interagency counterparts to stop imminent and developing threats. But it would also carry forward and expand the work underway to undermine the appeal of extremist ideologies and help many partners develop the tools to deal with the terrorist threats they face.

We are in the midst of a season of transformative change in the Middle East, the full implications of which are still taking shape. The wave of democratic demonstrations that began to sweep the Arab world at the end of 2010 holds promise but also some peril. Because great numbers of citizens carried out their public demands for change without reference to al-Qaida’s (AQ’s) incendiary world view, these events upended the group’s longstanding claims that change would only come to the region through violence. At the same time, the political turmoil distracted security officials and led to the possibility that terrorist groups would exploit the new openness and find it easier to carry out conspiracies – a possibility with significant, worrisome implications for states undergoing democratic transitions. But should the revolts result in democratically-elected, non-autocratic governments, AQ’s single-minded focus on terrorism as an instrument of political change could be severely delegitimized. This is a moment of great possibility for American policy.

That is the long-term hope, and we will work hard to realize it. Before we discuss that effort, let me just review some key aspects of the current threat landscape. I will start in South Asia, home to the group behind the September 11 attacks.

Pakistan, particularly the Federally Administered Tribal Areas region and the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, continues to be used as a base for terrorist organizations operating in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and Pakistani security forces have undertaken efforts to counter these threats. While Pakistan has made progress on the counterterrorism front, specifically against Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the challenge remains to make these gains durable and sustainable. To this end, Pakistan must sustain its efforts to deny AQ safe haven in the tribal areas of western Pakistan. We continue to press Pakistan for increased action against Lashkar-e Tayyiba and terrorist groups that undermine the security of Pakistan, the region, and beyond.

Though the AQ core has become weaker, it retains the capability to conduct regional and transnational attacks. In addition, the affiliates have grown stronger. Indeed, over the last two years we’ve seen the AQ threat become more distributed and geographically diversified – in Yemen, East Africa, and the Sahel, for example.

Terrorist violence from al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has been directed inside and outside of Yemen, threatening the security and well-being of the Yemeni people, the broader Arabian Peninsula, and the United States. Yemen also faces an array of other challenges, including a fractured political system that many Yemenis no longer trust, as shown by the increasing number of protests calling for change from the entire political establishment.

In recent months al-Qa’ida in Iraq (AQI) has adapted to changing conditions, diminished capacity, and dismantled leadership to continue to carry out large-scale and coordinated attacks against government officials, security forces, and even civilians inside Iraq. AQI is believed to be responsible for the late March attack on the Salah Ad-Din Provincial Council (PC) Headquarters in central Iraq that resulted in the killing of 15 hostages execution style and up to 30 additional fatalities, including the three PC members and a local journalist. Iraqi CT efforts have improved since September and Iraqi security forces are leading successful operations and targeting AQI, which will prove critical as US military forces draw down over the next few months.

The situation in Somalia also remains deeply concerning. Al-Shabaab has conducted frequent attacks on government, military, and civilian targets inside Somalia, and the group’s leadership remains actively interested in attacking regional U.S. and Western interests. Last July we saw al-Shabaab demonstrate its ability and intent to carry out attacks outside of Somalia when it claimed responsibility for twin suicide bombings that killed 76 people in Kampala, Uganda, during the World Cup.

Al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) is another threat. No group has made a bigger name for itself in the kidnapping-for-ransom business than AQIM, which relies on ransom payments to sustain and develop itself in the harsh Saharan environment. AQIM also conducts small scale ambushes and attacks on security forces in Algeria, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger. Regional efforts to contain and marginalize AQIM continue, as do our military and law enforcement capacity building efforts.

We could discuss any number of other trouble spots, in Southeast Asia, Western Europe, the Levant, and elsewhere. However, for the purposes of discussing policy developments that will help us with all of these, I would like to turn to the three pillars of our effort to take counterterrorism to a strategic level and to be genuinely comprehensive in our approach. These pillars are reducing recruitment, building partner capacity, and multilateral engagement.

Reducing Recruitment/Countering Violent Extremism

The Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) work of S/CT focuses on three main lines of effort that will reduce terrorist recruitment: delegitimizing the violent extremist narrative in order to diminish its "pull"; developing positive alternatives for youth vulnerable to radicalization to diminish the "push" effect of grievances and unmet expectations; and building partner capacity to carry out these activities. Key intents of CVE programming are to diminish the drivers of radicalization and demonstrably reduce the effectiveness of terrorist propaganda, thus leading to lowered numbers in recruitment.

To counter AQ propaganda, we helped stand up the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communication (CSCC), under the Bureau of Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, to push back against AQ’s online and media activities. The CSCC, working with the interagency, focuses not only on the violent actions and human costs of terrorism, but also on positive narratives that can help dissuade those who may be susceptible to radicalization and recruitment by terrorist organizations. One emphasis of the CSCC’s work has been re-orienting the Digital Outreach Team to place greater emphasis on challenging the purveyors of extremist messages online, in Arabic and Urdu. This has included producing original video content. [JB highlight]

Successful CVE involves more than messaging, however, and we are working with the interagency to develop programs that address the upstream factors of radicalization in communities particularly susceptible to terrorist recruitment overseas. Efforts include providing alternatives for at-risk youth, encouraging the use of social media to generate local initiatives, and enhancing the resilience of communities to counter extremism.

Research has shown that radicalization is often driven by factors at the local level. To be effective, CVE work needs to be driven by local needs, informed by local knowledge, and responsive to the immediate concerns of the community. CVE interventions will be highly focused and short-term and will be developed in cooperation with USAID and others in the interagency as well as with international partners. CVE programs will address the drivers of radicalism through stabilization and remediation projects along with efforts to supplant radicalizing institutions and voices. Micro-strategies customized for specific communities – and even neighborhoods – owned and implemented by local civil society or government partners have a better chance of succeeding and enduring.

Another central part of the bureau’s CVE effort is strengthening our partners’ capacity and engagement in CVE work, propagating best practices, and building an international consensus behind the effort to delegitimize extremists and their ideologies. Ultimately, host governments are best positioned to execute truly sustainable CVE efforts. For several years now we have supported host government local law enforcement efforts overseas to engage youth through police-led sports programs and have worked with Morocco and Indonesia to counter the spread of violent extremist ideologies in prisons.

S/CT’s own programmatic resources are modest. To date, our CVE programming has been limited to the Ambassador’s Fund for Counterterrorism, a mechanism that delivers small grant funding to embassies that present solid proposals to counter violent extremism at the local level. A summary of activities funded since inception in FY-2008, as well as FY-2010 approved-but-not-funded intentions, can be provided.

Capacity Building

One of the central challenges to our security is that weak states serve as breeding grounds for terrorism and instability. When those states recognize that these gaps exist, we can help with specific capacity building programs. We need to build effective law enforcement capacity, fair and impartial justice and the rule of law, good governance in many places that have never known this. Multiple U.S. Government agencies are mobilized in this effort: Justice, FBI, Treasury, USAID, and the Department of Homeland Security.

Let me provide a couple of examples. We believe that the current protracted political standoff is having an adverse impact on the security situation in Yemen which is likely to deteriorate even more rapidly until President Saleh is able to resolve the current political impasse by announcing how and when he will follow through on his commitments. But our shared interest with the Yemeni Government in fighting terrorism, particularly defeating AQAP, does not rely solely on one individual. Given the interlinked nature of Yemen’s challenges, and the implications for U.S. interests, we adopted a comprehensive and sustained approach taking into account political, cultural, socio-economic, and security factors. Our strategy has two main prongs – helping the government confront the immediate security threat from AQAP, and mitigating the serious political, economic, and governance issues that the country faces over the long term. To help meet immediate security concerns, we have provided training and equipment to particular units of the Yemeni security forces with counterterrorist and border control responsibilities. Our counterterrorism efforts have been affected by the political unrest as the Yemeni Government is focused on maintaining internal security.

In the Sahel region, where al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb has shown a troubling resilience and an ability to raise substantial resources by kidnapping for ransom, we have an extensive multinational capacity building-program, the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership, which will run until at least 2013. The overall goals are to enhance the indigenous capacities of governments in the pan-Sahel (Mauritania, Mali, Chad, and Niger, as well as Nigeria, Senegal, and Burkina Faso); to confront the challenges posed by terrorist organizations in the trans-Sahara; and to facilitate cooperation between those countries and U.S. partners in the Maghreb (Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia).

The Antiterrorism Assistance Program

One of our most effective capacity building programs is the Antiterrorism Assistance (ATA) Program, the primary provider of U.S. Government antiterrorism training and equipment to law enforcement agencies of partner nations. Last year, in Fiscal Year 2010, $215 million in Nonproliferation, Antiterrorism, Demining, and Related programs (NADR) funds supported approximately 350 ATA courses, workshops, and technical consultations that trained almost 7000 participants from 64 countries. In FY 2010, the ATA Program also completed 23 capabilities assessments and program review visits. These on-site assessments looked at critical counterterrorism capabilities and served as a basis for Country Assistance Plans and the evaluation of subsequent progress.

In FY 2011 and FY 2012, the number of active partner countries is decreasing to about 55 in an effort to ensure we are strategically focusing our resources on building partner CT capacity in the right places. While one of the goals of the program is certainly to build relationships with partner nation law enforcement, my role is to ensure that the right countries are in the program, and that the ATA program is most active where there is a nexus of CT threats, U.S. interests, and partners’ political will to address shared CT concerns with CT training. The ATA program is most effective where countries have a combination of political will and basic law enforcement skills to be most receptive to the advanced training ATA provides. This relatively successful formula has been especially evident in Indonesia, Colombia, Turkey, and parts of North Africa. Through an emphasis on train-the-trainer courses, we are working with partner nations toward the goal of institutionalization and self-sustainment of capacities. We also are moving toward giving advising and mentoring an importance similar to training and equipping. Finally, we ensure that our programs are based on long-term strategic country and regional plans, integrated with other providers of security sector assistance at the State Department and in the interagency.

Multilateral Engagement

Building new and strengthening existing partnerships is a cornerstone of this Administration’s counterterrorism policy. The United States cannot address the threat alone and the UN and other multilateral bodies have resources and expertise that we need to do a better job of leveraging.

With our funding support and guidance, we are getting the UN and regional bodies to focus on practical projects that target critical issues and countries. For example, the UN is bringing together national practitioners from key countries to share experiences and identify best practices in the prosecution and rehabilitation of terrorists. It is also about to embark on a two-year project that will provide much needed counterterrorism training to judges, prosecutors, and parliamentarians in Yemen.

S/CT has been working to develop a new multilateral counterterrorism initiative, which we believe would not only be an important step forward but would address a significant gap in the international counterterrorism architecture: the lack of a central, reliable inter-governmental platform that allows policymakers and practitioners from different regions to engage on a sustained basis on various counterterrorism issues. I would be happy to brief you further, in private, on this important initiative which has strong support from both the White House and Secretary Clinton.

All of this work goes on in the context of vigorous diplomatic engagement. We have formal bilateral counterterrorism consultations with numerous countries. Among them are Australia, Canada, China, Israel, Egypt, Japan, Pakistan, Algeria, Russia, and India; these consultations have strengthened our counterterrorism partnerships so we can complement one another’s efforts in pursuit of a comprehensive approach to our common challenges. And, for example, within the U.S.-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue, I co-chair a working group on law enforcement and counterterrorism efforts that is working on issues ranging from prosecutorial training to border security. In addition, we regularly consult with a broader range of countries to help build their political will and capacity to take effective action against terrorists.

While AQ and its affiliates are our highest priority in our diplomatic engagement on terrorism-related issues, Hamas and Hizballah remain a major focus as well. Both are capable and dangerous terrorist organizations that continue to play destabilizing roles in the Middle East. Both are aggressively building their stockpile of weapons and these organizations are increasing their lethal capabilities, which pose a serious threat to broader regional stability. In our bilateral engagement, we regularly press countries to take action on any Hamas and Hizballah presence and activities taking place in their country. Given that Hamas and Hizballah operate well beyond Gaza and Lebanon, respectively, we have many opportunities to raise these issues. In some cases, we have publicly called out countries for the support they are providing, as we did last year with Syria when we discovered that they were facilitating the transfer of SCUD missiles to Hizballah. More often we do so quietly through bilateral channels, as we have over the past year with our European allies, whom we have been pressing to crack down on Hamas fundraising, since Europe remains an important source of funds for the group. We’ve asked the Europeans to take action, particularly against Hamas fundraising fronts, at both the EU and member state level. We plan to remain focused on this issue, and will continue to encourage the Europeans to take action.

Before I conclude, I’d like to briefly touch on two other important aspects of S/CT’s work:

Designations and Terrorist Financing

A Bureau on Counterterrorism would strengthen both the Department’s formulation of USG policy on terrorist financing and its efforts to build foreign governments’ counterterrorism finance capacity. Among the instruments the U.S. Government wields for increasing the pressure on terrorist groups and individuals are the designations of Foreign Terrorist Organizations and the designation of entities and individuals as Specially Designated global terrorists under E.O. 13224. We have the lead role within the Department in both initiating these actions and working with the UN Security Council to add relevant domestic designations to the 1267 Committee’s Consolidated List. The Bureau would continue to certify countries as not fully cooperating with U.S. antiterrorism efforts and also facilitate the listing of State Sponsors of Terrorism.

Coordinating with the Department of Homeland Security

As the effort to secure the homeland from external terrorist threats has become a central part of U.S. foreign policy, the need for coordination between relevant agencies has become a critical challenge to maintaining a unitary foreign policy. The new Counterterrorism Bureau would serve as the counterterrorism/homeland security nexus within the State Department and would lead homeland security policy coordination on cross-cutting issues for State. For example, the Bureau would continue to lead the State Department’s close partnership with DHS to develop new screening practices for international air cargo and mail, which involves extensive consultations with the Universal Postal Union, the International Civil Aviation Organization, and our allies overseas. In addition, the Bureau would continue to play a key role within the U.S. Government on air passenger security screening procedures. This supports USG efforts to ensure that the public can travel in safety while also promoting the free flow of international commerce and mail. The new Bureau would continue the State Department’s lead in negotiating agreements with foreign governments on the exchange of terrorist screening information to enhance the ability to interdict terrorists.


In conclusion, the threat is formidable but we are making some progress. I firmly believe that countering violent extremism, multilateral engagement, and building local capacity – through our various programs and with our Department and interagency partners – provide us with the tools to make lasting progress in our fight against terrorism. We are requesting your support to make sure that these tools are fully funded at the level requested, especially for building capacity and countering violent extremism. Al-Qa’ida has proven itself a nimble adversary, and in the race to protect the United States and to stay "one step ahead" we should ensure that the tools of civilian power continue to serve national security interests. This is an enduring challenge. Staying sharp, improving our offense, strengthening our defense and maintaining our intellectual edge – these are all essential. I believe that we are on the right track.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Trouble with the Peace Corps

The trouble with the Peace Corps, no matter how admirable an expression of American "volunteerism," is clear from the heading of these essays from the esteemed journal American Diplomacy:

"How my Peace Corps experience changed me" essays [my highlight and underline]

The American obsession: Me, me, me.

"Let's talk about something interesting -- let's talk about me." 

Well,  I know this is politically incorrect, but I would suggest that the PC is, bottom line, a vast system of outdoor relief for mostly young, temporarily jobless well-educated Americans trying, above all, to "discover themselves" first and "helping/listening to others" second. Not that the two are necessarily contradictory, but when high-paying jobs are hard to get, I figure going abroad as a PC volunteer will look good on my resume when I get back to the homeland (except, of course, when I'm of a certain age and never expect to be fully employed again in this cut-throat economy now that I've lost my job).

The Peace Corps program, for all its achievements, should abandon its late-twentieth century paradigm, which is basically "us" supposedly teaching "them." Why not make it, in our interactive age, not just "us" enlightening foreigners, but foreigners enlightening "us."

And I don't mean "enlightening us" so that we may use those we supposedly "teach" as an instrument of narcissistic self-discovery or career self-promotion, but rather as a way of actually learning about persons other than ourselves.

Concrete examples of "them" helping "us" by showing "us" that there is more than "us" : Ukrainian college graduates teaching mathematics in American high schools. African teachers giving courses about Africa at American summer camps. Bloggers from Indonesia instructing underpriviledged kids in US inner cities about the internet. Mexican teachers offering classes in Spanish.

That would be a good message about who's actually enlightening whom.

Congratulations on your fiftieth anniversary, PC, but it's also time for you -- "us" -- to grow up!