essay / Manuel Lamela

The skill to communicate, to weave alliances, to generate a narrative... These are characteristics of what is understood today as public diplomacy. Although it covers a wide variety of topics and areas, we can say that we are referring to power in its communicative facet, for which States compete in a degree program of ideas in order to appropriate the "story" and generate greater influence on a global scale. This struggle for the dominance of thought is not new, but in the last half of the twentieth century, concepts were generated to illustrate this conflict between states, which perhaps before the Cold War was in the background, and they appeared programs of study To analyze this subject of strategies. Despite this, it is enough to take a look at the classics to see clear references to what we currently understand as Public Diplomacy; thus, in works such as Sun Tzu's "Art of War", great importance and value is given to information, both internal and external, and its control is presented as synonymous with triumph in most cases.

Despite the novelty of the concept, Public Diplomacy has undergone several changes and transformations with the entrance of the new century. Along with the importance of non-state actors already present in the past century, we now find a significant increase in the weight that individuals have when it comes to shaping or influencing the policies of their states. The increase is undoubtedly due to the emergence and "democratization" of the internet and, more recently, to the total dependence that exists in populations on the use of social networks. Leaving aside the discussion On whether social networks bring benefits or rather their uncontrolled use generates deficits, which is not relevant in this analysis, what is clear is that social networks create a clear status of vulnerability conducive to state intervention and control, both domestic and foreign.

Given this metamorphosis in terms of diplomacy, various concepts have begun to be coined, such as diplomacy in the United States. network, cybersecurity diplomacy, etc., which are currently present in most State strategies and which encompass the phenomena discussed in the previous paragraph. Within these new strategic plans, think tanks acquire great relevance and importance as generators of ideas and shapers of public opinion, given their hybrid nature of bringing together internship with theory and its mission statement to bring the foreign policy of its various states closer to the general public. Think tanks are, without a doubt, a clear example of soft power exercise. They position themselves as ideological pillars in the construction of new narratives, generating a competitive advantage over the rest.

Anglo-Saxon History and Leadership

Anglo-Saxon hegemony in cementing the values and ideas that constitute the liberal international order is closely related to the origins of the first think tanks and their role within those societies. Modern think tanks emerged during World War II as safe rooms where the U.S. military could develop and plan war strategies. Rand Corporation was founded in 1948 with the goal of promote and protect U.S. interests abroad. Funded and sponsored by the Administration, RAND will inspire and serve as an example for the emergence of new think tanks linked to the U.S. government. Although most of the renowned think tanks appeared in the 1950s, there are several previous examples, both in American and British society, that illustrate in a more obvious way the reason for their leadership in the degree program of idea generation.

At the end of the 19th century, the Fabian Society was founded in the United Kingdom, a syndicalist organization that laid the foundations for the creation of the Labour Party. On the other side of the Atlantic, examples abound: the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (CEIP) and the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace, created by former President Herbert Hoover, emerged prior to the 1920s and exemplify the importance of this subject of associations in American society. But if there is one case worth highlighting, it is that of the Brookings Institution, which was founded in 1916 under the name of the Institute for Government Research (IGR). This philanthropic corporation is one of the first private organizations dedicated to the study and analysis of public policies at the national level; Over the years, its importance and relevance will increase until it becomes the most prestigious and influential think tank in the world.

From the 1980s onwards, the phenomenon of the think tank multiplied and expanded to continental Europe, where associations dedicated to analysis and analysis began to be created. research in those fields. Intellectual production in the old continent had been worryingly scarce after the war. So the need to get the machine of ideas back into operation was vital to make sense of the new united Europe and to gain some independence from the Anglo-Saxon world. Today, 55% of the world's think tanks are spread across the US and Western Europe.

With the entrance In the turn of the century, we have seen a significant increase in the issue think tanks on the Asian continent, with the mission statement to rename and redirect Western ideas and even to generate their own ideas, which is popularly known as the "Asian Way". Undoubtedly, the emergence of China as a major world power is essential in the growth of think tanks in Asia. The "sleeping dragon" seeks to consolidate its global position with the creation of a new diplomacy that exports the statement of core values China to all corners of the world, a process in which the New Silk Road will play a fundamental role as a distribution channel. Along with China, the other threat to Western dominance is Russia, which, thanks to its high quality in terms of human capital in matters of intelligence and diplomacy, always positions itself as a fierce competitor, despite the fact that its material resources are smaller. In the case of Latin America and Africa, their contribution continues to be residual and with limited influence at the regional level; the issue think tanks on these two continents account for less than 20% globally.

Types of think tanks

Two different forms of think tanks have already been mentioned in this analysis: the case of RAND as a association closely linked to the U.S. government and the case of Brookings as an independent organization. Within the think tank community there is a great diversity and we can categorize them according to their funding, whether or not they present ideology, their composition, their approach discipline... Today, the most important ranking of think tanks is the one provided annually by the University of Pennsylvania with its report "Think Tanks and Civil Society Program". This report is dedicated to evaluating and classifying the different think tanks that exist today.

The report It provides the following categories:



Think tanks linked to the university or government sphere continue to account for the majority of cases, while think tanks linked to the university or government continue to account for the majority of cases. research profit-making companies are a growing minority.

The Influence of Ideas on U.S. Politics

It is interesting to analyze how Robert D. Kaplan's book "Balkan Ghosts" decisively influenced the American intervention in the Balkan war, and paradoxically led years later, in 2003, to the invasion of Iraq. Kaplan himself, in another of his great works, "The Revenge of Geography," blames the upper echelons of American society for being infected by an unbridled idealism that resulted in underestimating the transcendental role that history and physical geography play in determining the future of nations.

The role played by the various pressures exerted by American think tanks in the invasion of Iraq is the perfect example to illustrate the capital importance that ideas can have when it comes to conducting a state's foreign policy.

Originally, think tanks were born as advisory bodies aimed at providing financial aid and committee to the U.S. government. With the advance of the Cold War and later with the Internet revolution, the need for ideas and independent policy-making became a primary necessity for the United States, which saw in think tanks the best possible solution to nourish itself from the Internet. committee of experts.

The ability to generate new and original ideas away from the political stratum, together with the educational capacity, are two of the main factors that have led to think tanks being considered as benchmarks when it comes to shaping US foreign policy. The direct influence they have is one of the fundamental characteristics that distinguishes them from those existing in other regions, such as Europe, where they are more tied to the academic field; In the U.S., think tanks have a real impact on state policies. It is in these "factories of thought" that the values and ideas with which they will try to sweeten foreign policy and thus expand their sphere of influence to all corners of the globe are built. The mission statement Identifying and solving future problems and conflicts is another of the main tasks of think tanks. They do not always consider themselves government allies and often lead the fiercest criticism; In any case, the autonomy they enjoy is what makes them perceived as a highly valuable asset within American society.


Think Tanks in the world


The export of the model to Europe

In Europe, the issue think tanks have multiplied since the 1980s, but their issue and relevance are still very distant from the Anglo-Saxon world. In the list of the most important think tanks created by the University of Pennsylvania, only two belong to the European Union: the Institut Français des Relations Internationales and the Belgian Bruegel. The model The American think tank has been both praised and criticized, and the option of imitating it has been discussed in many countries and carried out in many others. Critics of its implementation believe that history and tradition play a fundamental role in making it extremely difficult to export the product. model.

Traditionally, in Europe, universities have been responsible for developing the statement of core values European, and in the past they were very successful in making Europe the vanguard of humanity. Today, however, Europe does not enjoy the leading role it had in other historical periods; the fact is that it has been ideologically outmaneuvered by the United States and has had no choice but to commune with the latter in order to confront greater threats. The latter, together with the greater complexity of the problems in the current panorama and the status In the European Union, it is necessary to renew the European social contract and generate a new narrative that brings European citizens together around a new cause, with the spirit of the Treaties of Rome as a great reference and starting point.

To carry out such an arduous task, think tanks are presented as one of the possible solutions and tools of financial aid. Given its nature of bringing together academia and politics, the creation of new ideas and values that revitalise European society will allow us to aspire to higher qualities. Another key factor is the flexibility of the model think tank, which will generate greater accessibility within civil society, making citizens feel involved and that, ultimately, written request, political participation increases, so that bonds of trust are strengthened rather than broken, as is predicted to happen. As we mentioned in the U.S. case, the value of educational it is another of the main characteristics and will serve as a solution to several of the problems that plague Europe today, such as the rise of extremist parties of different stripes.

Europe has a duty to generate a narrative with which its citizens can identify, and without a doubt the power of ideas will play a fundamental role in the success or failure of this task.

The think tank phenomenon is already one of the models on which the public diplomacy of various States gravitates. The eternal conflict to dominate the world's spheres of thought will continue to be present, so think tanks will continue to grow and develop, gaining more and more relevance at the international level. In the hierarchy of dominance, ideas occupy the last rung, behind individuals, physical geography, and history; However, since ideas are a pure human intellectual creation, they constitute a force of control and movement of the first step, the individuals.



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Katarzyna rybka-iwanska . (2017). 5 reasons why Think tank are soft power tools. 1/11/2018, from USC Center for Public Diplomacy website.

Robert D. Kaplan. (1993). The Balkan Ghosts: A Journey to the Origins of the Bosnia-Kosovo Conflict. United States: S.A. Ediciones B.

Robert D. Kaplan. (2012). The Revenge of Geography. United States: RBA Books.

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