The Rolling Stones – Rebels without a Cause

The image of Bono taking centre stage once again at Davos on a panel about ‘Raising Healthy Children’ could easily open up another grueling debate about the merits of the U2 lead singer as a global celebrity activist. This is a subject I have commented on in the past, notably in the Global Governance journal. Although I take an extremely positive view of Bono’s efforts (to the point of suggesting that there is a dynamic that can be termed the Bono-ization of diplomacy!), the criticism of his role as a development campaigner has to be taken seriously. Such attacks include delving into his private financial affairs pertaining to the movement of some of his corporate profile for tax advantages.

Whatever readers think about the ethical motivations and application of such hard-edged practices a bigger question has to be asked. Should we target Bono for criticism because he combines, musical entertainment, business self interest and celebrity advocacy at the same time?  Can we let the older generation of rock stars off the hook for focusing on the first two activities without any sustained effort on the third?

My attention to this issue is influenced in part by my reading Keith Richards’s autobiography (Life) over the holidays. I came away with two very different thoughts. The first was a reaffirmation of the view that talents need to be cultivated if not by vigor of tiger moms and the 10,000 hours rule (the length of time that Malcolm Gladwell suggests it takes to become an expert in any field). What drives the success of the Rolling Stones is how much practice they put in.

More in tune with the theme of this blog, however, is that there has never been any focused move by the Rolling Stones to do anything that benefited the public good. They were quite explicitly rebels without a genuine cause. Above all self -indulgence trumped any sense of giving back.

To be sure, this attitude can be rationalized by a number of factors. The Stones were quite clearly ripped off by promoters and managers at the early stage of their career.  And in the pre-Thatcher era they had to pay massive amounts of tax, pushing them to live abroad. They even titled one of their biggest albums, Exiles on Main Street.

Yet opportunities were there for them to expand their horizons. Bianca Jagger became interested in a wide range of causes by the late 1970s but this triggered no similar commitment on Mick Jagger’s part (apart from some apparently low-key and much later project participation such as lending his voice to an education campaign in South Africa in early 2010 and work on a UN charity album in 2009).

Keith Richards was obviously impressed by Václav Havel the Czech intellectual president but there was no spillover effect after a concert in Prague. Even Eric Clapton, a well-known advocate of the view that rock stars should just ‘keep to the music’ has set up and continued to maintain a strong connection with a non-profit drug rehabilitation centre on the Caribbean island of Antigua (part of a region that Mick and Keith spent much time). Keeping to strict parameters about how rock stars should behave made the Rolling Stones immensely wealthy but in comparison to Bono the impression is one of restricted lives. It seems perverse then that the U2 singer comes under such criticism for stretching out in terms of celebrity engagement when the Rolling Stones are free of such criticism by downplaying social engagement.

The Lure of Bollywood – Another Celebrity Front

The global reach of Bollywood is increasing apparent. As just one illustration, Toronto Canada has been full of buzz this week due to the visit of Slumdog Millionaire star Anil Kapoor and the announcement that the City will host the International Indian Film Academy conference and awards this upcoming June.

The question is whether or not the power of Bollywood could (or even should) be mobilized as a component of celebrity diplomacy.

When I visited India in early 2008 after my book on Celebrity Diplomacy came out I considered this a good idea and wrote about it at the time.

Struck by the “soft power potential” of the Indian film industry across South Asia, West Asia and Africa, I suggested, “If [film stars] can go through some training by the government, they can be a huge asset for the country.”

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in June 2008 publically endorsed such an approach, noting India’s ‘soft power’, especially the film industry, can be put to use as “a very important instrument of foreign policy”.

Yet, what has been revealed by WikiLeaks is not a concerted effort by India to mobilize the influence of Bollywood star power. Rather the push came from the US as part of a wider campaign of public diplomacy with regard to two sensitive and interconnected domains.

On one front the US attempted to mobilize Bollywood film directors to fight militancy within the UK’s Muslim community. According to the reports from WikiLeaks the US sent two senior diplomats to London in October 2007 amid growing concern about the rise of radicalism among Muslim youths in Britain. The diplomats met Foreign Office officials, the International Development minister (the UK’s first Muslim MP), and a number of leading British Asian film-makers. The US diplomats reported that “Bollywood actors and executives agreed to work with the USG to promote anti-extremist messages through third party actors and were excited about the idea of possibly partnering with Hollywood as well.”

On another front WikiLeaks cables reveal that US diplomats made a proposal to India that it send Bollywood stars to tour Afghanistan to help international efforts to stabilize the country. In a confidential March 2007 cable a request was apparently made from Washington for “specific, concrete ideas for opportunities for India to use soft power in helping Afghanistan’s reconstruction”.

Although there is no apparent sign that either of these proposals were acted upon in a concerted fashion, such strategic thinking is indicative that state-based diplomats have an appreciation of the power of popular culture. At the same time, however, initiatives along these lines also showcase the need to debate not only the composition of the actors who animate celebrity diplomacy but the motivations for, and the focus of, those activities.

Is Yao Ming a sign of future possibilities for Rising State Celebrities?

This blog post introduces two very different themes about celebrity activism.

The first theme concerns the role (or arguably the non-role) of sports celebrities as pivotal activists. Although some sports celebrities do involve themselves in causes there is no sports equivalent to a Bono, Angelina or George Clooney.  Why don’t sports entertainers not rise to the top in celebrity activitism?  Is it because of the team dimension? Or is it because of some socialization process that puts the emphasis solely on commercial endorsements? The exceptions to this rule (quite a few from non-US backgrounds) we need to examine but the reasons for this material difference needs to be explored.

The second theme concerns the role of celebrity activity generally in the ‘Global South’ and specifically in the BRICSAM countries. Up to now we have looked exclusively at celebrity activism in the ‘Anglo-sphere’. However, as the BRICSAM countries ascend it is likely that celebrity activism will arise from/in those countries as well.

China is at the top of the list of BRICSAM countries in terms of the impact of its rise, a condition that will be showcased this week with the state visit of President Hu Jintao to the US.

Yet, when we look at Chinese celebrity activism few individuals have appeared to gain a global/universal reach. Readers may differ but I would suggest that action film superstar Jackie Chan (a UNICEF/UNAIDS goodwill ambassador) is the best known of the established celebrity activists – though he is from Hong Kong as opposed to the Mainland.

Although China has its unique political/cultural character, some of the constraints on sports figures are familiar to the western world. A search of the biography of Liu Xiang, the talented hurdler (whose injury in the Beijing Olympics was a major disappointment) gives an indication of the obstacles: a combination of major commercial endorsements and the massive time obligations for training.

Such constraints however may loosen up in the future. The profile of Yao Ming, the iconic Shanghai Sharks/NBA basketball star, signals some of the possibilities of a Chinese sports celebrity gaining a global/universal reach. While Yao has an impressive set of commercial endorsements, he has also become a leading sports figure in terms of charity activities. He donated a big component of time and resources ($2 million of his own money and major initiatives through the Yao Ming Foundation for rebuilding efforts) in the aftermath of the calamitous 2008 Sichuan earthquake. He has worked with a number of other engaged sportsmen (Dikembe Mutombo and Steve Nash) on events, including back-to-back charity basketball games in Beijing and Taipei on July 24/28 2010.

While most of his work highlights the value of constructive engagement, it is also worthwhile mentioning that Yao Ming is on some issues prepared to be associated with causes that contain some societal sensitivity. One that jumps out is Yao’s willingness to support Wild Aid’s campaign on endangered species (notably his public campaign to deter the consumption of shark fin soup). Although not as much on the radar as the efforts by western celebrities to cultivate a more healthy life-style (see for instance an interesting article by David Ritter in Global Policy on the efforts by celebrity chefs to highlight the crisis in the world’s fisheries> this alternative form of engagement showcases some future unanticipated possibilities of celebrity activism/diplomacy.

Who Advises Celebrity Activists?

One of the least recognized subjects of celebrity activism relates to who advises these celebrities.

The traditional answer focuses on institutions. When we look back to early celebrity activists the UN acted as the core mentor organization. UNICEF stands out for the efforts of such pioneers as Danny Kaye and Audrey Hepburn.

This approach continues to operate. There is a wide and impressive breadth of operation  – albeit there still are issues of quality control. This route is still the first option for many stars when they want to get involved. A good indication of this attraction is the choice of UNHCR by Angelina Jolie for refugee issues.

What is fascinating, however, is that over the last few years there has been a growing fragmentation of the advisory role. The UN, for instance, no longer has a monopoly. Major celebrity activists have been influenced by advisors with backgrounds in other forms of organizations notably NGOs. The relationship of Jamie Drummond, the Executive Director of ONE, and Bono jumps out because of their prior involvement with the Jubilee 2000 – ‘drop the debt’ campaign.

But the phenomenon that bears more scrutiny is what can be termed free-lance advisors. Some of these are extremely well connected Hollywood insiders. A prime example is

Donna Bojarsky, a political consultant close to the Obama administration, who runs an influential Foreign Policy Round Table, encouraging the entertainment industry’s leaders to be engaged with international affairs and the US’s role in the world.

Another strand comes from experienced foreign policy experts who straddle a number of advisory roles. A good illustration of this type of person is Morton Halperin. Long associated with a set of leading Washington DC-based think tanks, such as the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the Brookings Institution, Halperin acts also as a consultant to George Soros’ Open Society Institute and as a board member of ONE.

Some other consultants focus on specific issues. John Prendergast is arguably the best known of this type of advisor, coaching and navigating a number of celebrities (including Don Cheadle, George Clooney, Javier Bardem and Ryan Gosling) through the complexities of dealing with African issues such as Darfur.

And finally I return to Trevor Neilson.  I mentioned him in my last blog post on Richard Holbrooke who mentored a large cluster of stars.  In fact Trevor has a roster that includes Ashton Kutchner and Demi Moore in the campaign against child sex-trade trafficking.

Neilson’s work links back up to the theme of mentor organizations. The difference is that unlike the UN or NGOs, Neilson’s firm (Global Philanthropy Group) is explicitly commercially oriented with a fee for service.

This diversification does point to widening prospects for recent graduates in international public policy programs to take up this form of advising. Instead of having to wait to move up the ranks of more formal organizations, or work towards becoming a go-to expert, the rise of firms such as GPG offer a different and ‘quicker’ type of attractive opportunity – a hybrid apprenticeship linking the worlds of wonks and celebrities.

Get you job applications ready – you IR graduates!

Diplomat and Celebrity – Richard Holbrooke Remembered

The tributes to Richard Holbrooke have concentrated on the core components of his career, highlighted by his diplomatic trouble-shooting in Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan. Although his career as a US official dealing with front line conflicts was long and distinguished, Holbrooke had other elements to his personality and professional profile that merit attention.

What should not be missed is his leadership in an area entirely removed from geo-political mediation. This was in the area of global health.

In January 2000, as the US ambassador to the UN, Holbrooke convened a path-breaking meeting of the Security Council to discuss AIDS in Africa. As the Executive Director of UNAIDS reminded us: “Ambassador Holbrooke managed to redefine the AIDS response by identifying AIDS, not only as a public health issue, but as matter of global security. Through his unique actions he has mobilized world leaders and business partners in committing to the AIDS response. The AIDS movement has lost a good friend.”

Moreover, as in his work on geo-political mediation, Holbrooke proved tenacious. After departing from the UN, Holbrooke embraced the leadership of an NGO devoted to the mobilization of businesses and corporations in the fight against AIDS. In a span of six years, Holbrooke turned this organization—the Global Business Coalition on HIV/AIDS —into an organization with a global span. Expanding its mandate to include malaria and TB, it became a key conduit to the Global Fund To Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

As in the other aspects of his life instrumental purpose was combined with an embrace of a celebrity aura. The work on AIDS brought him into contact with a host of A-Listers. Some of these celebrities, as might be expected from the mandate of the NGO, came from the business world. The Corporate Advisory Board currently includes Sir Richard Branson, Chairman, Virgin Group of Companies; Ratan N. Tata, Chair of the major Tata companies; and David Stern, Commissioner, National Basketball Association (NBA); financial support for the work of the Coalition was provided by Bill Gates, George Soros and Ted Turner.

Other A-Listers that he associated with on the AIDS initiative, however, were bona fides Hollywood stars. Angelina Jolie, notably, participated at the Global Business Coalition on HIV/AIDS’ 2005 Awards for Business Excellence Gala (and has kept up a connection since).

The other link between the worlds of official diplomacy and celebrity activism is the promotion of up and coming talent. As a young diplomat, Holbrooke was mentored by a variety of diplomatic ‘old hands’. In his leadership of the Business Coalition Holbrooke appointed as Executive Director, Trevor Neilson, who had previously served as the served as the Director of Public Affairs and Director of Special Projects for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Nielsen has since set up the Global Philanthropy Group, a firm that connects celebrities and causes.

But more on that in another Guest Blogger post.  Meanwhile the United States and this Administration in particular will miss Richard Holbrooke.

‘G2’ and the Expectations Game

While designed to build consensus among a broad group of countries, a significant aspect of the G20 has been a consolidated discussion between the leaders of China and the United States. US President, Barack Obama and China’s President, Hu Jintao have used these informal talks for relationship building.  These informal discussions have until now complemented the G20 leaders’ process. But if these US-China leaders’ talks take hold, it may also prove to be a principal rival to the G20 dialogue.

A new game of expectation-raising has begun to swirl over what has been dubbed the “G2” in anticipation of renewed strategic dialogue and the home-and-home state visits announced for 2009, with President Hu visiting Washington in late-summer and President Obama visiting Beijing in late-fall. While the US-China bilaterals will not lack for issues, indeed there are already a series of bilaterals between China-US officials, it remains to be seen how in-depth the two leaders will want to harmonize global economic strategies. Will these encounters survive expectations? Will the G2 serve as distraction to the G20 process?

China’s global status can hardly be ignored. While the economic fires rage on in New York, London and Tokyo, Beijing has demonstrated a cool confidence and continued growth. In the lead-up to the London Summit, People’s Bank of China Governor, Zhou Xiaochuan made very public declarations on the perils of over-reliance on a single currency for global reserves, advocating instead for a standardized, SDR-type currency valuation less prone to volatility. In London, Paola Subacchi of Chatham House commented that, “China graduated from regional to global power. It showed political and financial muscles and the appetite to be involved in the global dialogue – with also an interest in developing a closer relationship with Washington.”

A leading voice in support of an informal G2 “leadership conclave” has been C. Fred Bergsten of the Peterson Institute. As early as 2006, he advocated bilateral diplomacy to support China’s and America’s “joint responsibility” to ensure global financial stability. Recent events have revived proposals for such a format.  These advocates have stressed the need for the two countries to resolve currency disputes and jointly enforce IFI reforms.

In his analysis, CIGI Senior Fellow Gregory Chin suggests that failure or frustration in a divergent G20 process may feed a “Great Power withdrawal into the bilateral track to deal with matters of highest strategic importance. This could mean confining the multilateral track to implementing the decisions made by the Big 2.” This should not immediately be considered a negative outcome. While the G20 scores high on legitimacy, its efficiency and compliance have waned. Resolution of the multitude of issues on the US-China bilateral agenda alone (from trade to currency valuation to intellectual property) could ease gridlock in many international negotiations. However, expectations for a lean and authoritative G2 assume that the two leader countries can abstain from squabbles over human rights, the proverbial ‘third rail’ of US-China relations.

While certainly there are larger strategic factors at play, the success of a G2 would heavily depend on ability of the leaders themselves to get along and work constructively. Can the ever technocratic Hu find common ground with the always affable Obama? The new American President shows an understanding of the importance of the bilateral relationship. Following their first meeting, President Obama noted that, “I continue to believe that the relationship between China and the United States is not only important for the citizens of both our countries but will help to set the stage for how the world deals with a whole host of challenges in the years to come.”

Indications from inside China, however, seem to downplay any expectations of a G2. In the days before the London Summit, leading scholar Huang Ping of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) asserted that “the so-called G2 is both unrealistic and problematic to fit in with the traditional Chinese value of a harmonious world.” By pushing other regional and global developing economies out of key international decision-making, China could risk alienating its like-minded allies in the global South. Continued success of the G20 fits in much better with this approach, and Dr. Huang suggests that China should promote this larger steering group.

Whether formalized or not, a G2 appears to be inevitable, if in nothing but name only. As the two leaders meet, the US-China forum will be cast in this light with enormous scrutiny. ‘G2’ will become the favored term of pundits, perhaps to its detriment.

A major stumbling block for the G2 may end up being the two nations’ cultural differences in their fiscal behaviors. Arguably, the US propensity to spend and the Chinese need to save drove the world into crisis and offered recovery, respectively. However, this balance has proven unsustainable and the macro-economic structure must be fixed. Recovery relies on the two governments providing their citizens with the correct incentives towards long-term restorative fiscal behavior. Yet, to appear successful, a G2 will need instantaneous results.

In his column, “What the G2 Must Discuss Now that the G20 is Over” (7 April 2009), the Financial Times’ Martin Wolf suggests that while China’s desire to engage the US may be self-motivated – to stabilize its US currency reserve, deflect exchange rate reform, and rebalance spending-saving – it is a “necessary condition for serious discussion of global reforms.” If arranged properly, a collaborative G2 would have the potential to remove policy obstacles and pave the way for general agreement across the board. However, if used as another opportunity to name and shame each other, it could heighten tensions in an already delicate relationship.

The most likely outcome is a mediocre G2, one that cannot live-up to the overblown expectations. Here, enters again the G20, this time with a strong dose of modesty and a previously excluded group of leaders more committed than ever to be a part of the process. If however the G20 can forgo this chain of events by harnessing leadership from within and boosting national compliance and effectiveness, plurilateral consensus may trump dyadic centralism.

BRICSAM and the G20: A Week Later

The London G20 summit turned to be an unanticipated success. In the weeks and days before the event, signs were gloomy of any positive outcome. The French and Germans were saying ‘no’ to any major collective stimulus package. Gordon Brown as host was losing his personal bounce amidst increasingly pessimism about the UK economy. And even the Barack Obama phenomenon, as directed towards his trip to the London G20, appeared to be more about style than substance.

On the day, however, the G20 turned sunny like the actual weather in London. Although the tensions between the ‘Anglo-Saxon” stimulators and the Continental regulators were still played up the real agenda was playing out in other ways. As predicted by CIGI blogs in the past the trans-Atlantic tensions should increasingly be seen as the side show. The Continue reading

Relative Success, Failure, and the Hierarchy of Nations

The conversation about Rising BRICSAM is about changes in the hierarchy of international power and influence. It is interesting to think about the general factors that create changes in the size distributions of actors in competition.

Stability and instability.

It might be instructive to compare the rise and decline of nations with that of firms. The hierarchy of firms changes dramatically in relatively short periods of time. Of the top 100 firms in 1912, only 52 survived to 1995, only 28 were larger then, and only 19 remained in the 100. Continue reading

G8 Outreach and the Absence of Hothouse International Institutions

Alan’s post on Monday focused on the views of G8 members about the possibility of expanding their membership. This post was drafted before Alan’s and focuses instead on the G-8’s outreach efforts.

I’ve described in previous posts the different bases for constructing international groupings and how the BRIC and IBSA originated but have not expanded so far.

There is still another way to construct an international grouping, and that is through the workings of external actors. Institutions can be constructed in an artificial hothouse environment, at the instigation of others. The Organisation for European Economic Co-operation (OEEC) came into being in April 1948 and emerged from Secretary of State Marshall’s desire to have a coordinated vision for postwar reconstruction and an integrated request for aid. Similarly, Continue reading

The Creation of Clubs: The BRIC

In a previous post, I distinguished three bases for grouping countries. In this blog, I discuss the BRIC and its possible expansion to BRICSAM in that context.

The Creation of Clubs

States form international institutions self-consciously to achieve some objective(s). The institutions can be organized along areal or functional lines. They can be universal and include all members of some specified set or they can be clubs of subsets. Creating any institution then requires some agreement on purpose, membership, and procedure.

Most groupings emerge from the vision of political leaders and their political needs. The BRIC case was somewhat different.

Origins of the term in objective analysis

The term BRIC was coined in 2001 by Jim O’Neill, head of global economic research at Goldman Sachs. It was a Continue reading