After reading week 7’s articles on nation branding, an idea stuck with me from Rasmussen and Merkelson’s article. Aside from some exaggerations, such as claiming that Joseph Nye felt that soft power was the foundation of foreign policy, when he was simultaneously espousing smart power as soft power’s successor; the article does a good job of framing perception and branding in terms of security and risk.
After the authors establish that states are increasingly defining their security in terms of risk, they identify secondary risk, or reputational risk, as a facetious element of risk when applied to security. The authors are right to critique the use of reputational measures and nation branding statistics as an indicator of a state’s security as such statistics are only one measure of broad opinions in a world where security risks can come in any shape or size.
However, what the authors get wrong is their dismissal of secondary risk, such as reputation because it is “a purely ‘man-made’product of social interaction and communication”, or that it is based on “attitudes and perceptions alone” rather than “brute facts”. As someone that facilitates risk assessments, I find their analysis to be disappointing at best. Reputation matters in terms of security for more reasons than I could describe in a short time. Suffice to say the single biggest issue is targeting, while the decision to do harm may rely on a ‘brute fact’ such as the possession of weapons that can do harm, the decision on how to use them in inextricably linked to reputation.
If an anti-U.S. militia in oil-rich country X didn’t have enough gas to reach an American facility, but did have access to a pair of oil facilities owned and secured by US allies and all things were equal except their perception of the two allies ability to fight, the militia would pick the target they perceived to be weaker. Let say they saw a Danish flag through their binoculars at the first facility and a number of Danish soldiers on patrol, Danish soldiers have a particular reputation for combat proficiency. As such, the militia checks and sees a Japanese flag at the alternate facility, and they see an equal number of armed soldiers on patrol. The militia will attack the Japanese facility all things being equal because Japan has a less imposing military and reputation when compared to Denmark. The militia just made a logical and predictable decision based on reputation and perception.
As the militia’s decision was predictable, the Japanese stationed a garrison of 100 soldiers at their facility, and wiped the militia out while the Danes only deployed 30 soldiers to theirs and deployed the remaining 70 somewhere else with the knowledge that in lieu of detailed intelligence, the militias would reasonably attack the Japanese facility. Further hypothetical argument to support the validity of perception and reputation in security, if a well fortified U.S. facility was also accessible to the same militia, there’s a reasonable likelihood that the militia will put their intangible beliefs ahead of “brute facts” and attack the American’s anyways, because regardless of the fact that the U.S., Denmark, and Japan are all protecting and extracting oil, the U.S. poor reputation makes it bigger target.
The authors also fail to describe in any detail the measures that they are arguing are not applicable, their language suggests the nation branding and public diplomacy measures they are discussing are quantitative, in which case the authors should actually be arguing against the quantification of risk and not the relevance of perception and reputation.