New primer on ‘discursive statecraft’ and positioning strategies

Britain needs to consider how to confront positioning efforts from rivals, says James Rogers

In this final addition to the Council on Geostrategy’s ‘discursive statecraft’ series, Director of Research James Rogers looks at the threats discursive attacks pose to Britain and how best to push back against them.

You can read the report here.

He discusses how rival states such as Russia and China seek to use discursive strategies to weaken the United Kingdom’s reputation abroad and shape the attitudes of other states towards the UK, and how – to a lesser extent – allies also engage in similar behaviour to position the British government on policy areas they are interested and engaged in. He further highlights how ‘soft power’ as a concept is not as useful a tool for analysing power dynamics in international politics as many of its proponents would like to believe.

James Rogers suggests four potential methods the British government might employ to mitigate these strategies:

  • adopting our own positioning strategies against states that might deploy them against us to seize the initiative and deter them from positioning the UK; 
  • counter-positioning strategies, wherein we respond to incidences where positioning strategies are employed by counter-positioning the protagonist; 
  • self-projection strategies, in which Britain seeks simply to project its own narrative about itself;
  • consolidation strategies, which involve responding to positioning attacks by reiterating our identity to counter the assertion made in the attack.

In the report, James states:

As a power, the UK is under discursive attack. Opponents, such as Russia’s kleptocracy, have sought to degrade Britain and encourage others to imagine that it is a reduced and inconsequential power. Competitors such as the People’s Republic of China, have sought to position the UK similarly, as a declining nation of reduced consequence in international affairs. This has the potential to fan on narratives that Britain is weak and in decline, inviting more attacks

You can read the report here.