“I believe that influence is the tip of the diamond of economic intelligence, its most complex form. I found it difficult to have this accepted when, between 2000 and 2005, the cornerstones of economic intelligence were only monitoring and security. At the time, I was told that influence really meant public relations or communication. It has become an absolute must today. And perhaps at times excessive. That said, I do remain convinced that monitoring/anticipation is the ultimate of battles, both for influence and for security, and that these three cornerstones are very closely connected. I am also convinced that any successful action requires first and foremost a strategy that is based on will. “Claude Revel, expert in economic intelligence
In this note, Claude Revel offers a complete analysis of what influence is, how it is exercised, its actors and forms of intervention. She warns of its excesses and proposes strategies for counter-influence, all supported by concrete examples: sustainable development, legal systems, Chinese standards, etc.
Why Talk About Influence in 2023?
The globalisation of the 1980s and 1990s exacerbated competition. Much is decided through information and, more particularly, through influence, which is one of its variations. Influence is key in every kind of competition, whether economic, political or scientific, and particularly so in intangible fields, such as image, of course, but also rules and standards, systems of law and of teaching, broader cultures, including business, and values.
Influence involves processing information. Information is a raw material, in the same way as gas or oil is; the difference is that we cannot see it. Information in its raw form may be of varying degrees of quality. It may, or may not, be refined, adulterated, sold, or stolen. The companies that exploit information are becoming powerful and sought after as oil producers, and will soon become even more so. Both public and private stakeholders use it. In 2023, it is a key element of international relations and competition, even if it is, of course, not the only one and if the power relationships may follow very different paths.
It has significantly broadened its scope via the Internet, all kinds of websites, and social media. Algorithms themselves are subject to influences and artificial intelligence will continue to open up new fields.
In France, the importance of influence(s) has struggled to break through but now appears to have officially done so, as evidenced by the Influence Roadmap created by the Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs in December 2021 as well as by the National Strategic Review in 2022, with its phrase “Influence is strategically built”.
Influence Is a Technique and Has to Be Worked On
It is urgent for us, the French and Europeans, to have a greater presence in this field. Careful though, it is not enough to be present, we have to deliver messages, carefully developed in advance and in an organised fashion. For the French State, it is good practice to prepare shared positions, which will then supply the embassies and the various networks at our disposal abroad (economic players, elected representatives of the French abroad, French-speaking networks, etc.); these will each be able to support positions in their own spheres. This must all be supported by a perfect knowledge of the field and the key players in contention. Influence is real work that cannot be improvised. To be effective, we have to rely on economic and strategic intelligence, as the watchword in influence is ‘in advance’, to identify the beginnings and weak signals of an action, a project, legislation … (symposiums, academic articles, reports by think tanks or NGOs), or even better, generate projects ourselves; and never alone, whether we are being defensive or offensive, we need partners, allies, who, moreover, in the future, could also be competitors and adversaries in other fields, as per the second key principle of co-opetition.
The Main Instruments to Recognise
- Formatting public opinion.
- Getting into the minds of decision makers.
- Emphasis on standards, particularly the implementation of governance rules, the supreme form of influence, since we are defining the model itself.
- The attractiveness of the model, of culture or the brand: soft power.
- Reputation: naming & shaming.
- Indirect regulations: rankings, ratings, best practices…
- Seduction and argumentation.
- For States, development aid (tangible and intangible reconstruction) and technical co-operation.
- The action of permanent conviction: public diplomacy.
- Image: branding and rebranding (for States).
- Action on foreign elites.
- Managing networks abroad.
- Managing alliances on the principle of co-opetition.
- Action in public-private partnerships and with allies that are different from oneself.
- A professional engineering of influence connected to economic intelligence.
Ideas of Actions to Be Developed
Against disinformation: learning information analysis at school, through systematic questioning: who, what, why and when? This may seem simplistic, but such reflexes would avoid many of the beliefs caused by the sole appeal of certain rhetoric.
International rankings of States, standardising actions: it is up to the French authorities and experts concerned to take part fully in this, or indeed to create them. One of many examples: there is still time to do this for the successor to the World Bank’s Doing Business ranking, the Business Enabling Environment, under development.
An international unifying concept: just like what sustainable development has been and the influence that it still exerts, in these troubled and fragmented times, perhaps the moment has come to reconsider one or several of the concepts of the same kind, since its variations have today probably been painted in very, very Western colours. This would be a fine challenge for Europe and/or France.
Finally, Why Should We Want to Be Influential?
- To maintain our standard of living and choose our future. Behind the rules and standards, the decisions, there are the markets and, even more, ways of life.
- To be part of the changing world order: behind law and economics, there is the international competition of political, ethical and religious values.
- To keep our status (France and Europe) and have our say.
- Ultimately, to act rather than endure: influence is a POLITICAL issue.
Would we prefer to be influenced or to influence?