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Rethinking T20: Think tanks, ideas and innovation in foreign policy

Juan Luis Manfredi @juanmanfredi

Ideas fuel power giving means, understanding and arguments to the public sphere. Think tanks are the most influential actors in creating, and disseminating such ideas in the field of international relations. To this end Think Tanks have been evolving over the past 10 years. On the one hand adopting traditional mass media strategies to lobbying by public opinion. While on the other hand using that new public exposure -and their research networks- to became a laboratory of political innovation and a trial balloon to test possible reactions of other stakeholders. Due to these changes they now are the vanguard of foreign policy innovation.

Three recent examples confirm this hypothesis. The Elcano Royal Institute has prepared the base document that has been used for the reformulation and evaluation of Spanish foreign policy. The think tank does not set foreign policy, but lends his knowledge and network to provide intellectual content.

The second example is the development of the document "European Global Strategy", drawn by four European think tanks -Istituto Affari Internazionali, Elcano Royal Institute, the Swedish Institute of International Affairs and the Polish Institute of International Affairs. In this regard, the foreign ministers of the four countries involved in this study reported using think tanks to create scenarios as a laboratory of innovation policy.

Finally, review the study on the development of diplomacy in the digital age developed in 2012 by Clingendael Institute of International Relations- -Netherlands sponsored by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Government of Finland. The report is entitled "Futures for Diplomacy: Integrative Diplomacy in the 21st Century". Outsourcing reduces the risk report immobilize and advocating for change and innovation.

This innovative inertia in exerting influence is the driving force that mobilises and shapes the network of think-tanks’ relations worldwide. Washington, first, and Brussels and London, afterwards, enjoy an outstanding position in that they are the targets of the entire network of influence in international politics and thus the hubs through which the whole think-tank network is structured.

The final conclusion is an overall idea. The network is global, but the power is at the local level (State, political areas). This structure forces the concentration of speeches in specific territories, that is, through addressing specific issues affecting a geographical territory (US, Europe, Latin America). Secondary actors, not the big four, echo the main ideas are made and increase reverberation. Connectivity increases the diffusion of ideas. The network has a multiplier effect. The network cross messages and ideas. Here we find a counterintuitive idea: think tanks are not related in terms of the issues, but of geography. So, if Turkey, Spain or Russia want to influence in the ideas universe, it is time to understand how the digital world is shaping the traditional influence. That's challenging.