The Demilitarization of American Diplomacy: Two cheers for striped pants

(Palgrave Macmillan: Basingstoke, 2014), pp. 88 (incl. index). ISBN 10: 1137298545 / ISBN 13: 9781137298546

The trenchant contribution to this subject of the outstanding American scholar-diplomat Laurence Pope is published in Palgrave’s ‘Pivot’ series of short books designed to be brought out quickly. Its contents list and other details, including numerous well-deserved plaudits, can be seen here.

This book is an account of the marginalization of the State Department and the running down of its Foreign Service professionals to such a degree that retired ambassadors are constantly begged to return to work. It is also an indictment of the groups and institutions that have elbowed them aside, not least on policy on cyberspace. Prominent among these are the arrogant and ignorant neo-cons; the White House’s ‘off-the-books’ National Security Staff (NSS); and the various components of the ‘military-intelligence complex’ fattened to gargantuan proportions by the so-called ‘War on Terror’. And it is an alarm bell rung over the consequences of this lamentable state of affairs, namely failed nation-building wars, the continuation of ‘Washington’s propensity for making foreign policy without reference to foreigners’, and the resulting prospect of more bloody ‘engagements’ in the future – this time courtesy of Special Operations Command (which already has a presence in over 100 countries), since the more thoughtful conventional military have been sobered up in Afghanistan and Iraq.

In what are in effect long asides to Pope’s main theme, but telling all the same, are gently mocking accounts of the manner in which the State Department has sought to mask its irrelevance in Washington. Notable among these are ensuring the secretary of state spends as much time as possible in the limelight abroad; seeking the endorsement of its ‘globaloney’ by academics who, mesmerized by ‘networks’, wouldn’t grasp the nature of the state even if, while on sabbatical, their own university were to be wiped out by a drone strike (my example, not his); parading its enrapture with social media, the employment of which is doomed to confuse the public with the personal; fussing over house-keeping matters; and producing vacuous and turgid four-yearly reviews (the QDDR), the first of which no diplomats known to the author read and in the White House produced ‘nothing but yawns’.

What is to be done to demilitarize American diplomacy? Other than readily deducible prescriptions prompted by his criticisms of fortress embassies (‘foreign bases’) and the sale of ambassadorships to pay off campaign debts, Pope has no detailed proposals for the institutional reform and resurrection of the State Department and Foreign Service. Instead, he confesses, his main contribution – no mean one – is to highlight the need for this, which is the more urgent, he maintains, because those who think the sovereign state is finished are living in a parallel universe and the decline of American power relative to China and other rising states is inevitable. But he does add that there is something to build on, in particular the continuing high calibre of most Foreign Service Officers – so well advertised, ironically enough, by the quality of their cables released by Wikileaks – and the formal authority of the chief of mission as representative not of the State Department but of the president. With ‘mission and leadership,’ he urges, much could be achieved.

It is a pity that the title of this book is misleading. After all, it is about the militarization – not the demilitarization – of American diplomacy. More importantly, I think the author goes too far in suggesting that to all intents and purposes the United States no longer has a ‘foreign ministry’. Surely, it has lost one but gained another – the National Security Staff. This, as Laurence Pope points out himself, now has hundreds of officials; these include senior directors for every region of the world, each with their own staff, ‘replicating the State Department’s organization’; while able officials in State seek promotion in the NSS. Of course, on the face of it, it is absurd that the United States should have both a de jure and a de facto foreign ministry but the demise of the former’s functions should not be allowed to obscure the fact that, somewhere, they are still being executed. Pope knows this, of course, but I think it could be brought out more clearly.

Few people are better placed than this scholar-diplomat to provide a convincing account of the nexus between diplomacy and the military because, as well as having been a member of the US Foreign Service for 30 years and delved deeply into the history of his profession, Laurence Pope was for part of this time Political Adviser to Central Command (he is an Arabist) and in his retirement was a consultant to the military. This is a book that must be read. It is also a highly engaging read, replete with pungent observations and memorable aphorisms. A propos the various fashionable fantasies that states are on the way out, I particularly liked his line that ‘Palestinians aspire to a state with a territory, not to a website.’ For those unable to secure this book, more of its flavour can be obtained from this interview.

The Demilitarization of American Diplomacy: Two cheers for striped pants2019-10-14T20:28:41+01:00

Radio Free Europe: An insider’s view

(New Academia Publishing: Washington, DC, 2013), pp. 139 (incl. index). ISBN 978-0-9886376-8-9. [Buy this book]

James F. Brown, who held joint British-American citizenship and died in 2009, spent 27 years at the Munich home of Radio Free Europe (RFE), rising to the post of director in 1978. However, uncomfortable with the aggressive tone he was under pressure to adopt from ultra-conservatives in the Reagan administration, a tone he believed signalled a return to the bad old days of the radio preceding the Hungarian uprising in 1956, five years later he resigned and took up instead a university teaching career.

In this book, Brown begins by describing how RFE was brought to its ‘lowest ebb’ by its inept handling of the Hungarian uprising and then recovered during the 1960s with the help of more measured, professional broadcasting. Despite this, he reports, in the 1970s tensions between the radio (focused on societies) and the administration at home (more worried about states) became marked. At this juncture, Kissinger and the State Department (plus Willy Brandt and then Helmut Schmidt in Bonn) came to regard RFE’s basic hostility to the East European Communist governments as at odds with the policy of détente – and would like to have seen the radio’s demise. When, following exposure of the CIA link in 1971, RFE was placed under the supervision of the newly created Board for International Broadcasting, it was even proposed that its name be changed to ‘Radio Dialogue’ and the right of reply given to the East European governments – in RFE airtime – to any broadcasts to which they took exception. Now this would have been a venture in what later came to be known as ‘public diplomacy’ (a term which mercifully never once passes Brown’s lips in this book although ‘propaganda’ slips out on p. 97), and the suggestion ‘caused much concern, incredulity, and fury’; fortunately it was ‘soon forgotten’ (p. 50).

The author then nimbly knits into his narrative illuminating discussions of such subjects as the radio’s different target audiences, why it was so important to show its listeners what it was for (democracy) as well as what it was against, and the importance of grabbing their attention (for example by broadcasting rock music) and cultivating credibility in quiet times so it would be believed in a crisis. A particularly interesting section of the book is Brown’s 1977 memo reproduced between pages 58 and 68 in which, among other things, he expands on RFE’s ‘influence’, defined here well as ‘an ability to take part in the course of political development’ – so much for the alleged indistinctness of the concept of influence and the need for its replacement by the silly term ‘soft power’. In an epilogue Brown laments that, with the Cold War in Eastern Europe over by 1989, Radio Free Europe was not re-launched as ‘Radio New Europe’, a station that could have been devoted to the more difficult task of winning the peace, that is, attempting to forestall the rise of a demokratura (a facade of democracy without its spirit or substance) in too much of post-Communist Eastern Europe.

This book is another valuable contribution to the ADST-DACOR Diplomats and Diplomacy series so ably edited by Margery Boichel Thompson. How much is new in it I cannot say because a good number of books on RFE (and Radio Liberty) with which I am not familiar, both by other insiders and academics, have already been published. Nevertheless, there is bound to be something of interest here even to those specializing in ‘public diplomacy’; and to those without prior knowledge of US Cold War broadcasting to Eastern Europe this is an excellent introduction. In fact, it’s just the kind to fire the interest. It is fairly short and crisply written and is enlivened by sharp and sometimes entertaining personality portraits, together with first-hand accounts of the circumstances attending incidents such as the bombing in 1981 of RFE’s Munich headquarters, believed to have been inspired by Ceauşescu. I found it quite absorbing and read it in just two sittings. It’s a pity about its rather odd index, which lists only proper names plus three topics, thereby giving the reader no help in finding discussion of such interesting subjects as jamming, cross-reporting, two source rule, influence, and so on. But this is a minor blemish on a valuable and accessible book.

[9 January 2014]

Radio Free Europe: An insider’s view2019-10-14T20:28:41+01:00


Akteure, Schauplätze, Zwischenrufe – Ein Lesebuch 2013. 436 S. Geb.
CHF 48.00 / EUR 39.50
ISBN 978-3-0340-1206-5. [buy this book]

A must-have for German-speaking students of Swiss diplomacy (and diplomacy generally) since the Second World War is Dr. Max Schweizer’s recently published Diplomatenleben. This contains 60 texts – mostly in German – written by career diplomats and journalists collected by the author while in the service of the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs from 1980 to 2013. The former Minister is currently lecturing on ‘Applied Diplomacy’ at the Zurich University of Applied Sciences. German readers might like to read these reviews:


Last Man Standing: Memoirs of a political survivor

(Pan Macmillan: London, 2013), pp. 582 (incl. index). ISBN 978-1-4472-2276-7.
[buy this book] [Kindle ed]

Jack Straw was the ablest and wisest of Tony Blair’s foreign secretaries and served in this capacity from 2001 until he was ungratefully dumped without warning by his leader in 2006. Afterwards he hit the headlines by courageously publishing his dislike of the full veil worn my some Muslim women, on the grounds that this was such a visible statement of separation and difference that it complicated community relations and was, in any case, a cultural preference rather than a religious obligation. (Straw was then and still is the Labour MP for a Bradford constituency with a large Muslim population.) In the long chapters on his time at the Foreign Office in these memoirs he is very interesting on the genuine fear of nuclear war between India and Pakistan and the steps taken to avoid it, his keenness to negotiate with the moderates in Iran, the great efforts he made to facilitate Turkey’s admission to the EU, and his despair over the persistent diplomatic wrecking tactics in the Middle East of the alliance between the American neo-cons and Israeli hardliners – and the unwillingness of Tony Blair to take them on. On the Iraq War there is nothing in these pages that we have not already learned from his evidence to the Chilcot Inquiry, or not already learned about his adeptness at – to use his own football metaphor – the ‘body swerve’ in handling uncomfortable criticism. A theme throughout these chapters is his close personal and policy rapport with his US counterpart Colin Powell.

Straw does not tell us much about the Foreign Office itself or the Diplomatic Service generally. However, there is a tantalizing reference to a group of its very senior members who called themselves the ‘Senators’ and made little secret of their disdain for mere politicians (p. 330). He also makes clear on more than one occasion (pp. 326, 468) how coveted was the position of foreign secretary among his senior colleagues in the Labour government. Already a heavyweight in Blair’s cabinet (he had previously been Home Secretary) and proceeding on the prevailing assumption that in 2001 he would take over John Prescott’s massive Department for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, when nevertheless Tony Blair told him that he had decided instead to make him foreign secretary, what was his immediate reaction? ‘“F*** me,” I said, and almost fell off my chair.’ Can anyone still take seriously the argument we used to hear that foreign ministries are doomed?

Last Man Standing: Memoirs of a political survivor2019-10-14T20:28:41+01:00

British Diplomacy and the Descent into Chaos: The career of Jack Garnett, 1902-19

(Palgrave Macmillan: Basingstoke, 2012), 280 pp (incl. index). ISBN 978-0-230-34897-4.
[buy this book] [Kindle ed]

I am in favour of biographies of relatively obscure individuals like Jack Garnett because there are plenty of them on the famous; moreover, studies of this kind often turn up interesting details (including how the famous were seen from the foothills) and stimulate thought on bigger questions. John Fisher’s well written and thoroughly researched study of this early twentieth century British diplomat, into which contextual detail is expertly woven, is no exception. (The contents list of the book can be seen on the publisher’s website here.)

Garnett was inclined to be moody, headstrong, quickly bored, and indiscreet in gossiping about his chiefs and their wives. As a result, although able, adventurous, not shy of hard work, deeply patriotic and ambitious, this rather enigmatic man was never promoted beyond first secretary and left the diplomatic service under a cloud when only in his early forties. Perhaps the first general point which John Fisher’s book usefully underlines, therefore, is that either persons like this should not be admitted to the diplomatic profession in the first place or, if they are, should be handled better by those responsible for career development – heads of mission as well as the foreign ministry at home: in particular, they should not be sent to missions where they would have little to do, the fate of Garnett when posted in late 1916 to Tangier, where he idled away days as well as nights playing bridge, and later to Buenos Aires. (This shows that the Foreign Office’s mid-nineteenth century attempt to make a head of mission’s deputy something more than a chargé d’affaires in waiting had not been a complete success.) In the event, on resigning from the diplomatic service three years later, Garnett spent the following decade doing an amazing variety of social work in the East End of London and drifted to the political left; then, on inheriting his substantial family property in Lancashire in 1929, he abandoned the metropolis and became a provincial Tory magnate.

Another point that struck me as particularly interesting was the account of worries over the physical security of the Legation Quarter in Peking, in which Garnett found himself as third (later second) secretary at the British legation in 1905. This was just five years after the siege of this arrogant diplomatic enclave by the Boxers, and the need for precautions against another such assault was still very much in the minds of most diplomats, although Garnett had few concerns about his own safety and was soon fed up with the ‘semi-imprisonment’ of legation life. Among other less known details we learn from John Fisher that in February 1906 the German legation acquired a howitzer and that British ministers were inclined to play down security threats for fear of being withdrawn. (The last point, however, is left a little vague.)

Garnett might have had a relatively short diplomatic career but it was varied, taking him to Constantinople, Bucharest, St. Petersburg, Tehran, Sofia, and Athens, as well as the places already mentioned. (In addition, he served for some time in the Foreign Office’s Parliamentary and Contraband Departments during the First World War.) At most of these postings, in part because he often had little else to do, he found himself involved – socially and otherwise – with their expatriate British communities. In the war these became of more than usual concern to London and afterwards the Foreign Office established a Committee on British Communities Abroad. ‘Diaspora diplomacy’, as my colleague Kishan Rana has called it, has become much more important since, and those interested in its origins would do well to look at John Fisher’s work, including his previously published articles on the subject. The same might be said for those interested in the development of commercial diplomacy, for Garnett was one of its early supporters and this overlapped with attentiveness to the diaspora.

There is much else besides of interest to students of diplomacy as well as diplomatic history in this valuable book. Unlike some I could mention, it also has a good index. I commend it most warmly.

British Diplomacy and the Descent into Chaos: The career of Jack Garnett, 1902-192019-10-14T20:28:42+01:00

Transformational Diplomacy after the Cold War: Britain’s Know How Fund in Post-Communist Europe, 1989-2003

(Routledge: London and New York, 2013),
224 pp. (incl. index). ISBN13: 978-0-415-69203-8 (hbk).
ISBN13: 978-0-203-38158-8 (ebk). [buy this book]

This is the long awaited history of the Know How Fund (KHF) produced by the recently retired Foreign and Commonwealth Office historian Keith Hamilton. Like other FCO ‘internal histories’, it was initially written ‘to provide background information for members of the FCO, to point out possible lessons for the future and evaluate how well objectives were met.’ We are fortunate that this one has been released to the general public because it is based on official papers which would otherwise have remained classified for many years to come. For information on the contents of the book and its author, together with a preview of the first 30 pages, see here.

The ‘Know How Fund’ is short-hand for a programme of technical assistance conceived in the FCO to bring to fruition British prime minister Margaret Thatcher’s dream of transforming the countries of the former Soviet empire, including Russia itself, into free market economies with liberal-democratic political institutions. It was not, therefore, a conventional bilateral ‘foreign aid’ programme with an emphasis on economic development: instead, its chief thrust was political, the more so because of the geographical proximity of these countries to western Europe and the massive security threat they had long presented. The KHF was also driven by an anxiety not to be outdone by the Germans and the Americans in the struggle for influence in them and for commercial advantage in their new markets. It took shape in programme teams in London, inter-departmental Whitehall committees, and project teams in British embassies (some newly opened) in the region – all assisted more or less ably by an army of non-government advisers, from over-paid bankers and management consultants to police officers and employees of the BBC. It started with a focus on Poland and ended with a concentration on Russia.

Keith Hamilton’s authoritative study provides many insights into the strengths and weaknesses of the KHF and the circumstances in which it prospered and those in which it did not, and it will therefore be of great value to those with an interest in how to conceive and administer this sort of programme. It provided, he concluded, ‘a model for the later deployment of technical assistance in support of specific foreign policy objectives.’ (With the benefit of post-2008 hindsight, it might however be regarded as laughable – if in principle admirable – that so much of the British effort was put into giving advice on best practice in banking and financial services.) The book will also be very useful to students of British relations with the countries concerned over this recent period. Inevitably, it contains a great deal of administrative history (and a plethora of abbreviations). We learn how the programme was set up and about the tensions which developed over its aims between the ‘Diplomatic Wing’ of the FCO and its foreign aid wing, tensions later magnified when Tony Blair came to power in 1997 and made the latter – with its ‘pro-poor agenda’ – into a separate department (DfID). There are also many summaries of the contents of key internal documents. Some will find this sort of thing rather dull but it is all an important part of the record.

‘Transformational’ diplomacy inevitably requires the injection of some funds into a target country even if the emphasis is on technical assistance rather than direct economic assistance or financial relief. This carries a small risk of propping up its creaking conservative regime. A programme conducted in a manner too patronising in tone or clumsy and inefficient in implementation might carry a still greater risk of this sort by stimulating nationalist feelings. To avoid or at least minimise these risks requires first class local knowledge and wide-ranging local contacts – in short, suitably staffed embassies. What is their ideal role? They identify the right projects and monitor their progress; they also provide safe platforms from which experts can operate and have the professional expertise to soothe the reactionaries who might otherwise be disposed to sabotage the desired ‘transformation’. Not surprisingly, by 2002 the British embassy in Moscow had a large KHF section with locally engaged Russians among its staff. When the locally unpopular step has to be taken of running down a programme as a whole and the thoughts of those at home have already turned elsewhere, the embassy might well find actual project management delegated to it as well, as happened to the British embassies in the Baltic republics, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia after 2001. This is the sort of interesting fact with which this important, well balanced, and predictably well written book is crammed. I salute Dr Hamilton for giving it to us.

Transformational Diplomacy after the Cold War: Britain’s Know How Fund in Post-Communist Europe, 1989-20032019-10-14T20:28:42+01:00

21st Century Diplomacy: A practitioner’s guide

(Continuum: London and New York, 2011),
372pp (incl. index). ISBN: 9781441168382.
Available in pb at £19.99. [buy this book]

Kishan Rana is a man of lengthy and varied experience in the Indian Foreign Service, ending his career as ambassador to Germany. Since then he has spent many years as a globe-trotting trainer of junior diplomats on behalf of DiploFoundation. Few people, therefore, are as well placed to write a practitioners’ guide to the diplomatic craft; and, insofar as concerns the content of his book, which can be found described here, he has not disappointed. The structure works pretty well and it is, like all of Ambassador Rana’s writing, lively and wise. It is also full of interesting facts, for example that Latvia won a prize in 2003 for the best foreign ministry website; it is packed with topical examples; and it bursts with ideas. The author also shows that he is right on top of the latest developments in information and communications technology affecting diplomacy. All of the chapters have their merits but I particularly liked the one on ‘diaspora diplomacy’, in which – despite his enthusiasm for the genus – the author points also to its dangers. He would, however, be disappointed if I did not choose some aspects of the book on which to hint at reservations. These are mainly to do with presentation and organization.

First, Ambassador Rana more than once succumbs to a weakness for providing lengthy summaries of other writers’ views of a subject – for example, the conclusions of Brecher et al’s 1988 study of crisis management on p. 162 and Henrikson’s view of public diplomacy on pp. 85-6 – without integrating them into his own arguments. Together with digressions which sometimes appear to be placed randomly in large boxes, such as the one on ‘MFA Typology’ on p. 118 (a subject surely better treated summarily in the opening paragraph of a chapter dealing generally with MFAs), these tend to generate repetition, give a disjointed feel to the work, and sometimes leave the reader wondering which parts the author agrees with and which parts he does not.

Second, while the structure of the book is basically sound (and I know from my own experience that getting this right with a general book on diplomacy is not easy), I am not sure about the balance of emphasis between the different Parts. In particular, since it is packaged as a guide for practitioners, it is a pity that less than a third of the work is presented as dealing with ‘Craft Skills’. And it is doubly a pity, therefore, that three chapters which to my mind should have been placed under this head are to be found looking rather lost elsewhere: those on public diplomacy, ICTs and protocol.

Notwithstanding these weaknesses (which might have been eliminated by brutal editing), 21st Century Diplomacy remains a textbook which junior diplomats will always want to have with them. It was Wicquefort in saddle-bags in the 17th and 18th centuries, Martens in the Gladstone bags and attaché cases of the 19th, and Satow in briefcases in the 20th; it is Rana in carry-on bags and back-packs in the 21st.

21st Century Diplomacy: A practitioner’s guide2019-10-14T20:28:42+01:00

Economic Diplomacy: India’s experience

(CUTS International: Jaipur, 2011), 285pp. (incl. index).
ISBN 978 81 8257 139 6.

Kishan Rana is a widely published former Indian ambassador and Bipul Chatterjee, his co-editor, is the deputy executive director of the Indian NGO, CUTS International , the publisher of this book. Both editors are also trained economists. Their volume consists of 25 chapters, all except three written by serving or former members of the Indian Foreign Service. The chapters are divided into five parts, the titles of three of which clearly indicate the broad meaning given by the editors to the term economic diplomacy: ‘Export promotion’; ‘Investment and economic aid’; and ‘Managing networks and the regulatory environment’ (the other two are ‘Context and objectives’ and ‘Today’s challenges’). They are prefixed by a lengthy introduction on ‘The role of embassies’.

It is no surprise to learn that the impetus to the development of India’s economic diplomacy was provided by the huge surge in the price of crude oil in 1973. Where they did not already exist, embassies were soon opened in the oil-producing states of the Middle East and North Africa and diplomats gave priority to expediting both material and labour exports, and interesting these states in investing in projects in India. In the last regard the chapter by Talmiz Ahmad on the role of the Indian embassy in Abu Dhabi in promoting UAE investment in India is particularly instructive.

As far as I am aware this is a unique book: there is no other which has drawn on such a broad range of diplomatic experience to develop this particular theme. It is also a valuable book because the theme is so important. Governments tend to live or die by the amount of exports their economies can generate and the foreign investment they can attract; and the division of labour in these matters between the diplomats and the businessmen (and their trade associations) and how the diplomats should handle their own brief are questions which have been around for a long time. But what work has been done on them has been largely confined to officially sponsored reports in the West. To have such a study as this on the economic diplomacy of one of the most important non-Western states is a major advance for diplomatic studies. The first edition was marred by an index that was riddled with vagaries and spectacular errors but a new edition is already in progress and will have the added advantage of a short contextual introduction to each essay. This will be the one to get hold of.

Economic Diplomacy: India’s experience2019-10-14T20:28:42+01:00

The Practice of Diplomacy: Its evolution, theory and administration

2nd ed (Routledge: London and New York, 2011),
pp. 317 (incl. index). [buy this book] [Kindle ed]

First published in 1995, the long-awaited second edition of this valuable textbook on the history of diplomacy has at last appeared. The first chapter has been expanded to include non-European traditions, and a wholly new chapter has been added to take account of developments over the last 15 years. It is for the main part a work of relaxed authority, clearly written, and – unusually for an introductory work – full of intriguing detail which it would be difficult if not impossible to find in other secondary sources. The series of chapters on the ‘old diplomacy’ and how it came to terms with the twentieth century is a tour de force. I am bound to say, however, that I think it was a mistake to employ the concept of ‘total diplomacy’ – inspired by the more familiar term ‘total war’ – in an attempt to give shape to the long chapter dealing with developments over most of the last century. In a struggle in which military confrontation was likely to produce mutual annihilation, diplomacy serving as the spear of a national effort uniting all public and private bodies was nothing more than a superpower Cold War aspiration which was imperfectly realised, to put it mildly, especially in the West (as Dean Acheson feared when introducing the American public to the phrase in February 1950 < >).

As a result, it works better as a footnote in the history of ideas about diplomacy than a term which expresses the theme of an era. There is also a certain conceptual shakiness in handling diplomatic activity itself: the authors cannot seem to make up their minds whether there is no essential difference between what professional and amateur diplomats do (the fashionable assumption of the new chapter on the most recent developments, headed ‘Diplomacy Diffused’) or whether what the latter do is ‘quasi-diplomatic’ or ‘paradiplomatic’ (terms occasionally used elsewhere). It is also a pity that the authors did not think to badger Routledge into using footnotes rather than endnotes, and at least dispense with ‘op.cits’; and the index, as with so many books these days, is disappointing (the reader relying on the index for information on service attachés, for example, will miss completely the interesting discussion of their role in intelligence gathering on pp. 190-2). But these are just quibbles. This book is much the best introduction to the history of diplomacy available. I have always recommended it as a companion to my own textbook on contemporary diplomacy, and shall continue to do so.

The Practice of Diplomacy: Its evolution, theory and administration2019-10-14T20:28:42+01:00
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