Public Diplomacy Week 1 – What is Public Diplomacy?

Question: How would you describe public diplomacy to someone who was not familiar with the term? How would you convince them that it was important?

Public diplomacy is a communication strategy employed by nation-states to its foreign public, with the aim of informing and/or influencing political or public opinions on various agenda topics. In its earliest description, public diplomacy was seen as a way to help define national identity and ensure that this was projected abroad as an instrument of the state. (Pamment, 2013) However, since the inauguration of the term “public diplomacy” by Edmund Gullion in 1965, the interpretation of the definition has taken many forms.

According to William Rugh, America’s focus on public diplomacy has been sporadic at best. Where diplomacy was seen as “secret” communication between nation-states, public diplomacy was seen as foreign propaganda orchestrated by diplomats. The need to employ public diplomacy stemmed from the concern about wars and threats from other nation-states. Communication strategies from the US were for protecting US soil as well as protecting US values.

Now, public diplomacy serves on the lines of what Professor Joseph Nye coined “soft power”, which is the “ability to shape the preferences of others” through attraction versus military coercion. American values were to be shared, fairly and effectively, to other nation-states for socio-political collaboration and/or understanding.

Thanks to the proliferation of modern technology, public diplomacy is more necessary than ever, as it created a more competitive information environment for US officials. Social media and other forms of new media (in terms of broadcast communication) create “instant information” that can be accessed by state and non-state actors. This shift in media forces interaction between the two, changing the whole structure of public diplomacy. Diplomats must now be able to communicate information through different media channels sans using propaganda.


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