Week 1

1) 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 could be described as a means of communication to the public on a national and international level; with the aim of informing, influencing and persuading politics and public opinion of locals and foreigners with regards to various issues, actions, attitudes and standpoints.

While the term has been coined by Edmund Gullion in 1965 (Pamment, 2013), its meaning has since then differed based on global political circumstances at different points in time, and still can be regarded as a living and evolving concept.

According to William A. Rugh, the current 21st century concept of public diplomacy (from the U.S. point of view) essentially is the “idea of explaining ourselves to the world”. Rugh describes the evolution of the concept starting out as a mere “declaration, without institutional expression” which solely regarded foreign policy. However, with time the concept expanded to include understanding the American culture and society furthering to mutual understanding. Technological development of more recent years has made public diplomacy even more important, as people from around the world are more connected to each other; hence it is a way to give aimed direction to the flow of information. It can have various forms, but is usually aimed at opinion-shapers and makers abroad, who have the ability to transmit certain information to large audiences.

The importance of diplomacy can be understood by analyzing Professor Joseph Nye’s coined concept of “soft power – the ability to shape the preferences of others” (in Rugh). In connection to technological developments that have taken over the global sphere, many scholars believe public diplomacy to now be an inseparable dimension and tool of  diplomacy as a whole, which has expanded from the traditional nation-state level to transnational organizations, NGOs, civil society groups, etc.

2) Does the proliferation of information and communication technologies fundamentally challenge how a state should approach their public diplomacy strategy and practice? Recall that strategy and practice are not the same thing. What’s different? What’s the same?

Communication technologies have always been an essential component of diplomacy in general. Since the invention of the telegraph, and its technological descendants diplomacy has further evolved accordingly. The proliferation of information and communication technologies thus do fundamentally challenge how a state approaches their public diplomacy strategy and practice.

People all around the world in many cases are almost immediately informed of what is happening anywhere at any time. Public opinion shaping is thus much more complex than it used to be just a couple of years ago, with international audiences being wider and more informed. In these settings and their foreseeable trajectories states can no longer lean on traditional diplomacy tools only and expect for their foreign policy goals to be successfully achieved. Public diplomacy requires for well-planned strategy by states. One of the differences is that these developments simultaneously also challenge public diplomacy in creating an overflow of information, where audiences have immense content on a large variance of issues, which lead to very short attention spans at the same time.

In essence the content and means of public diplomacy have remained the same. The USIA magazine America printed during the Cold War and aimed at Russian audiences has used images more than text content, as it proved to be more effective. The same concept is behind digital technology, meaning that the means of transmission have digitalized in recent years.

3) Is public diplomacy more important now than during the ideological conflicts of the Cold War? if so, why or not?

During the Cold War public democracy was used to advocate for democracy in a world where socialism was being promoted by the Soviet Union and was gathering followers and spreading its influence. Hence public diplomacy was an important tool to help foster a more democratic global environment, especially in the areas where socialism was the dominating ideology. Some supporters of traditional diplomacy today believe that public diplomacy is not as necessary after the end of the Cold War, since advocacy for democratic ideology is not as necessary as it used to be during the Cold War era.

However, the 21st century is struck by a new wave of issues requiring advocacy through public diplomacy. One example of a major changing point of public diplomacy was 9/11, however today there are many similar threats worldwide. Aside the fact that many areas of the world today still do need ideological advocacy, terrorist organizations pose a significant threat on global security. Most importantly, these organizations, such as ISIS are using the public information dimensions for the spread of their terrorist actions. Diplomatic response on the public information dimension is thus crucial.

Whether public diplomacy is more important now than it was during the Cold War is irrelevant. Public diplomacy has made its way into being an inseparable extension of diplomacy in general, and will consequently always remain important, and further evolve with technological development as well as global issues and surroundings.

-Nertila Latifi


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