Friday, June 29, 2012

US Public Diplomacy: The Future Is Now

For United States diplomats and civil society actors alike, the future is most certainly now. We're beyond feelings of resistance to public diplomacy, or even conceiving of public diplomacy as something separate from diplomacy, as Bruce Gregory indicated in his work, American Public Diplomacy: Enduring Characteristics, Elusive Transformation. Although traditional government-to-government and diplomat-to-diplomat high level communications are still occurring every day, it is the outreach to public that solidifies power and influence of one state "over" another or "with" another.

Public diplomacy is the diplomacy of both the current age and of the future for not only the US, but for the world.

With heightened world presence, other powers such as China, Japan, India, Brazil and South Korea are progressing in their own public diplomacy strategies, which puts the US in an interesting position. More or less the primary source of political, economic and informational influence in the world following WWII, the US is now coming to terms as other nations, many of which have received assistance from the US for development purposes, innovate and develop in sectors that the US does not have the capacity to manage as succinctly. Some of the Scandinavian countries as well as South Korea have better Internet penetration. Education systems are competing to be internationally accredited and attract US students to their countries. Nations are banding together in regional coalitions to gain multilateral power and authority able to coincide with international bodies.

Appropriately enough, this message came through in a meme shared by non-profit organization The Other 98%:

The question becomes: how does the US reposition itself in the international arena? This is where some of the initiatives of the Obama administration have come in, such as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Senior Adviser for Innovation Alec Ross' notion of 21st Century Statecraft. This strategy utilizes public diplomacy and information communication technology as a central driver to maintaining a foothold in the world. By being the world's largest and most powerful advocate for the right to 'connect,' the US has been able to improve its international image, but even this has had some cracks.

State Department stance on Internet freedom, for example, has been influential in countries like Egypt, Iran and Burma, but while this stance is projected, the battle over intellectual property rights online sees the US seizing both onshore and offshore websites engaging in "questionable activity". In this instance, there needs to be a consistency in message and action, a strategy the US must utilize given we are in an age where information is so free-flowing and transparent.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Transforming U.S. public diplomacy

Given the lessons learned from practice abroad and from conceptual/theoretical proposals, how should the United States respond to the challenges facing its public diplomacy?

Gregory makes the argument that since “public diplomacy is now so central to diplomacy …it is no longer helpful to treat it as a sub-set of diplomatic practice. The term marginalizes what has become ‘woven into the fabric of mainstream diplomatic activity’” (Gregory, 353). Indeed, the influx of technology, research, and the Obama administration’s framing of public diplomacy has helped evolved our conception of public diplomacy’s role and place in U.S. foreign policy. Gregory makes the astute observation that public diplomacy is no longer a sub-set of diplomacy, is an absolute “mindset” required of all multilateral diplomatic actors in the future.

It is clear that as an institution, public diplomacy has become a multi-stakeholder instrument that has been integrated into modern diplomatic practice. As a result, U.S. public diplomacy’s institutions, methods and priorities require transformation rather than adaptation, Gregory argues. He has a litany of areas for improvement: “Rethinking fortress embassies, the role of foreign ministries, risk assessments for diplomats among the people, recruitment, training and professional education, resource limitations, Congressional oversight, legal and regulatory authorities, international broadcasting and inter-agency direction,” to name a few.

Now and in the future, I believe American fortress embassies are a reality we must contend with—but there should be accommodations made in areas where it is reasonable. In 2009, during my internship at the U.S. Embassy in Phnom Penh, I observed that the newly-built embassy featured a playground for children and wide lawns, with a slatted iron fence instead of the typical reinforced concrete walls that often surrounded the latest generation of U.S. embassy structures. The fence had large spaces between in the slats and the embassy grounds hosted a garden easily viewed from the sidewalk. The Public Affairs Section also hung artwork from a student contest on the embassy fence, making the fence seem less like a barrier and more of a formality.

The United States is rich in its numbers of social entrepreneurs, start-up business owners, and tech-savvy players. As a part of its efforts to foster a long-term vision of public diplomacy, U.S. public diplomacy practitioners would do well to listen to and network with what Gregory deems as “voices outside government,” people who “are exploring ways to leverage civil society’s knowledge, skills and creativity through a new independent, non-profit institution — a networked capacity that is intended to enable government instruments, not to duplicate or compete with them” (Gregory, 368).

On the subject of recruitment, the U.S. Foreign Service needs to look like the rest of America. As Ambassador Ruth Davis has pointed out, the Foreign Service should recruit members that are representative of the United States people, paying particular attention to fostering diversity by recruiting people from different backgrounds, walks of life, areas of the country, and with (non-traditional policy) expertise. Fellowship programs such as the Thomas R. Pickering and Charles B. Rangel fellowships provide young people--especially minorities and women--with invaluable opportunities to apply their talent and skills for a career in public service. The government would do well to continue to fund such opportunities.

Finally, members of Congress should have long-term interests in supporting the transformation of U.S. public diplomacy and its institutions. Going forward, Congress should reauthorize the U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy and authorize larger amounts of funding and research so that the function of public diplomacy will be funded almost as much as the amounts dispensed to its military counterpart.

My Reply to "Improvements to US Public Diplomacy"

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Tips for Success: U.S. Public Diplomacy for the 21st Century

The 21st century has changed the game of public diplomacy by injecting more players and new tools. During the first twelve years of the new century, the U.S. has learned several lessons about how to succeed in public diplomacy with these new rules. Alec Ross presents one of the lessons – the lesson that technology is a neutral tool. Developments in the Middle East during and after the Arab Spring highlighted that technologies can be used to enforce existing ideologies. They are just as potent for protesters as for authoritarian governments. A second lesson is that public information is global information. The traditional separation between U.S. public diplomacy and public affairs is impractical and illogical.

Knowing all of this, U.S. public diplomacy faces a host of challenges, ranging from organizational issues to the rise of citizen diplomacy. A condensed list might look like this, with each item building on the previous:

  • National strategy
  • Organizational issues
  • More stakeholders

The first challenge is the lack of a national strategy for public diplomacy. Many observers have commented on the Obama administration’s philosophy of engagement. As Bruce Gregory notes, it is not entirely clear what engagement should mean. He cautions that it has many opportunities to fail, for instance if engagement reinforces negative stereotypes.

The second challenge includes the organizational issues inherent in how the U.S. conceptualizes public diplomacy. Nakamura and Weed note that the hierarchy of public diplomacy officials implies a lack of importance. They write that making the PD leader an undersecretary reporting to the Secretary of State makes public diplomacy seem inferior to traditional diplomacy. Another related issue is the ambiguous role of other agencies such as the Department of Defense and USAID. Without a national strategy to guide coordination, messages might be mixed and/or conflicting.

Finally, the third overarching challenge is the influx of public diplomacy stakeholders. The traditional diplomats are no longer the only actors. Aside from civil society groups and the private sector, average citizens are empowered by their technologies. The current administration embraces people-to-people diplomacy. As Gregory points out, citizen diplomacy might not always accomplish the government’s goals. American citizens’ opinions could likely contradict U.S. foreign policies. On a related note, U.S. public diplomacy practitioners have not yet grasped the nuances of networks. Ross calls networks a “defining feature in the new global power structure.” Not understanding the structure and dynamics of networks will be very damaging to U.S. public diplomacy.  

To resolve these problems, Gregory asserts that the United States needs to transform the way it does public diplomacy. This transformation includes changing the mindset of always needing to be in control. U.S. public diplomacy needs to insert itself into the global networks of citizens and civil society. Top-down or one-way communication is no longer an option.

One of Gregory’s main points is absolutely on target. The U.S. needs to devote more resources to evaluating its efforts. The difficulty of measuring success is a problem for any state. A different approach could be spend more time evaluating programs before they are implemented. Questions to ask include: Which agency is best equipped to address this need? How can other state agencies and public diplomacy actors complement their efforts?

Another solution is to be prepared for international developments. Ross says that public diplomacy practitioners must respond to the disruptions in international relations caused by technology. The U.S. should take this notion a step further by preempting the disruptions. Gerald Howarth, Britain’s Minister for International Security Strategy, spoke yesterday at CSIS. His speech centered on defense, but the major points can easily be applied to public diplomacy. Howarth spoke of “meeting challenges upstream.” What he meant is that so many world events come as a surprise. If the U.S. were to devote more resources to research, in Washington and abroad, there would be greater potential to anticipate. In addition, focusing so much attention on one region at the expense of others is a flawed concept. After the 9/11 attacks, the U.S. turned its attention to an area of the world that it had previously ignored. Having its pulse on every region of the world could let the U.S. be proactive rather than reactive.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Defining Nation Branding in Middle Power Public Diplomacy

Geopolitics have consistently evolved since the Cold War, and have given rise to a large number of nations which ascribe to a status referred to as a ‘Middle Power’. These nations, South Africa, South Korea, Canada and Australia among them, have attained a level of stability, ingenuity or leadership in a certain domestic sectors, which enable them to compete with superpowers such as the United States and China. However, these nations are still dealing with internal or international development in other facets.

One way in which middle powers can attempt to assert themselves against conceptions of inferiority is nation branding, or the process of acutely strategizing information, products and practices that positively affect how other countries view them. These branding strategies are oftentimes synonymous with other diplomatic or public diplomacy efforts.

In my opinion, nation branding retains the ability to be classified as or synonymous with public diplomacy only if it meets certain conditions. If the intention behind the nation brand is to advance a state’s foreign policy agenda (whether that be through multilateral partnerships, soft power strategies, economic ties, etc.) then I believe it should be considered an arm of public diplomacy, as it does assist in the control over image, message and attractiveness of a state.  Ideally, the nation brand reflects an accurate depiction of the country. When this image is not depicted correctly, there can be disagreements from such parties as the foreign public, the international media or the domestic public.  This is exemplified in the Brand Kenya campaign, where Kenyan nationals are shown to not have a high level of patriotism due to internal conditions like importation, violence and corruption.

What I do not believe is public diplomacy is when a national branding strategy is created for purely commercial purposes. Within this context, nation branding is more closely related to propaganda or advertising, as there is not always the guarantee of legitimacy or credibility behind the image or message and there may not be ample space for dialogue within the strategy. Association is also a factor. Brand Kenya, although a legitimate nation brand, was crafted by PR firm Interbrand Sampson, which also has commercial products such as AT&T and Wrigley in their repertoire. Eytan Gilboa reflected on this when he noted that nation brands must be prepared to be very flexible with their product, as public diplomacy is a fluid process.

I think it is also crucial to consider intention of nation branding strategies that do not have foreign policy goals besides increasing international recognition and attractiveness. Popularity in the international arena is not public diplomacy because it should not be an end in itself, but rather a means to an end of specific foreign policy objectives.

It may be easy for a ‘middle power’ to consider their nation branding strategy a form of public diplomacy, despite the fact there are purely commercial entities conducting it. As is also described by Gilboa, middle powers are characteristically strapped for resources in public diplomacy, yet must constantly strive to remain sustainable and influential within their sector, lest succumb to the fluidity of the geopolitical sphere.  

My response to "The Limits of Country Branding"

"The Limits of Country Branding"

My response to classmate Alejandro Neyra's post found by clicking here.

The Boston Globe makes note of the nation-building as a trend, reporting on how “the last few years have seen an explosion of ‘nation-branding,’ shorthand for coordinated government efforts to manage a country's image, whether to improve tourism, investment, or even foreign relations” (Risen, 2005). As Alejandro points out, Mexico, South Korea, and other middle powers are no exception. These middle powers are invested in gaining soft power, 'top of mind awareness,' cultural leverage, and a means to foster mutually beneficial relationships with its own constituents, prospective investors, potential customers, and/or other countries. Cesar Villanueva Rivas highlights how some countries, such as Mexico, are compelled to remake its image in effort to dispel the negative press that has plagued the country since it experienced a surge in "narco-violence." Other developing middle powers, such as South Korea, are trying to polish their public image to foster their influence. This is illustrated in Sook-Jung Lee's briefing on "South Korea's Soft Power Diplomacy," where he underscores how "South Korea’s national image and values for [the brand concept of a] Global Korea should be prosperous, democratic, modest, nonthreatening, and culturally syncretic, since many Third World countries see South Korea as a model with its simultaneous achievement of development and democratization” (Lee, 2009). One tactic indispensable to South Korea's branding strategy relies on translating its commercial and private sector success--Samsung's or LG's brand power for example--into soft power. The other tactic that is critical to South Korea's branding strategy is that it must follow through with the realization that branding, to put it in Alejandro's words, "is not only about having a commercial logo or a catchy slogan," but about building trust and fostering a credible rapport with the public.

This tactic goes beyond branding and moves into the realm of public diplomacy, which not only promotes the understanding of a nation's brand, but also the understanding of its culture, heritage, and people. In a sense, governments seeking to create their own brands and grow brand value also want to “develop [an] emotional, positive reaction between their part of the world and citizens...[they] want to make or re-make their image in the world to gain clout vis-à-vis their neighbors to achieve certain political ends” (Youde, 2009). In order to pique and develop the public's empathy for and/or sense of connection to a brand, a nation must look to its public diplomacy programming. As Alejandro also notes, public diplomacy is intrinsic to branding—and not secondary to it—because it provides various groups with the possibility to interact with, learn from, and connect to others. In other words, branding alone has its limits, but when combined with public diplomacy and people-to-people initiatives, the two have the power to building bridge across cultures, fostering mutual understanding within a larger regional or global community.

Just as branding is indispensable to shaping and communicating brand value, so too is public diplomacy to “helping audiences identify with” nation-states and “encouraging them to buy its products and services” (van Ham, 2002). And just as Lee emphasizes how “the soft power of a country operates in constant interaction with its hard power,” so too does public diplomacy operate in tandem with nation-branding.

The Critical Role of Public Diplomacy to Middle Powers

In the realm of international relations, middle powers face several challenges in respect to their representation, influence, and legitimacy. Middle powers have limited resources, yet they aspire to influence central events and processes in contemporary international relations [Gilboa: 2006, 27]. In order to have a say in international relations, middle powers use public diplomacy as a tool to engage with the public about their initiatives, national identity to increase global awareness about their status and garner support for their goals.

Canada used a global initiative in order to strengthen their soft power outreach as well as global leadership skills through public diplomacy. Canada undertook a campaign to ban landmines despite opposition by larger powers. By taking on this initiative, Canada was able to connect with like-minded states and increased their global presence by employing public diplomacy to raise awareness. [Gilboa: 2006, 25]

Using the tool of public diplomacy is important in enhancing a middle power’s ability to influence foreign affairs. Where middle powers might lack the economic, resource, and military might of those of the larger powers, they rely heavily on public diplomacy to carefully craft their image and at times likeability to garner external support. The United Nations Security Council provides one example where states with strong public diplomacy efforts can affect a state’s ability “in shaping global agendas and responding to global issues, to engage and negotiate with significant international powers on a regular basis, and consequently to raise their own medium and long-term international profile and standing.” [Bryne: 2011, 7]

In the case of a non-permanent UNSC seat, the competition is fierce and candidates must secure at least two-thirds of the available and eligible General Assembly votes of about 128. [Bryne: 2011, 12] Thus, other state’s perception matters greatly in matters such as these and tools of public diplomacy can be used to help secure votes to help increase a state’s global influence.  Countries such as South Korea also use their public diplomacy efforts to support their “footprint” in both the region and globally.[Lee: 2009, 2]

Middle powers are generally viewed as having less material resources and global influence than great powers and must rely on tools of public diplomacy to advocate their country initiatives, national identity, and increase global awareness of their work as good global citizens and mediators. Where these states lack in material resources they must compensate for promoting their self-image to gain participation in international relations.