Friday, 15 July 2011

Public Diplomacy: The Concept

The term was “coined in the mid-1960s by former U.S. diplomat Edmund Gullion, partly to distance overseas governmental information activities from the term ‘propaganda’ (which had acquired pejorative connotations). Today public diplomacy is differentiated from the term ‘public affairs’, which refers to a government’s activities and programs designed to communicate policy messages to its own domestic audiences.

“Public diplomacy is widely seen as a transparent method by which a sovereign country communicates with publics in other countries, with an aim to promote the national interest and advance its foreign policy goals. Public diplomacy as part of traditional state-to-state relations,  included activities like educational exchange programs for scholars and students; visitor programs; language training; cultural events and exchanges; and radio and television broadcasting. Such activities usually focus on improving the “sending” country’s image or reputation as a way to shape the wider policy environment in the “receiving” country.

“However since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, public diplomacy has attracted increased attention from both practitioners and scholars from many parts of the world. Its definition has also broadened. As distinct from the “narrow” traditional, state-based conception of public diplomacy described above, recent scholarship has broadened the idea beyond an activity unique to sovereign states. This view aims to capture the emerging trends in international relations where a range of non-state actors with some standing in world politics – such as supranational organizations, sub-national actors, non-governmental organizations, and perhaps even private companies – communicate and engage meaningfully with foreign publics and thereby develop and promote public diplomacy policies and practices of their own. The democratization of information through new media and communication technology has greatly empowered non-state actors, and elevated their role and legitimacy in international politics. As a result, a new public diplomacy is seen as developing in a system of mutually beneficial relations that is no longer state-centric but composed of multiple actors and networks, operating in a fluid global environment of new issues and contexts.

“Academics feel that, though this new diplomacy will not displace traditional state-to-state diplomacy as practiced by foreign ministries it will certainly impact the way those ministries do business. Foreign ministries and diplomats will need to go beyond bilateral and multilateral diplomacy, to construct and conduct relations with new global actors.

“The increased interest in public diplomacy in recent years has been facilitated by conceptual developments in other fields. Marketing and public relations notions such as branding have been incorporated by public diplomacy scholars to great effect to cover countries, regions, and cities. Similarly, the concept of soft power (coined by international relations scholar Joseph Nye) has become a core concept in public diplomacy studies. Nye defines soft power as “the ability to get what you want through attraction rather than coercion or payments.” In other words, soft power is the degree to which a political actor’s cultural assets, political ideals and policies inspire respect or affinity on the part of others. Thus, soft power has come to be seen as a resource, with public diplomacy as a mechanism that seeks to leverage soft power resources."

[Reproduced here from Centre for Public Diplomacy, University of South California.]

Some important concepts in Public Diplomacy:

Citizen Diplomacy: "peaceful relations between nations requires understanding and mutual respect between individuals." President Dwight D. Eisenhower
Citizen diplomacy, also known as “track two” diplomacy, is the idea that unofficial contacts between ordinary people can eventually pave the way for official or “track one” diplomacy. The contacts between people can build mutual understanding, trust, and cooperation, which proves to be highly beneficial when official negotiations and government interactions occur. As citizen diplomats, the individual citizen has the power and right to influence the image of their native country abroad. Citizen diplomats act as unofficial ambassadors, in their everyday travels abroad, through their participation in international exchange programs, and as hosts for international guests at home. A citizen diplomat defines their country to the rest of the world. []

Cultural Diplomacy: Cultural elements including Television Programs,   
Film, Music, Radio, Sports, Cuisine, and Religion among many others play an important role in shaping how countries are perceived abroad. These activities can have a significant impact on international relations. A country's culture comprises a core component of its relative soft power in the international political arena. Some additional experiments in this field include sports as cultural diplomacy, where cultural differences are sought to be overcome by bringing people through sports- ‘cricket diplomacy’ is one example closer to home.

Nation-branding- Nation branding simply refers to the application of corporate branding strategies to individual nations. It focuses on developing an appealing, positive image in order to support a nation’s presence and influence in the international realm. The tactic has become especially important for countries aiming to carve out particular niches for themselves as global markets expand and international competition for trade, investment, and tourism intensifies. The specific goals of branding campaigns can vary according to the government’s priorities, but they often focus on issues such as attracting foreign investment, facilitating trade, increasing tourism etc. Switzerland is considered to have one of the strongest national brands, associated with strong and attractive clichés, like  beautiful landscapes, fine chocolate and watches, as well as organizations such as the Red Cross.
It is now very common for a government to hire a specialized organization to design targeted branding campaigns. Brand India is managed by India Brand Equity Foundation (a partnership between Ministry of Commerce, GOI and CII). In addition to country campaigns, branding can be equally effective on virtually any scale in the international realm. “Place branding” and “city branding” offer more narrowly targeted campaigns. Eg: “Kerala-God’s Own Country”
The term “nation branding” was first coined by Simon Anholt in the 1990s.

Smart Power- Smart Power is the effective and efficient combination of hard power (the power to coerce) and soft power (the power to convince), in pragmatic ways that help nations advance their international interests. Suzanne Nossel first developed the concept of Smart Power in a March, 2004 article in Foreign Affairs magazine. Although smart power can be applied by any country, it is mainly a term used to analyze American foreign policy, gaining more significance as America's reputation has diminished around the world.


  1. Example of Track II- The recent decision of the Bombay and Karachi Chambers of Commerce to establish a joint-forum to promote bilateral trade can be seen as an example of Track II diplomacy. [19/7/11]

  2. Cross-LOC trade has been growing and is sustaining despite the uncertainties prevailing in diplomatic ties between India and Pakistan.The govts are also trying to facilitate this though not at the pace the traders would like. Nonetheless the traders from both side now have an interest in the others' welfare and are pressuring their govts to open up trade. Such bottom-up confidence-building measures (CBM) thus have a power to move diplomatic relations as well.
    One criticism is of the Pakistani govt from being slow on this front. However this could stem from their fear that these CBMs would erode their case on the Kashmir issue.
    This trade is also widening the constituency of peace (some 40 former militants are reported to be helping sustain trade) and also promoting stability in the region (the 'Azad Kashmir' govt has admitted that the peace in the region is contributing to its own development because NGOs and development workers can now live and work in the region.
    [Joshua,A. "Cross-LoC trade and peace-building", 20/7/11, The Hindu]

  3. Imp Quote:
    "Empires of the future, are the empires of the mind"
    - Winston Churchill