The Present And Future Of Public Diplomacy between Anglo and Spanish: A European Perspective
The first Madrid Conference on Public Diplomacy was held on 10 October 2006 at the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation’s Diplomatic School. It was organised by the Elcano Royal Institute for International and Strategic Studies –the leading Spanish think-tank for foreign policy issues– and was opened by the Spanish Minister of Culture, Carmen Calvo.
Elcano’s aim was to open a debate on the current state of –and prospects for– public diplomacy. Both experts and politicians from the Netherlands, the UK, the US, Germany, the EU and Spain contributed to the success of the meeting and open dialogue, with subsequent editions expected to be held every year in Madrid.
The Elcano Royal Institute would like to thank the Embassies of Germany, the UK and the US in Madrid, the European Commission and the Diplomatic School for their kind support.
Javier Noya, Senior Analyst for Spain’s International Image and Public Opinion, Elcano Royal Institute (Madrid)
1. Opening Remarks by Carmen Calvo the Spanish Minister of Culture
Some years ago, the issue of ‘country image’ began to take centre-stage in diplomatic and many other circles, among other reasons because we are in an increasingly interconnected world and also, in a way, one that is increasingly homogeneous and globalised, where every country needs to identify itself and offer its own unique and differentiating aspects. A country’s international image is now managed in a very different way than before.
In this regard, when considering Spain’s ‘country image’ the discourse tends to range between two quite opposite poles. One is based on the recognition of our inferiority in relation to the leading nations of our time which, inevitably, are ahead of us in this issue as well as in some others. The other position focuses on praising the work carried out since the introduction of democracy in Spain to afford the country a modern and creative image in the rest of the world, but also one replete with tradition and cultural diversity.
Your aim here at this conference is to ascertain whether we are better- or worse-placed now, and to propose new remedies, strategies and tactics. But as Minister of Culture, I would like to take this opportunity to highlight the pivotal role of culture in this issue of our image abroad and on the global political stage, where the dual process of cultural homogenisation and diversification is at the centre of all the major conflicts.
Culture is at the core of all identities
Culture is at the core of all identities, but at the same time planetary culture, the aggregate of all the cultures brought together on Earth, is the indispensable cultural heritage for a global culture of peace and respect among peoples. It therefore seems evident that culture is a vital instrument on the international stage.
The approval last year in Paris by the UNESCO Assembly of the ‘Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions’, with only the United States and Israel voting against, is a landmark achievement which must make us think.
As set forth in the Alliance of Civilisations initiative, unveiled by the Secretary General of the United Nations at the proposal of the Prime Minister of Spain, one risk inherent to today’s global world is the lack of understanding between different cultures. The way to offset this is to promote dialogue, cooperation and mutual respect between cultures, as an efficient means towards progress and peace among peoples.
Increasingly important factor
But to understand the increasingly important role of culture one must also consider that culture has become an increasingly important factor for the economy and for future development. Fifty years ago, culture was linked to diplomacy as a purely decorative element. Today, culture is a major part of developed economies and the higher their level of development the more important culture is.
In countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Italy and Spain, cultural tourism, which does not count as culture for economic purposes, is a growing force and ‘country image’ is largely generated via culture.
Modern-day Spain may be considered to be more or less radical in terms of its advanced legislation concerning social issues, but the international public gets to know it, to appreciate it and to become truly familiar with it via, to give you a significant example, cultural creations such as Almodóvar’s films.
Spain is well-known in Germany, in certain spheres, as a country with a capacity for reflection and analysis of contemporary life. The success of philosopher and thinker Javier Marías abroad is probably largely responsible for this recognition.
Alliance of Civilizations Forum Wilson Dias/ABr – Agência Brasil
And we could list many more examples of cultural ground-breakers, or phenomena such as our publishing industry, which is the world’s fourth-largest.
All of this leads us to the question of language, the Spanish language, and the capacity of penetration of the Instituto Cervantes and its excellent work for Spain’s image. The Instituto Cervantes is a priority issue for this government and, in particular, for Prime Minister Rodríguez Zapatero, who opened a new institute in Madrid’s calle Alcalá, with a 2007 budget that is set to grow by 26%, and which any ambassador for Spain would want for the city where he or she is stationed.
This is because these ‘cultural embassies’ have shown since 1992 a formidable ability to impregnate the cultural scene of the cities and countries where they work with the language which four hundred million people speak, effectively constituting a cultural block that is comparable to few others in the world.
But in Spain we know just how important culture is in a country’s image and in strengthening its identity, because of the huge efforts in the last thirty years to promote Spain’s three co-official languages; restoring these languages and bringing their value to the fore has not generated impoverishment and confusion, as many predicted, and indeed some continue to predict.
Galicia, the Basque Country, Catalonia, Valencia and the Balearic Islands are stronger today, and Spain is stronger too with all its languages well cared-for and suitably studied by young people, and valued as a priceless heritage.
pain’s image still has plenty of scope for improvement and part of this work will be up to Spanish culture, which must make further headway in its process of internationalisation and in its own quality controls, so as to offer the world well-founded reason and emotions. But we must remain resolute in this endeavour.
Spain has rebuilt itself and its relationship with Latin America and Europe in the last twenty years. And it now faces challenges in the southern Mediterranean, particularly in Morocco and Algeria, which we must rise to.
In the last few years we have implemented the Asia Plan and this year we have launched the Africa Plan.
In Asia, we have plans to travel to China next year, and it is also worth recalling that this year we have an exhibition from the Prado Museum in Japan for six months, paid for entirely by the Japanese, and that next year South Korea will be the guest country at the art exhibition Arco, where President Roh is scheduled to attend the opening ceremony, linking up with his State visit. Our relationship with Asia is making steady progress.
the new frontier and cultur
Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa, is the new frontier and culture will be present there too. Spain is a cultural power in the world and the construction of its cultural image must play a decisive role.
The Future of Public Diplomacy
Philip Fiske de Gouveia and Foreign Policy Centre
It may seem eccentric to speculate about the future of Public Diplomacy at a time when analysts and policymakers are still progressing towards an understanding of its present, but like all policy fields, Public Diplomacy is evolving fast. Developing political climates and technological environments, for example, mean that the real and virtual landscapes in which public diplomacy practitioners operate, and the tools available to them, are changing. This short paper aims to identify some of the different changes policymakers can expect in the next decade or so –and by way of doing so makes eight explicit predictions about the nature of those changes–.
Although much communications and public diplomacy work being done today relates to the so-called ‘Global War on Terrorism’ or ‘Long War’, it is worth reminding ourselves that there is at least as much if not more public diplomacy work being done globally which is unrelated to the ‘War’. Indeed in some ways this is the more important work because it seeks to head-off problems before they flare up. Had the US spent the 1990s trying to engage honestly and constructively with the Islamic World would there still have been a 9/11?
War on Terrorism
Almost certainly – but the environment in which the US would now be seeking to prosecute the ‘War on Terrorism’ would probably have been more sympathetic. Good public diplomacy is done before its needed not afterwards. At the same time, it is important to remember that public diplomacy is not simply about managing conflict. Public diplomacy, in the broadest sense, has a key role to play meeting some of the grand geo-political challenges of our day: the rise of China, a resurgent Latin America, climate change, the threat of global disease pandemics, international migration, among many others.
The term ‘Public Diplomacy’, refers, in its simplest form, to the many and varied activities conducted by governments to engage and communicate with foreign publics. The purpose of this, ideally two-way, engagement is generally to influence attitudes towards that government’s country so as to encourage tourism and inward investment, and to facilitate, for example, closer political ties or alliances. In the case of the UK government, which applies the term broadly, public diplomacy is understood to include crisis and news management, ministerial visits abroad, Foreign Office information services, travelling cultural and arts exhibitions, British Council language teaching, BBC World Service broadcasts and so on.
War on Terrorism
UK Embassy press
The UK’s public diplomacy is conducted by an enormous range of agencies and individuals from UK Embassy press and public affairs officers to British Council English language teachers, from BBC World Service news presenters to the Foreign Office’s I-UK web designers. Public diplomacy is also conducted indirectly by NGOs and development agencies including the UK’s Department for International Development, by British businesses operating abroad, and increasingly by UK-diasporic networks. UK public diplomacy strategy is still evolving. The UK Foreign Office has a public diplomacy staff of 70, a streamlined Public Diplomacy Strategy Board, and a new Partners advisory group. UK public diplomacy strategy is now explicitly linked to achieving the government’s international strategic priorities including tackling climate change and defeating global terrorism. The BBC World Service, a senior stakeholder in UK public diplomacy, has announced the creation of a new Arabic-language television channel and the UK government is already planning ahead for the London Olympics in 2012, itself an important public diplomacy opportunity. The UK takes these issues seriously although, as everywhere, resource limitations mean the government cannot do everything it, or its staff, would like to do.
global geo-political climate
Policymakers are, of course, acutely aware of the significance of international communications in the current global geo-political climate and aware, for example, of the fact that as part of the so-called ‘War on Terrorism’ both sides have sought to employ and manipulate the ‘global information environment’. In many ways 9/11 itself was an attack whose chief strategic impact was as a shock to the American collective psyche – a shock, in fact, delivered by and through the American media. The architects of the attack were sensitive to the value of such ‘propaganda of the deed’. Since 2001, the US government, for its part, has sought to use strategic communications, and public diplomacy, to influence global ‘hearts and minds’ –witness the creation of Radio Sawa and Radio Farda among many, many other initiatives–.
In this context Public Diplomacy has enjoyed something of a renaissance. The assumption that public diplomacy was a relic of the Cold War era –an assumption best demonstrated by the late-1990s folding of the United States Information Agency into the State Department– now looks naïve. The US State Department is still the senior stakeholder in US public diplomacy policy but in Karen Hughes it now has a specific Under-Secretary for Public Diplomacy –and all US State Department regional departments have a dedicated Deputy Assistant Secretary for Public Diplomacy–. Other governments are thinking along similar lines.
Despite the fact that available literature and journalism sometimes give the impression that the US, and several of the major EU states including the UK, are the only countries engaged in public diplomacy initiatives, almost everyone is. For example, countries like Botswana, Bahrain and Uganda have so-called ‘nation-branding’ initiatives, the Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has a Public Diplomacy department, Turkey has been looking to raise US$25 million from Turkish businesses to support a charm offensive in Europe in advance of EU Accession, and China is establishing dozens of Cultural relations Institutes in major cities all over the world. In a way, those of us working in this field are witnessing what we might call the globalisation of Public Diplomacy. Today, it seems everyone wants to develop and exercise their ‘soft power’. This is a trend that can only intensify. In a globalised world, international communications, and their impact on attitudes and behaviour, have profound economic and political implications. States realise this and are acting accordingly. Policymakers are going to see countries, including those in the Developing World, as well as supra-national organisations like the European Union, taking strategic communications and public diplomacy more and more seriously. That is this paper’s first prediction about the future of public diplomacy.
public diplomacy efforts
The problem is this: if states ramp up their public diplomacy efforts in order to try and capture a share of foreign publics’ goodwill, they will increasingly compete for what is essentially a finite resource. People cannot go on holiday everywhere, they cannot invest everywhere and they are not inclined to see all other countries as equally benign and friendly. Practitioners in the Information Operations world are well-acquainted with the notion of aggressively targeting the morale or attitudes of a foreign country or soldiers but public diplomacy practitioners still tend to design their strategies in isolation from those of others; public diplomacy is still generally about showing the world what you have to offer, and ignoring everyone else. This is partly because of the perceived benign and altruistic nature of cultural relations, which is still a key component of most nations’ public diplomacy but it may well change. If countries are increasingly competing for tourism, trade and goodwill it seems likely they begin to engage in what we might call negative or aggressive public diplomacy. We see this in the political arena, for example, in rather conventional US efforts to discredit the Ahmadinejad regime in Tehran –and aggressive rhetoric or spin has long been a feature of traditional diplomacy and the preamble to war–. But how long before we see countries seeking to discredit each others’ attempts to win trade and investment? Aggressive, more competitive public diplomacy is certainly not something to celebrate but it may well be something those working in this field have to learn to live with. That is this paper’s second prediction.
At the same time as states increasingly compete in the public diplomacy and strategic communications arena, they will also increasingly co-operate. In an organisation like NATO the notion of countries working together for mutual benefit is, of course, widely accepted but the concept of national co-operation in conventional public diplomacy is still a novel one. The European Union, for example, has the makings of a co-operative public diplomacy superpower; the combined ‘soft power’ might of the 25 member states and the Commission is formidable. The EU also has the important advantage of being perceived as a largely benign, if indistinct, force in the world. No degree of public diplomacy skill or effort can compensate for actions which antagonise third-country publics as the US government is learning to its cost. When it comes to the perceptions of people around the world, actions speak louder than words. To date the EU’s actions –the pursuit of multilateralism, the establishment of the International Criminal Court, the championing of the rule of law and human rights in its neighbourhood– have been of great benefit to its reputation globally.
At the same time the EU is already, in some cases inadvertently, conducting public diplomacy through initiatives like the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership, the Intercultural Dialogue programme, and, of course, the work done by the representations and delegations. This kind of ‘co-operative public diplomacy’ –co-ordinated and conducted by the likes of the European Union, the African Union, or ASEAN– will grow because it will work and it will save money. It is true that rather like having their own armies states will always want to maintain a public diplomacy capability, but in those parts of the world where national interests overlap there is no reason why state public diplomacy organisations should not work more closely together. Historically, there have been practical obstacles to closer co-operation between national public diplomacy agencies –but those obstacles are beginning to disappear–. It does not make sense for the BBC, Deutsche-Welle, Radio France International and Radio Netherlands all to broadcast to Burma or North Korea, when often their motives for doing so are the same. That is this paper’s third prediction.
political impact of al-Jazeera
Another key issue is that of the evolving global media landscape. Much has been made of the political impact of al-Jazeera, and much has been unfairly said, for example, about the Arabic satellite Channel’s role as a mouthpiece for terrorism. The fact is that al-Jazeera is emblematic of a hugely important phenomenon: the rise of developing world media. Communications and media are no longer dominated by the West in the way they were 10 or 15 years ago –and that is not just the case in the Arab world–. Last year the Foreign Policy Centre published a report arguing in favour of the establishment of a pan-African TV channel, ‘an African al-Jazeera’, as a further step towards democratisation and economic development on the continent.
There is also talk of embryonic initiatives to establish regional African TV channels in English and French, an independent Swahili-language service, a Somali service, and a North African service. In the late 1970s and early 1980s sociologists talked about the coming of a New World Information Order in which the Rich North would no longer dominate the poor South in media and communications terms: the end of so-called Cultural and Media Imperialism.
It is happening today. We are seeing, for example, entrepreneurs all round the world launching functioning, good-quality, local television channels on shoestring budgets. Cities in the developing world can afford to have their own dedicated TV news channel. This trend is going to continue to influence and reshape the landscape in which Public Diplomacy is conducted. That is this paper’s fourth prediction.
regular delegations of UK-Muslims
This paper has already acknowledged that diasporic networks have an important role to play in conducting public diplomacy. In the case of the UK this is best demonstrated by the regular delegations of UK-Muslims touring the Islamic world –lecturing, debating, engaging with the media– with the purpose of educating people about the diversity of UK society, and particularly, for example, the freedom to worship. Just as governments are starting to leverage their diasporic communities in the service of national public diplomacy strategies, so they are increasingly having to conduct public diplomacy at home.
Foreign policy is no longer something which needs only to be conducted abroad, often the abroad itself is at home. This is something that both the UK and Dutch governments have adjusted to in the last few years as a consequence of the July 2005 bombings in London, and the murder of Pym Fortuyn and Theo Van Gogh in Amsterdam. Following the London bombings, specialised working groups on Preventing Extremism were assembled to respond to the new internal threat.
Their work certainly hasn’t been perfect or free of controversy but it is emblematic of an inevitable trend in public diplomacy. The UK Foreign Office is now looking, for example, at specific means of engaging better with marginalised UK-based African communities –and it makes absolute sense to do so–. The Foreign Policy Centre recently prepared a series of reports in which we argued that the Foreign Office should organise community liaison committees, establish Somali and Amharic language information websites, create community higher-education scholarships, make BBC language services available on FM broadcasts in the UK, and so on.
In a globalised world where more and more of us are migrating to live in each other’s countries, it makes sense for foreign ministries to seek to engage not just with foreign publics abroad but foreign publics at home. It is a complicated task –hindered in the UK’s case by migrants’ often unpleasant experiences at the hands of the immigration process– but still a task governments must tackle. There are political and legal complications here –specifically the Smith-Mundt Act in the USA which prevents the US government engaging in propaganda activities on domestic soil– but effective and appropriate public diplomacy at home, particularly in the context of very real internal threats, is something policymakers must take seriously. That is this paper’s fifth prediction.
It has already been noted that countries quite new to public diplomacy are vigorously grasping the nettle –and developing strategies and initiatives of their own–. China particularly is throwing a lot of resources at public diplomacy not just through its still rather poor international broadcasting services or its new network of Confucius Institutes but through its willingness to do business in places like Sub-Saharan Africa where others are not. In this context, one wonders whether China may one day achieve the global cultural appeal previously enjoyed by the United States; the 2008 Beijing Olympics look to be an opportunity for China to forge a new image for itself in the world’s eyes.
Other smaller, developing countries are also creating their own public diplomacy capabilities. The interesting thing is that while for established public diplomacy actors like the US, the UK and France, mainstream public diplomacy remains a largely public-sector activity run by government-funded agencies like the British Council, many smaller countries have begun employing international public relations companies and branding consultants to design and do their public diplomacy for them.
Public affairs companies have understandably identified states’ new taste for public diplomacy as a significant commercial opportunity and have moved in hard and fast. The consequence, in part, has been the stealthy privatisation of some elements of public diplomacy. This trend looks set to continue, to the extent that even established players like the UK and US are increasingly turning to the private sector for help. Witness the US Government’s continuing enthusiasm for consultants like the Rendon Group and Lincoln Group. For better or worse, public diplomacy is becoming big business –and it is going to continue–. That is this paper’s sixth prediction.
Another key issue is that of public diplomacy measurement and evaluation. To date even sophisticated public diplomacy actors like the UK have relied on rather crude methods to keep track of what they are doing and how they are doing it. Strategies have tended to involve occasional surveys and focus groups which by their very nature are inadequate. Debates persist over the value of monitoring attitudinal change versus behavioural change. The fact is that effective public diplomacy monitoring and measurement indeed remains something of a ‘holy grail’. The Foreign Policy Centre’s view is that new technologies offer exciting opportunities in this field –particularly the mining of open-source Internet material for opinion–.
If one accepts that the Internet represents a constantly updated reservoir of the Zeitgeist –the changing opinions of hundreds of millions of people expressed on weblogs, message boards and chatrooms– then if only analysts could access that opinion efficiently they ought to be able to keep track of national reputation, among other things, on a daily not yearly basis.
As it happens, with the right software application and research support it is possible to do exactly that. New technology gives strategic communications and public diplomacy practitioners the ability to monitor attitudes in a particular country in a particular language towards a specific public diplomacy or communications initiative. This is an inevitable trend. Technology has shaped this entire field –and the development of technology will inevitably continue to shape its evolution–. That is this paper’s seventh prediction.
Western public diplomacy
This paper earlier warned against Western public diplomacy and communications practitioners getting ‘tunnel vision’ about the conflict with Islamic extremism. China is obviously a key target for constructive Western public diplomacy and the West a key target for increasing Chinese public diplomacy efforts.
But there is also huge potential to expand the use of communications to better manage some of the great non-political challenges that governments are now facing together. One fascinating example is migration. The increasing movement of people for political or economic motives is one of the great phenomena of our time. The UNHCR recently commissioned a survey of the North-African media environment in preparation for a possible trans-national communications campaign which will educate potential migrants about what they can expect in any European destination country.
This paper does not advocate the use of communications to deter or scare migrants –but it is in everyone’s interests for Moroccans risking their lives to cross the Mediterranean Sea in flimsy boats to know why they’re doing it–. How might the same thinking be applied to climate change and global warming? To the threat of bird flu? Public diplomacy and strategic communications have an important and, as yet, unexplored future as tools for facing some of the non-political challenges we all face. That is this paper’s eighth and final prediction.
increasingly aggressive and competitive
And so to recap: we can expect a near-future in which more and more countries are doing public diplomacy, where public diplomacy is increasingly aggressive and competitive, and where, at the same time, it is often more co-operative. We shall see an increasingly complex and frantic global media landscape no longer dominated by the West, where public diplomacy is conducted at home as well as abroad, where public diplomacy is often managed on behalf of governments by private corporations and consultants, where technology is increasingly influential in the conduct and, particularly measurement and evaluation, of public diplomacy, and where strategic communications are used co-operatively to manage the global challenges of our time.
Adapting to this evolving public diplomacy landscape is not going to be easy for policymakers but it is a landscape they must learn to appreciate and understand, particularly if governments are to successfully manage the shifting geo-political challenges of our time.
Public Diplomacy Between Theory and Practice by Jan Melissen of Netherlands Institute of International Relations (Clingendael)
Public diplomacy is beyond any doubt one of the hottest topics under discussion in the world’s diplomatic services. Ministries of foreign affairs (MFA’s) in all corners of the world pay more and more attention to their countries’ reputation overseas, from Chile to Japan and from Canada to Indonesia. The discourse about ‘PD’ extends much beyond the world of diplomacy: not only diplomats but also academics, university students in international relations and even those who are targeted by the public diplomacy of states take an interest in this subject matter. That is excellent news. Most people do not care very much about diplomatic practice in general, but many seem to be intrigued by this ‘new’ phenomenon: public diplomacy.
Speaking in Spain about public diplomacy is a little daunting. As one leading expert on nation branding put it: ‘Spain is among the best examples of modern, successful nation branding, because it keeps building on what truly exists’. This observation is indeed the first lesson of both nation branding and public diplomacy. The positive effects of a country’s external reputation management will only last if they are based on reality, and overseas perceptions are not easily managed. Not only are foreign publics pretty elusive target groups for public diplomats, they are also the first to benefit from the democratisation of information.
Ordinary people have access to multiple sources of information, they can see for themselves and influencing their views has become much more difficult after the latest revolution in communications technology.
Compared to many other countries Spain can also convene an international conference like this one with a great deal of confidence. Spain has a lot less to worry about foreign perceptions than a whole lot of other countries in Europe and beyond.
Many countries in Central and Eastern Europe are for instance facing more adverse reports in the international press than they can handle, the United States appears to be hitting an all-time low in foreign polls, and my home country is nowadays not just associated with openness and innovation, but also with Euro-scepticism and intolerance towards Dutch nationals of foreign descent. In comparison, Spain’s public diplomacy has really minor headaches to deal with.
focused on the country’s main cultural and other assets
This perhaps helps explaining why Spain’s public diplomacy has mainly focused on the country’s main cultural and other assets, rather than focusing on societal debates and issues that may be misunderstood or misinterpreted abroad. In any case, the present state of affairs is for Spain an excellent starting point for a public diplomacy strategy. Spain has a strong brand, delivered by the people of Spain. Nevertheless, there are of course challenges. Why, after all, would we be here at this conference to discuss recent developments in public diplomacy as well as ‘PD’ in the specific context of Spain’s external relations?
One challenge for Spain, in fact for all countries in the current global conversation about public diplomacy, is to go beyond paying lip-service to diplomacia pública and develop a coherent public diplomacy strategy with other stakeholders in government and society. It involves truly integrating public diplomacy into the practice of diplomacy. It means making Spanish embassies realise that the dialogue with non-official groups and individuals, in the countries where they are based, is an important task and in some cases perhaps even their principal task.
Of special significance for countries that have a federal structure, like Spain, is the point that a nation’s public diplomacy is two-faced: facing inwards and outwards at the same time. In other words, public diplomacy serves as a window into a society and as a window out. The sense of national identity of citizens, and also how they feel about their country, helps projecting a country’s identity abroad. Canadian scholar Evan Potter observes that public diplomacy is not just a foreign policy challenge, but also a national challenge. This observation not only applies to Canada, but also to Spain. Co-existing national and regional identities may complicate Spain’s public diplomacy efforts, but they are not necessarily a handicap in the communication with non-official audiences overseas. Spain and some of the autonomous regions on the peninsula draw very different connotations at home, but interestingly, overseas they are often perceived as different parts of the same package. Take for example the fact that Catalan literature has been chosen as next year’s theme at the Frankfurter Buchmesse.
At home this is likely to be pumped up as an achievement of cultural autonomy and identity, with possibly even an implicit political message, but abroad Catalonia at the Buchmesse will no doubt be seen as evidence of the cultural variety and richness of the whole of Spain.
So what is public diplomacy? The shorthand definition that immediately conveys the essence of public diplomacy is that it involves ‘getting other people on your side’ –public diplomacy is ultimately about influencing other people’s opinions and attitudes–.
The ‘people on the other side’ are characteristically multipliers of opinion and future opinion leaders or high potentials, but also ordinary people who have direct access to all sorts of information. Rather more formally, as a recent British report does, one could define public diplomacy as work which aims at influencing in a positive way the perceptions of individuals and organisations abroad about one’s own country and their engagement with one’s country. Public diplomacy can then be seen as the instrumentalisation of soft power, ie, the power of one’s attraction and reputation overseas. The importance of this dimension of power can hardly be overstated today, but was recognised by statesmen for many centuries. Cardinal Richelieu already observed that the reputation of a country is one of the most important sources of its power.
Old World and that European countries
The current debate about public diplomacy has become a global conversation, although rather dominated by the American experience and post-2001 US preoccupations with the war on terror. It may therefore serve as a useful reminder for those who are new to the field of public diplomacy that it was practised in many different ways and by many different countries before 2001. Europe’s post-1945 experience shows that public diplomacy was no stranger to the Old World and that European countries have accumulated considerable experience in this field.
The ‘European school of public diplomacy’ does in fact draw on a much longer and more varied experience with public diplomacy than any other region in the world. For some of the nations of Europe, public diplomacy was a top priority from the first days of their existence. This was true for some of the new nations on the Balkans in the 1990s, but it was also the case for Germany’s Politische Öffentlichkeitsarbeit from the very start of the Federal Republic in 1949. For the French post-war republics, their politique d’influence aiming at foreign publics rather than governments was an essential tool in restoring their grandeur after national humiliation in two world wars. Other European countries have had public diplomacy in their toolkit for decades. With the slogan ‘Spain is different’ Franco’s dictatorship was of course targeting citizens rather than elites abroad, even though the term public diplomacy was non-existent.
The Netherlands developed publieksdiplomatie avant-la-lettre around the so-called moral issues long before the Cold War was over. Liberal Dutch policies on for instance euthanasia and drugs were highly controversial outside the Netherlands, a situation that called for reaching out to multipliers of opinion in a number of other European countries.
A wealth of European ‘PD’ experience therefore antedated the present era and had nothing to do with issues such as terrorism or the dialogue between civilisations. Nevertheless, it was a remarkable experience for me, back in 2004, when at a two-day conference for small and middle powers at the Clingendael Institute, it appeared perfectly possible to discuss public diplomacy without the shadow of the war on terror hanging over the conference. The message was clear: one can learn a lot about public diplomacy from countries that are usually not associated with PD, and a lot of good public diplomacy is about issues that cannot be found in the headlines of international newspapers.
Public diplomacy is tailor-made to the needs of different countries that have given it greater priority in their diplomacy for a variety of reasons.
Their efforts may for instance support long term foreign policy objectives, as was the case for a number of Central European countries aspiring to EU accession (for example Poland). Alternatively public diplomacy may aim at boosting a country’s exports and foreign inward investment, which is usually a prime driver for public diplomacy in developing countries. It may also assist small powers punch above their weight on the world stage (Norway), even help them in articulating their own identity (Canada), or PD may be instrumental in conveying their commitment to a stable international society and peaceful multilateral order (both Canada and Norway). Yet others believe public diplomacy may help correct disturbing stereotypical images among foreign audiences (a sad reality for Balkan countries) or counter negative perceptions abroad as a result of incidents and/or crises in domestic society.
populist politician Pim Fortuyn
The Netherlands is a case in point: the murder of the populist politician Pim Fortuyn in 2001, the public outrage after the killing of Theo van Gogh by an Islamic radical (2004), the no-vote on the EU Constitutional Treaty (2005), and the debate surrounding the threatening denial of Dutch citizenship to MP and former asylum seeker Ayaan Hirsi Ali (2006), were exceptional public diplomacy headaches that contributed to a steep learning curve in the Dutch foreign ministry.
Public diplomacy is no one-size-fits-all concept, but what are a few of the most salient features of the new public diplomacy that diplomats new to this field of activity should be aware of?
First of all, public diplomacy delivered by embassies is tailor-made –always adapted to local circumstances and preoccupations–. For practitioners engaging with foreign societies it is of course elementary that in some countries certain controversial issues can be effectively addressed whereas they are a ‘no-go’ in others. Dutch ‘ethical issues’ like drugs and euthanasia are not public diplomacy material in for instance Turkey and the United States, whereas neighbouring Germany or Spain are much more open to the Netherlands as kind of a social laboratory. Another point rarely mentioned in discussions on public diplomacy is that it may be a very useful tool in bridging gaps between radically different cultures, but that most of it is actually practised between countries and regions where there is a great deal of economic interdependence (the European Union, the United States and Canada) or between societies that are interconnected at many different levels (once again, the EU).
Next, all recent literature on public diplomacy makes the seemingly self-evident point that dealings with foreign target groups should be a two-way street, that PD is essentially dialogical instead of a one-way messaging process. In other words: public diplomacy is as much about listening and receiving as it is about speaking and sending. In this respect public diplomacy shares similarities with marketing techniques. As many students of public diplomacy have observed: it starts with the perceptions and beliefs of ‘consumers’, a term that is no longer entirely alien to those in diplomatic establishment that deal directly with citizens. But as always understanding theory is so much easier than changing practice. The information departments of foreign ministries generally have a lot of experience in disseminating all sorts of information about their country, including brochures, glossy magazines, films, CD ROMs and DVDs.
They have however accumulated much less experience in the art of actually dialoguing with non-official organisations and individuals abroad. Feedback of any significance is often simply missing. Also in Europe it may be tempting for countries to see public diplomacy basically in terms of sending messages, without too much consideration for communication with foreign publics as a genuine two-way street. What is required is a pretty radical change in working habits and indeed in diplomatic culture. It would be a formidable understatement to say that the old dog merely has to learn a new trick.
The public diplomacy frenzy that has now reached all corners of the globe should indeed not delude us into thinking that all diplomats are ‘into PD’. An observation that is probably closer to reality is that public diplomacy is still a rather peripheral concern for most practitioners. Interestingly, senior management in the MFA’s of a growing number of countries appears to be convinced of its importance and some information departments have by now been renamed as public diplomacy departments –but changing the name is not the same as changing the game–.
Many junior and mid-career practitioners probably have good reasons to believe that their careers are still best served by jobs in other sectors of the ministry. Incorporating it in the day-to-day work of the foreign ministry and rewarding PD work in terms of career progression is therefore a significant challenge. Most MFA’s have not even started mainstreaming public diplomacy and vanguard countries that are in the process of doing so, including Britain, Canada and the United States, know that integrating public diplomacy in the foreign policy making machinery requires patience and a sustained support from the highest levels.
For foreign ministries that consider a far-reaching shake up of their practices premature, but that are confronted with the urgent need to tackle their overseas reputation, it may be tempting to outsource their image management to private consultants. Hiring outside communication expertise may indeed help public diplomacy work considerably, but there is of course no way that private consultants can be a substitute for the work of ordinary practitioners. The bottom line is that public diplomacy is DIY –a do-it-yourself business–. This work is particularly testing where short term PD is meant to support foreign policy objectives. Rules of thumb is here that there should be no tension between a country’s public diplomacy and its actual foreign policy, just as a nation brand should be based on reality and not contradict it in any way. As the case of the United States shows clearly, there is no public diplomacy that can mask policy failure.
Where pictures and deeds speak louder than words, public diplomacy is simply the hardest thing to do. This observation does however not only apply to the United States, it is one that has to be learnt over and over again by many countries, even though on a much smaller scale and with much less dramatic issues at stake. Others are equally exposed when the stories they tell and the images they project do not match with overseas perceptions. The reputation one aspires to is ultimately based on what is real and recognisable. As Socrates put it, the way to achieve a good reputation is to endeavour to be what you desire to appear.
‘dialogue’ and ‘mutuality’
It is easy to criticise public diplomacy by pointing to contemporary practices that do little else than discrediting notions such as ‘dialogue’ and ‘mutuality’ in the field of official communication with foreign audiences. Still, it appears to make sense to take a normative approach and indeed to distinguish public diplomacy from practices such as international propaganda, which have an entirely different pattern of communication.1 Neither is it very helpful to lump together or obscure fundamental differences between concepts like public diplomacy and nation branding, or even to quietly submerge one concept into the other. The discourses on nation branding and ‘PD’ generally pass one another like ships in the night, but it may be helpful for diplomats to articulate a few basic differences. Here I want to make the case that public diplomacy is first of all diplomacia pública, with the emphasis on diplomacia. Like diplomacy in general it is about relationship building rather than the
Projection of identity, which seems to be at the heart of branding. As far as I am aware there is no comparative literature on this, but a few arguments suggest that diplomatic practitioners better not limit themselves to a marketing approach of dealing with foreign publics.
First, it should be pointed out that branding was a largely spontaneous process in the case of countries that are generally mentioned as success stories of branding in modern international relations, such as Spain and Ireland. One cannot blame consultants for talking about branding in a can-do manner, as something one can achieve (and ultimately purchase), but the truth is that there are many more disillusioned foreign ministries and governments than success stories of branding. Not only have a number of countries in the Balkans and Central Europe lost their initial enthusiasm when the branding promise failed to deliver.
A number of MFA’s in Western Europe have come to the conclusion that branding is at best incapable of delivering the (often political) public diplomacy needs of foreign ministries, and at worst incapable of moving beyond a fairly rigid and sometimes even superficial approach of country promotion. There may be a permanent tension between the discipline imposed by the branding approach and the diversity and pluralism of modern societies. Transplanting the success of branding from the corporate sector to countries´ international relations could well be one bridge too far. To be sure, various historical and modern champions of nation branding were not much troubled by their societies’ complexity: branding Cuba, well-orchestrated from the top, was always easier for Castro than branding Spain has been or will ever be for González or Zapatero.
public diplomacy initiatives
For Spain’s reputation abroad, the time is ripe to explore public diplomacy initiatives aimed at truly engaging foreign societies, rather than the broad, ambitious and to date successful, but arguably also more static approach of marca España. Typically, public diplomacy is about dialogue and debate. That includes dealing with sensitive and controversial themes, with a variety of issues that are not only subject to public debate on the Iberian Peninsula, but also north of the Pyrenees and south of Gibraltar. Spain’s public diplomacy has something to contribute to transnational conversations on a range of topics. It has the potential of correcting foreign perceptions and, equally importantly, giving a distinctive Spanish perspective on issues that are debated across Europe. What springs to mind is the Spanish way of dealing with Islamic terrorism and the unique albeit controversial Spanish approach of illegal immigration.
These are just a few examples of typical issues for public diplomacy initiatives of Spanish embassies in countries like France, Britain or Germany. But a few others could also be listed here. The Spaniards have experience with combating terrorism and views on dealing with terror in their society that draw the admiration of many outsiders. And let us not forget that Spain brings to the dialogue with the Islamic world the historical experience of living with Islam for 800 years. Spain also has experiences with devolution it could compare with other countries going down the federalist road. This is not the place to identify a long list of themes for Spanish public diplomacy, but rather to suggest that public diplomacy initiatives along these lines, building on the existing strength of Spain’s reputation and strong cultural relations, might be usefully considered for Madrid’s future public diplomacy strategy. Such an approach appears to be more appropriate to transnational dialogue in an interconnected world than an ongoing elaboration of Spain’s key assets and selling points in the framework of ‘Brand Spain’.
Public diplomacy may be the name of the game, but what is in a name? Some people have suggested that it would be better to speak of political communication or strategic communication, instead of public diplomacy. I do however believe that there is great merit in continuing to refer to public diplomacy. It reinforces the view that public diplomacy is part of the wider process by which states and others represent themselves and their interests to one another. PD is in other words not a stand alone phenomenon, and by no means the mere application of new techniques of marketing, advertising, media management or spin doctoring to the conduct of international relations, but an expression of broader patterns of change in diplomacy.
exclusive CD world
The crux is in the recognition that the practice of diplomacy is moving into another phase, away from the exclusive CD world and closer to the main street. Daryl Copeland of Foreign Affairs and International Trade in Canada speaks of ‘guerrilla diplomacy’, and suggests that the new diplomat should make it his or her permanent business to establish and maintain contacts, seek tactical advantage and strategic intelligence. And in his book The New Diplomacy (in Spanish with the more intriguing title Adiós Diplomacia) Shaun Riordan refers to the emergence of a collaborative model of diplomacy. It is true that the kind of new diplomacy that increasingly moves outside its original habitat, works more and more with other agencies an organisations, and operates in a variety of networks, helps creating an environment in which public diplomacy is also thriving.
The connections between diplomacy and society are becoming closer. It is no coincidence that public diplomacy shares some characteristics with consular affairs, another field of diplomatic activity that is becoming more prominent under the conditions of interdependence and globalisation. What these two fields of diplomatic activity have in common is that they deal with ‘ordinary people’, whom they regard as consumers of the services and products delivered by the foreign ministry.
This shows us that the classic distinction between high-priority sovereign representation and the relatively low-priority service tasks of foreign ministries is out of date. Interestingly, public diplomacy and consular affairs both also deal with issues of image and reputation: it is after all the job of public diplomats to manage the external reputation of the country, whereas consular officers are always conscious of the impact of their work on the domestic image of the MFA. Broadly speaking these developments show the growing ‘societisation’ of diplomacy. This is not a paradigm shift, not even a revolution in diplomatic affairs, but nevertheless highly significant change in the conduct of diplomacy of which the rise of public diplomacy is a part.
governments do not control
I have argued that understanding public diplomacy is much easier than putting it in practice. This is not the place to elaborate on this point in great depth, but it is important to bear in mind that governments do not control what their own societies project to the outside world. Even less are governments in control of how their countries are perceived by foreign individuals and organisations. A major challenge for all foreign ministries is what Joseph Nye calls the ‘paradox of plenty’: diplomats must gain attention in a world where there is an abundance of information.
But the paradox of plenty hits different countries in dissimilar ways. Some of them are desperate to be noticed in the first place, or not to be confused with states that look all too similar to outsiders (the Slovak Republic, or Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania respectively), others do not want to be noticed for the wrong reasons (Balkan countries that have emerged from the war) and there are even those that see the absence of news as ‘good news’ for their international reputation (countries as diverse as Israel and Sudan). Finally, I would like to suggest a brief sobering thought about two types of structural limits that government officials come across when they are acting as public diplomats.
First, they have to come to terms with the fact that their own role in international affairs is not always what it used to be. In a global landscape of multilayered links between countries, diplomats sometimes have to accept that they are no longer at the centre of international relationships. On top of that, when it comes to their contacts with foreign publics, the accredited representatives of other states are unlikely to benefit from the same degree of credibility as vis-à-vis their foreign peers. Ironically, the practitioners who realise this and use it to their tactical advantage are well placed to be successful in public diplomacy.
It should be clear that public diplomacy is a major challenge for all countries. Spain has the distinct advantage of being able to develop a public diplomacy strategy on the strength of a very strong brand. Moving on from that success to a public diplomacy that is
aimed at truly engaging foreign audiences appears to be the obvious next stage in Spain’s reputation management project. Spain’s ‘PD’ could deal with themes that matter to Spanish society and where Spain has something distinctive to contribute to debates that do not stop at its borders. This would amount to the development of a public diplomacy that may have a more political character and that would deal with the concerns of modern Spanish society. It would be an exciting challenge for all partners and stakeholders in Spain’s public diplomacy.