As most of you know, I am looking forward to meeting Italian Public Affairs officer Andreas Sandre this week. The articles reviewed here on social diplomacy and fast diplomacy broach issues worth further research.
One idea I liked was how the internet has shifted the diplomatic conversation from a vertical conversation, to a more horizontal one – with public engagement, discourse, and opinion as a new actor in what foreign governments must consider when they take any action or respond in their bilateral relations. U.S. public diplomacy for example does a lot of local engagement and storytelling. Do other governments do this? Do other governments do it outside the capitols where they operate? We know the U.S. does, Ambassador Chris Stephens was on a trip visiting Benghazi where the U.S. was not maintaining a presence any longer when the compound was swarmed and four U.S. government employees were murdered. While stationed in Mauritania, I myself organized trips for the deputy chiefs of mission – second at the embassy to the ambassador – to remote outposts. I know of a few foreign governments at least that actively reach out to their nationalized diaspora living in the U.S. who do not maintain citizenship in the countries their parents, grandparents or great-grandparents emigrated from, Korea, many African missions, etc. Do they go beyond this, outside of the typical cultural events which are so common in Washington? Joseph Nye spoke about Japan inviting foreign youth in to teach their native languages, and about their cultures every year, do they engage in similar programming outside their borders? What does American diplomacy have to learn from that of our neighbors?
Mr. Sandre quotes Anne Slaughter’s idea that new leadership in diplomacy will combine hierarchical methods with the newer, more horizontal web of foreign relations and influence. He is also clear in distinguishing the internet, social platforms and technologies as tools, force multipliers, as Colin Powell was fond of saying as Secretary of State, for the message and engagement. Sandre emphasizes that creativity and innovation will make good use of the internet, and this too is useful in ‘fast diplomacy.’ Staying current with current events, and making sure that the audience is actually being reached are ways that a flexible, smart diplomat, willing to make use of the internet, will find success. Because though information on events is available worldwide in real time, being the first responder is not necessarily the most powerful response. Fast diplomacy is not the goal, a stronger, more credible presence is the true goal of diplomacy.
Joseph Nye reiterates several of these points in the seminal article we read, Public Diplomacy and Soft Power. Nye defined ‘soft power’ as “the ability to affect others to obtain the outcomes one wants through attraction rather than coercion or payment.” He goes on to identify three dimensions of public diplomacy: daily communication, strategic communication, and development of long-term relationships through exchanges at any and all levels, though most pointedly those which will create relationships amongst future governmental actors. In addressing public diplomacy in the information age, he also addresses our over-abundance of available information – which has alternatively been called the “paradox of plenty” and “the anxiety of choice” – that has turned the attention of the populace into the new major scarcity in western nations. This glut of information has reinvented our need for media intermediaries who instead of filtering content for suitability, now must filter for significance and relevance. To accomplish this, one must enjoy trust and credibility as given by the audience. Credibility and trust are status; they are informal qualities of moral leadership an actor must earn and be granted. In any dimension, public diplomacy has a hard time when the messaging does not reflect actual foreign policy – when what a governments says differs from what it does neighbors take note and credibility is lost. This phenomenon is drastically compounded in the information age, with foreign audiences and domestic audiences.
The question this week is how can diplomacy, thrust into this environment of instant global news and demands for reaction or response, effectively harness opportunities available in communication technology to garner soft power? How can U.S. diplomacy re-establish, and in many cases establish, trust and credibility? Personally, I believe Joseph Nye is correct that listening with an open mind, making ourselves available to the influence of others to some extent, is the most powerful attitude we can take in improving our public diplomacy. For this to be accepted in the world, it would need to be in line with our actual foreign policy.
There is a very recent, very dramatic example of this – if the story can be told right: During the U.S.-Russia meeting on the chemical weapon crisis in Syria in early September of this year, Secretary of State John Kerry made an off-hand comment (one he was not necessarily cleared to make, as evidenced in that he did not bring it forward during the official discussion) that if the Assad government in Syria produced and surrendered its total chemical weapon cache, the U.S. would not need to intervene militarily. Russian President Vladimir Putin jumped at the chance and convinced the USG to actually go forward with the unlikely scenario, which the Secretary of State and President (to say nothing of the Security Council) were not at all convinced would work. As of November 7, 2013 that all but one of the identified sites have been cleared and the chemical weapons destroyed. The U.S., open to influence, made a drastically different choice in intervention in the Syrian civil conflict – where is the story? Why not harness this situation into an example of true international partnership and compromised resolution. It was even our idea – is the superpower afraid of looking weak? I think we’ve missed an opportunity in our public diplomacy on this issue, though the policy itself is heartening. Soft power resides in relationships, messaging and social diplomacy can contribute to such relationships, making our presence more real and impactful – as the upcoming generation of diplomats and foreign relations actors, it will be our responsibility to build those policies, messages, and relationships.