Oct. 28 Readings

In The Rise of Netpolitik: How the Internet Is Changing International Diplomacy, the concept of netpolitik ties in previous themes that we have discussed so far this semester such as the role of media in shaping politics.  Madeleine Albright made a series of insightful comments in the report such as “The rise of CNN and the Internet has greatly shortened the time horizons of diplomatic decision making,” and then “All these large numbers of information systems make diplomacy much harder to carry on because the information comes in very fast and you have to make decisions much faster than you might under previous circumstances. Everybody wants an answer right away.” This brings to mind the recent news about the US bugging German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s mobile phone which has snowballed over the past few days. Not long after dealing with a similar scandal with the Brazilian president Dilma Roussef, the US is scrambling once again to do damage control. I wonder if there can ever be balanced information as nations have to deal with what the report describes as “tension between velocity of information and judgment?”

 

People/Networks/Power summarized many challenges with which the US struggles in its diplomacy efforts in the Middle East. This report was written in 2004 but, almost a decade later, the improvements in relations with Middle East haven’t significantly improved. John W. Rendon, one of the roundtable participants quoted in the article spoke of focus group studies, mostly in the Middle East, which highlighted “three Americas…
whose images are based on personal relationships and experiences; multinational corporations; and U.S. foreign policy.” Following on to this assessment, I was curious to know if the proposal for “Radio Understanding” talk radio station mentioned in the Soft Power, Hard Issues report led to the actual creation of the station. But, unfortunately, it appears that the project didn’t get off the ground.

 

Week 9 Reflection

  • This week’s reading is remarkably interesting to me especially the discussion Bollier made in terms of “soft power” and “hard power”. In his discussion, he claimed that ”nation-states still retain ample supplies of coercive ‘hard power’, which remains important and often decisive in international politics.” (Bollier, p. 3) However, “the development of military might and economic leverage is being complicated by the ‘soft power’ of reputation, credibility, and values, which indicates the monitoring of “soft power” and “hard power” became extremely important in today’s society. At this point, I am starting to think how individual, global institutions like the UN, and country like the U.S functioning in term of control certain power, since many global issues such as Syria problem indicates UN as the role of switcher maintaining power from the U.S. Another point also interests me in terms of how the Internet plays the role as the coordinator between those big powers.
  •  Another point Kalathil discussed about the shift of public diplomacy as well as the power shift also remarkable since our world is changing as how to name the target audience and measure success of public diplomacy efforts. He demonstrated the importance of integrating new technologies and network principles in public diplomacy strategy in order to amplify the message, such as China’s use of soft power to advance its economic interests. Here’s a clip I found to be very insightful in terms of China and its soft power.

The Rise of the Neopolitik

The major theme from this week’s readings regarding “The rise of the Neopolitik discussed the Internet’s influence on intercultural relationships and the progress made within public diplomacy. The advances the Internet has created to bridge what is known with what is acted on has given everyday citizens, nonprofits, and smaller nongovernmental organizations a way to interact and become the changing forces within the international community. Although, we can clearly see the benefits of participating in a global network, the Internet’s use has been manipulated to increase the power of networks typically responsible with shaping world relations. As noted in David Bollier’s article, “The Rise of the Netpolitik” he emphasizes the role the Internet plays within public diplomacy in a grand soft power attack. He uses the suggestions by Warring Partridge, who implies that the internet can enhance management, protocols, recruitment, education programs, and language skills within the official government departments. But how can everyday citizens participate in public diplomacy, a role typically reserved for the State Department?

 

The “Soft Power, Hard Issues” article written by Shanthi Kalathil addressed what Bollier touched on regarding an issue that, “is not just how U.S. values can be disseminated to affect global values…[but an] influence [that] will be both ways”(Bollier, 20). In order to promote this change and relationship within public diplomacy, Kalathil suggests that, “truly new public diplomacy should focus on creating access to the Internet to encourage bottom-up competing voices and vibrant discussion” (Kalathil, 19). Her suggestions focus on engaging “voice-less” audiences and promoting a shared platform for countries to participate in collective dialogue. If international public diplomacy were to adopt a fair influence within all countries, how would it affect the United States, which doesn’t gain as much international influence or exposure than the countries we have influenced ourselves?

 

My last question focuses on “People/Networks/Power” by Bollier, and I was struck by the quote that the Internet has become a ‘“platform for social software…[which] offers all kinds of new ways to create memberships, to participate, and construct grand narratives”’(Bollier, 34). I quickly referred to the definitions that explored the varying uses of propaganda, and I wondered if anyone thought of public diplomacy as a form of propaganda?

The Rise of Netpolitik

In David Bollier’s 2003 report on the Aspen Institute Roundtable on Information Technology, he summarizes the conversation coining the term “Netpolitik.”  Netpolitik is diplomacy that uses the internet to shape politics using soft power approaches; appeals to story, values, cultural identity, and perception.   He breaks his report into three themes: how electronic networks are changing the architecture of power and culture, the internet and the rise of soft power, and international politics as an arena of competing stories.  He also touches upon the roles of credibility and legitimacy in soft power – in fact, soft power is derived from credibility and legitimacy within the audience.  Let us take Joseph Nye’s definition of soft power as “the ability to get desired outcomes because others want what you want.  It is the ability to achieve goals through attraction rather than coercion.  It works by convincing others to follow or getting them to agree to norms and institutions that produce the desired behavior.”

Towards the end of the article, Bollier introduces a section titled “Toward a New Global Story,” discussing the inclusion and exclusion of nations to the internet, and how internet users are using a language – earlier proven to be separate from governments in the slower process that governments must come to official policy – to create new stories, and aggregate to a new possible ‘global story.’  He goes on to highlight, as had been underscored by participants throughout the session, that the stories told are not always the stories heard, and that even stories passed down from ancient Greece are interpreted differently across nations to emphasize local values – and that these values are often quite different from each other.   This demonstrates that understanding the audience, even the audience of one’s own citizenry, is a central role in making oneself understood.  What is different about that?  Nothing really, it is what communicators get into the business, and why governments and organizations pay communicators, to understand nuance.  To reach a goal of soft power amongst neighbors, and even at home, an organization must have credibility and legitimacy, credibility that only those neighbors and citizens can bestow.   After reading this article I think that a new approach in Public Diplomacy of listening to audiences could build that valuable credibility.  Listening and understanding what the interlocutor is trying to say about themselves, understanding and appreciating their values and interests such that they know they have been properly understood creates relationship and intimacy.  Richard Shell in his book “The Art of Woo” writes that credibility is bestowed by others according to the relationship between two actors, and a combination of authority on a subject, competence, expertise, trustworthiness, and character.  Respecting relationships by listening to stories builds credibility over time, and credibility leads to soft power.  Power wielded wisely leads to legitimacy.

The internet does not create anything new so much as it acts as an instantaneous conduit and force multiplier for stories and events, it doesn’t create the movement, it becomes a tool of the movement.  The question is, how can U.S. Public Diplomacy use that tool effectively to prove the State as credible?  How can it foster belief in our values among the many disparate actors on the international scene?  I posit that in a market over-saturated with talking, listening may be a more powerful tool than telling.

The Second reading by Bollier, “People / Networks / Power” echos the sentiment of listening as a way forward to credibility, especially in a network context.  In the ensuing section on the rise of NGOs as “the second superpower,” I think this phenomenon, like the CNN phenomenon offers their own unique opportunities and context in the power network of international politics for states and their issues.  Some U.S.-based NGOs such as the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and those that deal in governance and democracy have very close and effective ties with states, but in some cases this can hurt its credibility.  The new Government of Egypt recently found NDI workers there during the 2011 revolution guilty of espionage.  CNN, too, takes hits on credibility in its close relationship with the USG, both domestically and abroad.  I believe this is probably caused by the USG’s model of ‘cooperation’ typified by top-down leadership and direction, rather than a more lateral interdependence seen in networks.  How states can learn to work with outside organizations, without more subtly pulling strings of power where separation of powers should be respected is something that must be discovered and practiced with vigilance.  No state should wield the power of a Castellian “switcher,” though they must find a way to meaningfully join the new conversations being had or suffer losses at the hands of the new social powers on the rise.

The Rise of Netpolitik

I think most of the information presented in these articles are not entirely foreign concepts. What I’d be interested to see is the extent of how the Internet is truly changing things. For example, in the field of international education, it’s been said that the Internet is not fueling enough interest for people to engage in cross-cultural learning. It then begs the question, how are students utilizing the Internet these days? If not for catalyzing their interests in what’s going on beyond their world, then what is the point? It sounds really cliché to say, but the fate of our nations lie in the hands of our youth. I think it is important to emphasize the importance of a cross-cultural education early on, and the Internet has definitely allowed that. We just need to figure out a way to utilize it in a useful and productive way.

It was interesting that Firestone mentioned the growing need for the teaching of Mandarin Chinese in American schools. This assertion reflects the weakening of America as a global superpower, and the emergence of China at the forefront of IR. I definitely believe that the imminent “de-Americanization” will result in a paradigm shift and if Americans continue to deplete the earth’s resources and take things for granted, there will be catastrophic implications. Because the conventional methods of public diplomacy have not yet provided a viable solution, what else is out there? Is the new face of public diplomacy that of gastrodiplomacy or sports diplomacy?

In People/Networks/Power: Communications Technologies and the New International Politics report, Bollier cites Madeleine Albright’s contention to tread lightly when employing methods of public diplomacy because they could potentially become propaganda. Albright suggests the importance of “facilitating open dialogue rather than simply projecting a government message.” (p. 5) This reminds me of our discussion in class with regards to activists utilizing SNS to promote change; the Internet has allowed the individual to advocate change, but can actual change be implemented without the backing of a supranational organization or someone in power? In an ideal world, anybody could lead a movement without capital (i.e. labor, monetary, etc.) and actual results would happen, but in reality, it doesn’t seem plausible. It may seem pessimistic, but I think at some point “open dialogue” dissipates and takes on some form of “government message.”

The Rise of Netpolitik

I agree with Pollier’s argument that the internet is a catalyst for change. We can see that the internet and the resources that it has provided has dramatically changed marketing, economics, public correspondence (whether through government forums or the private sector), and social networking. I would even argue that our social practices and identities are somewhat dictated by the power of the internet. We see this through the influential change that Facebook has forced upon the communication sector with regards to event planning and even international communication.

I think that in the article, “Soft Power, Hard Issues” we see a valid discussion regarding the heightened need for better research methods in order to fully improve the arena of international communication. With better research, we are able to potentially engage the private sector to invest in improving local communities with the combination of governmental and non-governmental actors. I loved the line that “US public diplomacy cannot be separated by US politics and actions.” It is important to remember that our actions and policies have a direct effect on other’s perspectives–both internationally and domestically. I think we must rid our mindsets of this “quick fix” solution in order to create more effective public image through our diplomacy outlets and focus on better research.

In “People, Networks, and Power”, I was focused deeply on the idea that “In the age of the Internet, domestic news routinely migrates into the foreign press and directly to citizens of other nations. A message that resonates well with an American audience may turn out to be deeply offensive to Middle Eastern audiences.” Our news has an effect on our allies and potential allies. It cannot be stressed enough that what is on the internet “stays forever.” There is a sense that our media and our speech is untouchable, and that is a slippery path to go down because our “domestic communications have been internationalized.”

Oct 28 Reflection

Bollier’s People/Networks/Power echoes some themes we’ve already discussed in class regarding globalization: waning role of the nation-state, abundance of media outlets, and transnational communication networks. What I thought was interesting an new was Bollier’s discussion about how context constructs meaning. Though short, he brings to attention an incredibly important point that meanings are deeply rooted in the interplay of the subconscious and the conscious. Thus, efficient international communication messaging must work within the cultural context of the receivers. An example he points out is the “guilt culture” vs. “shame culture” of various countries. Having a key understanding of receiving cultures ties into what the participants view as important in closing the credibility gap: understand audiences on their own terms.

In Rise of the Netpolitik, Bollier defines netpolitik as a “new style of diplomacy that seeks to exploit the powerful capabilities of the internet to shape politics, culture, values, and personal identity.” It can be argued that this discussion is really one between soft power and hard power. With new technology and the proliferation of news information, soft power has dramatically increased in value. Though hard power is still the dominant arm of most governments, efficient use of soft power is increasingly becoming more important in external messaging.

One of Kalathil’s proposal was “Encourage funding of international broadcasting by a variety of sources, rather than the single-government-funded model.” I would argue that having diversified funding won’t necessarily create multiple points of view. As we’ve seen with the Rupert Murdoch articles, stories can be covered based on the interests of what is best for the business, not ideology.