Nov 11 Reading: Soft Power, Public Diplomacy and Social Diplomacy


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This week readings are lighter than the previous ones: an article from annals of American Academy of Political and Social Science and two shorter articles from Huffington Post by the author Andreas Sandre.

I think this week theme for International Communication class is about the Public Diplomacy from the point of view of policy makers and diplomats rather than that of ordinary citizen.

 In the first article, Public Diplomacy and Soft power by Joseph S.Nye, Jr, the author vividly explain the concept of soft power and public diplomacy, their sources and the methodologies to generate them.

For Joseph S.Nye, the power means the ability to affect other’s behavior to obtain the outcomes you want and it can be done by three ways: by threat or coercion (stick), by inducement or payments (carrots) and by attraction to make others want what you want. Here, the author’s thesis is clear, concise and also condensation of complex strategies in power politics and international relations.

The ability to influence others and make them want what you want is called as soft power that a major power emits its level of transparency, openness and prosperity to the rest of the world as model to emulate other countries and steer their direction toward its desired path.

Soft power came from three resources: culture, political values and foreign policies. A country’s cultural exports can be either high culture, which include literature, arts and educations that appeals to its elites or popular culture which focuses on mass entertainment.

Here, I have got some doubts on the role of Soft power, is the use of Smart power the ultimate solution in international affairs? I don’t think so. By using soft power, a superpower nation may able to influence other countries inclinations but that will not change its basic requirements and cannot quell the nations’ struggles to get them. For example, the soft power of Great Britain may suspend the quest for American Independence for a period of time but cannot deter the desirability of Americans for a new nation. It is the same for US’s soft power which may overwhelm the daily lives of Chinese citizens but it doesn’t change the reality of China’s huge population and scarcity of domestic resources that led the Chinese government to set policies on securing the natural resources beyond its boundaries, sometime against the interest of United States.

Next, the author distinguish the difference between the power of resources and power of outcomes in which some countries/stakeholders may have more resource power but could end up losing in power battle. Understanding the distinction of these two aspects of power is important for relationship between Soft power and public diplomacy.

In further definition, the soft power of country or organization is produced by its values or culture which sets its policies, internal practices and the way it handles its relations with others. Mean while, public diplomacy, in my understanding propaganda, is the instrument that the government uses to mobilize its resources in communicating with public of other countries, with activities such as broadcasting, subsidizing cultural exports, promoting its language through cultural center and exchange programs.

In this article, although the author has no evident, it portrayed that US’s cutting the investments in Soft power after Cold War, particularly for Arab and Muslim countries, resulted the anti-American sentiment and the rise of terrorism countering the US led globalization. In this case, I like to raise another question: Is the rise of anti-American sentiments in Muslim countries is the results of the cutting funds for Soft power? In other words, will the spending on Public diplomacy in Musilm countries avoid the terrorist efforts targeted at US interest?

In the same article, it has become more difficult to deal with democratic governments than authoritarian governments in promoting US’s positive image among publics. In the new digital landscape of plenty of information, attention rather than information become scarce resource and credibility has become more important than in the past because of “paradox of plenty”.

Meanwhile, in the first Huffington Post article: “Fast diplomacy: the future of Foreign Policy?”, it reveals a dilemma facing in the world of diplomacy.  The use of digital diplomacy is like double end of a knife, it is fast, multipliable and allows you to engage with the mass public but at the same time, create more risks prone environment where mistakes occur in a sudden and unexpected fashion.

In another Huffington Post article “Global interconnectivity, Social Diplomacy and Non-state actors”, it highlight the importance of Social media not only in social lives but also in cross border issues, political systems and foreign policy.

“Today, it’s not only about restricted bilateral meeting, or ministerial summits. Now world leaders and foreign ministers are tweeting, Facebooking, Instagramming, Youtubing, and blogging. Of course, face-to-face traditional diplomacy is important, but it has evolved…..a conversation where all players interact with each other and where governments are part of the game, rather than the one exclusively controlling it.” Embassies in Washinton DC using Social Media

The dynamism of social media has brought several non-State actors including citizens, networks, government agencies, regional groupings, business, foundation and NGOs into international politics and policy making. Below is the analysis on foreign embassies in Washington DC that use Social Medias as a platform to disseminate their desired information. The post is co-written by Dr. Ali Fisher, Associate Director, Intermedia.

Social media use by embassy


At this point, the author assumes that the opinion widely described on social media as the opinion of the public as a whole. Here, I got another question: Are social media true representatives for the opinions of public as a whole? I doubt that since in most countries, the internet and social media users are young people and not true demographics of the whole society.

In the end of Joseph S.Nye, Jr’s article, it provides three dimensions of public diplomacy which I think are the most important information of whole article. First, the daily communication on context of domestic and foreign policy decisions with foreign presses as important target, second, in the view of Strategic communication, to develops special themes or symbolic events as political or advertising campaign does and third, the development of lasting relationships with key individuals over many years through scholarships, exchanges, training, seminars, conferences and access to media channels.

The author aware that even the best advertising cannot sell an unpopular product while the policies that appear to be self-serving or arrogantly presented are likely to prohibit rather than produce soft power.

Joseph S.Nye, Jr defined that the ability to combine hard and soft power effectively is “smart power” and this is what United States has effectively practiced throughout much of Cold War but declined after post 9-11 global war on terrorism. The psychological operations (psyops) are very useful for military but it proved to have negative effects in peace time. Poorly defined global war on terrorism has increased the fears among the civil society that undercut America’s soft power.

Most importantly, his article concluded with its main thesis: public diplomacy is an important tool in the arsenal of smart power but smart public diplomacy requires credibility, self-criticism and the role of civil society in generating soft power. The public diplomacy that degenerate into propaganda not only fails to convince but can undercut the soft power.