Earlier this month, the U.S. lost its voting rights in UNESCO, the United Nations Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, after failing to pay its dues for the past two years following Palestine’s membership to the General Assembly. The move has been widely regarded by diplomats and experts as “undermining America’s ability to exercise its influence in countries around the globe” as well as UNESCO’s ability to pay the bills: the U.S. contributed approximately 22% of the agency’s $70-million-a-year budget.
More than anything, this is a major blow to U.S. public diplomacy. In addition to losing its say in the world’s preeminent cultural body, the image and soft power of the U.S. have also been diminished. Other consequences we can expect:
1. Delays in approving American historical sites to the World Heritage list. Two sites – one in Louisiana, one in Texas – were currently undergoing review when the deadline passed. Given recent events, their admission can expect delays. In the meantime, the thousand or so jobs that were anticipated with the designation of a World Heritage title remain in limbo.
2. Increased room for China’s growing soft power. In May, Hao Ping, the former Chinese Vice-Minister of Education, was elected president of UNESCO’s general conference, providing an invaluable opportunity for China to expand its own soft power prowess, especially now without the U.S. in the picture.
3. Decline and/or stall in programming. In addition to cultural programs, UNESCO runs hundreds of initiatives in education, science, and communication through field offices in every region in the world. Even with emergency funding, it is obvious these programs will suffer personnel lay-offs and funding cuts.
It is worth noting that the U.S. has always had a somewhat tenuous relationship with UNESCO. In 2002, it rejoined the UN agency after an 18-year hiatus over “a difference in vision.” And in spite of President Obama’s iteration to commit to UNESCO’s goals, the U.S. essentially has its hands tied due to laws enacted in 1994 by Congress that prevent it from contributing funds to any UN organization that recognizes Palestinian statehood.
Whatever the reason, the cultural legacy of the U.S., particularly as a founding member of UNESCO, now hangs in the balance. The last thing it needs after a year of public image disasters (Syria, Edward Snowden, NSA phone tapping, to name a few) is to have politics get in the way of something that was meant to facilitate diplomacy without it.
Advocates of official U.S. public diplomacy have long defended the value of its programs and argued for resources to do even more. But what exactly could be accomplished with such resources if they were, indeed, available?
In fact, we may already have an answer to that question, albeit in the context of a single country at the forefront of U.S. foreign policy—Afghanistan. Even as the United States has invested considerable resources in its military presence and development programs, so, too, has it devoted additional resources to a public diplomacy “surge” in support of overall U.S. goals in that country.
Public diplomacy programs in Afghanistan deploy the tried-and-true models that we employ all around the world, including: educational, youth, and professional exchange programs; English language programs; establishment of American Spaces; and, cultural exchange and preservation. The U.S. Embassy in Kabul also deploys additional public diplomacy resources to support non-traditional programs leveraging public diplomacy expertise, technological innovation, and local partners to further advance key U.S. interests in that critical country.
Noah Berlatsky’s thoughtful recent piece in the Atlantic reviews a new documentary film about Afghan Tolo TV and touches on a few of those public diplomacy efforts. As one of the major Afghan media groups, Tolo TV is also a major partner for U.S. public diplomacy efforts and programs seeking to engage, inform, and influence Afghan public opinion. Berlatsky notes U.S. Embassy support for Eagle Four, for example, ”a high-quality-production action drama” about the Afghan national police force. He also highlights the U.S. objective in supporting the production “to demonstrate that those police forces are courageous, honest, and trustworthy.”
The establishment of security and stability in Afghanistan—one of the most important U.S. foreign policy goals worldwide today—will obviously depend on the capacity of Afghan security forces and, more importantly, the trust the people place in those forces. Eagle Four, by reaching a mass Afghan audience and profiling real Afghan police officers helping Afghans, is a perfect example of how innovative public diplomacy practitioners, provided with sufficient resources, advances key foreign policy goals.
Berlatsky raises valid points, of course, about whether such a dramatic depiction of the police force might unduly raise public expectations, but we could also be arguing about the value of producing a stale, realistic documentary that reaches and engages only a tiny fraction of Eagle Four‘s considerable viewership. I would argue that programs like Eagle Four take a risk, but that such risks are appropriate especially in places of conflict where the pay-offs can be so essential to advancing U.S. national security objectives.
Another key objective of Eagle Four and similar programs in Afghanistan is to promote the development and capacity of the Afghan media sector itself. The success of Tolo TV, as noted in the Atlantic article, as well as the availability of a multiplicity of television and radio stations, newspapers and magazines—in a country which not too long ago had only one state broadcaster—is a testament to the success of those efforts. Just as we hope that the Afghan security services will ensure long-term stability, so, too, do we believe that Afghan independent media will promote long-term democracy and government accountability in Afghanistan.
Eagle Four is, of course, just one of many such public diplomacy programs that partner with Afghan media, universities, civil society, women’s groups, and many others. Keen observers and veteran public diplomacy experts will note that some of these programs go well beyond the role of traditional public diplomacy in simply “telling America’s story” but are the proof of what can be accomplished with additional public diplomacy resources. The innovative U.S. public diplomacy programs in Afghanistan seek to positively engage, inform, and influence the Afghan public and in so doing to help maintain stability, promote democracy, and advance key U.S. foreign policy goals.
The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the State Department or the U.S. government. The author is a State Department officer specializing in public diplomacy, currently detailed to the IPDGC to teach and work on various Institute projects.
Last week, Rodrigo Tavares wrote in Foreign Affairs about Brazil’s recent involvement in paradiplomacy, or subnational foreign relations, by establishing formal bilateral relations between São Paulo and the UK. According to the article, the U.S. established a similar agreement with the world’s ninth largest city this past March - the first time that the State Department has forged direct relations with a subnational government in the southern hemisphere.
This comes as no surprise to anyone who has witnessed Brazil’s rise over the past 20 years, both economically and in diplomatic prowess: the country is slated to host two of the world’s longest-running sports events, the FIFA World Cup in 2014 and Summer Olympic Games in 2016. For the UK, US and other nations, establishing a presence in Brazil’s largest cities, especially outside the capital, makes sense from a practical and public diplomacy perspective.
As a Korean American born and raised in Atlanta, I rarely noticed the South Korean government’s presence until the Korean population boomed after the 1996 Summer Olympics. Since then, the Korean consulate has become increasingly active in establishing Korean business and cultural centers out in the suburbs of the metro area where not only the highest concentration of Korean businesses are situated, but gaining influence in municipal trade associations and organizations.
Although building foreign communities abroad isn’t the goal of consulates and bilateral agreements, it certainly doesn’t hurt public diplomacy efforts. According to Tavares, Singapore recently opened an embassy in Brasília, the capital, but noted that the “diplomatic hub in the country is really in São Paulo.” By concentrating trade and other activities in the places where the people live – not just where they conduct official business – countries are maximizing their influence potential at the most accessible level.
Does this dilute the importance of consulates, which were conceivably formed to address paradiplomacy issues within a country? Probably not. But per Tavares, “With the strengthening of local power, the world’s major cities, states, and provinces have adopted international policies previously reserved for national governments and mustered resources to ensure the protection of their interests abroad.”
This is the fourth in a series of posts on life, culture, and politics in the U.S. and E.U. by Robert Entman, who spent 2012 as a Humboldt Research Prize Scholar at Freie Universität in Berlin. Read more posts here.
Naturally Berlin, Madrid and Paris have more history than any US city. It’s not fair to compare them to DC, Philadelphia, New York or Boston, our most history-conscious cities. Still, the reverence for the old expresses itself in public life and policymaking in Europe.
Policy provides more resources for preservation of historical memory while also supporting modern culture. Two examples:
The integration of wine into typically more relaxed and lengthier meals, offers one illustration of Europeans’ ability to live in closer continuity with the past. And like so many other things, the production of wine is heavily regulated, in part because of Europeans’ insistence on honoring that continuity.
Example: In 1395, Duke Philip the Bold issued regulations governing wine quality in Burgundy. It might strike Americans as oppressive, but winemakers in, say, Puligny Montrachet with rare exceptions must specialize in the chardonnay grape, and must follow many detailed government mandates on how the grapes must be handled to be certified as genuine Puligny. The French know that this grape reaches its apogee in the soil and microclimates of the Burgundy region, where vineyards go back at least to the fourth century AD. When you drink a bottle of Puligny you know you will get a chardonnay that to some degree reflects its particular terroir now as it did back when knights and dukes ran things.
Small differences in the way the three cities typically present wine in restaurants further express historical and cultural differences. In Berlin and generally in Germany, wine lists are heavy on German wines; this limits choices of reds since white riesling is the grape that makes the best wines in the cold climate there. If you order a glass of wine, it will come with an etched line marking 10 or 12 ml, and waiters pour to that precise line. Never saw a glass with a line in Spain or France.
One historical quirk of Berlin: when you go out to eat you essentially have to pay for bottled water. Nobody drinks tap water. Supposedly Berliners got used to drinking bottled water after WWII when the infrastructure was in ruins and tap water was dangerous. Some might see this as an example of hidebound Europeans sticking with a dumb and expensive tradition for no good reason. Most restaurants have a deal with one or another brand of bottled water; presumably the water sales add significantly to profit margins. Given the generally reasonable cost of the food, that seemed fair to me.
In Paris on the other hand, asking for tap water is typical, and they usually bring it to the table in a decanter or bottle. On restaurant wine lists and in wine stores too, the French focus is on lesser French chateaux and off-year vintages, presumably because these establishments can’t compete with the astronomical costs of the most famous Bordeaux and Burgundy wines, for which prices are set on an international market. These days, for instance, even a young bottle of Chateau Lafite can set you back over $1,000 at the store. Thank globalization. A little bit of historical continuity is lost to all but the wealthiest French folks and tourists.
Reminders of the Nazi past are omnipresent in Berlin. As one among many examples, there are small brass stumbling blocks throughout Berlin. Slightly raised from other cobblestones, they are designed to ever-so-slightly trip pedestrians, who then look down and can see the name, dates and fate of a Jew who once lived or had a business at the building where they’re standing.
Consider also the striking Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. The Memorial is located in the heart of the new Berlin, bordering the American embassy and the Tiergarten (Berlin’s Central Park), near the Brandenburg Gate. So Berliners will frequently see it, register it if only unconsciously and thus potentially think about its meaning. The location and design of the Memorial engendered decades of public debate and controversy, a process that itself exemplified healthy democracy. Although much smaller than the Holocaust museums in DC and Jerusalem, I found the museum that’s integrated into the Memorial as thought-provoking and powerful.
Compare what the Germans have done to ensure accurate and persistent memories of their past misdeeds with US actions to commemorate and keep alive memories of the US’s own holocausts involving Native Americans and African Americans, not to Vietnam and Indochina. As far as I know, there is no public reminder in DC that might cause a typical citizen to reflect on how the American government’s policies and, arguably, war crimes in Vietnam caused untold and indefensible suffering there, not just among Americans. Our Vietnam War memorial is a great and justly popular tourist site, but it focuses memories only on our losses.
Yet, policies that make history a daily presence for citizens—including the bad or horrific history, not just the glories like France’s wine—might just make for a better future.
NBC news carried an interesting story last week highlighting a decision by the U.S. Department of State to return a million-dollar cultural artifact to Iran that had been seized by U.S. Customs a decade ago. The return of the Persian Griffin, long sought by Iranian officials, may not seem like a big deal against the backdrop of the recent exchange of letters and phone conversation between President Obama and Iranian President Rouhani. I have no idea whether this particular gesture will resonate in Iran, but we should not underestimate the significance of such cultural heritage for people around the world.
Some of the most undervalued tools in the public diplomacy toolkit explicitly recognize the fact that more often than not, a nation’s sense of self is closely connected to its cultural heritage. The value of a particular cultural monument, an example of historic architecture, or a specific artifact in a museum goes well beyond its retail or tourism value, but instead is truly priceless in the eyes of those who consider it a part of their national identity. There are well-known examples of how disputes over ownership of such culture, including the Elgin Marbles or the Preah Vihear Temple, have led to tense international relations and even armed conflict. Few are aware, however, of how we routinely use cultural heritage to our advantage in public diplomacy.
One of the best such tools is the Ambassador’s Fund for Cultural Preservation administered by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau for Education and Cultural Affairs. Under this program, public diplomacy officers at U.S. embassies and consulates all over the world work with local partners to identify worthy cultural heritage preservation projects and submit proposals for review and approval in Washington. Each year a few dozen of the best proposals are funded at a total cost of about $7 or 8 million. In terms of bang-for-your-buck, it is hard to find a better investment of public diplomacy resources. Perhaps every day somewhere in the world, a U.S. Ambassador is visiting an archaeological site, a museum, or some other cultural venue to cut a ribbon or otherwise celebrate a project that tangibly demonstrates U.S. respect for local culture and traditions. In my experience, these events are widely covered by the local media and generally resonate with the local population in a way that signing ceremonies or diplomatic speeches can never hope to match.
I will cite just one example from my own personal experience. In East Timor, a newly-independent country in Southeast Asia, traditional “sacred” houses all across the country were destroyed during the Indonesian occupation of that territory up until the late 1990s. Several years ago, the Ambassador’s Fund for Cultural Preservation approved a U.S. Embassy project to work with the new Timorese Ministry of Culture and local villages to rebuild several of these houses. Over the course of a few years at numerous nationally-televised groundbreaking and ribbon-cutting events, the U.S. Ambassador and the Timorese Secretary of State for Culture celebrated the “rebuilding” not only of these cultural landmarks, but also the Timorese nation itself. At the cost of a tiny fraction of other more expensive development initiatives, this simple project showed all of the Timorese people that we respected them and their culture and were working to help them rebuild their country.
As the U.S. Department of State fact sheet last week on the decision to return the Persian Griffin stated — “The return of the artifact reflects the strong respect the United States has for cultural heritage property — in this case cultural heritage property that was likely looted from Iran and is important to the patrimony of the Iranian people. It also reflects the strong respect the United States has for the Iranian people.” The return of that artifact, of course, does not appear to have been the result of a particular preservation program or even particularly costly, but it makes good public diplomacy and policy sense. As for our other public diplomacy programs, like the Ambassador’s Fund, even in an era of limited resources, let’s not be penny wise and pound foolish! We would do well to continue to invest in such programs that help us build the mutual understanding and respect that we depend on to advance our policy goals around the world.
The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the State Department or the U.S. Government. The author is a State Department officer specializing in public diplomacy, currently detailed to the IPDGC to teach and work on various Institute projects.
India: the world’s most populous democratic country with one of the largest economies. Africa: a largely developing continent attempting to work itself out of vast poverty and violent conflicts. Both have large youth populations, a desire to play a stronger role in international markets and, importantly, an interest in each other.
In early April, India’s Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) sponsored a two-day collaborative workshop in New Delhi known as “INDIAFRICA: A Shared Future.” The purpose of the forum, held on April 4-5, was to bring together the youth (defined as those under 30 years old) of two populations that have a mutually growing interest in each other to fashion solutions to the many shared development challenges faced by India and Africa:
“The initiative [was] born in 2011 out of recognition of shared sensibilities, histories and intertwined cultures between India and the African continent. The connection between India and Africa, home to an over-two-million-strong Indian diaspora, has been ‘a continuous process of socio-cultural and economic exchange.’”
Given these similarities, why the targeted focus on youth? As previously mentioned, both India and Africa have considerable youth populations. According to statistics from the CIA World Factbook, the median age in India is 26.5 years, while the median age for countries in Africa ranges from 15.1 in Uganda and 18.9 in Zimbabwe to 25.3 in South Africa and 28.1 years in Algeria. The young populations, as Manoj Kohli, head of the International Business Group for Bharti Airtel, explains, are very attractive, especially when considering “the western world, Russia, China, Japan are all graying.” Navdeep Suri, joint secretary of public diplomacy in India’s MEA, said, “The driving vision of the program is to unleash the enormous energy of young people, to encourage their powerful creative ideas and to enable them to be facilitators of this process.”
As described on the website, “INDIAFRICA: A Shared Future is a unique people-to-people initiative that aims at engaging multiple stakeholders in India and Africa through contests, fellowships, discussions, events, collaborative projects and cultural exchanges.” During this workshop, a total of 72 Indian and African youth (36 Indian and 36 African individuals), coming from a wide range of disciplines, pitch and debate “their views on challenges and opportunities in areas like energy, environment, healthcare, education, culture, creative exchanges, tourism, governance, food and nutrition in their respective regions…”
Public diplomacy, in the past few decades, “has been widely seen as the transparent means by which a sovereign country communicates with publics in other countries aimed at informing and influencing audiences overseas for the purpose of promoting the national interest and advancing its foreign policy goals.” This—what one might call public diplomacy in the modern sense of the word—was put forth by the University of Southern California Center on Public Diplomacy. The definition is useful in the sense that it is broad and fairly encompassing, but how does INDIAFRICA fit within it?
At its core, INDIAFRICA is an initiative that might be defined as “little c” cultural diplomacy, a narrower subcategory of public diplomacy. Using Dr. Emil Constantinescu’s definition, cultural diplomacy can be defined as “a course of actions, which are based on and utilize the exchange of ideas, values, traditions and other aspects of culture or identity…” INDIAFRICA fits perfectly within this characterization and has the added element of youth involvement. Rather than convening a forum for business and government officials, INDIAFRICA brings together two youth populations in the name of building positive first impressions and tapping on the energy, creativity and enthusiasm–rather than the demonstrated expertise–these groups have the potential to generate.
INDIAFRICA lumps different categories, such as business and culture, together in the same package. The initiatives taken on by this enterprise include building democratic developmental institutions; establishing governance networks in areas such as agriculture, micro-finance, entrepreneurship development and healthcare; generating employment; creating “profitable partnerships”; funding the future through Indian soft loans to its African partners; and finally “building trust and mutual respect and building relationships.” And participants tackle these strategies in a number of ways—not simply the two-day workshop. INDIAFRICA promotes India-Africa collaboration through a series of contests: 1) Business Venture, 2) Poster Design, 3) Photography, and 4) Essay Writing, each attributing to a cultural diplomacy niche.
Each of the four contests has a theme that aligns with some larger cultural phenomenon. In the 2012-2013 contests for instance, the theme for Business Venture Contest was “Entrepreneurial Solutions to Address Developmental Challenges,” the Poster Design Contest’s was “What does Freedom mean to you?” the Photography Contest’s was “Communities in India and Africa” and the Essay Writing Contest’s was “How can India and Africa collaborate to co-create a brighter future?” These themes align well with the ‘universal norms’ of democracy and innovation, while suiting INDIAFRICA’s aim to help shape the future of these two geographies through their respective youths. They emphasize the culture of both India and Africa while still moving them toward more global political and developmental environments. Suri surmised this point by noting that the multidisciplinary contest series help “create a platform for talented and young Indians and Africans to exchange ideas about emergent realities, successes and challenges and explore future collaborations in business, design and culture.”
The beauty of INDIAFRICA lies within its configuration, which includes strategic as well as shared considerations. The Indian government has increasingly viewed Africa as a realm of opportunity for furthering its commercial interests, and the “leadership of Indian and African nations have set a bilateral trade target of $100 billion by 2015.” Kohli said that his company alone has invested $13 billion in Africa, plans to invest more and has already recruited about 7,000 employees in the continent. Although cultural diplomacy is rarely conducted in the name of self-interest, it is worth noting that India’s interest in Africa extends beyond purely strategic self-interest and that the country considers this initiative as a means for achieving shared policy goals. Both geographies (both the governments and national companies) “work jointly to help in capacity building, knowledge sharing, job creation and other areas.” The similar and shared foreign policy goals lends INDIAFRICA to being seen as a joint collaboration, benefiting all involved.
“A large workforce with fewer children to support creates a window of opportunity to save money on health care and other social services; improve the quality of education; increase economic output because of more people working; invest more in technology and skills to strengthen the economy; and create the wealth needed to cope with the future aging of the population.”
This window, known as the demographic dividend, can be addressed through initiatives such as INDIAFRICA that bring together the young people in the name of a better future. For young participants, who may or may not be true opinion leaders in their home societies yet, this forum provides the ultimate learning model as well as a safe venue for the sharing of ideas. Further, this particular program not only allows youth to address development challenges and think of solutions early on, but it is also acts as the foundation for the future relationship between the two geographies.
By Max Entman
In a recent speech at the 2012 Institute for Cultural Diplomacy conference, former Canadian Minister of Foreign Trade Stockwell Day argues that cultural diplomacy can be used to advance certain broad principles that can help alleviate poverty around the world. Day posits that the existence of three essential freedoms – of enterprise, of religion, and of self-determined governance – can dramatically increase the likelihood that a given country will help its citizens out of poverty. Day suggests that the promotion of these principles by developed countries in developing countries is a cultural-diplomatic mechanism for sowing seeds of prosperity. Day’s assumption of consensus on these principles may be flawed, but it begs the question: is there a way for states to better coordinate cultural diplomatic efforts to achieve shared goals like poverty alleviation?
One answer to this question would be to create a new network of cultural diplomats that crosses national boundaries. Ideally, this “Conference of Cultural Diplomats” would be a diverse, collaborative network with the primary goal of sharing best practices in channeling cultural diplomatic efforts toward helping people in need. Admittedly, foreign ministries of many countries might have concerns about sharing their approaches with diplomats from other nations. However, cultural diplomacy is not a zero sum game. The whole point of such an initiative would be to find ways that the cultural diplomacy efforts of multiple nations can have positive impacts that are mutually reinforcing, not undermining. Such a network would take years to build, and would likely require the financial and organizational backing of an existing NGO in order to get off the ground. The potential benefits would dramatically outweigh these costs.
In recent years, much has been said about the power of “network public diplomacy,” as enabled by the Internet and other information and communication technologies. However, even advocates for this more relational approach have begun to recognize that it is not a catchall solution for all of the problems facing public and cultural diplomats. Professor Rhonda Zaharna of American University recently identified four fallacies in the prevailing discussion of “network public diplomacy.” In essence, she argues that “network public diplomacy” as an overarching concept is not valuable when it lacks specificity, and further that the network model is not always the best approach in all scenarios. In this spirit, let me be clear about the specific type of network approach I am proposing. In Zaharna’s typology, the “Conference of Cultural Diplomats” would be a “network of collaboration that strives to generate value-added information” for its members and the world at large. It would achieve this by leveraging the insights of its diverse membership. This network structure would not mean a dogmatic adherence to a “network communication” model of public diplomacy by members of the network.
In his 2002 book Elusive Quest for Growth, William Easterly argues that investment in the generation of knowledge has become especially valuable in the age of globalization, as knowledge is more likely than ever to leak from one person to another. These leaks can lead to “virtuous cycles,” which can dramatically speed economic development in poor countries. Cultural diplomats and the governments they represent are in a position to aid the creation of more of the “virtuous cycles” that Easterly discusses. Through networked collaboration, a “Conference of Cultural Diplomats” could amplify the effectiveness of existing cultural diplomacy efforts, while simultaneously spurring innovation. Moving beyond the zero sum cultural diplomacy paradigm will likely be difficult, but the rewards will be worth the trouble.
Max Entman is a graduate student at the George Washington University. His piece forms part of Take Five’s series of student reflections on aspects of cultural diplomacy as communication.
by Anna-Lena Tepper
Former NBA player Dennis Rodman’s recent visit to North Korea came to many as a surprise. Along with an entourage of fellow basketball players from the performance group Harlem Globetrotters, Rodman went to visit the most oppressive country in the world, but his intentions weren’t politically motivated. His mission was simply to share the joy of basketball with the North Korean people. In his few days there he did not only initiate several friendly games between American players and North Korean teams, but he also had several friendly encounters with the country’s dictator Kim Jong Un. He left with a great impression of the country and its people and they also seemed to have enjoyed his visit. Upon his return to the States, Rodman’s advice to the President was that he should just call his Communist counterpart to sort things out. This sounds almost too good to be true and very easily done. The question arises, if maybe this approach might yield better results than the ones initiated – or in the case of US-North Korean relationship “non-initiated” – by the international community. After all, Rodman managed to have friendly encounters with one of the US’s biggest enemies.
The field of public or cultural diplomacy has received major academic attention over the last few years. People are not just studying public diplomacy, they also try to analyze, standardize, optimize, generalize, and define it. In an attempt to engage foreign audiences and develop a deeper relationship with them, based on shared interests and common ideas, governments spend millions of dollars each year to implement programs that can facilitate these engagements. However, despite countless highly sophisticated programs – ranging from student and leadership exchanges to a variety of cultural events – that are tailored to different audiences, too often neither scholars, nor policy makers can determine a cause-effect relationship between the programs they implemented and approval rates abroad.
And then there is Dennis Rodman, who travels to North Korea without a plan and manages to leave the country a few days later and everyone, including the country’s communist leader that hasn’t had any friendly encounters with an American in as long as anyone can remember, is all smiley faces. No science behind it, just what seems like intuition, and it worked – apparently. However, some argue that Rodman’s visit was actually counterproductive, as his approval of Kim Jong Un directly legitimized his questionable leadership.
Still, the question arises if maybe American scholars are sometimes overanalyzing public diplomacy and therefore, often miss their set goals (or can’t detect it). Many argue that Dennis Rodman’s visit was just staged and now that he has gone nothing has changed. Those people have a point. Kim Jong Un has just threatened the United States with a nuclear war again. Politically, Rodman’s visit hasn’t changed anything. However, he still managed to open North Korea to an American visitor for a friendly encounter with the leader for first time in decades, and that is something neither politicians nor scholars have been able to achieve.
Fact is, public diplomacy needs to be very targeted in order to be successful, but at the same time, PD scholars and practitioners should also keep in mind that sometimes intuition is a good indicator of what is a good approach and what is not. Especially in the case of North Korea, maybe a mix of intuitive steps and targeted PD programs is going to lead to a change in the near, or not so near future.
Anna-Lena Tepper is a graduate student at the George Washington University, and is posting as part of Take Five’s ongoing Student Perspective series.
by Brad Gilligan
Last month, advocates of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights deployed thousands of supporters to the grounds outside the U.S. Supreme Court during oral arguments in two landmark cases. A Pew Research Center poll demonstrates the dominant frame being deployed by media to tell the story. “Growing Support for Gay Marriage: Changed Minds and Changing Demographics,” the headline reads.
While the pro-equality campaign in the U.S. may represent a real sea change in our national public opinion, other countries’ perspectives vary by degrees. Under Hillary Clinton’s leadership, the State Department annually documented the status of LGBT people around the globe in its report on human rights practices. Memorably, Clinton said in a speech at the United Nations that “gay rights are human rights.” These remarks were coordinated with a memo from President Obama in the same week that detailed the first ever US government strategy to deal with human rights abuses against LGBT citizens abroad.
In parts of the world, perils faced by LGBT citizens are well known: In Uganda, the parliament proposed a bill which would make some homosexual acts a crime punishable by death. While in New York, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad infamously commented “we don’t have homosexuals like in your country.” And in Russia, parliament is considering a nationwide ban on ‘gay propaganda’ to minors—in the same year that international attention was drawn to members of the feminist, pro-LGBT, punk-rock collective Pussy Riot after they were jailed by the Putin government.
When the State Department promotes gay rights abroad, cultural diplomacy acts as one of the primary drivers of that agenda. Cynthia P. Schneider describes the relationship: “Public diplomacy consists of all a nation does to explain itself to the world, and cultural diplomacy—the use of creative expression and exchanges of ideas, information, and people to increase mutual understanding—supplies much of its content.” Through partnerships with regional and local civil society groups, the Department engages communities in dialogue about the value Americans ascribe to all people, no matter who that person is or whom that person loves.
Not to say that the U.S. does not receive its own share of criticism for its domestic LGBT policy: an interactive display from The Guardian documents the variability of gay rights, state by state. Until a 2003 Supreme Court ruling, sodomy laws remained on the books in 14 states. Today, others still prohibit adoptions by gay couples or permit dismissing workers on the basis of gender identification.
To focus on the theme of LGBT rights, and the practice of cultural diplomacy worldwide, I began with a small exercise in role reversal: How does one country (I selected Canada) work inside the U.S. to promote its foreign policy?
In 1995, a review of Canadian foreign policy granted culture new status, erecting it as a third pillar in the country’s diplomatic priorities, beside security and the economy. The report praises its culture as a potent force for the nation’s international reputation. “Our principles and values—our culture—are rooted in a commitment to tolerance; to democracy; to equality and to human rights”. Among the recommendations made in the document, it elevates the potential of mass media (e.g. television, film, and radio) in particular to reach audiences outside of Canada’s borders.
Like the BBC, the CBC (the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) operates as a public entity. The government approves and funds programming consistent with the mandate to, among other stipulations, focus on Canadian content. For instance, the broadcasting license for MTV Canada requires that a minimum of 68% of daytime and 71% of prime time programming be of Canadian origin. The network describes itself as offering a “distinctly Canadian interpretation of the MTV brand across multiple platforms,” in 171 territories around the world.
One such program, airing since 2009, is 1 girl 5 gays. The 30-minute talk show sees host Aliya-Jasmine Sovani asking 20 questions about love and sex to a rotating panel of gay men from the greater Toronto area. Toronto holds a reputation as a vibrant center of gay life in Ontario; Church Street, especially, has a rich cultural history and has been depicted before in popular media exported south of the border.
Logo TV, a US gay and lesbian-interest channel, picked up 1 girl 5 gays in 2010. The first season increased ratings in its time slot +55% compared to the network’s Q4 2010 average.
Pew’s poll, referenced earlier, found that roughly a third (32%) said their views changed because they know someone who is homosexual. Mass media may well be another variable at play, subbing for physical one-to-one contact. The show builds relationships on this principle, between the host and panelists (and the audience by proxy).
A rudimentary content analysis of episodes from 1 girl 5 gays’ first season begins to generate a map for how dialogue can be used to strategically shift opinion about LGBT rights. In any one episode, an average of five questions conjure pointed images of gay sexual experiences (“Do you have a gag reflex?”) while the remainder are interchangeable to hetero- or homosexual couples (“If your sex life was a colour, what colour would it be?). The majority have nothing to do with sex at all (“Whose autograph have you asked for?”).
Especially notable, the show frequently inserts a question in the final segment looking inward at the program or at common LGBT experiences: “How do you feel gay men are represented on this show?” “Does the pride parade reinforce stereotypes?” “If there was a pill to make you straight, would you take it?”
Statistical wizard Nate Silver points out how demographics and population density are likely indicators of support for same-sex marriage. It would be overdrawn to say 1 girl 5 gays answers this problem intentionally by increasing the opportunities for exposure to discussion of LGBT experiences; but, as a byproduct of capitalism (i.e. the proliferation of broadcasting in the U.S. via for-profit cable TV), the amplification of Canadian commitment to tolerance aids the cause of LGBT rights in the U.S., and represents one instance of successful cultural diplomacy in action.
Brad Gilligan is a graduate student in the Media and Public Affairs program at the George Washington University.
As J. Michael Waller (editor) notes in The Public Diplomacy Reader, the definition of public diplomacy has evolved over time and people view it in different ways. The link between all these definitions is that the audiences involved come from different cultures and backgrounds. Cultural diplomacy, by the very nature of the work, is done by many different organizations in many different sectors of a given country. Because cultural diplomacy encompasses so many different subcategories of diplomacy- arts diplomacy, educational exchanges, speaker series, etc.- there is a wide open field for those that can and do conduct these programs. This brings up a larger question of exactly who is considered a diplomat.
Like the definition of public diplomacy, the definition of who is a diplomat has also evolved over time. Of course everyone is going to have an opinion on where to draw the line between diplomat and non-diplomat, but I’d like to propose some questions in order to draw some rough boundaries. With the increase in the amount of people that can do and are doing diplomacy, there is the possibility, as Robert Albro suggests, of “interest-free cultural diplomacy”. People are more likely to engage if there is not a hidden interest or if the organization conducting the program is not affiliated with the government. These possibilities exist with the advent of new diplomats other than those belonging to the Foreign Service.
If you, or the organization you work for, represent a country and not a government are you a diplomat?
This question depends on the situation. You, as a singular person travelling abroad for pleasure, do not constitute a diplomat. If that were the case, then everyone who travels internationally would be considered a diplomat. That would be unproductive because then there would be no point to identifying organizations and people who are part of the Foreign Service as diplomatic representatives for a specific country. We would no longer need the Foreign Service Officer Test and we would no longer need the Foreign Service Institute. The sheer ubiquity of international travelers would diminish the value of having that position as a job. Everybody who travels internationally cannot be considered a diplomat even though each person would be representing a country.
However, as part of an organization, there is a possibility that you could be considered a diplomat depending on the type of organization and the nature of the work you are doing. An Armenian NGO called OST Armenia-Cultural Center of the East, acts as a cultural representative for Armenia with countries of the East according to their website. Their “About the Organization” section says that they are funded by “membership dues, donations and sponsorship funding.” From their website, it seems that they are not affiliated with the government of Armenia and are truly committed to advancing cultural diplomacy initiatives. In this case, people who work for this organization are doing the same type of work that we traditionally consider diplomats to do; thus I see no reason not to consider them diplomats. They are representing Armenia without representing the government, but are still conducting diplomatic work. Of course, there may be something in their operational policies that we are not aware of that links them to the Armenian government, but, for all intents and purposes, they are representing a country without representing a government and are on their way to conducting interest-free cultural diplomacy. .
If your organization is not representing or promoting a country then are you still a diplomat by virtue of working for/ representing this other type of organization internationally?
A related question that needs to be addressed in partnership with the above one is: What kind of organization does not represent/ promote a country? Many people will argue, and correctly so, that even if the organization is a true NGO, the country that the organization is based in is still going to be somehow represented. The challenge in this question is finding a truly international organization. For purposes of this discussion, I have chosen Greenpeace. According to their website, Greenpeace was founded by a group of Canadian citizens, is currently headquartered in Amsterdam, and has 2.8 million supporters worldwide and regional offices in 41 countries. In this case, Greenpeace is promoting a cause, not a country, and does not represent a government. Having its headquarters in a different country than where it was founded takes away that problem of the country still being reflected within the organization. So here is an organization that has essentially no ties to government or country, yet they are doing international work. Does this make the organization and its members diplomats? Due to the lack of ties to a country or government, they come even closer to Albro’s interest-free diplomacy idea, but is their work really diplomacy?
To me, the crux of public diplomacy is creating the space for dialogues which hopefully lead to relationship building. Greenpeace’s website says that their “solutions work promotes open, informed debate about society’s environmental choices, and involves industries, communities and individuals in making change happen.” I think they reach the dialogue state of public diplomacy, but I don’t know whether or not they reach they state of building partnerships.
Where do non-government organizations that are contracted by the government or partially funded by the government fit into this?
There are many examples of organizations doing diplomacy that are not government entities but are still funded, at least partially, by a government. These organizations do not really reach the notion of interest-free diplomacy and are not really NGOs, but fall somewhere in between. They do diplomacy such as exchanges, arts diplomacy tours, and more, and so the people of these organizations are diplomats by the nature of their work.
To reach Albro’s interest-free diplomacy, do you have to be independent or just come across as independent?
L’Alliance Française purports to be independent even though it really isn’t (see the official charter, in French but translatable) but you have to do some serious digging to discover this. The average person is not going to go to through the founding documents and will only see the website for their local chapter such as this one for L’Alliance DC which says that “L’Alliance Française de Washington, D.C. is a 501(c)(3) non-profit, non-governmental organization that is not subsidized by the French government. It is an educational, cultural association headed by a Franco-American Board of directors.” Therefore, the organization comes across as independent without actually being independent. There is no question that that they are doing cultural diplomacy activities, but it is very much a projection of the French government. As Albro notes, interest-free cultural diplomacy often engages more people because they do not see it as a government trying to push its views on others. To most people, L’Alliance and other examples, such as the British Council and Goethe Institute, appear to be furthering the goals of their respective nations while being less-affiliated with government than other government organizations such as the Foreign Ministry. While this is not exactly interest-free, it is getting closer.
In summary, NGOs can be invaluable resources when it comes to public diplomacy measures. NGOs can range on a sliding scale from interest free to closely associated with a government. Depending on where they fall on this scale, they are free to express alternative views and have more freedom with their online presence, official statements, and programming efforts. This helps to reach a broader audience that may or may not agree with the views of a given country’s government, but may still be interested in that country’s culture. NGOs potentially have the power to reach an audience that may have been absent from the discussion when governments were solely involved in diplomacy. Depending on the context and the work of the organization, people and their organizations can be diplomats without being part of a country’s official government initiatives. However, one must be careful when considering NGOs to be interest-free.