public diplomacy

This category contains 218 posts

Panda Diplomacy

By Colleen Calhoun, Mary Anne Porto and Libby Schiller

Exotic animals have long been seen as symbols of power and democracy. Dating back
to the times of Ancient Rome and Emperor Octavius, large animals such as lions,
rhinoceroses, etc. have been used as leverage in bureaucracy. Animal diplomacy is not exclusive to the Chinese. In the era of Julius Caesar and Cleopatra, Egypt gave Giraffes to foreign nations. Queen Elizabeth II gave two black beavers to Canada in 1970. The Chinese originally gave Pandas away as gifts, but in 1984 the government decided to begin a 10-year loan system with annual payments.
Today, there are more than 25 zoos worldwide that have Pandas.
With the new loan system, China has reached out to countries in an attempt to foster
relationships. More so now, China has been using Panda diplomacy to pursue
economic and
political ambitions as well. The Edinburgh Zoo received its pandas in 2011, setting up a
deal to
pay an annual fee to the Chinese government to help giant panda conservation projects
in the
wild. Not only is China reaching out to countries using Pandas, they are benefiting from
relationships as well. Similarly, Japan also received two pandas in 2011, and the two
hoped it would improve relations caused by dispute over islands and their sovereignty.
China has been successful in their efforts because Pandas are very cute and many
would like to have them in their zoos. Pandas are a soft power tool that the Chinese
have been
using to increase their scope around the world. More so than diplomatic relationships,
China has
seen more growth in economic relationships with Panda diplomacy.
According to a BBC article, Scottish exports to China have almost doubled in the past
five years. Similarly, Panda loans in Canada, France and Australia coincided with trade
deals for uranium. The article also said, “If a panda is given to the country, it does not
signify the closing of a deal – they have entrusted an endangered, precious animal to
the country; it signifies in some ways a new start to the relationship.” This shows that
China is not looking to give countries Pandas and
complete a one time deal. They are looking to foster long-term relationships, especially
regarding economics. As a soft power tool, the Chinese government can use cute,
cuddly Pandas

to increase economic growth, not only for the time-being, but over an extended period of
There are many challenges facing those who wish to replicate animal diplomacy efforts
of the
past. Animal advocates have challenged the practice as they say it commercializes
animal lives
and puts stressors on already vulnerable endangered species. Others want more
about where fees for loans go. Countries who choose to do so should consider making
funding more transparent and perhaps shifting away from a funding model all together,
focusing on just awareness, to reduce criticism. Countries should also consider the
logistics of
their animals, making sure the animals are able to travel and not endangered. They
should also
ensure that the animals are representative of their countries and reflect positively on

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author(s). They do not necessarily express the views of either The Institute of Public Diplomacy and Global Communication or The George Washington University.


Public Diplomacy and Asian Cuisine in America

By Caroline Rexrode, Matilda Kreider and Jade Hurley

Asian cuisine has been used as a public diplomacy tool in the United States, specifically
from the country of Thailand. The primary philosophy behind food diplomacy, or public
diplomacy using cuisine native to one’s country, stems from culinary nationalism. We all
associate different foods with different places of origin–tacos, spaghetti, fried rice–and
especially in a globalized world, where we enjoy several cultures at once in the food we eat,
cuisine can be one of the first steps to learning about a foreign nation.

Culinary nationalism is a philosophy where the food of one’s country is closely related to their national identity, and such pride in one’s cuisine can lead to a government’s promotion of certain recipes as being a part of their nation’s heritage–it is a form of showing the world what you have to offer. This is why nations like Thailand have chosen to tie food closely to their national identity.

By spreading one’s cuisine into foreign nations, it is not a one-time occurrence of public
diplomacy. Food can be a quotidian diplomat, meaning, once there, its diplomatic properties of
education and friendship will be repeated day after day. Immigrants from places like Thailand
can encourage their friends in other countries to eat it, restaurants can be established, and the
diplomatic powers of food can be neverending. This was the philosophy behind the Thai
government’s decision to launch the first large-scale culinary diplomacy effort to encourage
people worldwide to try Thai cuisine, which was largely successful.

By 2015, a CNN poll found that Thai food is the world’s most popular cuisine. This is a shift in the eating patterns that we have witnessed in our lifetime, and watching the rise of Thai food is watching the rise of positive relations between Thailand and the world.

It has been a trend in America that foods of Asian origin take on a trendy reputation that
influences how Americans view Asian nations and people. Foods like sushi tend to start out in
urban hubs on the east and west coasts and spread into the continent and into rural areas,
giving them a reputation for being more sophisticated and trendy.

Bubble tea, which originated in Taiwan, can be found most readily in the U.S. on college campuses because it’s expected that Asian students will flock to it and eventually other students will follow, which has made bubble tea have a very youthful reputation. Other regional cuisines are popular with young people and can serve as social symbols, too, like Mexican food in the form of chains like Chipotle.

Another interesting foreign food phenomenon in the U.S. is the prevalence of food trucks. Food trucks build familiarity and can help people get to know parts of the world that they
wouldn’t otherwise. On an urban campus like GW’s, one can usually find 5-10 food trucks at a
time, and many of them are foreign cuisines like Chinese, Afghan, or Laotian. Due to the casual
and accessible nature of food trucks, consumers gain exposure to regional cuisines they might
never have experienced otherwise. Some of the food trucks on campus are even incredibly
niche, like Himalayan or Bermudian, exposing Americans to even more unusual foods. Also, the
presence of food trucks in suburbia as well as in large cities helps eliminate the urban elite
complex that is attached to some foods.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author(s). They do not necessarily express the views of either The Institute of Public Diplomacy and Global Communication or The George Washington University.

Street art as a form of public diplomacy

By Devan Cole, Jazmyn Strode and Ali Oksner

Street art, which is defined simply as visual art that is created in public places, is seldom
considered a form of PD. But, if thought about carefully, one can easily see how street art can be a powerful and effective form of public diplomacy. Our presentation was centered around several examples of street art that Jazmyn and Ali saw (and in one case, painted) during their study abroad trips last year, that serve as prime examples of how this form of art can send cultural and political messages to both visitors and citizens of other countries.

In Italy, Jazmyn snapped photos of a series of paintings in a town she visited. The paintings were
of people who appeared to be torn from classical Italy but wore scuba diving masks and were positioned underwater. While the message they sent wasn’t exactly political, it was indeed cultural as it gave people (tourists) passing by a glimpse at Italian art without having to go into a museum that likely has an entrance fee. With the paintings being on the street, accessibility is at the heart of their purpose because you don’t have to chump up euros to experience this form of cultural diplomacy. In Chile, Ali saw a message spray-painted in Spanish that translates to “You have to be asleep to live the American dream.” This message, which can be considered street art, was presumably written by a local who wanted to express their thoughts on what they saw as an unattainable foreign fantasy. The audience: both Chileans and Spanish-speaking visitors. The interesting thing here is that the artist was attempting to relay a message about another country’s beliefs, not their own.

Nonetheless, this example of public diplomacy proves is just as interesting as any other because it promotes a citizen’s socio-cultural beliefs about a country. Ali also painted a mural of her father on the side of an abandoned house in Chile. When she
asked if she could paint somewhere, city officials shrugged off her request and told her she was free to paint on the side of the building, proving once again that this form of public diplomacy is extremely accessible. Her painting was a way for her to promote American art technique and form in another country, which can be seen as a form of public diplomacy. All of these examples and more serve as a testament to the fact that street art is an important form of public diplomacy that allows individuals to promote political and cultural messages through art that is easily accessible to anyone who wants to be on the receiving end of that messaging.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author(s). They do not necessarily express the views of either The Institute of Public Diplomacy and Global Communication or The George Washington University.

China’s Panda Diplomacy

by Lily Werlinich, Emma Barrera and Mailinh McNicholas

Nuclear arms may be the current talk of the town, but China has been successfully deploying a
furrier weapon for years: the panda. Late last year, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and
Chinese President Xi Jinping met in Berlin’s Tierpark Zoo to commemorate the latter’s loan of
Meng-Meng (“Little Dream”) and Jiao Qing (“Darling”). The two pandas will remain in Berlin
for the next 15 years at an annual cost of $1 million.
The two world leaders met for the exchange two days before the G20 meeting to project a
peaceful, friendly relationship to the international community, a stark contrast to the atmosphere
that President Trump would bring with him to the conference.
Yet this loan is much more than a mere photo-op. For years, the Chinese government
has loaned pandas to other nations as a way of signifying respect. China lent the United States
its first pandas in 1972 after President Nixon’s historic visit to the Asian nation. Pandas can even
be withdrawn when a nation refuses to support China’s political policies. After President Obama
met with the Dalai Lama in 2010 against China’s wishes, panda cubs from Zoo Atlanta and the
National Zoo were repatriated. Other times, pandas certify the existence of favorable trade
relations between China and its partner nations. China and Germany are the first- and third-
largest trading nations in the world, respectively, and therefore must work to craft deals
favorable to both nations.
This exchange of pandas is a theatrical display of public diplomacy and a way for China
to flex its soft power, a branch of diplomacy that the nation has historically neglected. As defined
by Joseph Nye, countries use soft power to make themselves more attractive. They do so by
emphasizing their culture, political institutions, and foreign policies in ways that appeal to
international sentiment.
Pandas are an excellent source of soft power because of their inherent charm. The bear-
like mammals symbolize political power in the East and wildlife conservation in the West. But
perhaps most importantly, they are simply adorable and adorable animals are transnational and
China’s new soft power initiatives reflect the nation’s desire to project its power beyond the
Asian region. In its nineteenth National Congress in October, the Chinese Communist Party and
President Xi Jinping announced the country’s commitment to achieving “China’s dream” of
becoming the number one global power during this century by developing a powerful military
and reaching full economic development by 2050.
China’s new foreign policy strategy rejects isolationism and aims to promote inclusive
development, as reflected by the country’s ambitious “Belt and Road Initiative” to link
China with Central Asia, the Middle East, Russia, Europe, and Africa through physical
infrastructure, financial arrangements, and cultural exchanges.

As China transitions to a more assertive role in the international arena, President Xi
Jinping aims to develop China’s soft power by presenting a“true, multi-dimensional, and
panoramic view of China.” Ultimately, China’s embrace of globalism and shift in style, attitude,
and behavior in global affairs is likely to have a profound impact on the international order.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author(s). They do not necessarily express the views of either The Institute of Public Diplomacy and Global Communication or The George Washington University.

Facebook Meets Global Agitprop

By Rob Cline and Olivia Dupree

Facebook has come under fire by Washington lawmakers and the American public in recent
months for their apparent involvement in the 2016 election. It has been discovered that Russian
disinformation operations paid for targeted Facebook ads that promoted Donald Trump and
sowed divisions in the electorate by touching on cultural wedge issues.

Facebook’s leadership failed to identify and curve these propaganda operations on their site, raising questions about
the company’s ability to independently maintain a truthful and fair media platform for Americans to get information.

While this problem seems uniquely American, we need to point out that Facebook is a global
website. Nations across the world have experienced Russian disinformation campaigns through
Facebook over the past two years. It has been discovered that the Brexit campaign in the UK was
plagued by Russian social media influence, as well as the French presidential campaign.

While it’s majorly important that Russian intelligence is interfering in the elections of Western
democracies, there are places in the world where groups utilize Facebook for much more
dangerous outcomes. In Myanmar, the militant government in power is engaging in ethnic
cleansing of the Rohingya Muslims. This brutal violence against the Rohingya has been fueled,
in part, by misinformation and anti-Rohingya propaganda spread on Facebook.

In countries like Myanmar, social and governmental instability means that traditional news
outlets like newspapers and cable TV have much less sway with the public, something both
Patricia Kabra and Louisa Williams spoke to when visiting our class. Without these forms of
media, the public forum moves to open social media platforms like Facebook. Facebook has
become the primary news source for most citizens of Myanmar.

This sets up a huge problem: Facebook creates a massive, open public sphere and leaves
everyone else to deal with the consequences. As the New York Times put it: “Correcting
misinformation is a thorny philosophical problem for Facebook, which imagines itself as a
neutral platform that avoids making editorial decisions.” Unfortunately, like we saw with fake
news in the US presidential election, people seem to have a willingness to accept what they see
on Facebook as true. This means the government of Myanmar has been extremely successful in
alienating the Rohingya through misinformation campaigns.

For PD practitioners, this represents an information crisis. On one hand, Facebook is an essential
tool in the modern age to reaching broad audiences that you would normally not reach with
traditional media. On the other hand, Facebook is an untrimmed landscape ripe for
misinformation and deceit by those who want to manipulate public opinion.

Battling social media disinformation will likely become a common practice of public diplomats
around the globe. US envoys who want to maintain the US’s image abroad will most likely have
to deal with Russian backed anti-American propaganda campaigns. Additionally PD
practitioners will have to learn how to deal with the social and political upheaval that comes
when disinformation campaigns are successful in their host countries.

Resource: Facebook as a Tool of Global Propaganda

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author(s). They do not necessarily express the views of either The Institute of Public Diplomacy and Global Communication or The George Washington University.

The Peace Corps and Public Diplomacy Connection

by Samantha Cookinham and Meredith Hessel

Washington Post Contributor Bren Flanigan feels that the importance of the Peace Corps’ role in public diplomacy is forgotten with the budget cuts that President Trump proposed in the spring.*

Flanigan finds he, along with others in the Peace Corps are cultural ambassadors for the country showing interest in other cultures, showing the truth about American culture and showing a memorable impression of America.

While in Benin, he found that food was key to sharing culture. He cooked pizza for his host
family and celebrated the Fourth of July with A1 steak sauce and the Whitney Houston version
of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

These interactions helped with cultural diplomacy by “addressing questions like these gives Peace Corps volunteers the opportunity to shatter the stereotypes about the United States portrayed in television and movies.” Flanigan wants to influence societies not solely through intimidation or economic isolation, but through integrated cultural exchange because this will “endure through political administrations and fluctuating diplomatic relations.”

Our thoughts:
Soft power may be difficult to measure, but it is effective because it is memorable and able to
shatter stereotypes about America. These cultural exchanges are necessary to share diplomatic
relations through experience and genuine interest in cultures and traditions. People in the Peace
Corps are cultural ambassadors.* Flanigan’s reflection that Peace Corps volunteers are “for many communities… the real American ambassadors, the only ones they will ever meet, and the only ones they will remember.” This is similar to how Flanigan was welcomed by his host family in Benin with questions about the 2016 election. Their questions showed that they were looking for a refreshing first-hand account of what Americans think and if they agree with the rhetoric of the

Further, this emphasizes the importance of face-to-face or person-to-person public
diplomacy, as Peace Corps volunteers represent America and are “direct extensions of American
values and principles.” In all, Peace Corps volunteers strengthen an understanding of people and
cultural values between the U.S. and the country they are volunteering in.

* The Peace Corps “is a service opportunity for motivated changemakers to immerse themselves
in a community abroad, working side by side with local leaders to tackle the most pressing
challenges of generation[s].” As  an independent agency within the executive branch that was
established by President John F. Kennedy through an Executive Order in 1961, the Peace Corps’
mission is to promote global world peace and friendship. The President appoints the Peace
Corps’ director and deputy director and the appointments must be confirmed by the Senate. As
an agency, it has bipartisan support in Congress, as both Democrats and Republicans and even
representatives and senators have served as volunteers. The Peace Corps’ budget is 1% of the
foreign operations budget and the annual budget is determined each year by the congressional budget and appropriations process.

You can learn more about the Peace Corps’ leadership and initiatives at

*Bren Flanigan contributed to the Washington Post’s Global Opinions section on August 31
the-peace-corps-in-u-s-foreign-policy/?utm_term=.df698d912f8f) with his insights from serving
as a U.S. Peace Corps volunteer in Benin.


Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author(s). They do not necessarily express the views of either The Institute of Public Diplomacy and Global Communication or The George Washington University.

Formation of race stereotypes is undermining Chinese effort in Africa


A well-intentioned Chinese Central Television (CCTV) comedy show went horribly wrong last month.  CCTV brings out its best programming during the peak Chinese new year’s holidays, but one comedy sketch this year earned wide international media criticism for its portrayal by a Chinese actress in blackface portraying an African mother with stereotypical curves and mindset.  Her appearance—coming at a time when China is actively building its business and diplomatic presence in Africa—was followed with another “African’ actor with monkey-like features. A single sketch threatens to damage the goodwill China has built up in Africa and has become a tempting target for international critics who claim that China is showing its traditional world view.  The incident reflects two threats that the Chinese government faces as it tries to expand its global influence: its lack of racial education, and its own colonial tendencies.

This is not the first time that the Chinese media have been called out for racism.   Another controversy in 2016 involved an advertisement for a laundry company that stuck an African-American male in a washing machine and made him paler and Asian-looking.  While it is tempting to think that the PRC is deliberately inconsiderate, the closer truth is that the Chinese government—which supervises CCTV, the country’s most influential network—may not even know its flaws because there is no history of understanding racial context.  And without that understanding, its censorship system doesn’t catch race-related mistakes.   Since the Chinese government is focusing right now on its investment in Africa, the government doesn’t want to disrupt relations with the Continent by showing prejudice or discrimination. There’s simply too much at stake for China to have its central message of friendship and partnership distorted by racist stereotypes in its official media.

This kind of misguided humor should be taken seriously. As a society, China has stepped onto the world’s stage through its dramatic growth and prosperity of the last two decades, and its naturally increased global role in trade, politics, and humanitarian issues.   Chinese media are also no longer just domestic.   Maybe a couple of decades ago media could echo parts of society with derogatory terms for Japanese (ri ben gui zi) Koreans (bang zi), or Westerners (bai gui zi). Now the situation has changed as more foreigners starts to follow the activities of the Chinese society and media, but a lot of people in Chinese society have still not realized just how much some jokes and metaphors hurt other people. While many Chinese feel angry when foreign media or people use stereotype to describe Chinese, they don’t connect that with how other races feel when they are portrayed as monkeys.

Perhaps an even more serious problem is the colonialist tendency that has started to form in the Chinese mind. In the controversial sketch I mentioned above, Africans actors praised the railroad that the Chinese government built in Africa and expressed how much Chinese investments helped Africa. There are sentences such as, “When I became a train attendant, I have a different identity. I am so beautiful right now and I am able to marry a nice man. My life will be good from now on!” and “I want to study in China. I want to be like Chinese!” Chinese actors are teachers and travelers, while African actors are just students and servants. If we read the history of colonization of African in 19th century by English and French, we can find a similar theme and propaganda as the Chinese government is promoting now: we bring civilization to Africa and we are their savior. After one hundred years of humiliation by imperial countries, Chinese are becoming like their humiliators after Chinese are able to expend their power.

Du Mu, a Chinese poet in Tang (唐) dynasty, use the story of the rapid collapse of the Qin (秦) dynasty to warn people who do not learn the lesson from history: As the rulers of Qin were too busy  to mourn their own destruction , posterity must mourn for them; but if in mourning the destruction of Qin posterity fails to learn the lesson, then posterity’s posterity will have to mourn for posterity itself. If the Chinese government cannot prevent the formation of an colonist mindset in Chinese people’s own hearts, the Chinese government will not only fail to “rise peacefully” but will also repeat the mistakes of the English and French colonialists.

Caveat: The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author. They do not necessarily express the views of either The Institute of Public Diplomacy and Global Communication or The George Washington University.

Fashion in Public Diplomacy: Why Symbols are the Key to Acknowledging Identity

Recently, Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada, gathered his wife and kids for a state trip to India. The picturesque man and his picturesque family flew halfway around the world for a week of meetings and dinners with everyone from Indian government officials to Bollywood movie executives. What should have been an easy win for the young Trudeau government, turned into one of the biggest embarrassments of his administration.

Trudeau has all too frequently reached beyond sympathy to aggressively empathize with communities that he is not part of. He cried when he apologized on behalf of the Canadian Government to the LGBTQ community though he is not part of that community. He cried when he apologized on behalf of the Canadian Government to the First Nations, though he does not share their identity.

But on his trip to India, his attempts at joining in on local culture were taken to a new level of embarrassment. It would have been one thing for him and his family to wear traditional Indian clothes when they attended traditional events or visited traditional sites. Instead, the Trudeaus dressed in traditional attire for most of the entire trip.


The Trudeaus were criticized because most people in India do not dress that way anymore. They were criticized because their clothing was more ornate than what most own or can afford. They were criticized for wearing the traditional clothes everywhere. The most embarrassing moment came when Trudeau met with Bollywood moguls. While he and his family donned traditional Indian garb, the moghuls wore suits and ties. And they were not quiet about their criticism on social media.

Practitioners of public diplomacy face a tough challenge. As outsiders, they need to show that they acknowledge the local culture without implying ownership over it. They need to gain trust without appearing as a threat. They need to understand their audience’s identity without assuming it. They can do this the clothes that they wear. But going too far can lead to a costly blunder. Let Trudeau stand as a warning.

What you wear is an instrumental way of representing who you are, what you believe, and what you represent. We use clothing as an indicator to judge people we do not know every day. You walk past someone on the street wearing ripped jeans and a tanktop and you immediately make a judgement about who they are. The same goes for the person you pass in the expensive tailored suit.

In American politics, judging politicians by their clothing is an extremely common practice. Who could forget the Barack Obama “Tan Suit Incident?” In an effort to dress for the season, President Obama wore a tan suit while giving a press conference about national security in August 2014. Few remember the details of what he said at the press conference but the tan suit lives on. “How could he be serious about national security in a Tan Suit?” many claimed.

So how can those in public diplomacy dress in a way that acknowledges local identity without being overbearing or inappropriate? The secret is in symbols.

In her recent book, The Extreme Gone Mainstream, Dr. Cynthia Miller-Idriss examines the clothing associated with the recent white nationalist movement in Germany. Among her many findings, her discoveries around symbolism are striking.

In Germany, there are strict censorship laws around using Nazi Symbols, language, and references. So white nationalists have moved toward insider symbolism on their clothing or symbols for which only those the group understand there meaning.

For example, the number “88” is a symbol for the phrase “Heil Hitler.” Because 88 cannot be printed on clothing (per German law), shirts that say “89-1” or “87+1” have become popular.

Even culturally deeper, Nordic symbolism has made a revival in white supremacist clothing. Nordic folklore represents the rise of those with Nordic roots above all the rest. It equates to Nordic superiority.

This is a prime example of insider symbolism. To the untrained eye, the number 88 means nothing. But to those inside the group, it has meaning. To a German, they may see Nordic symbolism and think nothing beyond its significance to all German culture. A non-German might see it and just think it is cool looking. If I was shopping in Germany, I might easily accidentally buy extremist clothing. But to an insider, the symbolism has a different meaning.

Symbolism ties into national identity. Groups of people have shared history. This shared history is common among all members of the group. It evolves and is passed down from generation to generation. Narratives become part of this national identity. The idea of the “American Dream” is one example.

Symbolism too evolves as part of shared history. This can be the case at all community levels: a village, an entire country, an entire religious group.

It is tapping into symbolism where public diplomacy practitioners can acknowledge local culture without going overboard. A flower is important to a town that you are visiting? Wear it on your suit lapel. A color has a particular meaning? Wear a tie of that color. A local soccer team is playing a big match? Put on their scarf.

And do your research! Understand what certain colors represent to certain people. Learn what symbols your audience might find offensive. Dig deep into local history. Often these symbols are insider symbols so they require work and local expertise to uncover.

Using insider symbolism can have additional benefits. Your audience will be impressed that you understand their culture well enough to have tapped into them. On a subconscious level, they might even partially accept you as part of the community. Additionally, you evade criticism back at home for adopting part of local culture because these symbols are likely to go unrecognized by outside audiences.

The bottom line is that you should always wear the traditional clothes of your home culture. With the exception of participating in traditional ceremonies where it is expected that you wear a certain type of clothing, by going too far and completely adopting local garb, you will likely embarrass yourself and lose local credibility. Instead, by acknowledging a symbol within your clothing, you maintain your identity while showing that you recognize theirs.


DisclaimerThe opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author. They do not necessarily express the views of either The Institute of Public Diplomacy and Global Communication or The George Washington University.

How Anti-Americanism in Pakistan can be mitigated through Diplomacy and Public Diplomacy


Image Source: “U.S. – Pakistan Relationship.” Chappatte Globe Cartoon, Chappatte in International Herald Tribune, 30 May 2012,

Pakistan is the 7thlargest country in the world in terms of its population and a country that holds a negative view of the United States.  The United States and Pakistan have been strategic allies on multiple occasions; however, the increasing distrust between the two countries due to conflict of national interests in the war on terror in Afghanistan has caused tensions in their pre-existing complex relationship.

The U.S. was among the first of nations to ally with Pakistan after its independence in 1947.  The United States provided economic and social assistance to the newly independent country and still maintains vital military relations. In return, Pakistan proved to be a valuable strategic ally of the United States in the cold war against the Soviet Union and helped the U.S. in driving Soviet forces out of Afghanistan. Pakistan continues to hold a strategic position in the United States’ interests in the Central and South Asia region. However, unlike prior to 1980s where the relationship was based on mutual benefits and good will, the post 9/11 basis of partnership has been mainly transactional between the U.S. and Pakistani military, which is given aid by the U.S. to support its efforts in Afghanistan. This transactional relationship stemmed from a trust deficit caused by the both countries’ conflict of narratives as a result of their history regarding their national interests and motives in the region.

The growing perception of “Anti-Americanism” in Pakistan is primarily due to the U.S. security strategy concerns in Afghanistan and Pakistan that Pakistan feels undermine Pakistan’s efforts to fight terrorism, leaving the country feeling underappreciated by the U.S. This contributes to fostering a negative image of the United States in Pakistan. In current circumstances, with Pakistan being a strategic ally, the U.S. can use diplomacy in conjunction with public diplomacy to turn the tide in a relationship with Pakistan.

Currently, there is a decline in Pakistani public support of American cooperation with its military and for U.S. assistance and humanitarian aid in areas where extremist leaders operate. Also, there is less inclination towards the U.S. to continue providing intelligence and logistical support for Pakistani troops fighting extremism. Pakistanis feel that the U.S. doesn’t take Pakistan’s national interests into account and doesn’t give it sufficient credit for its contributions to the war in Afghanistan.

The U.S. led drone strikes are a major contributor to this sentiment. According to Pakistan, drone strikes targeting extremist leaders result in more collateral damage of civilians and are mostly carried out without the consent of the Pakistani government that threatens country’s sovereignty. Regardless of how the U.S. views drone strikes in North Waziristan area and how effective they are in targeting extremists, the collateral damage in form of civilian causalities and social structure raises questions about the outcomes of drone war on Pakistani soil. The unified objection of the unauthorized U.S. led drone strikes from the Pakistani government and the Pakistani military further fuels the Pakistani narrative that the U.S. only cares about pursuing its own objectives even at the cost of threatening country’s sovereignty.

To mitigate this major issue, the U.S. needs to work with the Pakistani government and its military on a new bilateral drone strikes strategy that considers both countries security concerns in mind so the major point of tension between them is resolved – the public diplomacy alone will not solve the problem. Despite of the U.S. and Pakistan history of distrust, consensus on drone strikes strategy may have a positive effect on their relationship.  Once a consensus is reached, the U.S. can work with the Pakistani government to gain public support by communicating the drone attacks in a way that is transparent to the Pakistani public. The U.S. can also work with the Pakistani government to prevent civilian casualties or find/invest in alternatives to drone attacks such as Aware Girls to combat extremists, which instills a positive sense of perception in Pakistani public that the U.S. is not showing negligence in addressing their concerns. So far all the public diplomacy efforts made by the U.S. in Pakistan through bridging cultural gaps with programs like Fulbright Scholar Program and funding literacy education for underprivileged children or providing social and economic development opportunities to the private sector have been ineffective due to focus on the drone strikes. Mutual agreement of the countries on the use of drone strikes will pave the way for the better reception of the U.S. public diplomacy efforts in Pakistani public.

Over the years the relationship between the U.S. and Pakistan has been complex and ridden with distrust due to conflict of narratives regarding history and their roles in addressing security concerns in the region. The U.S. engagement in Pakistan is mostly highlighted in relations to the military, so every shift in that relationship affects the perception of the U.S. in Pakistani public. To counter the negative image building, the U.S. can use public diplomacy to mitigate Anti-Americanism caused by the U.S. foreign policies by reaching consensus on drone strikes with the Pakistani government and highlighting its role in social and economic development in Pakistan, thus signaling the desire for improving relationship to the Pakistani public.

DisclaimerThe opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author. They do not necessarily express the views of either The Institute of Public Diplomacy and Global Communication or The George Washington University.

Venezuela and its ‘’victim’’ narrative


The Washington Post reported a couple of weeks ago that Venezuela’s president, Nicolás Maduro, referred to the international coverage of Venezuela and its problems as ‘’propaganda against our country’’ and that international media is waging a ‘’psychological war’’. This language sounds familiar when one thinks about how similar regimes usually refer to the United States and the ‘’West’’ as ‘’interventionist’’ or ‘’imperialistic’’. However, it is not by coincidence that a country like Venezuela, with a tight relation of coexistence with Cuba, would construct such a narrative portraying Venezuela as the ‘’victim’’ of the United States and the West.

As Miskimmon and O’Loughlin argue, Strategic Narratives are ‘’a means for political actors to construct a shared meaning of the past, present and future of international politics to shape the behavior of domestic and international actors’’. In this shared meaning, the Venezuelan regime aims to extend its influence at home and abroad by portraying the United States and the ‘’West’’ as the bad guys, and countries like Venezuela as the ‘’victims’’. From an initial analysis, the United States’ strategy, from a communications point of view, does not help counter the Maduro regime’s narrative as recent sanctions to key Venezuelan politicians feed the discourse of ‘’victimization’’. However, it is difficult for any country to avoid policies, in such circumstances as Venezuela is facing today, which will not have an impact in the country’s victim narrative.  In my opinion, as the situation in Venezuela keeps deteriorating and the regime’s policies have caused the crisis to become not only political, but most importantly humanitarian, countries’ foreign policies’ towards Venezuela will inevitably become stricter as a response. Although these needed reactions will feed the ‘’victim’’ narrative that the Venezuelan regime will tighten its grip to, as it will not take the blame for what’s happening, weaker or subtle actions by foreign countries are not sufficient any longer.

Since 1999, Hugo Chavez – who is Maduro’s predecessor, leader of the ‘’Bolivarian Revolution’’ and of the ‘’Socialism of the XXI Century’’-, started developing a victim narrative that would grow stronger as his policies converted the country into the dictatorship that it is today. Chavez took direct advice from Fidel Castro and the Cuban regime to shape many policies and characteristics of the Venezuela he wanted to create. Among these, was the victim narrative in which the United States and the West are to blame for a big part of the country’s problems. Although for many years Chavez was able to not only convince a large part of Venezuelans that his policies were ideal and that the United States and the West were at fault for many of the country’s problems, he was also able to gain followers across the region who used the same policies and narrative. However, this is not the case anymore. With Maduro, the situation in Venezuela has deteriorated and the support from countries across the region has decreased, as many blame the Maduro and his regime for the crisis.

Such was the case of last week’s Summit of the Americas, where Bolivia and Cuba were among the few countries that backed up the Venezuelan president and rejected all the other countries’ declarations against the regime. Although Maduro’s allies were loyal to the Venezuelan government in the Summit, there was a majority of opposition to the current policies by the Venezuelan regime, as well as to the upcoming elections for being unconstitutional and in favor of the regime. Maduro was disinvited to the Summit of the Americas by the host country, and although he had previously said that he would still attend, Maduro announced a couple of days before that he would not be attending. Peru disinviting him, the U.S. and regional countries’ declarations during the Summit against the regime and upcoming sanctions by the U.S., EU and other countries from the region, all feed the ‘’victim’’ narrative that the Venezuelan government is using more and more. However, such policies are what neighboring countries should keep doing to allow for democracy to be restored in Venezuela.

The next few months will be crucial to Venezuelans, and to the country’s relations with the region and the world. Moreover, the next few months will be critical for the international community to establish appropriate policies against the Venezuelan regime and in favor of its people.  As Venezuelans are fleeing the country in mass, the crisis keeps deepening and spreading across its borders. It will become very hard for the Venezuelan ‘’victim narrative’’ to keep being successful, especially as so many Venezuelans, now considered refugees, have migrated to the region, the U.S and Europe, and are giving first hand testimony of the miserable conditions in which Venezuelans are living. If Venezuelans were happy and able to lead normal lives in their home country, they wouldn’t be leaving Venezuela to find opportunities elsewhere. Although policies against the Venezuelan regime might seem to help the ‘’victim narrative’’ this narrative is no longer sustainable and foreign countries should follow the steps of those countries that rejected the Venezuelan dictatorship at the Summit of the Americas.


DisclaimerThe opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author. They do not necessarily express the views of either The Institute of Public Diplomacy and Global Communication or The George Washington University.

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