Keeping up with the Saudi’s

Prince Charles dons traditional Saudi garb for a sword dance while on official royal tour.

Yesterday, BBC News reported that Prince Charles was visiting Saudi Arabia while on an official royal tour. According to the article, “the prince was taking part in the annual Janadriyah Festival, a celebration of Saudi culture and heritage” marked by the men  wearing traditional garb and dancing with swords, a tradition usually practiced at Saudi weddings.

I think this incident and the press that surrounded it was a very smart move by the United Kingdom. It shows cultural acumen and sensitivity as well as providing a great photo-op for the press. Prince Charles showed that western people can relate to and have camaraderie with the middle east, as well as strengthening the relationship between leaders of the two nations.

I think it was significant that this was “his second visit to the two nations in just under a year and his 10th official trip to Saudi since he first toured the nation in 1986.” It makes me wonder whether or not this is a way to “keep your friends close”…and well you know the rest. Not that the UK has any official issues with Saudi Arabia, but it is widely suspected that Saudi officials fund many activities the west has been trying to combat—if you catch my drift. So I wonder if this is the UK’s way of saving face and keeping up the appearances of friendship and solidarity. I could be totally wrong.

What is most definitely true is that participating in a cultural event such as this one is a great way to segway into what the “British ambassador to Saudi Arabia Jon Jenkins had said in a statement prior to the prince’s visit– that the royals were expected to discuss the need for reconciliation in the region and their hopes for its future.” Once you have made an effort to meet the host country half way, they might be more willing to compromise later.

I would argue that this is excellent Public Diplomacy on the part of the UK—it makes them seem very culturally sensitive and aware, something that can only help UK-Saudi (and hopefully Western-Saudi) relations moving forward.

U.S. Senate Confirms Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs

High praise for finally confirming Richard Stengel as the new “R.” (This is the acronym for the undersecretariat of the Department of State comprising global PD and domestic public affairs.)  After all the domestic budget turmoil of recent months, perhaps U.S. PD can really get going in Obama’s second term. Stengel is eminently qualified for the role, including as biographer of Nelson Mandela.  Read his message to our community here:

Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations

With this week’s readings focusing heavily on the role and impact of culture on public diplomacy, there were a few times that writers referenced Samuel Huntington’s ‘Clash of Civilizations’ thesis. This is not surprising, as Huntington’s seminal work on the issue arose at a time when many were scrambling to make sense of the world of international relations following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Many theories at that time were submitted concerning how the new world order would unfold, and Huntington’s ideas received significant attention by academics practitioners alike. Though this is not a typical subject for a blog entry, I thought it important enough to address within the broader framework of understanding the importance of culture within international relations.

In the interest of space, I will attempt to briefly rehash Huntington’s thesis into a few sentences. Huntington utilized the notion that conflict driven by ideology formed the foundation of international relations from post-World War II until 1990, as the world was essentially split between the Western capitalistic champions of free market on one side against the communist, command-economy states led by the USSR on the other. With the victory of the West over the USSR, Huntington argued that the role of ideology as the main instigator of conflict within international relations would diminish and be replaced by culture and religion. Furthermore, the concept of nation-states would be subsumed into seven distinct civilizations (Western, Latin American, Slavic-Orthodox, Islamic, Confucian, Japanese, and Hindu), and that future wars would occur between these civilizations.

As one who places great emphasis on cultural identity, I strongly disagree with Huntington’s crude reductionist arguments that attempt to partition the world into these monolithic unions. Although he was correct in predicting that culture and religion would once again play an important role in international relations, he completely missed the mark by incompetently bunching up countries and regions that only superficially share similarities. Huntington failed to acknowledge the nuances and complexities that exist within regions that ostensibly share a culture, and which would prevent them from becoming unified into a Huntington-esque ‘civilization’. Van Ham’s article this week highlights this flaw, as Huntington’s concept of the Western Civilization, which would comprise the US, Canada, and Western Europe, contains fragmented states which have no interest in uniting on a cultural level. States within the EU, in particular, are extremely resistant to the pervading influence of America’s ‘low’ culture. There are numerous examples that can be brandished here (grouping all Muslims into one category is one that stands out), but suffice to say Huntington’s vision of the future will not be occurring anytime soon.

With this being said, though, an interesting topic that comes to mind whilst analyzing Huntington is the relationship between state and culture. This relationship engenders numerous paths of discussion concerning how a state defines its culture, whether a state recognizes multiple variations within its boundaries, how tolerant it is to these variants, how states identify external cultures, etc., which then provides a solid foundation to build upon discussing how a state manufactures its public diplomacy and calibrates it for foreign consumption.

Cultural Strategies in Korea and Kenya

Understanding Soft Power, Social Power, Culture, and Public Diplomacy

3. Van Hamm describes the social powers within popular culture with examples that show how throughout recent history American policymakers during and even after times of “conflict” leverage the attraction of American pop culture as a means of perpetuating the dominant American WASP culture and values of individualism and liberalism. The popularization of American culture provided a consumerable form of political influence that “stokes the American ego” and spreads beyond our borders. A “media and information war” as Van Hamm describes it, would not be labeled a form of soft power, more specifically, within news and entertainment media and their ability to be more effective in producing American social power. Van Hamm references the role of “Hollywood” in social power during and after the Cold War.

In the case presented by Wu-Sok Cho, a similar situation has emerged where the marriage of pop culture and social power, known as the “Korean Wave,” has used the attraction of entertainment media to enrich their national image at home and abroad. As a result, South Korea has emerged from its state of penurious helplessness post-WWII as a “middle power.” Cho cites the recent incidents (such as “Gangnam Style” in pop music) as forms of the continuing explosion and exportation of Korean culture as allowing it to become a shareholder in many industries. What’s special about this cultural wave in Korea is the ability for it to communicate the resilience of Korean nationality, a country that has suffered and changed dramatically within the last half century.

Strategic Influence and Strategic Communication

2. Chris Paul outlines suggestions for improving strategic communication, particularly between government command and their military. In light of these suggestions, the actions and evidence of clear confusion and misconduct of Kenyan law enforcement during the Westgate Mall attacks was abysmal. Al-Shabaab had actively used it’s Twitter account (micro-blogging) as a way of propagating and communicating not only to their followers, but on a public forum, not only their intentions, but specific details on the ongoing attacks. Had Kenyan command had made better use/had higher awareness of the effectiveness of this communication tool for al-Shabaab, it could have decreased the initial confusion that lead to disastrous attempts to end the attack.

Paul identifies the importance of law enforcement commanders to “embrace and prioritize inform, influence, and persuade efforts.” He describes this as forming a “communication mindset” that includes everyone: commanders, decision makers, and subordinates alike. Al-Shabaab had successfully built a “communication mindset” amongst it’s militant group with their virtual followers. Along with forming this mindset, a “creation of credibility” in the government is an equally important strategic step in raising efficiency. By increasing communication links and credible interdependency between Kenyan PD and law enforcement would allow greater probability to identify al-Shabaab’s “set of planned actions,” which had been transmitted and signaled via Twitter.

Ban Ki Moon’s Blunder: #repost from Bb

This week Ban Ki Moon made a major diplomatic blunder. The issue revolves around the second round of peace talks regarding Syria and the Assad regime. According to Amia Nakhoul and Khaled Yacoub Oweis of Reuters, “Ban said Iran’s foreign minister had told him Tehran accepted the 2012 statement [from the first Geneva conference peace talks], which includes a requirement that Syria set up a transitional government.” Officials in Tehran denied this premise and “the Syrian opposition threatened to pull out of the conference and Western countries demanded Ban withdraw the invitation.”1 So that he did; a move that further highlighted the weakness of this second round of peace talks, calling into question how much good they can actually accomplish.

This is not an unfounded critique of the UN peace talks—Reuters correctly reported that it has been a year and a half since the first Geneva conference concluded without a compromise. Since then, all other diplomatic endeavors have also failed. To me, this forces us to question whether soft power approaches to conflict resolution can succeed in combatting hard power problems. As a student of International Communication and Diplomacy, I would like to think they could—but situations like this call these idealistic hopes into question.

Anne-Marie Slaughter wrote on this topic recently. She urged the UN to remember the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) Doctrine, and focus the peace talks on getting the different factions to agree on allowing humanitarian aid access to civilians and to stop targeting medical personnel on the ground. Slaughter goes further, asserting, “If Assad’s Ba’ath party cannot uphold that responsibility, it forfeits its own legitimacy as a participant in any future government.”This would in fact solve the political aspect of this conflict by ousting Assad, but a resolution only has as much power as the signers and backers give it. If the Assad Regime does not support the R2P Doctrine, then they have no reason to delegitimize their own authority.

Bringing the debate back to U.S. Foreign Policy, Slaughter implores President Obama and his administration to “put the credible threat of force back on the table.” She asserts the only time in this three-year civil war that diplomacy has succeeded was when the U.S. made the credible threat of missile strikes. This threat, however, is no longer credible if there is no power behind the punch. Thus, Slaughter suggests, the U.S. and regional partners need to be willing to follow up and strike the Assad Regime if (read—when) this second set of peace talks fails.3

Will diplomacy win? Only time can tell. But from what we have witnessed so far, you cannot broker peace with individuals in the business of terror.





New Wave of China Power

Apple’s iPhone 5S and 5C officially went on sale on China Mobile, the world’s largest carrier. Even though it already has 1.2m pre-orders, something even more exciting is happening in China.

Xiaomi Inc., the startup that has rattled China’s smartphone market with its fast-selling handsets, is looking to tap its international fan base for help as it tries to expand abroad, according to its new American executive.

Last year, Xiaomi Global hired their Vice President Hugo Barra, the former Google Inc. official who joined the Chinese company in October, said the smartphone maker—which in recent months began selling phones in Hong Kong and Taiwan—will likely next begin sales in Southeast Asia, though he didn’t give a time frame.

Xiaomi plans to make use of its fans in other markets to popularize its phones and overcome language and border barriers, Mr. Barra said. “We have fans everywhere,” Mr. Barra said in an interview, his first with foreign media in China. “We’re on a mission. We want to have an impact in the world.”

Started in 2010 by Chinese entrepreneur Lei Jun, closely held Xiaomi sells high-end phones for prices close to cost. Its flagship Mi 3 phone costs $326, less than half the price of top models from Apple Inc. and Samsung Electronics Co. Xiaomi, which is worth $10 billion according to its most recent round of fundraising, expects to sell about 20 million handsets in 2013.

It is fascinating to see another growing power in China. We’ll see how Hugo Barra could help this China-based technology company going global.

Unoffical Allies


The following articles published in high light the increasingly positive yet complex relationship between Japan and Taiwan. &

Despite not having an offical diplomatic relations since the 1970s, Japan’s popularity has risen in Taiwan and vis a versa.  Appreciation for Japan in Taiwan has grown so strong, it has even been given a name, hari. The attitude was perhapes highlighted the most when Taiwan gave about 20billion yen to Japan after the Tohoku earthquake.  Considering Japan’s  rather rocky relationship with other countries in the region  it has managed to garner a support in a small nation that for all purposes has not had any kind of formal relations since the 1970’s.

This has been driven by the desire to stay on the PRC’s good side but at the detriment of official relations with Taiwan.  Ultimately, it is the public on both sides who are driving the relationship. Japan hosts about 1 million Taiwanese tourists each year and Taiwan gets about the same number annually ( it has been fewer lately due to the decreasing value of the yen however).  As both articles allude to it is the culture of both nations that drive them to each other. Japan’s history in Taiwan may also have some amount of influence which the articles touch on but don’t go into too much detail. It is interesting that despite how recent the history is, the overall relationship is relatively positive, but of course that is not saying everyone is supports this sentiment. Hari Kyoko explains how the Taiwanese media has been to heckle people who show appreciation for Japan.

What was interesting from the article was that despite the lack of official diplomatic relations, the appreciation of each others culture through their music, food, attractions, business etiquette, values is what it ultimately at the heart of public diplomacy. PD does not always have to be about forging official ties, it can be as simple as appreciating another culture. This is one facet of soft power. In one of our past readings we discussed how it can be hard to determine what “success” in PD ultimately is.  Personally I believe that a large part of PD, intentional or not, is to show that that the other is human.




Learning foreign languages – an important part of PD

The USC Center on Public Diplomacy published an interesting blog post by Sharon Hudson-Dean entitled “Improving the ‘art’ of diplomacy with foreign languages.”

In her post, Hudson-Dean argues that foreign diplomacy is all the more effective when the diplomats engaging with foreign nations are able to speak and understand their language. She explains that the State Department is set apart from other foreign ministries across the globe, because U.S. diplomats within State’s FSI (Foreign Service Institute) spend many hours a day studying foreign languages and cultures (Hudson-Dean 2014).

In the title of her post, Hudson-Dean calls diplomacy an “art.” In order to be successful, diplomats must be as prepared as possible, and be able to demonstrate “cultural acuity” (Hudson-Dean 2014). To become knowledgeable and well-aware of the cultural specificities of a nation, it is not enough to simply study that country from afar. First-hand experience is crucial, and that experience can only be enhanced when diplomats are proficient in that nation’s language. It can be difficult to engage with foreign nations and members of a foreign society without being able to communicate effectively. Hudson-Dean highlights the example of American diplomats in Kyiv, who meet with the country’s leaders by speaking to them directly in Ukrainian and Russian (Hudson-Dean 2014). This is an important tool in the U.S.’ foreign policy with respect to Ukraine, particularly in light of this European nation’s recent and ongoing struggles.

At the end of her post, Hudson-Dean shares a very important quote by Nelson Mandela: “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart” (Hudson-Dean 2014). These words are extremely relevant in the realm of public and foreign diplomacy. Engaging with foreign nations in their own language demonstrates that the United States and its diplomats have a keen interest in that country. It shows that their nation and language are worthy enough to warrant the time and dedication U.S. diplomats and leaders take in order to successfully and respectfully interact with foreign nations. Moreover, having the ability to communicate with foreign officials and members of the public can only enhance the probability for success in any diplomatic endeavor, as both linguistic and cultural misunderstandings can be avoided.

I have taken many cross-cultural communication classes here at AU throughout both my undergraduate and graduate studies, and I have learned that culture is quintessential and inevitably comes into play when nations come into contact and engage with one another. Understanding a nation’s cultural context is crucial to achieving successful diplomacy abroad, and learning to speak the language is an important part of the equation.

In his chapter “Culture and Constructivism,” Van Ham explains the notions of constructivism and social power, and how they relate to international politics and relations. He defines social power as “[…] the capacity to produce, shape, and influence the motives, attitudes, roles, and interests of actors in international politics (by non-coercive means)” (Van Ham 47). Social power is similar to Joseph Nye’s soft power, in the sense that both are means of influence and persuasion that can be achieved without the use of coercion. A crucial component in the pursuit of effective social power is the knowledge and understanding of a nation’s culture, as mentioned above. According to Van Ham, “[…] culture is the central prism through which “reality” acquires meaning [and is] constructed, and hence is implicated with economic and political interest and motivations” (Van Ham 47). As Van Ham argues, culture transcends all boundaries, and inevitably comes into play in all realms of influence, including politics and economics.

“The Revolution will be Tweeted”


The days are unfolding and Venezuela’s situation becomes critical. As the government fights the students and opposition groups in the Latin American country’s main cities, resulting in 3 confirmed deaths and countless injured, the world is watching. Not through the traditional media, though, for it has been subjected to the upmost control by Nicolas Maduro’s special powers, granted to him by the National Assembly at the end of last year. In fact, a controversial decree has warned that any media outlet reporting on Venezuela’s economic crisis, its shortage of basic products, and its alarming standing as one of the world’s most dangerous cities in terms of homicides, will be harshly sanctioned for “instigating popular revolt” and “seeking to destabilize the government”, most likely with the endorsement of the CIA and the US, as well as popular scapegoat Alvaro Uribe, Colombia’s ex–president. Making matters worse, when peaceful protests by Venezuelan students broke out last Wednesday, the government forced Colombian news outlet NTN24 to stop its coverage, and there have been reports of journalist’s equipment being destroyed or robbed. Maduro’s response to the protests has clearly further deteriorated an already worrisome situation for freedom of the press and freedom of speech, and it has exacerbated polarization.

So what is going on? Basically, Venezuela is awakening from months (if not years) of popular discontent with shortages, inflation, lack of freedom, and violence. The opposition wants a change. Some, under the guidance of opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, whose arrest has been announced by the government, ask for “La Salida”– the ouster of President Maduro. But the prominent ex presidential candidate, Henrique Capriles, has warned against this move, pleading with his compatriots that although peaceful protests are necessary to ask for change, the time is not right to ask Maduro to leave, much less force him out. Maduro, for his part, has already denounced the protests as an attempt at a Coup d’Etat. The result: an increase in violence and radicalization from both the opposition and the government.

How have citizens reacted? By taking to online media without hesitating. As all traditional information outlets were shut, Venezuelan netizens organized themselves to create the rapidly–caught on hashtags #PrayForVenezuela and #SOSVenezuela, calling on the nations of the world to react and pressure the government to stop the repression on its own people. They are trying to avoid a massacre, trying to avoid what their brothers and sisters lived, and are still living, at the outset of the Arab Spring. They are trying to appeal to our indifference, so that this time we might react in a timely manner, supporting freedom, peace, and respect for human rights. These hashtags have already mobilized thousands on Twitter and Facebook in a matter of days. One of the remarkable traits of this feat has been the outpouring support they have received from their compatriots and expatriates living abroad. From Paris to Rome to New York and DC, passing through cities in Latin America and beyond, Venezuelans and others who share their concern have posted messages decrying the government’s repression and calling for peace. They are living out their online revolution through a touching support system. Their actions have already garnered support from prominent leaders and regular citizens from neighboring countries. However, to date only two presidents from the region have issued direct statements condemning violence and asking both the opposition and the government to avoid confrontation and find a peaceful path to peace. It remains to be seen how this civil society initiative will ultimately influence leaders and netizens around the world to hold Maduro and his allies accountable for finding a peaceful solution and responding to the people’s fears and doubts, a fundamental human right in any democracy. Of course, Venezuela is no true democracy, and it has not been for a long time. Therefore, it is imperative to be alert and support this PD initiative stemming from a crucial moment in Venezuelan’s lives. How we choose to react to this will ultimately decide the course of events in a way that will have an impact upon the world, even if for no other reason than the fight for freedom and the triumph of peace and respect over violence and repression.


The “world’s best loved country?” South Korea: public diplomacy in the service of like-ability or national interests?


Last week, during the beginning of our discussion on soft power, there was an interesting debate on the extents of the effectiveness of this power. Questions were raised about the uses of public diplomacy/cultural diplomacy: should their effectiveness be measured by their ability to further national interests? Or is the diffusion of a nation’s soft power internationally, even when it is not backed by a specific, strategic plan, always something good for that nation in and of itself? Although our discussion revolved around the disconnect between the “hard power” and “soft power” efforts of great powers like the United States, I found myself thinking about it again in the context of middle powers when reading the article for this week on the Korean/Hallyu Wave by Wu-Suk Cho.

Cho lauds his country, with good reason, for the sustainability and universality of its cultural exports (ranging from kpop to TV dramas to food to rising interest in the Korean language). Cho mentions the wide global spread of the Hallyu Wave: Korean dramas are particularly popular in Southeast Asia, India, China, Latin America, and Eastern Europe. In a article on a recent symposium on soft power in East Asia, Kwong Yongseok, a Korean professor teaching in Japan, claims that South Korea is “aiming, through its public diplomacy, to become the world’s best loved country.” (

This raises a question: is being “liked” an adequate goal of public diplomacy? It seems interesting that in many of the  countries mentioned by Cho where Hallyu has become popular (besides China),  South Korea, as a middle power, seems to have less national interests at play (for example, in Latin American or Eastern European countries). On the other hand, Ogura Kazuo (former Japanese ambassador to France) believes that in Japan, a country with which South Korea has ongoing national security issues, the influence of South Korean pop culture has faded recently, as historical tensions have come to the fore. Kazuo believes that while cultural, knowledge, and material exchange has increased dramatically between South Korea, Japan, and China, favorable views of each other have not increased. He believes that an abundance of “national sentiment” and historical distrust (especially of China and South Korea vis-a-vis Japan) between the countries has neutralized some PD efforts, and created a domestic atmosphere that makes politicians unwilling to enter into “negotiations to improve relations.”

In an article on Korea’s PD efforts on the USC Center for Public Diplomacy blog, Philip Seib also advocates for a harder line use of PD in which “being ‘liked’ is secondary to goals grounded in global and regional realpolitik.” ( He believes that South Korea would do well to present itself in contrast to China as a leader in the East Asian region by emphasizing the cultural, intellectual and political freedoms enjoyed by its citizens. He believes that the high visibility of Korean cultural products on social media such as YouTube can be used to point to this freedom, but that the quantity of these products means little “unless there is a strategy behind it.” At the end of his article, Cho makes a similar argument, calling for the intervention of government and diplomatic officials to make a “long-term strategic plan” for the Korean wave.

Finally, discussing the places where Korean PD has fallen short, Kwong bemoans the sometimes egocentrism of Korea’s efforts to promote its culture abroad. He believes that in the future, PD efforts should transition to “learning more about other cultures.” On this topic, it is interesting to note that a few days ago, a South Korean publisher,  RH Korea Inc, launched the first comprehensive Korean magazine on Japanese culture, called Boon. (, The editorial team of the magazine insist that the magazine is even more necessary because of the recent bilateral tensions between the two countries, with the editor-in-chief, Oh Sok-chul, claiming that if people are steady in their enjoyment of another country’s culture, they will be less “shaken” by political problems with that country.