Transformational PD in student simulations

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Clingendael Institute has a piece on European Union student simulations, carried out last month by the Masters International Public Management and Policy at Erasmus University, Rotterdam. It highlighted the multicultural nature of the group, a crucial component of successful foreign affairs initiatives in our world. Unfortunately, the post was mediocre in that it offered no depth of analysis of the impact of such programs in today´s youth and tomorrow´s potential foreign policymakers. That task, then, must fall upon us.

This event reminded me of the yearly UN simulations held in New York, where students from over 400 universities worldwide pretend to represent other nations over the course of a week. When I participated in the program two years ago, I noticed that, more than representing the countries we had been assigned, we were all there to represent our actual nationalities. As such, the UN had, perhaps inadvertently, fostered an environment for global public diplomacy to flourish in its most subtle way. Young students eager to connect with their equivalents in other parts of the world became ambassadors of their own idiosyncrasies, world views, and cultures. They did so not as inaccessible brokers of agreements our politicians are, but as every–day citizens of the world, those that are actually in close contact with the concerns and yearnings of the peoples. While it was an opportunity to gain insight and perspective into the workings of foreign affairs and the field of diplomacy, it was more about global citizens exercising “daily diplomacy” in an equal field rid of power dynamics.

Precisely, these kinds of simulations employ soft power and cultural diplomacy to unconsciously permeate participant´s minds with the notion that institutions such as the UN and the EU are effective brokers of peace by bridging barriers amongst peoples. In reality, though, it is the young students who effect diplomacy in their own ways. In the process, three kinds of forces acting upon public diplomacy result: that of the institutions at the heart of the initiative (in this case, the EU or UN), that of the governments represented by each participant in the simulation, and that of the youth. The latter represent the potential of the new actors in public diplomacy to reshape the ground on which foreign affairs act out, and their intentions. Because they all share the will to transcend national boundaries in the name of global fraternity, they go back home as new conductors of soft diplomacy, challenging their leaders to seek constructive dialogue that will benefit the countries where newly found friends– a global family, really– live.


The Netherlands and ‘transformational PD’


During my practicum team’s recent research-gathering trip to The Hague, Netherlands over Spring Break, we visited the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs and spoke to Marisa Witte, a policy officer of Public Diplomacy there. Although in the context of our research project, we were disappointed and surprised that PD in the Netherlands greatly downplays the role of student exchanges and cultural programming (to the point that they are not handled by the PD department at all), in retrospect and in light of the readings on transformational diplomacy, I realized how much the focused, practical approach to PD that the Netherlands currently takes fits into this theoretical concept. In his article “Rethinking advocacy for the globalisation age,” Daryl Copeland expresses his hope that transformational Public Diplomacy can be used not only to bridge cultural divides, but also to address the pressing global problems facing the world, including those of “environmental degradation”; the Netherlands is doing just that with its PD efforts to promote Dutch knowledge in the areas of water management. Ms. Witte explained to us how the Dutch foreign ministry has been doing work linking and promoting Dutch experts in water management with needs in similarly low-lying regions such as post-Katrina New Orleans. Because of this ‘seeding,’ the Dutch expertise in this area is now recognized to such an extent that after Hurricane Sandy in New York, Dutch experts were immediately some of the first people contacted in order to give advice. With the increase of global warming, this type of practical, direct, and transformational public diplomacy seems like a logical step for a small country that wants to make a positive impact on a global scale.

UN Launches New Campaign Targeting American Audience

This week I stumbled upon an new campaign effort by the United Nations- The Better World Campaign. Interestingly, it seems to reflect the exact suggestions made by O.C. del Collado (2013) on the CPD blog, which we have discussed during week 7.

Just a quick reminder- Collado argued that: “A less interested American public makes some U.N. agencies more vulnerable to Congressional budget cuts.”  Collado pointed out to the lack of public diplomacy efforts on the side of the United Nations, leading the organization to unstable financial position and decreasing legitimacy and centrality. Since the US remains the most significant financial contributor to the UN system, Collado suggested that it has to target American audiences by putting an emphasis on issues that have direct impact on Americans. Only than will the American public raise its voice in favor of UN funding and prevent Congress from further financial cuts of its support.

And just as someone in the UN read Collado’s post, the Better World Campaign is “Dedicated to a Strong US-UN Relationship”. The campaign is focused on US’ funding of the UN peacekeeping,  pledging American citizens to force the Congress into supporting President’s Obama budget request for funding the organisation’s peacekeeping missions in several African countries. The bottom line of the campaign states: “Sending UN peacekeepers to fulfill these dangerous missions – the missions we’ve asked for – is one-eighth the cost of the U.S. going it alone.”  In times of growing unpopularity of direct military  interventions among the American public, this seems like a brilliant message.

Of course we shall wait and see if Americans are convinced. But whether this move was really inspired by Collado’s blog or not, it sure should encourage people to offer policy solutions via blogging!

Hollywood and Israel’s Cultural Diplomacy Venture



Joseph Nye wrote an article in 2008, “Public Diplomacy and Soft Power,” discussing power as “the ability to affect others to obtain the outcomes you want.” This is a short definition of power, but one that can be used in the international communications realm easily. In discussing soft power and cultural diplomacy, they go hand in hand. Most of America’s soft power relates to exporting cultural products throughout the world. However, some countries have used Hollywood as a tool to help build cultural diplomacy with the rest of the world.

In a recent news article, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu collaborated with Hollywood producers to create a film series highlighting the tourist industry in Israel.

“It’s not only a vehicle to increase tourism, it’s also to dispel various calumnies about the State of Israel,” Netanyahu said.

Nye would definitely consider this type of vehicle a soft power approach to dispel the previous stereotypes of Israel. The proposed interest in their culture and the added influx of tourism can be a huge benefit for the country. Nye might have seen this as a way of shaping soft power.

“Once broadcast, Greenberg’s [the director’s] program is expected to draw at least 200,000 more tourists to Israel, according to Tourism Ministry estimates, giving its economy a boost and possibly setting yet another record,” the article explained.

Nye brings up another interesting term that I wanted to discuss. He thinks of hard power as diplomacy through threats and coercion., like Israel has been portrayed in the media with Palestine. However, Nye states that there can be a “smart power” that works to combine soft and hard powers in order to inform and influence. The upcoming movie might be able to influence other countries culturally, politically and diplomatically.

If the movie is viewed by different countries elite populations, then this could indeed affect viewpoints on foreign policy toward Israel. However, the unintended side-effect of this production could be that non-Western governments will view this as another Israeli partnership with the U.S. and could further perpetuate myths of coercion and incite further violence against the U.S. or Israel. Both sides of the coin have serious repercussions, but the overall viewpoint of Netanyahu is that it will help pull back the curtain on the history and culture of his country. Either way, it does bring the idea of using the media as a medium for strong discourse about perceived foreign stereotypes and possibly leading to a change in attitudes of foreign diplomacy toward Israel.


Making Foreign Affairs Less Foreign


Yesterday, Secretary of State Kerry held a town hall-style meeting in Foggy Bottom with a group of university students. Transcript and video are available here:

I found it interesting that the State Department has very deliberately held an event with the U.S. domestic population as its audience. This appears to take into account the perspectives of PD writers like Ellen Huijh, who has advocated including domestic engagement as part of foreign policy.

One observation I made watching this online is that Secretary Kerry was late. This was for good reason- he hinted that his tardiness was due to a very important phone call on the day Crimea was annexed- but it is problematic that events like this must come second to the ‘real’ business of diplomacy (again, for good reason).

It is not fair to expect that someone like Secretary Kerry can properly engage with domestic audience while dealing with international crises. If there was a figure in the State Department with similar gravitas to Kerry but who was directly tasked with engaging the U.S. audience, this might mitigate the problem. I’m not sure what such a position would be called or would look like.

Also, the fact that the audience comprised of students from the Washington area shows that the department could do more work to engage with more different demographics. An introductory point made before the town hall was that most U.S. citizens believe the government spends many times more on foreign aid than it really does. The people the State Department needs to educate about this reality probably weren’t the kind of people in that lecture hall. Diplomacy may no longer be a “secret garden”, but the garden still appears to have a dress code.

Can Transformative PD Practitioners Tackle Environmental Issues?

I felt compelled to respond to Copeland’s article, as I believe Copeland is spot on when describing the rise of importance in public diplomacy (a theme that has popped up virtually every week) as a viable alternative to other means of conflict-resolution. Furthermore, I agree with his assessment that diplomacy has become, if not in vogue, at least an area worthy of scholarship and attention, and that PD practitioners need to update their skills within the context of transformational diplomacy to be better able at “assisting with broad-based development, supporting democracy and human rights, and building bridges to civil society.”

Where I diverge from Copeland stems from his analysis of the engine that drives this necessary transformation. According to Copeland, globalization is completely re-shaping the landscape (literally and metaphorically), especially in the political realm, thus necessitating this embrace of transformational diplomacy. Of course I do not disagree with this observation; I do contest the idea, though, that public diplomats have the ability to effect environmental change on a global level.

Copeland perhaps overstates the ability of public diplomats to tackle the major issues facing humanity today. There are areas where diplomats can be highly effective (he mentions the issue of an “international educational deficit”), and then there are others where PD practitioners are simply too limited as representatives of their states (and thus limited by their state’s interests) to be able to make a meaningful difference. I specifically refer to environmental issues like water shortage and climate change, where states, motivated mainly by economic interests, cannot make the necessary sacrifices in order to reach compromises on these significant issues of today. One need only look at the charades of these world conferences (Copenhagen, Rio) where nothing meaningful materializes to understand that we cannot rely on states, and thus PD practitioners acting within a state role, to tackle these environmental issues which are more effectively handled by non-state actors (NGOs) and community-based organizations acting in grass-roots campaigns.

Copeland does a great job in stressing that PD practitioners are definitely needed in today’s ever-evolving political landscape, and thus should update their skills to take advantage of the rise in importance in diplomacy. But he oversteps in his analysis when he fails to recognize that areas do exist, particularly within environmental issues, where public diplomats are restricted by the state they represent to effect meaningful change.

Advocacy can backfire, badly.

In a Foreign Policy article titled “Unintended Consequences, How clumsy foreign advocates unwittingly helped Uganda’s anti-gay bill become law” (, Elizabeth Palchik Allen details how the good intentions of international LGBT rights advocates had the exact opposite effect to what they hoped. “The mere fact that Obama threatened Museveni publicly […] is the very reason he chose to go ahead to sign the bill.” 

Daryl Copeland’s article, “Transformational public diplomacy: Rethinking advocacy for the globalisation age,” makes the point that “the nature of diplomacy will have to be rethought. A central element in that exercise will involve rethinking the role of advocacy in the context of taking diplomacy public” (99). The recent episode of the struggle around the anti-gay bill in Uganda shows how badly and urgently this rethinking is needed.

If genuine listening had been done this could have been avoided. The article refers to an open letter was written by Ugandan activists that foresaw the unintended consequences, but it seems that it was ignored. The issue of sovereignty is huge, but it doesn’t mean nothing can be done, Copeland mentions partnering with civil society, and “connecting directly with populations and navigating pathways of influence that others cannot chart or manoeuvre through” (102), but before that, shouldn’t public diplomats have been looking at the internationals who already had influence and what kind of influence they had? Acting at the level of the influential US politicians and clergymen promoting that bill, instead of threatening the people they were supporting, could have stood a chance. Letting them promote ideas and wait until these ideas were fully entrenched before making a public stance against them was like letting the fire start itself then pouring oil on it.


Missing MH370 and the Losing of Malaysia Public Image

Department of Civil Aviation Director General Azharuddin Abdul Rahman briefing reporters last week in Sepang, Malaysia Photograph by Daniel Chan/AP Photo
Department of Civil Aviation Director General Azharuddin Abdul Rahman briefing reporters last week in Sepang, Malaysia Photograph by Daniel Chan/AP Photo

The Malaysian government’s handling of the disappearance of Malaysia Airline Flight MH370, which went missing on March 8, has been criticized by many, including China, who have demanded that it be more transparent in managing the search operations, which entered its eleventh day Tuesday.

Over the past ten days, especially the first few days, the Vietnam searching team was the one always finding “new clues”, while the Malaysia government denying consistently. Therefore, time came to the eleventh day, the only thing we sure about was the plane gone missing, and nothing else.

The Malaysian government probably has done more over the past week to undermine the international image of Malaysia than anyone in the country’s nearly 60 years as an independent nation. For most of those six decades, until the disappearance of the Flight 370, the country received little international attention. If Malaysia made the news at all, it tended to get relatively favorable notice as a peaceful, multiethnic nation that had enjoyed some of the strongest economic growth in Asia. The government capitalized on this image as a welcoming and wealthy nation with an effective tourism campaign, launched in the late 1990s, called “Malaysia Truly Asia.” This campaign helped make Malaysia a leading destination.

The 10-day period since the mysterious disappearance of Flight 370 has seen the Malaysian government present to the world a concoction of false leads and conflicting answers, alongside seemingly evasive behavior. Nearly a week after the start of a multinational search off the waters off Malaysia’s east coast, the government revealed it had data suggesting the plane had flown in the other direction. Malaysia also released conflicting stories of when the plane’s communication with the ground was turned off, who turned it off, vague information as to who might be a suspect, and uncertain details about evidence collected.

Massive efforts have been put into this global search and rescue, until today, participatory country has risen to 26 which covers nearly half of the globe. While everyone is watching Malaysia, it is the time to challenge this country’s public diplomacy, since the dissatisfaction for the other side of the world is definitely detrimental to this country’s development.

The first Virtual Olive by the Vatican

Pope Messi Buffon

It´s been barely more than a year since Pope Francis was elected, and his influence has been felt and reported on widely at the global level. Undoubtedly, his charisma has put his initiatives on the spotlight, although it´s been hard to keep up with them because many have been underreported by the mainstream media, concerned as it is mostly with his statements on the “controversial” topics we are so keen on fighting about so often. One such example is the creation of “Scholas Occurrentes”, back in August 2013. A friendly soccer match between Argentina and Italy officially launched the initiative, with Leo Messi and Gianluigi Buffon– their nation´s respective teams´  captains– presenting the Pope with an olive branch. The olive is the symbol of Scholas, a worldwide network of schools seeking to promote an inclusive society and enhance education by cultivating values of camaraderie, sportsmanship, justice, and peace.

Touching on the concepts of cultural diplomacy, Scholas is committed to putting Francis´ words into actions: “Today, either we take the risk of dialogue, we risk the culture of encounter, or we all fall; this is the path that will bear fruit.” Specifically employing sports diplomacy to this effect, Scholas Ocurrentes seeks to instill in students around the world a sense of unity, fighting racism, exclusion, and marginalization in the process. It enthusiastically seeks to engage children in sports, underscoring its cooperative nature, so as to shape the citizens of tomorrow into tolerant, loving world citizens. As we talked about in class, sports diplomacy has the huge potential to motivate the youth to stay in school, work hard, and learn the power of team work. It also fosters trust and honesty. The fact that this project was inaugurated by a friendly match between soccer champions of the world is a testament to this legacy. It also illustrates how the Pope and his Church are effectively applying public diplomacy tools to remind us of its universal nature, building bridges amongst cultures.

Tomorrow (March 19), Pope Francis will plant the first virtual olive to promote world peace, inviting children around the world, from all creeds and backgrounds, to draw a tree themselves. Clearly an engaging and inspiring example of cultural diplomacy, right?

Struggles of Diplomacy

north korea satellite nasa lights OLD

How far can diplomacy go? With the recent release of the UN report detailing extensively the crimes being committed in North Korea, the UN is calling for greater international pressure on the nation and for the North Korean government to close its labor campus. But when a whole government is in denial anything is happening, what happens then?  Unfortunately, the UN has a poor reputation when it comes to imposing certain demands.

Additionally, beyond imposing more sanctions (which many can argue are not really that effective)  what else can the international community do? Now that the UN is willing to concentrate on more than just the proliferation of nuclear weapons in North Korea, does this mean anything for how people the international community approaches diplomatic efforts with North Korea now?  To exacerbate matters China’s veto power is hindering the international community’s efforts to do something more productive.

This is where diplomacy struggles, especially if a  entire government is in denial. It is astonishing that human rights abuses to the extent we see in North Korea  has been going on for over six decades. What role can diplomacy have now that there is an official report of the extent of these crimes? While I like to think that diplomacy can make a difference, this is where diplomacy becomes  a monologue where North Korea refuses to budge because it believes it has nothing to gain from opening itself up to dialog.  Military force is simply not an option ( nor is it something anyone wants to  risk doing). What can the international community do and should they do anything?  I am curious to know what others think.

Here is the link to the article: