Buying Hearts and Minds?

This week I came across an interesting article by Professor Philip Selb for the Huffington Post. The article discusses the power of economy in public diplomacy and specifically various economic initiatives conducted by the US in the Middle East and their public diplomacy value.

Selb’s argument states that there is no better way for winning hearts and minds than “buying hearts and minds”. Selb is convinced that successful public diplomacy is based on fulfilling the needs of various foreign audiences and therefore developing a positive attitude towards the donating country. Specifically in the Middle East, various initiatives that provide jobs have proved to be extremely successful in creating stability and establishing partnerships with foreign publics.

This is an interesting perspective on how to craft public diplomacy. Creative initiatives could be born by mapping the needs of various societies and looking at the competitive advantage of a specific country with regards to those needs. Relevant organizations or governmental agencies within the ‘giving’ country can then address these needs through initiatives that provide jobs, healthcare, agricultural assistance, etc. The ‘giving countries’ can benefit not only from positive PD outcomes such as good image, stability and favorable public opinion among foreign audiences, but also from clear economic benefits of new partnerships and networks.

I might be wrong but I sense that today we have a certain ‘pool’ of public diplomacy activities such as academic exchanges, informational tours, exhibitions, etc. and the new initiatives are created within that pool.  As discussed in class, China’s investment in Africa is somewhat different and serves as a good example of Selb’s suggestion. The “needs paradigm” could be an interesting shift in the way foreign ministries and organizations begin their thinking about public diplomacy.





6 thoughts on “Buying Hearts and Minds?”

  1. I agree with Selb in a way. I think in a place where a foreign populace view your policies as hostile and detrimental no amount of PD will help. You have to change your policies. I think trying to buy hearts and minds with education, food, healthcare or other public goods is possible in a country where your image is neutral or already positive. Japan is a good example of remaking its image. They were forced to demilitarize and change. Most people alive in East Asia were not alive during the Nanking Massacre and other imperial atrocities. In both China and Japan it seems like the new economic ties and investment between the two countries are much more important to the governments and populations than old human rights violations. These old hatreds do seem to surge whenever disputed territories are discussed though. Maybe there is only so much good relations and economic interdependence can do. The post-WWII Japan has done a decent job differentiating itself from its aggressive colonial past. They have not apologized or made many concession to their neighbors and some of their recent actions have concerned people. Otmazgin seems to believe that Japan has managed to win some hearts and minds just wit their products and popular culture. What do you think can hearts and minds be bought through the ‘giving’ policies you referenced and similar initiatives? Do policies need to be changed substantively or just given the impression of being changed to improve an image?

  2. Alona,

    Interesting article, but I’m not sure I agree with the concept of using economic thrusts into developing countries as a way to improve diplomacy. In the past, the United States has been all too keen on giving large amounts of money to help developing nations. Oftentimes, this approach forces the country to become dependent on foreign aid and breeds dislike from the citizens who look at the America’s economic shackles as a throwback to colonization .

    Now, let’s take the example of China using it’s economic might in Africa and Central Asia. China has increased infrastructure in order to make the pillage of natural resources easier and more efficient. Whether its energy or mining, the Chinese have been successful in winning over some of the populations in Africa by creating infrastructure where there was none. Recently, analysts point out that the honeymoon is over for China in Africa. Africans have realized that China hasn’t been transparent about its interests in the area.

    In Central Asia, the honeymoon is also coming to an end. There has been a backlash against Chinese investors and workers in the area that has hurt foreign investment and created animosity between neighbors.

    The Chinese could use a lesson from Japan in Green and Colson’s piece about the promise and limits of Japan’s soft power. The argument can be made that the Japanese are more concerned over cultural diplomacy, rather than China’s approach of economic diplomacy.

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