All posts by maellemafalda

Peace Picture Books

Something stood out to me from Kazuo Ogoura’s rich and concise article “From Ikebana to Manga and Beyond: Japan’s Cultural and Public Diplomacy is Evolving” which I did not expect: the idea of the “Kashmir Peace Picture Books”. While this particular project was a peacebuilding effort focused on India and Pakistan, in a broader strategy aimed at diffusing the negative effect on the perception of Japan due to its involvement in Iraq; I wonder if it could be combined with another of the PD motivators described by Ogoura: “the desire to change Japan’s own perception of itself”.

Moreover, could this strategy combination be used by the US to work on peacebuilding/acknowledging and working on issues at home while simultaneously being positive cultural diplomacy? I have in mind the “Books By Teens” project by Reach Incorporated, which addresses racial inequality in the US and specifically the disturbing fact that “Only 3% of children’s books feature characters of color, and only 1.8% of children’s books are written by authors of color” (http://www.reachincorporated.org/books/). What do you think the effect of promoting this abroad and having it feedback to the domestic public would be?

Two things would be interesting to find out: firstly, if the International Center for Literacy and Culture, (which the Japan foundation funded to organize the Kashmir Peace Picture Books project), has any kind of measurement of the impact of this project; and secondly, was the project communicated to the population back in Japan, and if not, why not? This could have contributed to “Internal Internationalization” concept, which, from the list of strategies summarized by Ogoura, is obviously one of the most difficult to evaluate from a foreign perspective; but any effectiveness measurement of which would be most interesting to find out more about.

EU-AU

Mai’a Davis Cross’ Op-Ed titled “EU leaders should change tone when talking to rest of the world” indirectly raised an interesting point: when she mentions “The ultramodern African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa, funded and build by China”. While China is known for its eagerness in providing visible infrastructure, the African Union’s organizational structure obviously resonates more with the EU’s than with China’s.

Today, the fourth EU-Africa Summit opened in Brussels. (While it seems to be referred to as such and not the EU-AU summit, leaders from both the EU and AU institutions are present). Various publications reflect interestingly on the PD aspect of it. On the one hand, an article republished on AllAfrica.com from The Inquirer (Monrovia) comments on the press release issued by the European Union Delegation to Liberia, which seems to be a rather thoughtful PD move: phrases such as “Leaders from Africa and the European Union are to discuss as equal partners”, “the everyday concerns of our citizens”; “improve the quality of hope of our population” are repeated throughout (http://allafrica.com/stories/201404021045.html?viewall=1). On the other hand there is a buzz about Mugabe’s boycott due to the EU’s refusal to issue his wife a visa (http://www.news24.com/Africa/Zimbabwe/EU-AU-summit-Mugabes-wife-not-invited-20140325) and Jacob Zuma’s boycott due to the perceived “cherry-picking” of African leaders eligible to attend (http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/eu-and-africa-hold-summit-to-boost-ties/2014/04/02/390c56ce-ba4b-11e3-80de-2ff8801f27af_story.html) , reflecting not-so-equal partner relations.

Back to Cross’ Op-Ed, I think that beyond the content aspects (increasing political cooperation and economic strategies), it would make sense for the AU and EU to reflect on and learn from each other’s successes and failures in terms of organizational processes. It would not only be constructive for both, but if done transparently and wisely it could be a smarter PD move as well than just letting disgruntled actors vent on international media.

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” (http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2014/02/26/unintended_consequences_uganda_gay_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.

 

Un Certain Regard Cannes Festival Prize winner “Omar”

Lately I’ve been becoming more and more aware of the power of competitions. Especially thinking about it in the context of digitalization and globalization, where some see potential for democratic rule, others see popularity rule, resulting in trends which increasingly follow the lowest common denominators (of violence and sex, or kittens); and increasingly simplify information made visually appealing. In an increasingly competitive context where time is perceived as less available in order to succeed/survive, the power of simplification and instant gratification is obvious.

While the media and the market bank on that, it that does not mean we’re all stupid. This is where international competitions come in and divert market forces (channeling Chopard, L’Oréal, HP, Renault, and Akamai, for example, in the case of Cannes), to bring to our attention what they would have otherwise likely kept obscured. This being said, I had never paid much attention to the festival myself, but I do recognize their logo and have found their sub-prizes selection quite reliable so far. One of these sub-prizes is “Un Certain Regard” (A certain look/outlook), which promotes relatively young directors who present daring narratives. An opinion piece on Aljazeera English was written about it by Richard Falk, (http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2014/02/uncovering-occupied-palestine-20142136833212442.html), whether he would have seen it himself anyway, as the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Palestinian human rights, is another question, but the fact that he is writing about a movie that won a Cannes Festival prize and not just a random movie he likes gives his op-ed legitimacy.

I think that this puts an optimistic twist to our discussions about the relation between social power’s link with economic power, which often circle back to the Hollywood quasi-monopoly, despite authors like Van Ham periodically reminding us about the growing importance of Nollywood and Bollywood. 

“Against censorship, in any media” PD band-aid?

Last night there was an event at AU supported by the French-American Global Forum and Le Monde Diplomatique, discussing “NATO Today: Does Collective Security Work?”  While I won’t know what was said in that room because I had to be in class (if anyone went and would like to tell me what they heard I’d be grateful), I did go down during break and picked up a couple of the free samples of the English edition of Le Monde Diplomatique. The first article that grabbed my attention was titled “Against censorship, in any media,” written by Serge Halimi (online available at: http://mondediplo.com/2014/02/01censorship). It basically criticized the recent censorship measures of interior minister Manuel Valls, placing it in the international context (starting off with freedom-destroying measures taken immediately after 9/11 and still in place “thirteen years and one president later), and in historical context: referring back to a 1980 decree by Charles X revoking press freedom. A decree which newspapers found ways to ignore, Halimi then adds that Charles X’s reign ended in revolution.

Of course this is public diplomacy, and it made me think of ways to attain soft power, and relates to our group’s underlying theme about freedom of speech and promoting tolerance and respect for different cultures and beliefs. The soft power aspect of it is the most important though: as I understand it, it is mostly about international reputation, and as we’ve seen before with Nicholas Cull, actions speak louder than words. So if France wants to maintain an image of the country of freedom of rights etc. reactions like Manuel Valls’ and such publicity around it are rather unhelpful. The strategy of self-criticizing internal policy in a publication such as Le Monde Diplomatique rather than trying to find a convoluted justification behind it seems like marginalizing a politician to cut losses, but how effective can that be and how wide is the actual readership of the English Edition of Le Monde Diplomatique? A rather inefficient band-aid?

Is the concept of national interest outdated?

Nicholas J. Cull points out that “Successful foreign policy increasingly requires partnerships. Some nations ― most prominently the United Kingdom ― now include “partnership” within their core definition of public diplomacy”[1].

Arguably that’s not so new, foreign policy has consisted of alliances for a good number of decades, hasn’t it? He goes on: “By defining foreign policy objectives around issues of mutual concern to a range of actors rather than narrow national agendas it is possible to enlist those actors and the networks that consider them credible into a common action.”[2]

Now here I do see some change. Change that could redefine more than foreign policy: change that could redefine the concept of national interest.

Couldn’t we say that most of the biggest issues we are facing today are of mutual concern, even more so than in the past? Think of climate change, the processes fueling terrorism/freedom fighting, or even if you want to think in economic terms: recent years especially have shown that economic concerns for one country never stay economic concern for just that one country.

Can you tell me an issue of concern in your country that is an issue of concern for your country only? Even if the issue itself appears to affect your country only, can you tell me than no other country in the world is facing a similar issue? If not, then wouldn’t pooling your research resources increase the likelihood of you both resolving that issue more quickly?

Another thought: take the issue of terrorism/freedom fighting. Have the aggressive military strategies, which resulted from thinking in terms of national interests, been productive or counterproductive in your opinion?

We can take a step back.

What is your country’s national interest?

From what I have gathered so far, the goal of public diplomacy is communication of an international actor’s policies to foreign publics with the ultimate goal of influencing them in such a way that it becomes easier for these policies’ aims to be achieved.

It thus seems to me that if you can’t answer the above question precisely, it is a bit difficult to strategize, let alone carry out, a comprehensive public diplomacy strategy. Yet I don’t think many people can come up with a very clear answer. Even if they did, I’m not sure if they’d all agree on it.

For example, a lot of government officials from all over the world seem to be employed with the ultimate goal of maximizing their country’s GDP, Gross National Product. Bhutan, however, has taken the decision to put their efforts into maximizing their GDH instead, Gross National Happiness. I am a citizen of one of the first countries that called themselves a democracy, and I don’t recall being given the choice between the two.

In fact, I don’t recall anyone thinking about the possibility of asking for a choice between the two. But if someone thought of asking for that choice, would the answer necessarily be so obvious as to make it an irrelevant question? I definitely don’t think so.

The point is that we have been thinking about issues very narrowly. Is the concept of national interest really that relevant?

One of the strategies of diplomacy has been exchange diplomacy. I have been an international student most of my life, and never thought before this program that I was part of a grander strategy designed to facilitate my host countries’ foreign policies, to carry out their national interests. Would that make you feel a little awkward? I guess it depends on how you answer this question: are these countries’ interests really different?


[1] Nicholas Cull, (2012), “Listening for the hoof beats: Implications of the rise of soft power and public diplomacy,” http://www.globalasia.org/V7N3_Fall_2012/Nicholas_J_Cull.html

[2] Ibid.