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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.


Hollywood and Israel’s Cultural Diplomacy Venture

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ct_DZqypU5I&w=560&h=315]


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: http://www.state.gov/secretary/remarks/2014/03/223660.htm

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.

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: http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2014/03/18/asia-pacific/long-road-to-hold-kim-north-korea-liable-for-crimes/#.UyiQAV5cui8


Germany and educational exchange

My first major interaction with another country’s public diplomacy program occurred when I was 16, studying German in high school. I was selected to take part in a program run by the Pädagogischer Austauschdienst, which is a bit of a mouthful and therefore normally referred to as the PAD. The program basically entailed an all-expenses-paid trip to Germany, spending two weeks with a host family and another two weeks in a group travelling around the country. At the time, I thought it was just a nice thing that the German government did, but I can now look at the program with fresh eyes in the context of public diplomacy.

I turns out that the PAD is a collaborative effort between the 16 state governments of Germany to promote international exchange and cooperation in the education sector. What also didn’t occur to me is the double-edged benefit that the program achieves—it not only improves education outcomes in other countries, but it also enhances the education systems of the respective states.

While I was already studying German in high school, the PAD trip cemented my affinity for Germany and its language. German became not just something I did at school, but rather what I used to converse with friends that I’m in contact with some eight years later (many members of the student group spoke only German and their mother tongue, so English was not the lingua franca).

I think PAD’s program is is a good example of the kind of knock-on effect of collaboration guest lecturer Aimee Fullman was talking about. I learned more about Germany, but also about Kazakhstan, Finland and many different places. It also gave German students we interacted with the chance to take their English out of the classroom and become young ambassadors for Germany.

Public Diplomacy Hypocrisy in Uzbekistan

With the deadline for withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan, there are many questions to be answered about the Northern Distribution Route that runs through Central Asia. Unfortunately for these 5 ‘stans, when the Northern Distribution Route stops flowing, so will the aid.

During the past five years, the U.S. has almost completely ignored humanitarian violations by the Uzbekistan government, mainly perpetrated by President Karimov, because of their reliance on the supply route through the region into Afghanistan. The U.S. has a placed aid sanctions on countries that commit human rights violations, however, they have kept their relationship with Uzbekistan despite the government’s violations.

In a recent article highlighting these political problems, U.S. public diplomacy is making the case that if they need a country’s help badly enough, then human rights violations can be overlooked.

“’While U.S. officials make it clear the bilateral relationship cannot deepen absent improvements, there is no element of public diplomacy that signals there are red lines Uzbekistan can’t cross,’ as Steve Swerdlow, Human Rights Watch’s Central Asia researcher, puts it.”

If the U.S. cannot provide a steady policy for public diplomacy toward countries that are clear human rights violators, then it puts diplomats in the difficult position of trying to justify why one country receives aid and another doesn’t. The U.S. has also promised to leave behind non-lethal (debatable…) military gear behind in Uzbekistan when it departs. It is willing to give military aid to a country that has suppressed and killed its citizens in the past. What diplomatic message is this sending to countries where the U.S. doesn’t have any interests?

Uzbekistan is a slippy slope for U.S. public diplomacy and one that has not received much media attention. However, as the troops withdraw from Afghanistan, pay attention to the amount of aid and military-to-military assistance that is provided in Central Asia. It will be telling to determine whether or not this is a practice that the U.S. will continue to adopt in the future or not.

“Who run the world?….GIRLS!”

Most of you probably get the Beyonce reference in my blog post title, if not, all that needs to be said in order to make sense is that it is also the lyric in a song about progressive women being at the center of civilization. Moving forward, my blog this week focuses on a recent interview in Women of China with Sun Ping, Exec.Director at Renmin University Opera Center on the Chinese woman’s innately dominant role in Chinese public diplomacy. Although (according to Hofstede), China consists of a predominantly “masculine” culture with large power distances in societal hierarchies, Sun Ping’s sentiments help to reframe these sweeping cultural generalizations and unveil the contributions Chinese women provide in both the social and political infrastructure of the country. In a collectivist society like China’s, the importance of family and honor for one’s family takes immense precedence in their culture. Sun Ping places women at the core of this basic societal foundation: “If woman can endeavor in promoting morality and civilization of family, serious incidents will reduce in the society because a woman’s role is IRREPLACEABLE.” I believe the female tendency to have polychronic time orientation as well as greater realistic empathy have time and again shown how these predisposition can aid relationships building cross-culturally.  Sun Ping’s interview concluded with her emphasis on making family as well as work, equally important priorities. The family unit social structure, high levels of collectivism and power distance, have been weaknesses in creating cultural synergy with cultures beyond China’s borders. However, the Chinese government as well as its many fine academic institutions are making large advances towards public diplomacy education AND implementation.

It was as recent as last week that Renmin University began a research institute on public diplomacy that brings together the university’s Schools of Communication, International Studies, Journalism, and the Peking Opera. This development reflects the country’s growing interest in enhancing not only their national image, but international diplomatic literacy as well. Sun Ping reiterates this growing interest and importance, but additionally, her emphasis on gender roles, I believe, is reminiscent of the continuity of strong cultural values which once kept women subservient to now be seen as a unique advantage.

Article link: http://www.womenofchina.cn/html/womenofchina/report/170878-1.htm


Wise Words as PD

Pope and youth

An Op–Ed in yesterday´s (27/02/14) edition of the New York Times titled “What would Kennan say to Obama?” mentioned the danger of ‘America´s exceptionalism’ in FP and PD strategies. It touched upon the notion that the US created its own moral demise by prioritizing military force over diplomacy and soft power. An interesting affirmation by the late Kennan highlighted why he believed it was more important to focus on domestic issues as a better tool to positively influence public opinion both at home and abroad: “We are ultimately dependent on the intentions, rather than the capabilities, of the adversary, the influence of which is primarily a political and psychological, not a military problem.”

Applying this affirmation to my case study on Pope Francis’ diplomacy, I realize how these words have echoed in the first year of Bergoglio’s Papacy. The Vatican, unlike any other independent state in the world– except for Japan, whose Self Defense Forces act as the country’s official “military”– has no military structure. Such a force would be incompatible with its very essence. In fact, the worst periods of the Church’s history are those tainted with the blood of Inquisition–like offensives.

Pope Francis’ revolutionary ways have touched the hearts of believers and non believers alike to transcend past hurts. He has brought his virtues into the very public eye, and he has employed them in his distinctive public diplomacy– or, should I say, soft power? A conference at Georgetown at the beginning of the month, The Pope, Politics, and Policy addressed Francis’ potential to influence not only the Catholic world, but the world at large.

In seeking to transcend the ‘Catholic Church’s exceptionalism’, he has publicly recognized and rejected shortcomings while pointing out to a refreshing pathway where the authentic teachings of Jesus are not only talked about, but vividly exemplified. In this sense, it is important to highlight his commitment to youth. The very fact that he would enthusiastically partake of a groundbreaking ‘selfie’ testifies as much. Francis’ words today underscored this: “In the same way, the young want to feel at home in Church. Not only must the Church open her doors to them; she must actively seek them.” At the end, he emphasized: “The youth are waiting for us. We must not let them down.” Wise words to reconstruct and transform traditional PD policies into a tangible call to action whose best weapon is genuine love and commitment to serve others.

Domestic agendas, international consequences: Coverage of U.S. politics in the media abroad

Comparative popularity of the United States and China. Source: http://www.pewglobal.org/2013/07/18/americas-global-image-remains-more-positive-than-chinas/
Comparative popularity of the United States and China. Source: http://www.pewglobal.org/2013/07/18/americas-global-image-remains-more-positive-than-chinas/

This entry is a follow-up to a point I made in class about international attention to the domestic politics of the United States,

and what the soft power ramifications of this might be. Here is an example of how even state-level politics gets covered in other countries:


One of the concerning tendencies of international coverage of U.S. politics that I have observed is disproportionate coverage of dysfunction or agendas considered unpalatable by most audiences abroad. Examples of this include debt ceilings, government shutdowns, birtherism and most recently, discrimination laws in states like Arizona. I don’t think this is the result of a deliberate media bias, but rather the natural incentive to present the audience with sensational stories.

I think the consequences of media depiction of an hyper-adversarial U.S. political system are mixed. On one side, it tends to give disproportionate attention to the more extreme elements of the domestic political environment at the expense of the far larger moderate demographics (although this criticism is perhaps also applicable to domestic U.S. media). This kind of portrayal gives more oxygen to the “stupid American” stereotype held by many abroad.

On the other side, showing the political divisions of the United States does contradict the erroneous perception of the U.S. government as a monolithic entity. It’s hard to paint pictures of grand U.S. conspiracies when it is evident that both the government and public are themselves divided on matters of foreign policy, such as Syria.