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.
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.
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.
Copeland (2009) advocates for the need to restructure the Foreign Service and integrate the classic diplomacy with the public diplomacy dimension in order to better serve purposes of development, security and long-term strategic relationships between states. Interestingly, to me it seems like a call for utilizing public diplomacy to give decision-makers the power they have lost with the rise of globalization and public diplomacy.
I think that the diplomatic efforts in Syria and Iran are a good example of growing unpopularity of war and an increased focus on diplomatic dialog. It seems that the framework of the talks tried to bond together issues of development in these countries with security concerns on the other side, just as suggested by Copeland. However these efforts do not fall under the framework of public diplomacy, rather it’s simply a new age where dialog is preferred to war (because of undesired financial and social consequences of warfare). The governments and not the people are still the ones managing this dialog. Moreover for now these efforts did not produce particularly positive outcomes.
Also, issues concerning security and development require vast financial resources and a high degree of cooperation on behalf of regulatory agencies. This can hardly be achieved by PD. Advocacy and networking are very important in the process but the essential decisions still go back to the governmental level. The root causes of underdevelopment and inequality remain historical governmental policies that can be changed mainly at the higher rank of decision-making and not by diplomats becoming better at networking with local populations.
So from my perspective it seems that the concept of transformational public diplomacy is essentially about using advocacy to empower governments to take actions on issues of development and security. Until now PD was mainly used to promote a rather shallow dialog between populations, focusing on softer issues. TPD is trying to make PD relevant to the more crucial decision-making, but still, between governments.