This week Ban Ki Moon made a major diplomatic blunder. The issue revolves around the second round of peace talks regarding Syria and the Assad regime. According to Amia Nakhoul and Khaled Yacoub Oweis of Reuters, “Ban said Iran’s foreign minister had told him Tehran accepted the 2012 statement [from the first Geneva conference peace talks], which includes a requirement that Syria set up a transitional government.” Officials in Tehran denied this premise and “the Syrian opposition threatened to pull out of the conference and Western countries demanded Ban withdraw the invitation.”1 So that he did; a move that further highlighted the weakness of this second round of peace talks, calling into question how much good they can actually accomplish.
This is not an unfounded critique of the UN peace talks—Reuters correctly reported that it has been a year and a half since the first Geneva conference concluded without a compromise. Since then, all other diplomatic endeavors have also failed. To me, this forces us to question whether soft power approaches to conflict resolution can succeed in combatting hard power problems. As a student of International Communication and Diplomacy, I would like to think they could—but situations like this call these idealistic hopes into question.
Anne-Marie Slaughter wrote on this topic recently. She urged the UN to remember the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) Doctrine, and focus the peace talks on getting the different factions to agree on allowing humanitarian aid access to civilians and to stop targeting medical personnel on the ground. Slaughter goes further, asserting, “If Assad’s Ba’ath party cannot uphold that responsibility, it forfeits its own legitimacy as a participant in any future government.”2 This would in fact solve the political aspect of this conflict by ousting Assad, but a resolution only has as much power as the signers and backers give it. If the Assad Regime does not support the R2P Doctrine, then they have no reason to delegitimize their own authority.
Bringing the debate back to U.S. Foreign Policy, Slaughter implores President Obama and his administration to “put the credible threat of force back on the table.” She asserts the only time in this three-year civil war that diplomacy has succeeded was when the U.S. made the credible threat of missile strikes. This threat, however, is no longer credible if there is no power behind the punch. Thus, Slaughter suggests, the U.S. and regional partners need to be willing to follow up and strike the Assad Regime if (read—when) this second set of peace talks fails.3
Will diplomacy win? Only time can tell. But from what we have witnessed so far, you cannot broker peace with individuals in the business of terror.
In what was an attempt at a “goodwill mission,” Dennis Rodman and his squad of former NBA players competed with a North Korean team for Kim Jong Un’s 31st birthday. Although some have asserted that the game had positive effects for U.S./North Korean relations, many more have decried this instance of “Basketball Diplomacy” as an embarrassment.
Rodman (who, as of Sunday, was recently checked into an alcohol-rehabilitation center) may have not been the optimal ambassador for this instance of sports diplomacy in North Korea, but who would have been a better candidate? Should the game have even taken place? The media seems to think not.
Professor Rhonda Zaharna wrote an interesting take on the controversial event in Pyongyang, discussing the media’s role as a public diplomacy player (http://uscpublicdiplomacy.org/index.php/newswire/cpdblog_detail/culture_post_basketball_diplomacy_in_cnns_court/). She states that the U.S. team had apolitical motives for the trip, which were taken advantage of by the media. At the end of a politically charged interview with CNN news anchor Chris Cuomo, Rodman had an emotional outburst, which has been continually replayed and broadcast on many news outlets. Turning a seemingly innocent, apolitical game into controversy defeats the original purpose of “bringing people together through basketball.”
How much can the media affect the public’s perception on current events? How can it affect the public’s opinion of a foreign country? Without getting into whether the recent game was right or wrong, it is still important to consider the media’s role in public diplomacy.
Photo Credit: (Jason Mojica/VICE Media/AP)
Here is a link to a blog article a friend of mine wrote recently for CSIS:
Now naturally, Taiwan is pretty unique in that it has international recognition of its existence as a state as a key foreign policy objective. Nonetheless, I think it’s useful to explore how Taiwan uses PD to work towards that goal and exactly how far it can go.
Perhaps the baseline goal of PD is to at least have other publics around the world know who you are and how you are different from the nearly 200 other countries. A friend of mine visited a congressional testimony on the internal conflict in South Sudan, where a congressman had no clue what the country’s predominant religion/s were, what language is spoken there and what the fighting was about. For the busy foreign policy community, it seems that the agendas of many countries are ignored simply because people know little about them.
Back to Taiwan. The ROC government is smart in investing into tourism, media and cultural exchange as a way of promoting national identity. While there is next to no chance of major powers like the United States changing their official stance on China/Taiwan, improved rapport with global publics—especially in the Asia-Pacific region—is likely to increase support for its existence as an independent de-facto state. Especially so if Taiwan can clearly communicate how it is different from China, other than the fact that it is capitalist and democratic.
Creating Mandarin education centers around the world serves as a good competitor to mainland China’s Confucius Institutes, which give out fairly generous scholarships for people to learn the language and/or live in China. The fact that Taiwan is an open, democratic country gives it an advantage; some scholars may be put off by restrictions on what they can and can’t write while studying in China.
Summing up, I think that good PD can create favorable attitudes both among the public in other countries and within the policy community. This alone can at least put certain issues on the agenda.
See you all Wednesday, if the polar vortex doesn’t get us first.
I’m still very new to the field of public diplomacy and as such I am only beginning to understand the exact scope of what it entails. I’ve spent some time on the Take Five blog and while there are many great posts to read, one in particular caught my attention.
One of the many topics I am am interested in is the role of social media in influencing relations between not only governments but between non-state actors. Such diplomacy through social media is known as e-Diplomacy, as highlighted in the following linked blog. It was very interesting (albeit not surprising) to see the results of the research posted in this blog ( http://takefiveblog.org/2013/02/19/the-use-of-social-media-in-public-diplomacy-scanning-e-diplomacy-by-embassies-in-washington-dc/) which show that over half of the embassies researched use social media, and often use more than one social media platform at a time.
This research highlights that governments are recognizing the role and potential of social media in getting young people involved and interested in world events and issues. Traditionally public diplomacy tends to lie in the realm of governments interacting with each other, but with the popularity of social media in the public sphere this may be changing quickly (The so-called Facebook Revolution, anyone?). What this means for future policy making, if anything, would be interesting to research. It would also be interesting to see if people really are becoming more knowledgeable of world events and issues through the use of social media. Can “following” or “liking” an organization, program, or politician really influence the public significantly more than, say, watching the news? This would be difficult to measure, however, I feel that social media has the ability to highlight the interactive and synergistic potential of public diplomacy. I look forward to seeing what the future of e-diplomacy entails
Enjoy your weekend everyone.
For this week’s blog post, you have the option of posting here within Blackboard or on the public wordpress.com blog .
Anyone who has already posted on the public blog and wishes to retract their posting can post it within BB, and email me and I will delete it from the blog.
On Wednesday in class we will discuss with our CTRL liaison, Laura March, the issues of privacy and authentic learning via public blogging and the privacy controls available on wordpress.com .