Public diplomacy – diplomacy directed at people rather than other diplomats – is a subject of growing fascination for governments. While some in the foreign policy elite hanker for a time when foreign policy was the preserve of a technocratic priesthood, those days are largely gone. Somewhere between the anti-globalisation protestors who closed down the Seattle trade talks in 1999 and the Al Qaeda attack on the World Trade Center in 2001, the world was disabused of the notion that foreign policy is only conducted by and between professionals.
Today, non-governmental actors of every variety demand a piece of the international action, and willingly use their agility, focus and passion to elbow states aside. The media is an evermore voracious force, even as the stock of human attention remains limited. And it is increasingly difficult to see where foreign policy stops and domestic policy begins, as the great global risks like climate change, terrorism or HIV obliterate geographic, disciplinary and organisational borders.
All this leaves governments in a frustrating position – huge responsibilities, fewer levers than ever to achieve change. They face some tough questions. Are cross-border currents of public opinion uncontrollable, or can they be dammed or redirected? Where are those fomenting future revolutions (benign or otherwise) to be found, and are they amenable to external pressure? What about the ideas, stories and values that people use to make sense of the world? Are they formed merely in reaction to events, or are they imbued with the power to reshape our environment? And where do governments get their own ideas and direction from? Who shapes them?
Answering these questions forces us to think about influence, the core currency of any country overseas. But herein lies a surprising paradox. Despite its importance, few governments have even a rudimentary theory of what influence is and how to exert it.
This gap in governments’ capabilities is relevant to the full gamut of foreign policy issues and more or less every area of activity that governments undertake in foreign policy: from fighting wars to providing aid, and from building coalitions for multilateral agreements to influencing perceptions in a country on the other side of the world.
Tackling them demands a style of diplomacy that is more politically engaged, more ambitious in its aims, more open to outside influences, and more cross-cutting in its approach. No longer can public diplomacy be seen as a fundamentally separate endeavour from the ‘rest of foreign policy’, that can be hived off to a dedicated (but low status) public diplomacy team. Instead, it represents a paradigm for understanding and undertaking foreign policy as a whole in the 21st century, and a skill set in which all foreign policy practitioners – wherever in government they work – need to be fluent.
Together with David Steven, Managing Director of River Path Associates and Alex Evans senior non-resident fellow at New York University’s Center on International Cooperation this new Demos project will explore the changed landscape for diplomacy in which governments now find themselves, and discuss what they need to do to equip themselves to operate effectively in this new context.
For further information contact Charlie Edwards
Robert Cooper explains the post-Cold War world in terms of the divisions between ‘pre-modern’ parts of the world, ‘modern’ states and the ‘postmodern’ areas.
Our project on new the new public diplomacy is beginning to produce some interim outputs...
Together with David Steven and Alex Evans we are kicking off a new project exploring the...