Monday, March 28, 2011

When Diplomacy Fails

On Monday night, President Barack Obama addressed the country on the coalition military campaign in Libya. Although the US is working in coordination with other nations to enforce a UN Security Council authorized no-fly zone and will transfer control of the mission to NATO Wednesday, Obama, and the US in general, have come under much criticism for getting involved in yet another military campaign in yet another Arab country. The president's speech was intended to to quell public and Congressional concerns over the military action. Any presidential speech of the sort is a monologue, or one-way communication from the Commander-in-Chief to the people, foreign and/or domestic. As we have discussed in class, there is a place for monologue in diplomacy, however it cannot be the only form of diplomacy. Dialogue and collaboration help round out diplomatic efforts and create more understanding and better partnerships.

This speech was intended to be a "soft power" response to the "hard power" action the US and its NATO allies have recently begun in Libya. It acknowledged that "publics" matter and "public opinions" matter as Obama outlined the case for intervention in Libya. The president reaffirmed the American values that led the country into this fight, stating, "To brush aside America's responsibility as a leader and — more profoundly — our responsibilities to our fellow human beings under such circumstances would have been a betrayal of who we are. Some nations may be able to turn a blind eye to atrocities in other countries. The United States of America is different." (source: NPR transcript) He also emphasized that the allies had only turned to military hard power after traditional diplomatic measures of intervention had failed and especially stressed that the US was working in collaboration with the other NATO forces.

This entire situation seems to have been brought about by globalization, as Copeland outlines in his article. He says "By subverting repressive, authoritarian structures, it [globalization] contributes to liberating political change, even as its tendency to sharpen economic inequalities undermines the delicate social contract upon which all representative institutions ultimately depend,” (100). This would be the impetus for the uprisings in Libya. In addition he states that dialogue "cannot flourish in the absence of a commitment to development or in a violent climate where large-scale and generalized insecurity is treated mainly by the application of force," (101). This would be consistent with Ghadafi's reaction toward any sort of rebellion. Progress for both (or really either) side cannot be achieved until non-violent means of change and development are adopted.  

However, Copeland does not provide much hope for traditional diplomacy. While he states that historically diplomacy has at times been effective in preventing these incidents, "The widespread presence of conflict, a reliance on hard power and threats, the militarization of international policy and the growing number of unresolved global issues all testify to diplomacy's failings," (98), which is what has occurred in Libya. Ghadafi's continued defiance of the international community have led to NATO's military involvement in Libya's crisis. 

Despite these arguments maligning hard power and traditional diplomatic efforts, it is difficult to see what else (if anything) could have been done in the diplomatic realm or through public diplomacy in order to quell this conflict. In spite of the progress made in diplomatic theory and practice, including building up soft power and sustainability, sometimes it seems there is no alternative to hard power interventions as had occurred in Libya (other than just doing nothing). At least this time the US acted collaboratively.

Dance dance revolution?

I do not claim to be a connoisseur of folk dances of the world, or even a regular partaker in dance related activities, but even I was unable to fuse an invitation to see a pan-Turkic dance exposition last night at the Lincoln Theater. Türksoy, the International Organization of Turkic Culture*, was hosting a very interesting celebration of Nevruz, a 5,000 year old festival celebrated in Eurasia each year to commemorate the coming of spring "as well as the values love, fraternity, sharing, peace and friendship."** What does dance have to do with public diplomacy and competitive identity? Let us ask our dear friend Mark Twain. In 1862 he said that dancing "has a charming and bewildering effect. You catch glimpses of a confused and whirling multitude of people, and above them a row of distracted fiddlers extending entirely around the room. The waltz and the polka are very exhilarating--to use a mild term--amazingly exhilarating." Virtually every culture on this planet can boast of their charming folk dances, which, when performed, fill one with awe over the talent of the dancers, the intricacy and individuality of the costumes, and the traditional societal roles that they exemplify. A mesmerizing show of the traditional dances of a culture that you have either negative inclinations toward or have simply never heard of take important steps toward reshaping your views toward that country.

Anholt described the six aspects of competitive identity as tourism, brands, culture, investment, policy, and people. While a cultural expo may not relate directly to brands and investment, it does a great job of highlighting the attractive aspects of a culture and people, and paves the way for increased tourism. These effects are especially important for many of the countries that participated in the exposition last night, as many are newly independent, unknown, and have rarely benefitted from positive publicity. As Socrates observed, ‘the way to achieve a better reputation is to endeavour to be what you desire to appear’ and what better way to improve your reputation than to show the world a celebration of the rich, diverse cultures within your region? There were over twenty performances, but the following were some of the most impressive to me:

One dance was a solo performed by a woman in an ethereal white costume that made her look like a swan with two heads. She used an indescribable technique that made it appear as if her arms had hundreds of tiny joints, and wowed the audience with her seemingly effortless wrist-flicking and fluttering.

By far the weirdest number involved five women in long, shiny brocade robes with sleeves twice as long as the arms within them. They swayed about to thunderous techno accompaniment, pointing at all corners of the theater with their ridiculous sleeves and looking smugly at the audience and each other. I did not like these dancers, nor the country from whence they came.***

My favorite performance was a breathtaking instrumental piece. Three young women in strange feathered hats played wooden guitars that combines strumming, plucking, and slapping techniques, and also employed very dramatic hand and arm flourishes, including one point where they all played the instrument of the girl beside them!

Many of the performers came from countries or regions to which I had never given a single thought, and now that the only thing I know of them is that they create complex and beautiful sounds and move their bodies in unbelievable ways, and now I want to visit all of these places and learn about more of their folk festivals and ancient traditions. And, if I ever meet someone from Uzbekistan, I will instantly be able to make a connection with them based on the fancy footwork of her countrypeople. And when I go abroad, I will be sure to dance a rousing waltz or polka.


*The organization was founded in 1992 with the lofty goals of promoting friendship among Turkic speaking nations, developing common culture, and transmitting histories, languages, and cultures to future generations. As Turkey is the host country and Türksoy's official language is Turkish, it seems to be a great tool for reinforcing Turkish influence in the region.

**According to the three Architectural Digest sized informative brochures we were given when we arrived, which offered us technicolor spreads about the performers from Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan, and Turkey, as well as fantastic sounding places like Bashkortostan, Gaugazia, and Tatarstan.

***For the sake of international friendship and diplomacy, I will not name the country in question here, not only because I cannot remember which it was.

State Department: ATM for the BBC?

The title of this article caused me to raise my eyebrow and comment, "Wait, no, for real?"

Which is exactly why we should always read more than just headlines, and why I should probably put fewer acronyms in the titles of my posts (okay, or maybe just this one).

At first glance, the BBC wants funding from the US Department of State. Why in the world would the United States fund a British Broadcasting....Corporation?! Funding for public broadcasting is already being cut in the US, NPR being the latest organization to come under financial scrutiny (to editorialize - unfairly so). And what in the world does this all have to do with public diplomacy?

Well, first of all, it's not the producers of Doctor Who that are searching for stateside financing. It's actually the BBC World Trust, a charity which in reality receives very little money from the BBC itself, and relies on funding from the DFID (Department for International Development), the EU, and other development agencies and organizations. The purpose of the BBC World Trust is to "use media and communications to reduce poverty and promote human rights, thereby enabling people to build better lives."

Is the public diplomacy relationship becoming clearer? No? Still out of focus?

The cynical view is this: a British organization shows people who to make their lives better, the people whose lives are made better therefore like Britain. That's either cynical or the bottom line, maybe both. And probably the harshest way to make the connection.

Public diplomacy, while primarily about improving a country's image abroad, also connects to development. A country that wants to pursue a successful public diplomacy strategy will engage in a two-way discussion and exchange of values, rather than just a monologue proclaiming greatness, and everybody should want to follow that country's values because, obviously, they're ~the best~. I look at public diplomacy like selling a product - don't just tell me I should buy a product because I need it. I know what I need, and I don't need a Snuggie or a car that talks to me (drove one that did an automated voice thing, and it really freaked me out - never again). But tell me WHY I need something and how I can work with it to really improve my life? There's a better chance of me being sold on the idea.

The BBC World Trust is taking the latter approach. As a charity, is its stated goal to improve the UK's image? Of course not. But it has the BBC name attached to it, which means that it is always going to be associated with the UK.

Where was I going with this before I got sidetracked by weird analogies?

Oh, right. Bottom line: the State Department can spare a few dollars to help out the BBC World Trust. And considering the US approach to public diplomacy...well, it would make this country look good as well, so I'd imagine that to be reason enough.

Balancing Public Diplomacy with Diplomacy

President Barack Obama's tour of Latin America last week showed the importance of public diplomacy to the President, especially since he left in the middle of the crisis in Libya and after the devastation of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Many people are criticizing his timing, thinking he clearly had bigger fish to fry in the east. But I think he was right on, and willing to walk the line to make a difference.

By staying on schedule and touring Latin America for the first time, Obama showed Latin America that he values their relationship and is investing in a shared political future. I think this was a smart strategic move for promoting America's interest. Obama spent 5 days in Brazil, Chile and El Salvador, three countries that are considered success stories in terms of their economic and political development. And since Brazil is hosting the 2014 World Cup, has discovered a large oil reserve, and is a leading global player in many issues such as climate change, its logical why the President would visit. Furthermore, since approximately 2.5 million El Salvadorians live in the United States, the issue of immigration is important to the U.S. and El Salvador.

However, no matter how many speeches and site visits Obama made while in Latin America, one specific image will be remembered most: Obama playing soccer with Brazilian children. It's an image that captures everything-Obama playing Brazil's favorite sport, soccer, with their future, the children. It's a photo that would make anyone smile. Our President putting his busy schedule aside to show these children that they matter. Something like this photo, so spontaneous (or maybe not with good PD people working for you), speaks wonders. Or so America hopes.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The National Cherry Blossom Festival: From "prestige gift" to expression of solidarity

We don’t discuss Japan for another few weeks, but with the opening of the Cherry Blossom Festival yesterday, I didn’t want to wait.

The festival commemorates the 1912 gift of 3,000 trees from the Mayor of Tokyo to the city of Washington as a symbol of friendship. The event draws over a million of visitors each year and will celebrate its centennial next year. What began as a “prestige gift” (as Nick Cull would put it) has over the years turned into much more, spanning other forms of cultural diplomacy: “cultural information” and “dialogue and collaboration” (though I’m not sure about “capacity building”).

The festival’s partners include the Washington and Convention Sports Authority, Downtown Improvement District, the National Park Service, and the Japan-America Society of Washington, D.C. The latter is a nonprofit established in 1957 by U.S. diplomats and friends at the Japanese Embassy, with the goal of personalizing relations and creating a people-to-people organization.
During his visit that same year, Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi said, “You will agree with me that government-to-government relations are only one side of the picture. Equally, if not more important in tying our countries closely together, are the relations at private levels in the economic, cultural, and other fields.”

The role of government isn’t clear, though I’m sure there’s some government funding and the National Park Service is a bureau of the Department of the Interior. But the event is carried out by citizens and private organizations, so this is really an example of government as facilitator/coordinator of public diplomacy.

This year, after the devastating earthquake and tsunami hit Japan, the annual Cherry Blossom Festival has become an opportunity to express solidarity. Last Thursday, the Festival held “Stand with Japan,” an event held in “the spirit of hope and rebuilding.” The Festival’s website reports: “Our relationship with Japan is at the heart of the National Cherry Blossom Festival, and the Festival is uniquely positioned as a natural conduit to unite the millions of people who want to assist and express their support in a show of unity, and the evening of hope and perseverance occurs before the 16-day celebration begins on Saturday, March 26.”

In “Cherry Blossom Festival keeps Japan on mind,” Robert Samuels reports that origami crane folding, a regular activity at the festival, has turned into a charity event where children may donate their paper cranes to the Bezos Family Foundation in Seattle, which has pledged $2 toward rebuilding efforts for every crane it receives, up to $200,000. And the popular street festival, taking place April 9th, will donate a portion of the $5 entrance fee. In addition, several local restaurants and bars are donating proceeds from the sale of items such as Japanese beer or cherry-blossom-themed treats.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Cultural Diplomacy or Cultural Imperialism?

Richard Arndt argues in his article "The Hush-Hush Debate: The Cultural Foundations of US Public Diplomacy" that cultural diplomacy is the "base" US public diplomacy stands on and the "deep substance" of soft power. He says that as the US has largely neglected cultural diplomacy since the USIA was absorbed into the State Department in 1999, the US image and soft power throughout the world has been seriously damaged.
While I do agree with his points, that cultural diplomacy is vital to public diplomacy and that the US has done a very poor job of engaging in cultural diplomacy, I worry about some of the methods he advocates to remedy the situation. Arndt suggests expanding the Peace Corps, Fulbright exchanges, extending Teach for America overseas and creating new outreach programs in public health, infrastructional development and/or global language acquisition programs for hard-learn languages to not only increase American cultural diplomacy, but also to provide "tens of thousands of low-cost jobs for unemployed university graduates." No doubt some of these programs would create collaborative projects between the US and other societies and strengthen our soft power, it seems as though they could also easily be seen as just another form of US cultural imperialism.
Although the US government may have ignored the potential power of US cultural exports for at least the past decade, the US private sector has done all it can to take advantage of the demand for US cultural exports abroad (I believe when Arndt speaks of the "US private world" he means only universities and cultural institutions, not the private economic sector"). This has lead a number of countries and regions, such as the EU, to take action to protect their own cultural products from US intrusion. The foreign community has also had serious concerns about America's military involvement in other countries, worried that although it professes altruistic intentions it may actually have more neo-colonial goals.
From the rest of the article it seems that Arndt is advocating for cultural exchange and collaboration, which could be a viable and constructive option for strengthening relationships and US public diplomacy. However, extending programs which involve having the US educate other populations (especially if it relates to culture) could be viewed suspiciously by foreign societies as American attempts at imperialism, which would only serve to further damage the United States' reputation abroad, exactly the opposite of what Arndt hopes they will do.

Monday, March 14, 2011

English Language Programs and U.S. PD

With TESOL’s (Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages) 45th Annual Convention in New Orleans this week, I thought it would be appropriate to take a look at the role of English language in U.S. PD. (TESOL is global educational organization headquartered in the U.S., with affiliate organizations around the world and members in over 150 different countries. Conference presenters and attendees come from all over the world.)

While TESOL may not exactly be doing PD (depending on your definition), language promotion and programming plays a large role in public diplomacy in terms of fostering mutual understanding and encouraging engagement. Put another way, it is easier to engage foreign publics and open up dialogue if we speak the same language. For U.S. PD, English is in high demand even in places where people disagree with American politics. Strategically, this is an opportunity to engage foreign publics who might otherwise be turned off, building relationships and allowing us to show a fuller picture of the U.S. and American culture. 

Providing increased access to English education helps meet the needs of people looking to improve their job opportunities, meet entrance requirements for universities in the U.S. (and other Anglophone countries), and communicate (almost) globally, among other reasons. 

In the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, the Office of English Language Programs (OELP) carries out 4 types of programs offered and administered through U.S. Embassies and Consulates:

·         English Language Fellow Program: 10-month fellowships sending American TESOL teachers abroad
·         English Language Specialist Program: short-term assignments abroad for American academics in TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language)/ TESL (Teaching English as a Second Language) or applied linguistics
·         E-Teacher Scholarship Program: online graduate courses for English teachers in other countries, offered through the University of Maryland Baltimore County and the University of Oregon
·         English Access Microscholarship Program: afterschool classes and intensive summer activities providing English language access for non-elite 14-18 year-olds

In addition, OELP creates English language materials such as textbooks, activities (puzzles, etc.), music CDs, and posters for the classroom, as well as teacher training materials.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Little Guests in the Moon Palace

I cannot avoid it any longer. I must write about that mysterious looming giant in the East, that enigmatic economic power house with a fluffy yet heavy-handed PR agent, China. And yes, our dear Mr. Clemens did have insight into this topic- though I would recommend that one read it within the context of the era and environment (America in the late 1880s- not exactly fertile ground for professors social philosophy) in which it was formulated. As he saw it, the Chinese were

"...a harmless race when white men either let them alone or treat them no worse than dogs; in fact they are almost entirely harmless anyhow, for they seldom think of resenting the vilest insults or the cruelest injuries. They are quiet, peaceable, tractable, free from drunkenness, and they are as industrious as the day is long. A disorderly Chinaman is rare, and a lazy one does not exist."
- Roughing It, 1871

Awkward racial terms aside, there is something to be said about the way that the Chinese have generally been perceived by non-Chinese as hard-working, determined, and relatively passive, since their entrance into international trade and politics. Reapplying Twain's broad generalization to our public diplomacy analysis, I can actually extrapolate some viable points about China's public policy in general, and its PD in specific. For instance, take China's space program, and its amazing accompanying propaganda posters, from the 1970s*.

This one is called "Little Guests in the Moon Palace" and it is probably the best thing I have ever seen. Pictures like these exemplify a very specific goal of not only achieving a presence in space exploration as a point of domestic pride, but also appearing benign in an international context. Who could take issue with sending gleeful obese babies to play with bunnies in space? No one, that's who. You will notice there are no posters depicting Chinese satellites continuously broadcasting the phrase "The East is Red." This is another aspect of a centuries-long Chinese philosophy of appearing relatively unobtrusive abroad, while in actuality working diligently to develop capacity and power of varying hard/softness on both sides of its borders. We won't know their real power until it is too late for the US to even hypothesize about competition.

But the cuteness does not stop there. When Nicholas Cull mentioned "prestige gifts" in his writing on cultural diplomacy, I immediately thought, "Pandas!" I often think about pandas in general, but in this case I was remembering an article about China's eerily calculated cuteness in its distribution of the softest of soft power, the panda, as a sign of friendship. It is a great tool, as the animal is described by panda trade scholars** as a "mega-charismatic" creature, capable of turning all humans into shiny piles of giggles and happiness with a mere glance from their furry little panda faces. The practice, dubbed "panda diplomacy," has resulted in many pairs being sent to various nations, perhaps most famously to the US in 1972 and to Taiwan*** in 2008.

China is still perfecting its friendly image today, and continues to be just overzealous enough as to make its presence known, while making western audiences ask themselves incredulously what they could have possibly been thinking, as with the much talked about ad the Chinese government recently slapped on a skyscraper in Times Square. My recommendation to China is this: stop wasting time trying to convince us that Yao Ming is our friend while you shove melamine-laced cardboard into our snack cakes, and just make us more fat space baby art. It will work wonders.


*The 1970s were also charatcerized by "ping pong diplomacy" another quirky and slightly off PD effort involving an exchange of table tennis champions between the US and China. I swear I am not making this up.

**They do exist, and there are more than one of them.

***The bears sent to Taiwan were named Tuan Tuan and Yuan Yuan, which together mean the word "reunification." If that is not an act of CD (Cuddly Diplomacy) then I just don't know what is.

Smith-Mundt: A necessary evil or outdated obstacle?

As we talked about in class, international broadcasting is one of the oldest forms of public diplomacy for a reason...communication is influence, and having a presence is a country speaks in and of itself, before you even consider the content.

The Smith-Mundt Act has considerable consequences for international broadcasting. We mentioned that one reason for its influence was to protect American citizens from propaganda aimed at foreign audiences. This seems to make sense to me when you consider WWII and the cold war. Say we fibbed a little bit in some broadcasts for the good of the Allied troops and the position of freedom and democracy. Would it have turned Americans against US policy in a time of war?

This also brings about the issue of Americans receiving propaganda. No matter how you define propaganda, it involves persuasion and that definitely happens everyday when the government tries to win our hearts and minds on an issue. So if we get our own propaganda anyway, will it help to be able to see and hear foreign broadcasts?

It seems to me that Americans receiving foreign broadcasts if Smith-Mundt was reversed is a null point. Considering the broadcasts are geared toward a audience that is probably not so democratic in the first place, it seems the message just wouldn't resonate here in the US. I understand the point that Americans could hold foreign broadcasts accountable by judging the messages for objectivity, but then again is international broadcasting really meant to be completely objective? Because if so, is it effective Public Diplomacy? It seems like the objective is to appear objective in order to have the most influence, which in that case, maybe Smith-Mundt should hold.