The art and science of communications: From strategic to personal

Category Archives: Soft power

The International Symposium on Cultural Diplomacy

Berlin, 27 – 31 July 2009

symp

The Institute for Cultural Diplomacy is currently accepting applications For the forthcoming International Symposium on Cultural Diplomacy. The Symposium will bring together individuals from across the world for an interdisciplinary program that will consider the importance of soft power in addressing today’s global challenges. Confirmed speakers for the event include:

Jorge Sampaio, Former President of Portugal
Joaqim Chissano, Former President of Mozambique
Dr. Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga, Former President of Latvia
Cassam Uteem, Former President of the Republic of Mauritius
Dr. Erkki Tuomioja, Former Foreign Minister of Finland
Borys Tarasyuk, Former Foreign Minister of the Ukraine
Samuel Jones, Head of Culture, Demos
John Holden, Visiting Professor, City University London
Prof. Dr. Joseph S. Nye Jr.*, Distinguished Service Professor, Harvard University
Prof. Dr. Cynthia Schneider, Former US Ambassador to the Netherlands
Prof. Dr. Christian Armbrüster, Judge and Professor in Law, Free University Berlin

Who can apply?

The International Symposium is open to applications from students and young professionals with an active interest in international relations.

What will the Symposium involve?

The program for the International Symposium will consist of five days of lectures, seminars and panel discussions with leading figures from the political, diplomatic, academic and civil society spheres.

What are the aims of the Symposium?

The Symposium aims to provide the participants with a range of perspectives on the potential for soft power in international relations, as  well as highlighting key issues in the contemporary international environment.

What happens after the Symposium?

After taking part in the Symposium the participants become members of the ICD Young Leaders network and are supported by the ICD in conducting research, in organising and developing their own cultural exchange initiatives, and are invited to join the ICD’s Online Forum, where they can network with other young leaders from around the world.

More information about the Symposium, including the full speaker list and the application form, can be found under:
<http://www.culturaldiplomacy.org/academy/index.php?en_calendar_symposium-20
09> www.culturaldiplomacy.org/academy/index.php?en_calendar_symposium-2009


So you want to study the ‘hot button’ topic of Public Diplomacy?  Oh, you mean diplomatic studies, or maybe international relations, or possiblily public relations or communication studies.  Oh, you don’t?  You definately and specifically want to study the increasingly complex and important subject of public diplomacy?  Well, let’s see what we can do.

How about the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School of Public Diplomacy or an MSc in Public Diplomacy at New York’s Syracuse University(see their enthusiastic students expounding on public diplomacy in the film below)?  Then there’s a Public Diplomacy Course at Georgetown University in Wasington D.C. or you could attend Edward R. Murrow School of Public Diplomacy at Tufts University, Massachusetts.

What’s that? You say, the Murrow School appears semi-dormant and some other courses are merely minor elements of wider masters programmes?  Hmm, I see.

Ah, anything outside of the US, you ask? In public diplomacy, specifically?

Um, well, let me see.  Oh, yes, how about the online course in Public Diplomacy at the Diplo Foundation, Malta?  And then there’s … um … well, there’s … ah … well, nowhere else, as far as I know*.

In the old days where diplomats spoke to diplomats and occasionally some PR-type would be brought in to do some outreach thing or media campaign for foreign audiences, it was acceptable that public diplomacy was not on any curricula – a good bit of experience and one would get the handle of it.  Globalisation, the information age, technological advances and the spread of democracy have changed all that, and anyone expected to work in public diplomacy can expect a sharp learning curve.  Yet as shown above, outside the US, there are few institutions providing that learning at high level, certainly not at the graduate level, preparing students for entering the workforce.  One or two week courses here and there, aspects of Public diplomacy in wider studies, the occasional conference and articles published, but not genuine, specific, academic, graduate level learning.

John Hemery, in his chapter on public diplomacy training in ‘The New Public Diplomacy: Soft Power in International Relations’ (Mellisen, J. (Ed), Palgrave MacMillan, 2007), highlights the dearth of real academic education in the field.  As ever, the US is learning its lessons quickly, as shown above.  But what of the rest of the world?  Is it time that nations, such as the UK, examined its personnel requirements in terms of public diplomacy (there are certainly calls for it to taken seriously), and looked closely at any academic approach that may be necessary to prepare its young people for 21st century diplomatic and communication environments?

*Note: Of course, CB3 may not be aware of all academic training available, and would appreciate being informed of other courses.


Renowned and prolific blogger Mountainrunner recently posted on ‘The False Hope of the President’s Public Diplomacy’ and it’s well worthwhile a perusal.

CB3 largely concurs with Mountainrunner’s sentiments.  The points are well made and for the most part entirely valid, although the comment ‘Public diplomacy must be re-framed as direct or indirect engagement of foreign audiences to further America’s national security’ seems to back up a DoD-centric view. This may be mere semantics but security can be a loaded word and PD operates across a policy spectrum – albeit all contributing to security.

US Public Diplomacy - still wearing combat boots?

US Public Diplomacy - still wearing combat boots?

The phenomena of ultimately leaving much foreign policy communicative effort to the military, who at least have the resources (but not necessarily the expertise), appears to be common, not only in the US but also, maybe to a slightly lesser degree, in the UK. NATO and the EU (within ESDP civ-mil operations) are also not immune to this.

Further, the narrowing of the word-deed gap is critical to the success of PD, which requires it to be deeply ingrained in policy-making (as Murrow appreciated). The corporate world has taken this on board but political institutions, even in the most developed nations on the planet, still don’t fully appreciate this fact, despite the recognition of the monumental societal changes being braought about by the information age. The Obama administration is good on the word but still has to follow upon the deed (good intentions lead the way to hell etc).

The US is now in a good position to make good on the Obama effect and take PD seriously, but I fear that political infighting is taking its toll. State needs to take a stand if the US is to capitalise on this window of opportunity.


A head of state being casually interviewed on a television show that people actually watch, a comedy show at that – the mere thought would send shivers down spines of staff in Whitehall, the Elysee Palace, the Bundestag and all manner of institutions in Brussels.  But some chap called Barack Obama had a little chat with Jay Leno last night on an extremely popular talk show – how refreshing!

"Tonight with me is Pwime Minister Gordon Bwown ..."

"Tonight with me is Pwime Minister Gordon Bwown ..."

Now, the Obama crew will no doubt have realised that it was an extremely risky strategy – but that’s the point, there is always risk in political communication, it just has to be assessed.  Undoubtedly, there will be some aspects of President Obama’s comments that will come back to haunt him, but the very fact that he is willng and able to present himself and his ideas so openly to so many, in a forthright and understandable manner, will pay dividends several times over.  Love him or hate him, at least his constituency will have a much better understanding of him than his predecessors, or colleagues in other states, contributing to the capacityof citizens to make informed decisions, the bedrock of democracy.

In a similar vein, Obama chose to give a interview to Al-Arabiya within days of his inauguration, presenting himself and his intentions to the Arab world in a way unknown during the Bush Era.  If public diplomacy is seen as communicating directly to the citizens of foreign countries, as opposed to merely talking behind diplomatic closed doors, then here is a prime example.  And as an example of laying the ground for soft power, the administration’s recent offering of ‘a fresh start for Iran‘ is a sound follow on to the Al-Arabiya interview, representing the end of the US abject refusal to deal with, or at least engage with, one of the world’s most strategically important states – Iran.  Engagement was a notion bandied about the Clinton administration, but the Obama team’s use of communication in this direction (call it PR, public diplomacy, stratcomm whatever) takes the concept to a new level.

This brave embracing of communication channels, be they comedy chat shows or twitter or facebook (now in Arabic), by people of gravity (i.e. those who in the eyes of the audience matter), to inform domestic and foreign publics, is risky but will pay dividends for all.  Political communicators now all talk of using new media, websites, twitter etc but it takes real guts for the major players (once again,those who in the eyes of the audience matter) to step up to the plate and really use these capabilities effectively.  Obama’s major advisors in this area, such as David Axelrod, Ellen Moran and ‘Rahmbo’ Emanuel are shaking up the box, in terms of approaches to communication.  Just as many are learning from the web-based aspects of Obama’s presidential campaign, there are lessons also to be learnt from the Al-Arabiya interview and last night’s Jay Leno show – spines should be tingling in Whitehall, the Elysee Palace, the Bundestag and all manner of institutions in Brussels.


In its widest sociological sense, public relations (PR) can be seen as a mechanism for the promotion of understanding and creation of beneficial relationships or, as Edward Bernays claimed, continuing process of social integration . However, in a modern context, its aims may be seen as stretching from the enabling of the ideal citizen through to the creation of the ideal consumer. Although the contemporary ‘Western’ developed free-market democratic society relies upon the support of these entities, PR’s contribution to modern society often finds itself in constant tension between the two ends of the spectrum.

Bernays knew a thing or two about all this ...

Bernays knew a thing or two about all this ...

On the one hand, well managed PR is crucial to the sustenance of a collective of rational informed citizens. As Berelson commented, ‘the major decisions the ordinary citizen is called upon to make in a modern representative democracy involve basic simplifications which need not rest upon a wide range of information so long as they are based upon a certain amount of crucial information, reasonably interpreted.’ The provision of such crucial information, in between citizens, interest groups, corporations, organisations and governments is a major, if not fully appreciated, contribution of PR.

However, be they a form of systems or critical theory, of the rhetorical or relationship management paradigm, in the information age, with the mass of information available, PR is even more vital in providing that crucial information amidst a grey mass of confusion, contradiction and coercion in Nye’s ‘paradox of the plenty’ through the vehicle of new technology. Media sociology is starting to recognise the new terrain of multiple representations and infinite interpretations, irrespective of ownership structures.

To the other end of the spectrum, whilst corporate marketing preys upon ‘inner directives’ – assuming utter self-interest and private advantage, PR contributes to the provision of that information and context necessary to allow consideration as a member of the economic, free-market collective, in the interest of the public.

Whilst PR serves civil society, embedded in political economy, the above portrays a normative stance. A more positive theoretical perception reveals that PR’s contribution to modern society falls short of that ideal. Elite access, asymmetrical communication, partial and biased information, power broking and media filtering, to name but a few issues, contribute to a watering down of the ethical basis of PR in modern society. In the political sphere, ‘engineering consent’, focus-group politics, politico-industrial complexes and heavily financed political packaging have ravaged the PR environment, exploited by governments, political parties, corporations, interest groups and activists, denying publics real context. In the economic arena, the consumerist drive often subsumes the economic interest of the individual and public, in favour of maximising short-term gains for the organisation or corporation. Even if understanding is achieved, it is debatable as to whether an effectively informed citizenry given voice can actually effect change.

The result, borne of man’s psyche, has been the sociological damaging of PR’s contribution to modern society, contributing to communicative inequality.

However, the mere accepted practice of striving towards the promotion of understanding and creation of beneficial relationships is a noble cause. Its mere existence and continued furtherance towards such an ethical ideal is, at core, PR’s vital contribution to modern free society.


Encouraged by the leadership of the obamaObama administration, there is hope that soft power and consensus may pervade the thinking of ‘Western’ foreign policy. We may, at last, see the ideology of Joseph Nye (Paradox of American Power, Powers to Lead) seeping through the US administration, and percolating throughout ‘Western’ foreign policy (although, some already claim to embrace it, eg, the European Union).  As PR Week (Opinion, 16 Jan) proclaimed, as this wind of change blows through, the PR profession may reap rewards.

However, when it comes to strategic communications and public diplomacy, senior leaderships of the West have all too often failed to ‘get it’. Despite a general recognition that, in a globalised world, domestic and foreign policy are inextricably linked, government interest and expenditure in communications wane dramatically once publics fall outside domestic borders.  This problem exists in national management structures and within multilateral organisations as well, as many practitioners in foreign policy communications will attest. 

The problem, in CB3’s humble opinion (but based on experience and research), is often due to a lack of understanding, at senior, strategic level, of communications in the foreign policy and development contexts, despite the sterling work of many in public information, public diplomacy, influence activity and information operations. This results in underfunded, ill-planned and outmoded ideas in campaigns that often lack strategic guidance. ‘Hearts and minds’ is a tired cliché, but to nurture effective soft power and consensus in this age of dialogue, the most crucial battle for ‘hearts and minds’ should first be fought not on the global stage but in the corridors of power of government offices, foreign ministries, defence departments and development agencies.