In this rapidly evolving operating environment, and especially in the developing world, the media have come to play a crucial role in nation building, which is in turn dependent upon the provision of a secure foundation for economic, social and political progress. There are many types of security. External threats, to be sure, may jeopardize the security of the state, and these challenges are sometimes best countered through defence and deterrence.
That said, the security of the nation and its people has more profound provenance, and is not dependent upon the application of armed force. There are no military solutions to the problems of poverty, resource scarcity, environmental collapse, pandemic disease or climate change, any of which can give rise to anxiety, resentment and alienation. Broadly based, equitable and sustainable development is the only answer.
With the end of state-centricity and the profusion of non-state actors in international relations, it is the well-being of the human person which matters most. The absence of want, absence of fear and creation of an environment in which individuals can meet their basic needs without hindrance has become central. Governments can demonstrate their dedication to these values through the embrace of science diplomacy and the implementation of enlightened policies, effectively communicated through both conventional and new media.
If the drivers of insecurity and underdevelopment – be they internal or external – are left unaddressed, nation building becomes difficult, if not impossible. It is therefore incumbent upon governments to provide the basic programs and services which engender a sense of inclusion, participation and belonging amongst the populace. Digital and social media (DSM) can play a key role in disseminating information and providing access.
That said, cyberspace has sharp edges, and is prone to manipulation, distortion and hacking. DSM have facilitated the establishment of virtual communities (e.g. jihadis and other groups of political and religious extremists) and the emergence of the dark web. Sophisticated techniques of media monitoring, often using specially designed algorithms, are needed to detect and respond to damaging on-line trends at an early stage. Diplomats and other officials must be empowered to react quickly, with rapid response mechanisms maintained at a high state of readiness.
Statecraft and branding, two well-established techniques for advancing a country’s place in the world, are also highly dependent upon the adept use of the media. Statecraft harnesses the art and science of diplomacy and defense to achieve goals in foreign policy and international relations. As an element of statecraft, and not unlike PD, to which it is closely related, branding involves deliberate efforts at image projection and reputation management, particularly intended to engineer a positive predisposition in target audiences through the implementation of a comprehensive, coherent international communications framework. To succeed in the disruptive circumstances which currently prevail, both branding and statecraft are best integrated into the crafting of a longer term grand strategy – a master plan, backed by concrete analysis, for attaining identified global objectives.
Power brands, like success in statecraft, cannot be bought. They must be earned. Diplomacy of the deed carries much more weight than any expenditure on marketing, advertising or public relations. Paid media will never equal the demonstration effect of documented action, which speaks a thousand times louder even the most carefully chosen words. Commitments without commensurate actions are brand killers which invite entrapment in the perilous say-do gap and undermine credibility and legitimacy.
The source of soft power is performance, not platitudes.