Public Diplomacy and Branding, Part III: A Pair of Aces?

In a couple of recent postings I have tried to elaborate the notion of a nation brand, to identify some of the salient issues surrounding the relationship between public diplomacy and branding, and to illuminate the more subtle distinctions. In this entry, I would like to drill down further into each of these, and several related issues.

Branding guru Simon Anholt has developed a hexagonal model that sets out the principal elements of a nation’s brand, including tourism, exports, policies, investment and immigration, culture and heritage, and people. This has become the industry standard. While Simon and I concur on many points,  we do not agree on everything covered in the continuing debate. For instance, as far back as 2006, he wrote me to say “I dispute… your contention that branding is fundamentally a monologue. The best brand theory – and the best brand practice – today sees brand as the common purpose or shared vision that unites businesses with their staff, suppliers and customers, and so is in every sense parallel to (e.g. the British Council’s insistence on) the mutuality of public and cultural diplomacy. A brand is also … as much an invitation to complain as it is a promise of quality, so even in that rather literal sense it must always be about two-way communication… Brand is very much more than ‘image’ and the communication, management or promotion of image. Brand strategy is almost synonymous with corporate strategy, and at least in theory, there is a parallel notion in nation branding. Most firms these days would describe their brand as their relationship with their market and their other stakeholders.”

My response? Let one hundred flowers bloom.

But when it comes time to pick the bouquet, it seems worth remembering that if branding is about selling dreams, public diplomacy is about sharing them.

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Public Diplomacy, Branding and the Image of Nations, Part I:What’s in a Brand?

I am writing today from London.

Although I will be going in to see colleagues at the FCO next week, I confess that I have not been thinking much about whether or not the Brits will be able to top, or at least equal the Chinese in skillfully using the occasion of the Summer Olympics to advance their top line public diplomacy (PD) objectives. Instead, I have been busy teaching a graduate seminar on Science, Technology, Diplomacy and International Policy, and helping to organize an International Symposium on the theme of heteropolarity and world order. Today I am preparing to welcome nation branding guru Simon Anholt into my MA class, hot on the heels of a command performance last Wednesday by Parag Khanna.

In order to introduce Simon, I have been reviewing his work, and in that regard came across a fascinating exchange he engaged in a few years back on the CPD blog with Craig Hayden. Their repartee got me thinking – again – about the hardy perennial issue of whether or not there exists a real distinction between branding and PD.

Is one a subset of the other? If so, which is the larger construct?  Does it really matter?

I’m not sure, especially because these sorts of considerations suggest that the relationship may be asymmetrical, rather than simply differentiated.

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Canadian Public Diplomacy – Where to?

In the previous post, I tried to show that during the 1980s and ‘90s the paradigm for the delivery of Canadian international policy shifted fundamentally. Over the course of those years, there was a deliberate move away from an emphasis on traditional, state-to-state interaction in the direction of public diplomacy (PD). This form of international political exchange features diplomats communicating directly with foreign populations and cultivating partnerships with civil society actors – NGOs, businesspeople, journalists and academics.  I also made the case that the PD formula, in conjunction with the right combination of political will and bureaucratic skill, can produce impressive results, especially if directed towards projects with broad popular and media appeal, such as a land mine ban or efforts to improve the lot of children in conflict zones.

Looking back, it can be seen that Canadian PD reached its apogee under Foreign Minister Axworthy (1996-2000). At a time of severe government-wide cost-cutting, Canada fundamentally down-sized its international ambitions, but that exercise was not translated into a retreat from the field. To be sure, the large scale, long range, potentially world changing projects of the post-war decades  – poverty eradication, conflict resolution, global environmental conservation – were gone. In their place, Canadian officials proposed a series of special projects – for example, curbs on the trading of “blood” diamonds and small arms – designed for implementation within media-friendly diplomatic niches. They did not always succeed, but each initiative featured a defined start and finish. Upon completion, the Minister could simply call a press conference, declare victory and move on.

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Canadian Public Diplomacy, Then and Now

I have recently been reviewing a new book entitled Diplomacy in the Digital Age, which is a collection of essays prepared in honour of Allan Gotlieb, a former Undersecretary of State  for External Affairs and Canada’s ambassador in Washington from 1981-89. It is an absorbing anthology, and contains valuable entries penned in some instances by those who worked with Mr. Gotlieb during his time in the USA. Quite apart from eliciting specific reactions to the content of the volume, reading it has also spurred me to reflect on the larger issue of what became of Canada’s once considerable contribution to the study and practice of public diplomacy (PD).

The Government of Canada was until fairly recently regarded as a somewhat of PD pioneer. That reputation would now be difficult to sustain. Indeed, I have come to the rather stark realization that whatever this country may at one time have achieved by way of advancing its interests through PD, those days are now long gone.

In official and political circles in Ottawa today, little or nothing is heard of PD. Diplomatic representatives can no longer connect directly with foreign populations unless their scripts have been pre-cleared, and even the use of the term has been discouraged. Within the foreign ministry (DFAIT), the function has been almost completely de-resourced.

Hence the questions must be put: what, exactly, did Canada manage to achieve in terms of public diplomacy outcomes over the past several decades?  Why has PD fallen from grace? Can any lessons of broader relevance be adduced?

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Science Diplomacy: New Day or False Dawn?

A few weeks ago in Oslo, Norway, in the company of about 40 other invitees from around the world, I attended an OECD “experts” meeting, sponsored by the Norwegian and German Ministries of Education and Research, on the subject of Science, Technology, Innovation and Global Challenges.

The workshop was predicated upon the shared realization that if  international policy and decision-makers cannot be convinced that a radical course correction is needed, then in the not too distant future the planet may reach a tipping point. Beyond that point, recovery will be difficult, if not impossible.

Think climate change, diminishing biodiversity, food insecurity, resource scarcity, pandemic disease, and so forth.

So… we were talking about the principal threats imperilling life on the planet.

Not your standard bit of bureaucratic process.

Today, I am en route to Otago University in Dunedin, New Zealand, to speak at a conference entitled Science Diplomacy: New Day or False Dawn. Among many other speakers are Murray McCully, the Foreign Minister of New Zealand, Vaughn Turekian, head of  the science diplomacy unit at the American Academy for the Advancement of Science, and Dr. Jeffery Boutwell, from Pugwash USA.

Two global gatherings in two months on science, technology, diplomacy and international policy. Is it possible that something’s happening here, even if what is ain’t exactly clear?

Maybe.  I certainly hope so.

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Diplomacy on the Rebound at the Brain Food Buffet

From Tuesday through Saturday last week I attended the 52nd annual conference of the International Studies Association (ISA) in Montreal. The theme for this year’s event was Global Governance: Political Authority in Transition.

What does that mean? I still can’t say. But I can attest that this meeting represents one of the very rare occasions during which living legends such as Joseph Nye, Stanley Hoffman and Thomas Schelling can be seen and heard in the same general place and time. Moreover, they represent only the more recognized figures among the thousands of experts and specialists on hand.

Although dominated by participants from the USA, the conference also attracts scholars from Canada, Europe, the UK, Oceania and elsewhere around the globe. International relations is by far the most common of the disciplines represented, but economists, sociologists, anthropologists, and many others – including government officials, consultants and NGO representatives – attend as well. If it’s a subject of academic enquiry, international in scope, and communicated in the English language, then chances are you’ll find it at the ISA.

The event program looks and reads like a telephone book. Four times a day for four days, beginning at 8:15AM and ending at 6:00PM, 100 or so panels run simultaneously. While exhausting, this is a guarantee of  almost limitless choice, and if one promising discussion falls flat, there are endless fall back possibilities.

Each panel is organized under the auspices of one of the  various “sections” of the ISA – International Security, Foreign Policy Analysis, Political Economy, Intelligence, Development, and so forth. For networking, contact development, and most of all as a way to obtain a snapshot of leading edge thinking about just about anything international, nothing compares to dining out at this brain food buffet.

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Cairo Burning: Implications for the Defence vs. Diplomacy Debate

The following commentary, based in part on my “Ferment in North Africa” entry, was posted by the University of Southern California’s Public Diplomacy Blog 02 February:

This is one of those rare, defining moments in world history. In Egypt – as well as Tunisia, Sudan, Yemen and elsewhere – change is unfolding at almost blinding speed. The reactions of the USA, EU, and UN  so far have succeeded mainly in positioning the international community well behind the curve, scrambling to catch up. Developments on the ground continue to outpace responses by a wide margin.

Between concerns over secure access to oil,  radical Islamic politics, and the prospects for Middle East peace, Western interests are heavily engaged in the region. What, then, are the the broad strategic considerations which policy planners and decision-makers could usefully take into account?

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A Role for Science Diplomacy? Soft Power and Global Challenges – Part I

Readers of Guerrilla Diplomacy will know that in that volume I argue that if development is the new security in the age of globalization, then diplomacy must displace defence at the centre of international policy.

Were policy-makers to accept this formulation, then diplomacy, and in particular public diplomacy (PD), would be placed front and centre in international relations. Science diplomacy (SD), a term which encompasses both the use of international scientific cooperation to advance foreign policy objectives and the use of diplomacy to achieve scientific ends,  represents a critical component within the broader public diplomacy ambit.  Science diplomacy is an expression of soft power. It is perhaps best understood as a way to liberate scientific and technological (S&T) knowledge from its rigid national and institutional enclosures and to unleash its progressive potential through collaboration and sharing with interested partners world-wide.

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Guerrilla Diplomacy Revisited

It has now been a year since the release of Guerrilla Diplomacy. I have spent much of this time trying to promote the book’s main arguments in support of restoring the diplomatic ecosystem and de-militarizing international policy. Following are a few reflections on those efforts.

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Political Officers in Conflict Zones: Public Diplomacy and Counterinsurgency – Part III

The past few posts have focused on the potential role of diplomacy in addressing the complex challenges of counterinsurgency.

Can non-violent approaches to conflict resolution make a difference?

Yes, but it is unlikely that contribution cannot be fully realized under present circumstances.

It is not just that the diplomatic business model has not responded adequately to the challenges of globalization – it hasn’t – or that foreign ministries are underfunded, hierarchic and risk-averse – they are. These features compound the problem, but it is the particular difficulties in the field that define it.

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Political Officers in Conflict Zones: Public Diplomacy and Counterinsurgency – Part II

Development is a strategic and moral imperative…  our intention is to elevate development so that it stands alongside defense and diplomacy and an equal. Defense, development and diplomacy need to reinforce each other, but each also brings a unique perspective and set of capabilities to the table. Together, they make us stronger, smarter and more effective.

President Barack Obama, describing the new US national security strategy.

In earlier posts and elsewhere I have made the case that in the age of globalization, development  has in large part become the new security. That is why I advocate the substitution of diplomacy – and especially an extreme form of  public diplomacy, with the emphasis on cross-cultural dialogue and meaningful exchange – for defence at the centre of international policy.

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Science, Technology and International Policy – Part I

Underdevelopment and insecurity, much like globalization itself, are intimately connected to science and technology (S&T). A capacity to absorb and use  S&T can confer significant competitive advantage upon individuals, groups, cities, countries and regions , while the absence of that capacity can be costly. Together, science and technology present both a very complex challenge to, and a critical opportunity for all members of the international community.

In the best of all possible worlds, S&T can be prime movers in propelling the planet forward towards a more peaceful, prosperous future.

In a worse case scenario, they may be our undoing.

At present,  S&T quite clearly is not delivering on its potential. Indeed, inadequate science and inappropriate technology seem much more closely associated  with all kinds of global problems – pandemic disease, climate change, genomics, resource shortages, weapons of mass destruction, environmental collapse – than with their solution. And this catalogue, it must be emphasized, represents a fair summary of the most pressing threats facing political leaders everywhere.

In a world of the polio vaccine and digital imaging, stem cell research and the i-pod, why do we find such radical underperformance in the face of such inspiring possibilities?

When I began construction of the research base which underpins Guerrilla Diplomacy, I was surprised to learn that there was very litttle in the mainstream literature which explores the links between S&T, on one hand, and international policy and relations, on the other. Today, I have a clearer understanding of of that lacuna. With few exceptions, and especially at the level of macro policy and grand strategy, there simply are no significant connections. That state of dis-integration, moreover, has become a key issue  facing both scholars and diplomatic practitioners, whether they know it, or (as is more likely) not.

In the day-to-day business of diplomacy and foreign ministries, S&T exists in a kind of floating world. It is there, but ensconced in a shiny bubble which few really understand or can easily penetrate.

These observations, and several closely related conceptual and theoretical issues, might be illustrated as follows. Imagine a town hall style meeting between employees and senior managers in the headquarters building of a foreign ministry most anywhere in the world. The purpose of the gathering is to identify and discuss the key issues likely to face policy makers and decision-takers over the medium to long term. A new recruit, for instance one of the candidates who has recently entered the State Department under the Jefferson Fellows Program, goes to a microphone and asks the panel of assembled Undersecretaries these three  questions:

  • What is the relationship among and between science and technology, research and development, and innovation, and how does this impact on the formulation of international policy and the management of international relations?
  • How has the nature and role of S&T changed in the transition from the Cold War to the globalization age?
  • Do transnational S&T issues differ in kind from more traditional challenges faced by analysts and policymakers?

While I am not in a position to guarantee that such a trio of questions would necessarily generate mainly an assortment of nervous glances, punctuted only by an awkward silence on the podium,  my experience would lead me to to predict exactly that sort of outcome.

Just why this might eventuate, and how those questions might have been broached, will be taken up in subsequent posts.

Diplomatic Surge? Part II – The things we carry

I would attribute the running down of diplomacy in recent years to a trio of developments related to the carry-over from the Cold War of certain habits of mind, or intellectual baggage, which have been hoisted into the globalization age from the preceding era. In a nutshell, in the face of the complex threats and challenges engendered by globalization, and the concomitant need for deep knowledge, nuanced understanding and a subtle approach, many continued to view the world in a way best described as Manichean, alarmist and militaristic.

Without getting into the full details of the argument, or assessing the important implications for recruiting, training and diplomatic practice, this must be unpacked a bit. During the Cold War, the West organized its international policy around the objective of ‘containment’, by deterring, blocking, and wherever possible, rolling back what was seen as a world-wide Communist threat. Think Harry Truman, George Keenan NSC 68 and Mutually Assured Destruction. From 1947 to 1991, the adversary was portrayed as a monolithic Red Menace Russians, Chinese, North Koreans, North Vietnamese, Cubans, Nicaraguans… No matter. Those Commies were all the same.

For a decade after the walls came down, there were few credible threats available to be conjured, but this changed instantly post 9/11 when a very similar, open-ended impulse – and function – again found expression. The Global War on Terror filled the ideological void once occupied by the Cold War. Al Qaeda, Taliban, Hamas, Hezbollah – no matter. All Islamic extremists were alike. Substitute terrorism for communism, recycle a familiar ideological construct, et voila away they went. Again. No secretive conspiracy here, just consensus among members of certain influential groups who identified an opportunity to advance their agenda.

The principal elements of this Cold War carry-over include:

• the adoption of a binary world view, which reduces almost infinite complexity to a matter of “us versus them; you are with us, or with the terrorists”;

• the use of fear to galvanize domestic support by characterizing the threat as urgent and universal “they are not only out there, everywhere, but they are among us and could strike anywhere, anytime. Red alert. “, and;

• a preference for armed force in responding to perceived threats, and the favouring of defence over diplomacy or development in what might be reasonably described as the militarization of international policy.

Taken together, these elements constitute a persistent, and troublingly resilient line, one endlessly hyped in the media and deeply lodged in the public mind.

What is wrong with this picture? In my view, getting over this debilitating mindset, even more so than taking full account of science and technology as a driver of international policy and transforming diplomacy, will be the sine qua non for the success of any diplomatic renaissance. Diplomats can become entrepreneurial brokers and network nodes, building relationships and supporting civil society actors in efforts to advance democratic development, good governance and the management of political and social plurality. But this won’t be possible unless the model, the context and the motives are changed. It is not yet clear that all of these pre-conditions are in place.

In particular, and in response to the burden of left luggage:

The world is not black and white but a many layered and multi-stranded swirl of greys.

Fear motivates the construction of gated communities within a national security state; hope is a far superior starting point for policy formulation.

Compulsion has its place in international relations, but attraction is more widely applicable, generally more effective and much less costly.

The fact of this psychological transfer of Cold War perceptions into the globalization age has meant not only that the peace dividend remains unpaid, but that for the past two decades the scope for applying non-violent approaches, such as diplomacy, to the resolution of international differences has been very limited. Iraq and Afghanistan are the obvious examples, but there are many more ranging from Darfur and the Democratic Congo to Israel/Palestine and India/Pakistan/Kashmir.

The planet has paid a high price for this hiatus. Notwithstanding that diplomacy, often in combination with development, offers the key to sustainable security, both have in recent years been in large part displaced by defence. By any measure resource allocation, domestic political influence, even academic interest diplomacy, the foreign ministry and the priority of equitable, sustainable and human-centred development have been on the back burner. Not so the legions, although an over-reliance on the state’s instruments of violence has imposed a whole host of other costs.

The economic and market meltdowns have spurred a realization of the need for innovative thinking in coping with the uncertainties of globalization. They have also given rise to a sense that some of the tools so hurriedly stashed when the train left the Cold War station may be worth dusting off, public diplomacy (PD) perhaps foremost among them. Not only are the large scale international scientific, educational, and cultural exchanges of days gone by now sorely missed, but AIDs cannot be detained; the climate cannot be garrisoned; the environment cannot be extraordinarily rendered; hunger cannot be bombed out of existence.

For these reasons and more, the ball is finally coming back, at long last, to practitioners of the world’s second oldest profession. By linking development and security through the medium of international policy, diplomacy, and especially public diplomacy, is poised again to occupy a place front and centre in international relations. Diplomats are advantageously placed to provide the essential strategic advice required by governments to integrate values, policies and interests right across the international policy spectrum. Neither members of the military, nor aid workers, NGO reps nor journalists can provide the sorts of supple intelligence required. They lack the tools of engagement, the cross-cultural skill set, and the capacity to generate the detailed, place-specific knowledge which might permit them to substitute in this critical role.

Diplomatic Surge? Part I – From buzz to becoming

These should be heady days for diplomats. After a long stretch languishing in relative obscurity, the willingness to explore diplomatic alternatives to the use of armed force in the pursuit of international policy objectives has become suddenly, well, fashionable.

The arrival of the Obama administration, and especially Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vice President Joe Biden, has unleashed a torrent of commentary on soft power, smart power, branding and public diplomacy. Harvard Professor Joseph Nye – the guru of soft, and now, in the vernacular of the moment, smart power – is becoming almost a household name. Special envoys have been appointed, difficult issues broached, executive orders signed and new directions indicated. Diplomatic studies specialists, long neglected by both the media and the mainstream, and rarely if ever consulted by decision-makers and opinion-leaders, are finding themselves surprisingly popular. Even within the sometimes rarified heights of international relations scholarship, diplomacy is receiving unprecedented attention.

The short road from heresy to liturgy is getting even shorter.

Foreign ministries and diplomats everywhere will welcome the attention; they have been through a rough patch and now have their work cut out for them, doing things like assisting with broad-based development, supporting democracy and human rights, and building bridges to civil society. Moreover, practitioners have rarely been better positioned to address pressing professional issues, to burnish the tools of the trade and to engage publics abroad through dialogue and partnership. In much of the world, the image and reputation of the West in general, and the USA in particular, has huge potential on the upside.

In short, statecraft is on a roll, and the timing could scarcely be better.

For those accustomed to toiling unnoticed in the diplomatic wilderness, all of this is giving rise to something akin to an out of body experience.

Carpe diem.

What might be said of this promising trend? How might the diplomatic difficulties of the past few decades be explained? And where to now – can smart power deliver as advertised? In this calculus I see both change, and possibly a disconcerting hint of continuity.

Some observations. Firstly, the new political leadership in the USA appears to have re-discovered that diplomacy per se matters. In the face of a profusion of unresolved conflicts and unaddressed global threats and challenges, many rooted in science and driven by technology, a fresh willingness is in evidence to give negotiation, compromise and meaningful exchange an overdue test drive. But the machinery and its operators have been idling on the sidelines in recent years. A major tune-up, if not a complete re-build will be necessary.

Secondly, and in that regard, the delivery of something broadly similar to the core of former Secretary Rice’s program for transformational diplomacy – representational reform, the retooling of organizational structure and bureaucratic process, and enlargement of the resource base – will be imperative. The implementation of this strategy will not in itself, however, suffice if talking is to triumph over fighting as the international policy instrument of choice. The dominant world view, too, needs a complete refit.

Thirdly, then, and perhaps most fundamentally, it seems to me that diplomacy reached this critical impasse as a result of the imposition of a particular ideological perspective which conditioned, if not determined the political and intellectual environment in which the foreign ministry and foreign service have had to operate.

Let me deal summarily with the first two points:

1. Over the long history of delivering international policy results for states, diplomats have had to manage issues such as territorial disputes, treaty and legal problems, and ideological competition. In the early 21st century, these sorts of challenges, to which might be added terrorism, migration and criminality, are still out there, but have been joined by a daunting set of S&T based issues: climate change and pandemic disease; resource scarcity and environmental collapse; weapons of mass destruction and genomics, to name a few. Most serving diplomats are not equipped, in terms of background, knowledge and experience, to handle successfully these types of files.

2. The prescription for transformational diplomacy recognizes that diplomacy needs to be re-invented from the bottom up, and that this will involve a complete rethinking of the diplomatic business model and reimagining of the essential skill set of the diplomatic person. I am convinced completely of the need to reconstruct the foreign ministry. In OECD countries especially, these tend to be among the oldest of central government institutions. Westphalian conventions are profoundly embedded, and the culture tradition-laden, hierarchic and risk averse. Placing adequate emphasis on overcoming these internal obstacles will be crucial.

Globalization has radically altered the role and place of states in the international system diplomats, diplomacy and the foreign ministry have not adapted well The main diplomatic institutions must accordingly be reconsidered fundamentally or face irrelevance, if not oblivion. Success at this game of catch-up will require vision and dexterity. Which brings me to the third point. Foreign ministries and diplomats have their shortcomings, but are their other reasons that performance has faltered? Might this affect the ability of the apparent diplomatic surge to endure?