Public diplomacy is a concept that is dominating research on diplomatic studies in the current times and is distinguished from the traditional practices of diplomacy as it is about diplomatic engagement with the people. Public diplomacy has been credited with broadening the elite world of diplomacy, i.e. democratisation of diplomacy, with multiple actors now entering the arena.
Public diplomacy does not have a concrete definition that is agreed upon by scholars but one working definition of the same has been provided by Kishan Rana. According to him, public diplomacy may be defined as ‘activities through which governments, working with non-state agencies, reach out to the public and non-official actors abroad, covering inter alia information, culture, education, and the country image.’ In other words, public diplomacy is an instrument through which state actors seek to understand the culture and attitudes of the general public and other actors, build and manage relationships with them, as well as influence thoughts and actions in order to advance their own interests and values.
Some scholars equate public diplomacy with propaganda but others hold the view that promotion of a country’s culture and external image is an integral part of diplomatic practises. Public diplomacy is intrinsically connected to the ‘soft power’ of a country. Governments are quickly realising the importance of developing their country’s brand image and now consider it a prerequisite for contemporary statecraft. Formulating and carrying out effective public diplomacy has become a major security challenge in the current scenario.
The United States has a long history of engaging in public diplomacy. The US has traditionally used public diplomacy to influence the citizens of foreign countries so that they, in turn, influence their own governments in forming positive perspectives regarding the US. For instance, during the cold war years, the US established the United States Information Agency (USIA) and through that, led a massive outreach program directed at populations in other countries to counter the spread of communism. The idea behind the establishment of the USIA was to ‘tell America’s story to the world’ and the USIA was ultimately successful in helping the US achieve its foreign policy objectives. After the abolition of the USIA in 1999, external public diplomacy has come to be under the jurisdiction of the State Department.
Public diplomacy, in the context of the United States, received renewed interest after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the US invested vast resources towards the same so as to change the negative viewpoints that emerged after the Global War on Terror. Numerous reports outlining what the US should do were published and various initiatives were undertaken to influence the thoughts of citizens in other countries and make them understand the perspective of the US. However, all external public diplomacy efforts did not succeed in changing the opinions of people and the image of the US was considered to be tarnished.
Public perceptions of the US have been declining for more than a decade and the current covid-19 pandemic has only exacerbated the challenges the US faces in formulating an effective public diplomacy strategy. The US currently has the largest number of infected people and a massive death toll and has thus been unable to successfully deal with the pandemic. The astronomical numbers of cases being reported in the US have shocked the whole world. The US is viewed as the most powerful country in global politics and seeing it struggle with the pandemic has completely transformed the way the people of other countries look at the US.
The failure of the US government in containing the Covid-19 pandemic has received vast coverage throughout the world and this has gravely impacted the status of the US in the international arena. The response of the US government is being compared to the responses of other governments who have been largely successful in their battle against the Covid-19 virus. Moreover, the Trump administration has expressed support for opening up the country and this has perplexed much of the world’s population because there is substantial data supporting the fact that lockdowns can lessen the spread of the virus. The image of ‘American exceptionalism’ and its superiority in terms of resources has been undermined. The notion of the US as a superpower nation has weakened in the current covid crisis.
In addition to this, the US has also come under scrutiny for allegedly diverting shipments of crucial equipment meant for other countries. These reports have had a negative impact on the relations of the US with other countries, even some of its important allies. The systematic undermining of alliances by the current administration have also resulted in negative perceptions regarding the US. The US now has to work hard to rebuild its credibility and moral authority and this is a significant challenge with regard to its public diplomacy.
The US has also increasingly concentrated its efforts on holding China accountable for its inaction with respect to the pandemic and has dedicated its public diplomacy resources to ensure that its perspective holds more value. The withdrawal of further funding for the World Health Organisation (WHO) at the time of the pandemic has also brushed people the wrong way and some intellectuals believe that this has had a negative impact on the US’s standing and also provided a space for China to increase its diplomatic overtures.
For the US public diplomacy efforts to be effective, they need to formulate a long-term public diplomacy strategy. Its public diplomacy has also suffered a major setback because of the widespread coverage of police brutality aimed at the African-American population. The callous response of the current administration to the Black Lives Matter movement has also sparked outrage throughout the world and resulted in a massive public diplomacy problem.
The lack of public support with respect to the US needs to be countered with effective dialogue and global engagement. These two steps are necessary to do away with the challenges of public diplomacy faced by the US. Public diplomacy has for a long time been an indispensable foreign policy tool for the US as the US’s greatest asset has always been its immense ‘soft power’, which has attracted almost every individual. The value of public diplomacy has risen steeply in the contemporary set-up and it is, therefore, essential for the US to revitalise its public diplomacy efforts.
Ramifications of The Pandemic In International Relations
Ever since the global spread of the COVID-19 virus, claims have been made of the pandemic causing a massive impact in global politics and international relations. In the pre-pandemic era, international relations were defined by increasing bipolarity, greater isolationism, greater trade protectionism and increasing nationalism. While the West led by the US was gradually adopting a protectionist attitude, the East led by China in particular, was looking towards increasing multilateral cooperation. Alongside this, international organizations were seeing their roles diminishing. Moreover, populist leaders and authoritarian governments were gradually gathering influence globally, in stark contrast to a decline in democracy and neo-liberalism. These trends could be seen most clearly in the US/China conflict that has dominated most international relations rhetoric of the 21st century.
Although China had been hit with the pandemic first, through extreme lockdown measures, quick responses, mass screenings, targeted monitoring and an effective socio-political response, the country quickly reversed course and had flattened its curve by March, depicting the resilience of the country. With a mere 87,000 cases as of December 2020 in a country of 1.4 billion people, China’s effective policies to deal with the pandemic can hardly be sidelined. Nevertheless, as the virus had been identified in China first, this triggered a massive backlash from the West, particularly the US, where President Trump blasted China for covering-up details about the virus. Rumors were spread by the White House itself about the virus originating from a Wuhan lab, and the virus was labeled the Wuhan Virus – a move discouraged by the WHO. This inflammatory language worsened relations between the two countries. Going even further, President Trump terminated US involvement in the World Health Organization, claiming it to be controlled by Chinese authorities.
With this move the influence of the world’s most important health organization was weakened, further showcasing the decline of the liberal international world order, due to a diminishing trust in international organizations. Thus, the pre-Covid trend of a lack of trust in international organizations, continued during the COVID-19 pandemic as well. With Trump advocating for closed borders with his “We need the wall more than ever” expressions on Twitter, and similar far-right leaders like France’s Le Pen ruing the “religion of borderless-ness” for the pandemic, the West’s protectionist, nationalistic ideas showed no signs of abating even during a global crisis.
In stark contrast, the East led by China continued on its path of greater cooperation and interdependence, through bilateral and multilateral engagements. With the US leaving a void in the global leadership spot for handling the pandemic, China stepped in and offered to assist other countries in handling the outbreaks in their respective countries. China’s foreign ministry’s spokesperson, Hua Chunying, even stated that they would like to share China’s good practice and experience.
Furthering its charm offensive, China started shipping out masks and ventilators to countries that were very badly hit by the pandemic, like Italy, Spain and Serbia. With the countries of the European Union shutting down their borders and hoarding domestic supplies, despite Italy’s pleas for help, Italy turned to China for aid in fighting the coronavirus pandemic. This “mask diplomacy” along with China’s Health Silk Road has served to strengthen global public health governance, as envisioned by China.
Undeniably, the pandemic’s effects in the short-term have been wide-reaching, especially in the social and technological domain. However, expecting global politics and international relations to undergo a transformational change in the long-term, solely due to the COVID-19 pandemic is relatively far-fetched, especially if current global trends are assessed.
The virus may or may not have taken its toll on international diplomacy in the traditional context, but it has certainly shaken many things if not stirred them completely.
Diplomatic Fiasco: PTI Government’s Failure on the Climate Diplomacy Front
“Think about this: terrorism, epidemics, poverty, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction – all challenges that know no borders – the reality is that climate change ranks right up there with every single one of them”.– John F. Kerry
The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) and United Nations Security Council (UNSC) have both declared that unrestrained climate change poses a threat to international peace and security. Presently, climate change is the biggest threat facing humanity. We all will witness its impacts, making it a critical foreign policy and diplomatic issue. Climate change will overturn the 21st century world order and characterize how we live and work. Even so, in the midst of a global pandemic, it is evident that climate change will be the major issue of this century. As countries will move toward rebuilding their economies after COVID-19, recovery plans will shape the 21st century economy in ways that are clean and green, safe and healthy, and more resilient. Over the last decade, foreign policymakers have taken measures to better understand climate risks. To date, foreign policy responses to climate change have primarily centered on the security repercussions of climate change.
To chart a fresh course ahead, in order to initiate a global fight against climate change, President Joe Biden welcomed a diverse set of leaders from around the globe to explicate the connections between climate security, climate change and broader foreign policy objectives. The list of invitee included world leaders like President Xi Jinping of China and Russia’s Vladimir Putin, PM Modi of India, Sheikh Hasina of Bangladesh to attend the two-days meeting to mark Washington’s return to the visible lines of the fight against climate risks. Though, Pakistan have its place in the same region, and fifth-most vulnerable country to climate change, it has been disqualified from the summit. Likewise, Biden dispatched his climate envoy, former secretary of state John Kerry, to prepare the ground for the summit in meetings with global leaders. The U.S. invited the leaders of the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate, which includes the 17 countries responsible for about 80-percent of global emissions and GDP, along with, heads of countries that are unambiguously vulnerable to climate impacts or are representing robust climate leadership.
The current global efforts towards mainstreaming of climate change in development policies and programs are getting more traction due to expanding avenues of domestic and international climate diplomacy. For developing countries, climate diplomacy is undoubtedly becoming a key incentive to integrate climate change issues into their foreign policy. Pakistan is also a relatively new player in the climate diplomacy arena with a nascent institutional setup. The climate diplomacy adaption experience of Pakistan is still at the embryonic stage. The main problem is the gradual decline in the aptitude and capacity of institution to develop a clear policy route. The policy decline is much more rapid under the PTI government. Pakistan’s ambassadorial clout has eroded over the years due to political unpredictability and economic timidity. Similarly, the government has failed even to built a national narrative on climate change issue. Imran Khan has been warning the world of catastrophe if the climate problem is not addressed, but has failed to come out with a clear policy direction on the issue.
Among the many challenges fronting the Imran Khan government will be tackling the notoriously dysfunctional U.S. – Pakistan relationship. The Biden presidency has designated climate change as a critical theme of its foreign policy, and indeed aware of Pakistan’s deep climate vulnerability. For the first time since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Pakistan is not a foreign policy priority for U.S. administration. Many high-ranking Biden government officials, including climate change envoy John Kerry, know Pakistan well. When Kerry was Obama’s secretary of state, co-chaired US-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue that counted renewable energy. Anybody familiar with how Islamabad and Washington have interacted over the last 74 years will resort to weary metaphors: a roller-coaster ride, the dynamic between an overbearing mother-in-law and daughter-in-law. Biden and his experienced team of ex-Obama administration officials are likely to press Pakistan – for Islamabad, it is a catch-22 situation. In the indigenous context, internal political strife in Pakistan and economic dependency on other countries have raised questions about our ability to effectively fight our case in international arena. The latest diplomatic fiasco speaks very loud and clear about the government’s inability to deal with fast-changing geopolitics. Washington’s broader interests in Asia, including relationships with China and India, will determine its policy at the Leaders’ Summit on Climate. It seems, Pakistan has no friends in the Biden administration. Thus, out-of-the-box thinking is required for Pakistan’s foreign policy decision makers.
Gender Diplomacy: A concern For International Politics
Diplomacy can be defined as an art of interaction between actors (states/ organizations) to achieve mutually benefitted desirable interests of pursuing parties, especially in the international arena of politics. While diplomacy is an integral part of the Liberal school of thought which has primarily dominated world politics, yet the field of diplomacy is itself deprived of liberal virtues of equality and parity. Weighing the balance of ratio between both genders in diplomacy, the dilemma of the day is that females do not reach the level of participation to be in parity with male partakers in diplomacy. Having a statistical outlook at patriarchy-ridden Foreign Services around the globe, female diplomats in Norway, Sweden, Finland, the United States of America, and France makeup to 30%-40% of Foreign Service. While even the developed states have not reached 50% of female diplomats in their respective states, developing states in the South show an even less percentile of female diplomats. South Asian states like Pakistan and India estimate to less than 15 and 20 percent of females in the skill of diplomacy, respectively.
Being an equal sharer in foreign policy-making and policy implementation is a fundamental democratic right of both genders; to serve the country and to shape the future of the land which is their identity, their respect, and their pride. Apart from this that the balanced ratio of diplomatic participants is an integral right, involving women in diplomatic interactions may aid and enhance the pursuance of goals by the states. I would like to back my argument with not only contemporary examples but historical evidence, as well. Turning pages of history back to 400 B.C. where women are named as ‘weavers’ in the writings of Aristophanes to Lysistrate; referring to women’s role as skilled and accomplished diplomats who helped in the resolution of the Peloponnesian war. This act of inter-mingle, unifying, and peace-making through the prowess of consular skill set by then women is explained by Aristophanes in a phrase: ‘Weavers of nations”. This brings me to another point is that in contemporary times as pinpointed by the United Nations, the peace-processes in which women are engagers, 35% of those tend to last for at least 15 years.
While men are more forgoing towards minor details during foreign relation analysis, women tend to put more attention to minute details, which consequently results in the production of best-suited foreign policies. But it is noteworthy that to get potential benefit from this healthy difference in nature between males and females, it is potent enough to bring anequal number of female Foreign Service Officers as compared to male Officers. Having such a salubrious balance of both feminine and masculine characteristics can also equate chances of war and peace, spontaneous and patient decisions, and use of both: hard and soft power. Eventually, this egalitarian level complies with Robert Putnam’s ‘Law of Increasing Disproportion’ which links the rank of authority and the degree of representation of high-status in society. Nevertheless, being an Ambassador, diplomat or even part of Foreign Service is a matter of great esteem and so women in diplomacy, represent women of the society. Linking the argumentative dots mentioned above, the United Nations’ report endorses the importance of the role of women in diplomacy by considering their input as a vital ingredient for stable and secure democracy.
Applying the United Nations’ analysis on the inclusion of women in the artistry of diplomacy on developing states, particularly in South Asia, we tend to project various prosperous benefits of women diplomats in the region, particularly in the context of the two-decades-long conflicts: Afghan-Taliban Conflict and the Kashmir dispute in the heart of South Asia. Women in diplomacy in Pakistan, India, and neighboring South Asian states might weaken the bone of contention between the by-birth rivals: India and Pakistan through conflict transformation strategies. While the involvement of Afghan females in the ongoing and forthcoming Afghan Peace Processes and the future Afghan government can not only uplift the societal status of women in Afghan society but will improve the longevity of sustainable peace in Afghanistan. Eventually, colleen diplomats can help to divert the state-centric state and regional security paradigm of South Asia to human-centric state and regional security, resulting in diversified and proactive approach; fostering fraternal ties leading to paced development in the region and abroad.
To conclude with, as I have highlighted the irony of the hour with an un-equal statistical ratio of gender parity in the course of diplomacy and the importance of achieving this parity by incorporating women in the skilled framework of diplomacy, I would like to propose universally applicable policy measures to acquire this equivalence. The first and foremost step is to bring awareness in society for the encouragement and acceptance of more female diplomats as opposed to the conventional fields like medical and engineering sciences. Along with this policy changes should be made to ensure equal recruitment of female diplomats, specifically on merit to counter and curtail the patriarchal dominance, mostly due to the might of money. Lastly, a female-friendly environment should be promoted to utilize the feminine potential in Foreign Offices. Conclusively, equal participation of both genders will result in sustainably productive democracies—both, in letter and spirit. Hence, gender equality in diplomacy is essential for the growth and evolution of international politics.
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