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Public Diplomacy Today: Lessons from Russia

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It has been just over a decade since “Public Diplomacy 2.0” was proclaimed as the new reality of the increasingly connected global society. However, our ever so globalized world is changing rapidly. In today’s mediatized and disintermediated society, individuals no longer need institutions to engage in the connective action of sharing personalized action frames via social networks, as it has now become a way of life. After a brief introduction of the post-modern context, key concepts and theoretical framework, this paper is going to highlight ideas-based public diplomacy as the most efficient public diplomacy component today by using the case study of the recent FIFA World Cup in Russia to illustrate our point. We shall then move on to the wider context of generating positive attitudes among the global publics and uncover other, more potent variables at play. At the end we are going to mention certain recent developments— the phenomenon of social media becoming agents in their own right—and make some recommendations in the light of the current context.

Introduction

The term “public diplomacy” (PD) has been around for several decades now, but its modern conceptualization can be attributed to the models developed by Nicholas J. Cull and Joseph S. Nye Jr. in the late 2000s. (2008, 2008) Over a decade later these frameworks are still relevant today, but the world has been evolving rapidly and we must therefore recognize a number of new developments. Hence, this paper is going to touch upon the relationship between PD and power, as well as ways of measuring the efficiency of PD. We shall explore the case study of the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia through the lens of PD in order to demonstrate the best type of PD today. We are then going to broaden our context by uncovering other, more significant variables affecting global admiration that have rendered PD somewhat incomplete and insufficient. Finally, we shall mention Twitter’s recent transformation from a digital social medium into an agent in its own right by looking at its recent political involvement and make some final recommendations in regard to generating positive attitudes to one’s state in today’s world.

Public Diplomacy and Power

First of all, let us outline our conceptual framework by defining all the key concepts and models we are going to be working with. Seeing as public diplomacy is generally seen in the political science discourse as being connected to the concept of power, it may well be a good idea to begin by defining the latter.

We shall speak of “power” as the “ability to affect the behaviour of others to get what one wants.” (Nye 2009: 160) According to Joseph Nye power implies a causal relationship between the power actor and power target, whereby the former seeks to affect the behaviour of the latter by selecting power resources (e.g., culture, military, technology, etc.) to be mobilised and power behaviour (soft or hard) by which the aforementioned resources must be converted into behavioural outcomes in the power target. (Ibid. 2013: 1-2, 2011: 95)

ACTOR: RESOURCES + BEHAVIOUR > TARGET: BEHAVIOURAL OUTCOME

Speaking of power behaviours, they are essentially action modes that define the nature of power as either “soft” or “hard.” (Ibid. 2013: 6) As per Nye’s framework, attraction, persuasion and agenda-framing generate soft power (SP), while coercion, threats, payments and sanctions generate hard power (HP). Hence, it is the power behaviour that defines the nature of power (Ibid. 2011: 91-93, 2013: 6). Furthermore, power can only be judged ex-post (by the outcomes) rather than ex-ante (by the resources that may produce the outcomes). (Ibid. 2013: 2-3) Hence, power can only be claimed to exist when the desired outcomes are present once the power activity has taken place.

RESOURCES + HP & SP BEHAVIOUR > DESIRED OUTCOMES

Gradually moving from pure theory to applied theory, the power conversion model that we are interested in for the purpose of our research is the indirect “public diplomacy” model. The reason for the name is the slightly more complex (as opposed to the direct “classic diplomacy”) route whereby power resources combined with SP behaviour are mobilised via various PD agents to generate positive attitudes among the public of the power target state towards the power actor state, thereby creating an enabling environment for the target state’s ruling elites to make a decision in favour of the power actor state— i.e. behavioural outcome. (Ibid. 2011: 95, 102-3)

POWER ACTOR STATE’S RULING ELITES: PD ACTIVITY (VIA AGENTS) > POWER TARGET STATE’S PUBLIC: POSITIVE/FAVOURABLE ENVIRONMENT > POWER TARGET STATE’S RULING ELITES: BEHAVIOURAL OUTCOME

Measuring Public Diplomacy

When it comes to measuring the efficiency of PD, however, one must recognize that states tend to employ a combination of SP and HP activities as part of their “smart power” strategy. For this reason, it is difficult to isolate the effects of one from the other. (Ibid. 2009: 160, 2011: 97) With the aforementioned problem of attribution rendering the prospective of proving the effects of various PD activities on the final behavioural outcome difficult, the best we can do to assess the efficiency of a PD activity is to analyze positive attitudes it had generated in the target state’s public through the use of public opinion polls, surveys, etc.

A few years ago University of Southern California Center on Public Diplomacy and Portland Consultancy developed the “SoftPower30 Index” (SP30). Their methodology section specifies that SP30 “compares the relative strength of countries’ soft power resources” and combines this “objective data” with the “subjective” opinion polls conducted in 25 different countries, covering more or less proportionally every continent on the globe. (SoftPower30 2020) As we have already established, power must be measured ex-post, not ex-ante, and it is the behaviour modes rather than the resources that define the “soft” or “hard” nature of power; hence, their “objective data” on “SP resources” probably measures the SP potential in their own understanding of it. Nevertheless, their public opinion poll data, which fortunately can be viewed separately from the overall ranking, is a very useful tool for our framework as it measures the positive attitudes, which is the best indicator of PD’s efficiency today.

Ideas-Based Public Diplomacy

As far as PD taxonomy is concerned, Nicholas Cull’s comprehensive framework helpfully breaks it down into: listening; advocacy; cultural diplomacy; exchange diplomacy; international broadcasting; and PD-by-deed (e.g., humanitarian relief work). (2008: 32-6) While the aforementioned types tend to be to a greater or lesser extent controlled by the ruling elites, whether explicitly or implicitly, there is also another type of PD, which was first identified by Cull over ten years ago. It is the ideas-based PD, whereby an idea is cut off from its source of origin and “becomes a meme (an idea, behaviour, style or usage that spreads from person to person within a culture).” (2008: 49) These memes essentially form the basis for decentralized connective action as personalized content shared across media networks by individuals. (Bennett & Segerberg 2012: 739) We argue that this ideas-based PD is the best type of PD strategy in today’s context and here is why.

First of all, our society has become “submitted to… [and] dependent on the media and their logic’ with the media becoming the primary medium of social interaction, as per Stig Hjarvard’s mediatization theory. (2008: 113) Second, while media agenda setting may have become “concentrated in a few global transnational media conglomerates” (Castells 2009) and is still dominated by television (Media Landscapes 2020), people have nevertheless increasingly come to produce and consume content directly, outside of institutions, via social media, which is something that came to be known as disintermediation. (Schroeder 2018: 3) As a result, not only did individuals come to have the opportunity to become PD agents in their own right in the wake of PD 2.0, over the past decade the modality of this phenomenon has transformed from ability to obligation, whereby most of the people with internet-enabled devices automatically share any unique experience they may find themselves immersed in, often through their own personalized frames, enabled by social media features, as per modern rules of social interaction.

Case study: FIFA 2018 World Cup in Russia and Ideas-based PD

Having established our conceptual and theoretical frameworks, let us now turn to our real-world case study. According to SP30 polling data, the Russian Federation received its highest score ever in 2018, the same year they were hosting the 21st FIFA World Cup. The other major Russia-related news headlines that year were predominantly negative (e.g., Skripal poisoning, AN-148 plane crash, Zimnyaya Vishnya tragedy, pension reform protests, school shooting in Crimea, and Kerch Strait incident, etc.). The few positive news items (e.g., European Figure Skating Championship, Junior Hockey World Cup, World Rapid Chess Championship, etc.) were not as widely publicized and therefore unlikely to have caused any major positive shifts in global public opinion on Russia. Moreover, there have not been any major leaps in any of Moscow’s traditional PD strategies, with the listening component still by and large absent, advocacy strategies unchanged, cultural diplomacy stuck on “balalaikas,” exchange diplomacy at a low level, RT and Sputnik remaining marginal players in the realm of international broadcasting and most of Russia’s “PD-by-deed” activities unknown to the global audience. (Primakov 2019, Reid 2020a & 2020b, Velikaya & Simons 2020) Hence, one can state with a certain degree of confidence that it was indeed the World Cup that generated the highest ever number of positive attitudes toward Russia that year, through ideas-based PD.

To illustrate our point, a study by Mikhailov & Partners (2018) has revealed that from the beginning of 2018 until the end of the World Cup in mid-July a total of 250,000 non-Russian social media users made 388,988 posts about Russia & Russians, which generated 24 million likes, shares and comments, with 50% of them having been made during the World Cup (14th June – 15th July 2018). Most of these came from social media users from the U.S., UK, India, Canada, Germany, France, Australia and Brazil. According to another study, most of these countries had rather negative views on Russia. (Ipsos 2018) Nevertheless, in spite of the strong anti-Russian media campaign unraveling in the West following the Skripal incident, there was an organic increase of positive reviews of Russia on social media during the course of the World Cup, with the top positive themes revolving around the “hospitality of the Russians,” “good organization” and “dispelling myths” about Russia. Moreover, any negative comments were generally focused around the criticism of domestic use of the event “as a means of propaganda and distraction for the society.” Yet even those negative remarks were still by and large complimentary in regard to the friendliness of the people and featured heavily the words “love,” “rocks,” “amazing,” “admire,” “excited,” and “delight.” (Mikhailov & Partners 2018)

What this means is that, besides the “good organization,” which the state can be credited with, the chief PD agents were the individuals – the Russian people, who were “delivering” their hospitality and friendliness to the visitors via attraction and framing, and the visitors themselves, who, apart from being the consumers, went on to be the producers of ideas by adopting, framing and “delivering” their experiences to the audiences in their home countries via social media, enabled by the state’s organization (e.g. fan ID, free travel, free WiFi, etc.).

The case study demonstrates how ideas-based PD may well be the most efficient PD strategy in today’s world, where the public is often highly suspicious of authorities and credibility often rests with everyday individuals. The best result is achieved when state agencies act as mere facilitators of the conditions for ideas-based PD—first and foremost, easily-personalized action frames—while individuals are given the freedom to engage in connective action, subsequently generating positive attitudes towards the power actor state among their home audiences.

Of course, it is understandable that Russia cannot host events of such magnitude every year, not only due to their high cost but also due to competition from other states. Nevertheless, provided that Moscow has carried out some listening PD activities (e.g., surveys to generate detailed data sets on which experiences had generated the most positive frames among which types of individuals, along with the criteria of nationality, age, sex, etc.), they should be able to instrumentalize this information in their PD activities, both online and offline (post-COVID).

The Wider Context

We have now demonstrated how the ideas-based PD during the aforementioned World Cup has manifested as the Russian Federation’s greatest PD success in recent years. However, if we are being honest, we must acknowledge that the success was rather relative in the grand scheme of things, as Russia remained at the bottom of SP30 (SoftPower30 2020). It may therefore be a good idea to consider which countries scored higher than Russia in 2018.

The same year Russia hosted one of the world’s biggest sporting events, it was, in fact, Italy that the majority of the public polled across the world had the most positive attitudes towards. However, Italy did not host any major sporting events that year and their 2018 was hardly any merrier that of Russia’s, as the biggest news to come out of Bel Paese that year were those of inter-ethnic conflicts between locals and migrants, election victory of the center-right coalition, Interior Minister Matteo Salvini’s initiatives to close ports to migrant boats and deport illegal Romani people, and 43 people in Genoa being killed by a collapsed Morandi Bridge. Nevertheless, the following year Italy remained the public’s favorite, despite the contentious initiative to open Benito Mussolini’s crypt as a tourist attraction. France moved up to the third spot, even though the clashes between the police and the “yellow vests” intensified and became marred with brutality and violence. Moreover, having arrested the world’s most known freedom of speech activist and journalist, Julian Assange, Britain remained in the top 10, earning almost double the public appreciation points as Russia. (SoftPower30 2020)

Furthermore, if we are to look at the top 15 states for every year when SP30 data was collected, we may notice the same countries shuffling ever so slightly, all of which are, from a liberal perspective, liberal democracies, or, from a realist perspective, the United States, the global hegemon and home to most of the world’s largest media conglomerates, and its allies or client states.

2020 and Beyond

Looking ahead, we must briefly mention one other recent development. With the primary mass agenda-setting medium, television, having long seized to provide diverse coverage of key political issues, its biggest competitor, digital social media, has been the bastion for alternative information sharing and ideas-based PD. However, Twitter’s recent campaign of subjective labeling of “government-affiliated” accounts (e.g., placing the mark on RT but not VoA, etc.) and the US presidential election interference (e.g., hiding tweets of one of the main candidates, among other things) have revealed a new reality, whereby social media are no longer mere communication channels, but rather they are becoming agents in their own right. This is the new reality that has to be recognized and taken on board when devising new PD strategies.

Conclusion

It can be concluded that in today’s mediatized and increasingly disintermediated world ideas-based PD, channeled via connective action, is, indeed, the most efficient kind of PD, and, provided that the state agrees to play a passive facilitator role leaving the individuals to share their personalized frames via social media, it will add value and generate more positive attitudes among the foreign publics. However, it remains insignificant in the grand scheme of things and for a state to top the list of the most attractive countries, it must also either become one of the global hegemon’s liberal democratic allies/client states or try to rival the hegemon by coming to own a number of major global media conglomerates. Finally, due to the recent development of increasingly influential social media taking on the features of traditional media, such as partiality and subjectivity, and thus transforming from an independent fair play platform into an agent in its own right, any state seeking the admiration of the global public needs to own not only major traditional media conglomerates but also the biggest digital social media companies – “the post, telephone and telegraph” of today.

References

From our partner RIAC

IMESS in Politics & Security, Westminster Russia Forum Ambassador, Alumnus of UCL SSEES, Diplomatic Academy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, University of Belgrade and London Metropolitan University

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Soft Power Dynamics in Middle Eastern Conflict

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The Middle East is synonymous with eternal conflict as being at the cross-point between Africa, Europe, and Asia.

The paper intends to understand how the power could be derived from the cultural roots in a world filled with pre-existing biases based on religious values, nationality, and interpretation of history.

Palestine receives strong international support through social media by sharing its pain and grievances increasing its soft power that hampers Israel’s international relations. A new question emerges can the soft power paradigm be used to resolve the problem?  

The roots of the Middle Eastern problem are driven by historical-religious literature which shows the Middle East to be the historic homeland of Jews and they wanted to get back to their original homeland due to two-millennium long suppression that finally ended up as the holocaust.

Israel continues to emphasize and promote stories related to Second World War which help them gain the legitimacy to exist as a state. It is also remarked that the holocaust may have been a decisive condition for the creation of a Jewish state but this action would have occurred sooner or later.

One of the biggest strengths for Israel and its legitimacy comes from the Biblical literature which has some historical stories in it and mentions Israel and Judah in the Middle East providing American Christian Support which seems to be dropping as a result Israel needs to work on its soft power.

A similar strength can be found in Quran for Israeli as Surah Al-Ma’idah in Chapter 5 verse 12 states about the Children of Israel and verse 21 explains that they are “destined to enter and not to turn back else they will become the loser.” These verses motivate Israeli for their cause which raises an interesting phenomenon that some pro-Israeli media would use Quranic verses to gain legitimacy.

History needs to be studied to understand how and where the differences between Jews and Muslims started. Originally there was a peaceful relation between Jews and Muslims but Jews refuse to acknowledge Muhammad a non-Jew as one of the prophets of God which caused the relationship between Jews and Muslims to deplete.

Finally, Banu Qurayza a Jewish community allied with Qurashites against Prophet Muhammad that caused Medina to suffer a war-built hatred towards Judaism.

However, even after looking at the differences Muslims, Christians, and Jews are Abrahamic religions maintaining their base Judaic-monotheistic tradition as both Roman Catholics and Arab previously had polytheistic culture and Israel has indirectly benefitted from this historical fact.

Israel could benefit from various religions by showing show respect to the leaders of Abrahamic religions and even maintain an apologetic attitude on behalf of some of the members of the Jewish community which may have conducted villainous actions as per some stories based on other religious doctrines.

The tower of one’s ego can prohibit supporting the national interest which could only be achieved by becoming softer to gain soft power.

It is argued that the ancient Philistine is related to present-day Palestine. Palestine as a result gets associated with David and Goliath or Samson’s struggle with Philistine. However, the term Palestine is more complicated which had developed in the period.

There are also claims that the Syria Palaestina was constructed as a punishment for Bar Kochba Revolt in 135CE while the name Palaestina given to the region seems to be older than Bar Kochba Revolt and even older than the Roman Emperor Hadrian.

The image of the Israel and Palestine conflict is connected towards mythical combat between David and Goliath. David was an inexperienced youth who later became king of Israel and defeated a giant from ancient Philistine called Goliath.

Some actors who are sympathetic to the Palestinian cause have also connected Palestine with David who was weak at the beginning of the story while they perceive Israel as an unjust giant and the toughest fighter in the region.

The Middle Eastern conflict goes beyond religion and history as it has multiple dimensions due to multiple crimes against humanity causing people to be refugees that inflict social, political, and economic damages.

A medium to obtain soft power is by resolving the humanitarian crisis and Israel being perceived as a perpetrator tampered with its national image.

Israel as an economically advanced country with large spending power can establish economic institutions to raise funds in providing education, training, and employment to victims of that conflict regardless of their religion, ethnicity, gender, or political views who have been scattered around the world which would help Israel gain legitimacy.

The economic recovery of the war victims can minimize some damage enforced upon the national image but there is a strong opinion that the Palestinian community lacks legal rights as being in Israeli jurisdiction. So, political rights might have to be secured to the Palestinians while they have to live in Israel for Israel to create a positive national image.  

The Israeli government also create an option for the Palestinian community to have the right to return, granting them protection in Knesset (Israeli Parliament), while promoting Arab Israeli politicians, and can even reflect how they have shaped the Israeli government in the international arena to build Israel’s soft power.

Finally, the last piece of the puzzle is the social affairs which are closely tied to the soft power paradigm.

There is a clear fear that the Jews are eclipsing the social identity of the Palestinian people but in reality, they are closely linked as Arabic language and Hebrew are Semitic languages, their scripts have common Aramaic ancestry, and Halaal and Kosher dietary cultures are also similar.

There should be an effort to study the similarities to build unity and to study unique qualities as to appreciate one another’s differences. Israel could also create Cultural Relations Centers around the world that promote both Jewish and Palestinian language, culture, and cuisine to create respect and solidarity. 

There can also be the production of television programs, movies, digital applications which could allow people to understand the Middle Eastern community.

Tel Aviv is the center for the development of many technological advancements and carries great potential to build creative applications and visual storytelling that could help spread awareness about the Middle East.

On the other hand, the Palestinian Authority could request the Israeli government to provide scholarships in various Israeli Universities which could enhance their credential for making effort to create a peaceful world as well as proposing exchange programs by inviting Israeli students to visit regular Palestinian colleges and working spaces decreasing bitterness.

The Palestinian Authority could also pursue Israeli investment in core-Palestinian settlements that could create employment as well as mutual dependence allowing Palestine to grow with a greater bargaining power while maintaining a symbiotic relationship.

Culture, history, and institutions can be combined to create harmony. A key aspect to gain soft power and legitimacy is by becoming softer by showing respect to the opponents while appreciating and accepting others’ viewpoints.

Therefore, the study of religion, history has to be conducted from a neutral perspective that can be trusted by all international actors and could serve as a uniting factor while maintaining an apologetic attitude towards historic mistakes. There needs to be an effort to provide economic and political compensation for the victims which have caused notoriety in the international arena and finally the culture of the two competing communities needs to be celebrated through cultural institutions to build trust and harmony.

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Biden-Putting meeting: Live from Geneva

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19:00 The places of the flags on the Mont Blanc bridge on which President Biden and President Putin will pass to reach the meeting venue on Wednesday usually hold the flags of the different Swiss cantons. Not today. The American and Russian flags have been placed to welcome the two leaders. 

18:00 A day before the Geneva summit: Hotel Intercontinental where the American delegation and probably President Biden himself is staying, how the city looks like a day before the meeting, what are the security measures like, why isn’t the UN involved and are the usual protests expected?

Iveta Cherneva with live video political commentary from Geneva one day ahead of the Biden-Putin Summit

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Will the promotion of cricket in GCC add to its Soft Power?

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In recent years, Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, have been trying to bolster their ‘Soft Power’ in a number of ways; by promoting tourism, tweaking their immigration policies to attract more professionals and foreign students and focusing on promoting art and culture. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has taken the lead in this direction (in May 2017, UAE government set up a UAE Soft Power Council which came up with a comprehensive strategy for the promotion of the country’s Soft Power). Under Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman (MBS), Saudi Arabia has also been seeking to change its international image, and it’s Vision 2030 seeks to look beyond focusing on economic growth. In the Global Soft Power Index 2021, Saudi Arabia was ranked at number 24 and number 2 in the Gulf region after the UAE (the country which in the past had a reputation for being socially conservative, has hosted women’s sports events and also hosted the G20 virtually last year)

Will the promotion of cricket in GCC add to its Soft Power?

   One other important step in the direction of promoting Soft Power in the GCC, is the attempt to popularize cricket in the Gulf. While the Sharjah cricket ground (UAE)  hosted many ODI (One Day International )tournaments, and was witness to a number of thrillers between India and Pakistan, match fixing allegations led to a ban on India playing cricket at non-regular venues for a duration of 3 years (for a period of 7 years from 2003, Sharjah did not get to host any ODI). The Pakistan cricket team has been playing its international home series at Sharjah, Abu Dhabu and Dubai for over a decade (since 2009) and the sixth season of the Pakistan Super League is also being played in UAE. Sharjah has also hosted 9 test matches (the first of which was played in 2002).

 Sharjah hosted part of the Indian Premier League (IPL) tournament in 2014, and last year too the tournament was shifted to UAE due to covid19 (apart from Sharjah, matches were played at Dubai and Abu Dhabi). This year again, the UAE and possibly Oman are likely to host the remaining matches of the IPL which had to be cancelled due to the second wave of Covid19. The ICC Men’s T20 World Cup to be held later this year (October-November 2021), which was actually to be hosted by India,  could also be hosted not just in the UAE, but Oman as well (there are two grounds, one of them has floodlights). International Cricket Council (ICC) is looking for an additional venue to UAE, because a lot of cricket is being played there, and this may impact the pitches. The ICC while commenting on the possibility of the T20 World cup being hosted in the Middle East said:

, “The ICC Board has requested management [to] focus its planning efforts for the ICC Men’s  T20 World Cup 2021 on the event being staged in the UAE with the possibility of including another venue in the Middle East’

GCC countries are keen not just to host cricketing tournaments, but also to increase interest in the game. While Oman has a team managed by an Indian businessman, Saudi Arabia has set up the SACF (Saudi Arabian Cricket Federation) in 2020 and it has started the National Cricket Championship which will have more than 7,000 players and 36 teams at the school level. Peshawar Zalmi, a Pakistani franchise T20 cricket team, representing the city of Peshawar the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, which plays in the Pakistan’s domestic T20 cricket league – the Peshawar cricket league —  extended an invitation to the SACF, to play a friendly match against it. It’s owner Javed Afridi had extended the invitation to the Saudi Arabian team in April 2021.  Only recently, Chairman of SACF Prince Saud bin Mishal  met with India’s Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Dr Ausaf Saeed, to discuss ways for promoting the game in Saudi Arabia. He also visited the ICC headquarters at Dubai and apart from meeting officials of ICC also took a tour of Sharjah cricket ground.

GCC countries have a number of advantages over other potential neutral venues. First, the required infrastructure is already in place in some countries, and there is no paucity of financial resources which is very important. Second, there is a growing interest in the game in the region, and one of the important factors for this is the sizeable South Asian expat population. Third, a number of former cricketers from South Asia are not only coaching cricket teams, but also being roped in to create more enthusiasm with regard to the game. Fourth, UAE along with other GCC countries, could also emerge as an important venue for the resumption of India-Pakistan cricketing ties.

Conclusion

In conclusion, if GCC countries other than UAE — like Saudi Arabia and Oman  — can emerge as important cricketing venues, their ‘Soft Power’ appeal is likely to further get strengthened especially vis-à-vis South Asia. South Asian expats, who have contributed immensely to the economic growth of the region, and former South Asian cricketers will have an important role to play in popularizing the game in the Gulf. Cricket which is already an important component of the GCC — South Asia relationship, could help in further strengthening people to people linkages.

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