Thursday, November 18, 2010

Effective Public Diplomacy: No Governments Allowed!

Nye's analysis of public diplomacy and the use of soft power to increase globalization reflects a need for nation-states to re-assess the way they communicate with the world. He calls for a bigger focus on daily communication, strategic communication, and creating lasting relationships --all in an effort to project a consistent message to foreign audiences and in turn provoke dialogue between these audiences and the United States.

He notes that actions, not just broadcasting are an effective means of reaching out to others in order to create such relationships. Through student exchange programs and English language teaching opportunities, citizens of different countries have the chance to make close bonds which they then continue via the Internet or other means upon separation back to their home countries. This is an example of everyday people serving as ambassadors, and is definitely a useful form of public diplomacy. JET, the Japan Exchange and Teaching programme is a successful example of this effect. Just take a look at their website and you will see a variety of pictures of Americans and Japanese students -happy and having fun. I have a friend who worked with JET as a teacher, and after one 6 month period with the program he decided to stay longer and continue working with JET to this day... that was 2 years ago. He has made so many friends in Japan with people of many different cultural backgrounds, and when he visits the United States he also serves as a bridge of Japanese knowledge to those Americans who have not been to that country.

Nowadays it seems that public diplomacy may be most affective from this approach of people getting to know people. Governments appear to be inconsistent and complex; therefore, everything 'produced' as public diplomacy to be broadcast to the world is automatically stamped as propaganda related in nature. But if a bottom-up approach is implicated, there will be more exchange programs and more opportunities for citizens to branch out and embrace different cultures and peoples. This will in turn enable them to broaden their views on foreign audiences and serve as a mouthpiece for their countries of origin. The future of public diplomacy is dependent on the genuine relationships which are most easily created by everyday people with genuine interests in other cultures; it would appeared that the role of illegitimized governments in the realm of public diplomacy is shrinking and becoming less and less effective.

Nye, Joseph "Public Diplomacy and Soft Power"


  1. I think that this goes to the heart of the issue for public diplomacy--grassroots efforts are always more effective than a simple broadcast message, in any campaign. The humanizing element, the connection with another person, is what makes a real difference. And since the foreign cultures and countries we are relating to are made up of people, not drones who passively accept messages, isn't starting with the people the best way to go?

  2. I am a huge proponent of international exchange programs for exactly that reason--theoretically, building relationships at the bottom will foster warmer diplomatic relations between peoples. However, how much is enough? Will increased exchanges necessarily affect government policies at the top?

  3. I completely agree. Many countries--Japan and France are two I am familiar with--bring teachers over to teach English in their schools. But why doesn't the U.S. have a similar program? A native speaker is almost always the most accurate language teacher and this type of program would bring higher language standards to our schools as well as fostering long-term relationships.

  4. International exchanges although altruistic at heart, also have the potential to go terribly wrong. After working as a teacher both within a structured program, and outside of one, I witnessed many participants struggle to adapt to new cultures and end up being more of a detriment than an asset to building stronger international relations. In no way should this discourage the growth of exchanges programs but it does highlight a crucial need for these programs to be carefully strucutured and provide a support system for participants who will inevitably struggle at points, particularly in long-term exchanges. Even the Peace Corps with their wealth of resources and expertise has high rates of premature return in some years. International exchange is a wonderful part of cultural diplomacy, but it needs to be approached intelligently and in a way that is considerate of cultural differences.