Diplomacy: Theory and Practice, 5th ed.  –  Online updating pages

Chapter 13: Public Diplomacy

p. 198, rebranding propaganda: although US Secretary of State while this exercise was in full swing (2009-13), Hillary Clinton is admirably sparing in using the term ‘public diplomacy’ in her memoirs of these years, Hard Choices; in fact, it’s difficult to find it at all. By refreshing contrast, we find her remarking on p. 141 that her ‘Af-Pak’ special representative, Richard Holbrooke, ‘became passionate about the propaganda war, which the Taliban was winning despite our vastly superior resources and technology.’ Thus slips the mask.

In the same vein, it’s also interesting that the flabby, blancmange term ‘public diplomacy’ does not feature at all in the report of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs of the British House of Commons on ‘The United Kingdom’s relations with Russia’ (Further reading below). Dealing with the propaganda of Russia Today and Sputnik News and how the UK should respond to it, as well as using the term ‘propaganda’ we find it instead employing the term ‘soft power’ (as unfortunate an addition to the language as ‘public diplomacy’) and the older usage, ‘information campaign’. This report is also substantively instructive.

p. 201, Twitter: The unfortunate occupation of the White House by America’s national disgrace, Donald Trump, has elevated this to the rank of propagandists’ medium of choice, with its ‘stock in trade: endless feuds, ego stroking and casual cruelty’ (Barbaro, see Further reading below). And now the Chinese are at it as well (Kuo, see Further reading below).

pp. 202-3, news management: I should have made clear here that it is also the duty of the foreign ministry to make sure that journalists of its own state are briefed with the official line, and – rather than use the ambiguous term ‘foreign correspondents’ – employed instead the terms ‘foreign diplomatic correspondents’ and ‘home diplomatic correspondents’. The US State Department used to be very good at keeping America’s own diplomatic correspondents abreast of foreign policy developments. It gave daily press briefings to which they as well as foreign diplomatic correspondents were admitted, and permitted a ‘press pool’ of US journalists to fly in the same plane as the secretaries of state on their many foreign trips. It was, therefore, a spectacular public diplomacy own goal for Trump’s State Department, headed if not led by Rex Tillerson, to fail to have a single press briefing until 7 March (2017) and compound this by refusing to allow a press pool to accompany the secretary of state on his very important visit Asia  (Japan, South Korea and China).  These actions not only deeply angered the US press corps but also delivered the news management of US foreign policy, such as it is, into the hands of others – not always friendly (see Lakshmanan in Further reading below).

p. 204, tension in liberal democracies between desire of governments for control of the message and that of media organizations for editorial freedom: Now a real issue in Trump’s America, where, by means of personnel changes, the US Agency for Global Media (USAGM) and public service broadcasters such as Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty that it oversees, have been brought more tightly under Trump’s control.  This also means, incidentally, that they are less under the influence of the State Department, although the USAGM remains part of the remit of State’s Inspector-General.

p. 206, ambassadors’ important role in public diplomacy: Recent publicity (see Choe and McCurry in Further reading below) about the hostile reaction in South Korea to Harry Harris, appointed as US ambassador at Seoul by Donald Trump in June 2018, reminded me of a useful point to add here. To secure the ready agreement of receiving states to the appointment of new ambassadors and ensure they have a good chance of being successful, not least in their public diplomacy, it’s generally been thought expedient – unless there is some larger issue at stake and a rebuff can be shrugged off – to choose an individual whose background and personal characteristics are as much as possible in harmony with the political and religious reflexes of the governments and wider societies of their hosts; or at least not manifestly at odds with them. Hence Catholics to the Vatican, a man rather than a woman to Muslim states, Ottoman Christians from the Sultan to Britain in the nineteenth century, an African-American to South Africa when the writing was on the wall for apartheid, and so on. One is bound to ask, therefore, whether it was really a good idea for Donald Trump, at a time of serious tensions between Japan and South Korea, to send to Seoul as US ambassador not only a Japanese-American but also one with a moustache that made him resemble a Japanese governor-general of less than fond memory anywhere on the Korean peninsula. But, then, when did the Donald ever have a good idea?

Further reading: additions and links

Barbaro, Michael, ‘Pithy, Mean and Powerful: How Donald Trump Mastered Twitter for 2016’, New York Times, 5 October 2015

Choe Sang-Hun, ‘The American Mustache Ruffling Feathers in South Korea’, The New York Times, 16 January 2020

House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, ‘The United Kingdom’s relations with Russia’, 2 March 2017, paras. 149-56

House of Lords Select Committee on Soft Power and the UK’s Influence, ‘Persuasion and Power in the Modern World’, HL Paper 150, 28 March 2014

Kuo, Lily,  ‘Truth hurts’: China’s envoys try out Trump-style Twitter diplomacy’, The Guardian, 19 July 2019

Lakshmanan, Indira A.R., ‘Rex Tillerson’s poor “tone at the top” on press freedom sets a dangerous precedent’, Poynter Commentary, 17 March, 2017

McCurry, Justin, ‘US ambassador’s moustache gets up South Korea’s nose’, The Guardian, 17 January 2020

Osgood, Kenneth A., ‘Propaganda’, in Encyclopedia of American Foreign Policy (Gale Group: 2002). An outstanding piece, with real historical depth.

Osgood, Kenneth A., and Brian C. Etheridge (eds), The United States and Public Diplomacy: new directions in cultural and international history (Nijhoff: Leiden, 2010). The long Introduction to this collection of essays is available here.

Rivera, Tim, ‘Distinguishing cultural relations from cultural diplomacy: The British Council’s relationship with Her Majesty’s Government’, Figueroa Press for the USC Center on Public Diplomacy at the Annenberg School, Los Angeles, January 2015, available here.

Twitter diplomacy’ [among other modern oxymorons], Wikipedia

Wiseman, Geoffrey (ed), Isolate or Engage: Adversarial states, US foreign policy, and public diplomacy (Stanford University Press, 2015)