Is Public Diplomacy Beneficial for all Participants?

Feb 26, 2010

One goal of public diplomacy is to create allies inside other states through education programs or cultural exchanges. Should this be viewed as enriching individuals, or as a sly attempt to manipulate another country's domestic politics?

Is it legitimate to manipulate the domestic environment of other states?

Traditionally, public diplomacy is one state communicating with the citizenry of another state to influence policies in the target.

During the 20th century ideological wars with fascism and communism, this was called propaganda, a term synonymous with deceit.

Today, examples are: Goethe Institutes educating about German culture; the Japanese Exchange and Teaching Programme introducing Japan; the U.S. hosting foreign elites through the International Visitors Program; or the Confucian Institutes teaching Chinese language.

A long-term goal of all these programs is more favorable attitudes and more sympathetic policies.

With the global development of civil society, with the spread of democracies, and with the latest communications technologies, public diplomacy has become more complicated, adding new actors, targets, and methods to the diplomats' toolbox.

Individuals clearly benefit from opportunities to travel, learn, communicate, and enjoy. The intent usually is to educate, but the ultimate state goal is to influence another state's policies by influencing public attitudes.

However, national interests differ. American, Russian, German, and Chinese goals or values are not the same. Public diplomacy seeks not just to inform but to create allies inside other states.

This can be viewed as the natural competition of ideas, as the enrichment of individuals. It can also be seen as subversive.

What do you think? Is public diplomacy sly subversion or healthy interaction for all the participants?

By William Vocke

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