Saturday, February 17, 2018

What is the latest diplomatic concern of the 21st century?


Efe Sevin

From where I stand as a public diplomacy scholar who looks at diplomacy as a predominantly communication process, the latest concern we have is the “bots and algorithms”Ilan Manor’s blog post provides a good summary of the discussions. There are several “pros” and “cons” in this area, including the scenarios below:
  • Technology has the potential to change the discourse very easily. Bots can imitate individual behavior (to an extent) on social media and set the agenda for public discussion.
  • Big data enables foreign representations to carry out better audience analysis.
  • Diplomacy and diplomats are getting more public exposure through social media.
  • Cyberattacks are becoming more credible threat sources.
I also believe what makes this particular area concerning is that the majority of diplomats, diplomatic services, and diplomacy services do not have the skills to cope with these changes. 

The Stuff of PD

Conrad Turner, uscpublicdiplomacy.or

image from article (see below for caption_

I’m leaning on a glass case containing “Megamouth,” an iconic shark on display at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, a stone’s throw from the University of Southern California (USC). Most visitors stop to gape at this monstrous fish gaping back at them through turbid alcohol. I’m using him to engage them in science. Now a father and his daughter stop for a look. I ask, “What do you notice about it?” We chat for a few minutes about survival in the wild.
What does this have to do with public diplomacy?
I’m here learning to bring preserved fish and stuffed animals to life, to go all gooey over live spiders and butterflies and to find, in a single animal skin or mineralized bone, links to social issues and raw economics. Between shifts I chat with other volunteers about citizen science, renewable energy and the mountain lion roaming Griffith Park. Back on the floor, through considered listening and response, I offer my growing insights to strangers.
That mix of ideas, interaction and inspiration is the very stuff of PD.

Intentional Learning

Engaging museum visitors a few hours a week may not seem standard procedure for a Foreign Service Officer. But I’ve seen over the years how diplomatic entrepreneurs make things happen by first being curious and open to influence. They are intentional about their own training. Without that spark of learning, the smartest go-getter, when confronted with a 9-5 routine, can become just another pencil pusher. With it, even a weathered functionary can make himself useful.
That’s why I’m here exploring the natural sciences and collecting stories and credibility so I may better represent the United States when the time comes. I’m old enough to know that when you practice the rhetorical arts, whatever the topic, you will use them one day. Challenges can take public diplomats into almost any field. Just as the military prepares for any scenario, so must our nation’s peacemakers.
This is also about human interaction. Communicators need regular give-and-take. You want to get the most out of your profession? Find ways to expand your brain. Make your work and life enjoyable, interesting...and unnerving. Years ago, fresh out of college with a history degree, I volunteered with the Peace Corps in Sierra Leone—as a village agronomist. Hardest thing I’ve ever done. But it stretched me in ways that have paid off ever since.
So if you’re thinking about a career in public diplomacy, try yourself out now in areas of non-expertise. Get into the thick of debates—with tough audiences, if you can. Make mistakes and learn from them. Or just volunteer for some kind of community service. It helps others and you and is, after all, a very American thing to do.

Once overseas, my next challenge will be to escape the routine of emails and meetings to develop relationships—in other words, to do my job, not just what the job forces me to do.

The skeleton of a fin whale hangs at the main entrance. I’ve never seen one in the wild, so one Saturday I go whale watching. As a Humpback surfaces it spouts CO2 like a child whose lungs are bursting after a long swim. Then you see the whale’s back. If enough of it breaks the surface before re-submerging, you might see the tail salute before following the body down.
Through anthropomorphism I can now convert an aquatic mammal into our fellow traveler. Today I speak with museum visitors more confidently and can already imagine ways to deploy my nascent wisdom in the field. Maybe I’ll describe my experience to museum heads and offer to speak in schools or give interviews.
Or I may only mention it once, over a pivotal dinner with some science professor and former Fulbright Scholar—and, one day, Foreign Minister—looking for encouragement and help brainstorming her Big Hairy Audacious Goal of modernizing her country’s policies…Too fanciful? Nope. That kind of thing happens when you show up for your diplomatic calling.
You see, gaining smarts isn’t enough. You also have to put them to work. Once overseas, my next challenge will be to escape the routine of emails and meetings to develop relationships—in other words, to do my job, not just what the job forces me to do.

Beyond Traditional Diplomacy

To be clear, I’m not a textbook diplomat. Public diplomacy officers must find the loci of influence outside government, coax foreign opinion leaders into cooperation toward some greater cause and, if warranted, bring American credibility and know-how in support. For that to happen, we first need to know the right people.
This networking begins the moment we land in our country of assignment, well before any desired outcome is known. Over months we listen to our foreign national colleagues, government contacts and ordinary citizens to understand social undercurrents. We travel and ask for meetings with respected editors, educators and heads of public organizations to look for common ground.
In these conversations we listen for the chance to turn a good idea—say, a new way to boost trade and economic growth through joint scientific research—into something bigger, maybe through a public education program or a study tour for leading experts to compare notes with American counterparts. Half of PD is finding our way to those catalytic moments.
The other half is toil and sweat. Sure, it helps in this business to be idealistic—that’s why I signed up. But idealism alone doesn’t solve problems. Market forces and politics are the big changemakers. Everything we do should help, at least indirectly, to nudge those levers in the right direction. Getting support and turning ideas into outcomes can be a slog.
The process begins, though, with deliberate acts of learning and sharpening our skills, so that one day, when we’re face to face with opportunity, we’ll have stories to tell—personal stories that show skeptics that we care about the right things and make us credible advocates for novel solutions to the world’s toughest problems.
Today I’m gathering scientific knowledge and stories with no guarantee I’ll ever use them. Maybe it’s enough to further the museum’s mission to “inspire wonder, discovery, and responsibility for our natural and cultural worlds.”
But I’m also a member of the world’s finest diplomatic corps: when my country needs me to act, I plan to be ready.
Note from the CPD Blog Manager: The opinions represented here are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. government. For more information on public diplomacy careers with the U.S. Department of State, visit
Photo: Conrad Turner shows the cast of a saber-toothed cat skull to museum visitors.

PD Happenings: February 10

This Week in PD is a weekly curated selection of public diplomacy-relevant news from a global cross-section of English-language media outlets, including independent, corporate-owned and state-sponsored sources.
Follow #TWiPD on Twitter Friday-Sunday for featured articles.









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Fake news – and what (not Clingendael Alert ) to do about it

[Jan Melissen],


Fake news comes thick and fast, on national issues and in international politics. The public reaction to it varies from great concern and offence to a sense of being entertained. One of the main problems with fake news is that fabricated stories look real – that is their key distinguishing feature. They are believed, shared and circulated by people, thus making fake news what it is, “legit” for consumers-cum-multipliers of news. The role of technology in our societies has changed the nature, scale, speed and direction of disinformation. Digital technologies have turned fake news into a new form of 21st century propaganda. [JB emphasis]Apart from the challenge of making sense of what fake news is, one can observe a worrying tendency to counter it before understanding it. The difference between false news and fake news lies in its stylization. Printed fake news looks real and new technologies make it much harder to determine that pictures have been purposely doctored to mislead audiences for political purposes. ...
“Weaponized” communication is affecting governmental public diplomacy. After the initial euphoria about social media empowering ‘the people’, it was only a matter of time before the power of algorithms drew the attention of a growing number of governments. ...
No quick fix
Civil society involvement in fighting fake news deserves more emphasis, and greater resilience of persons – as the smallest units of our society – starts with the systematic introduction of meta-literacy in education. This probably remains the best antidote to fake news.

@realDonaldTrump: a brief content analysis

Juan Antonio Sánchez-Giménez | Head of Information Services, Elcano Royal
Institute | @Elcano_Juan; Evgueni Tchubykalo | CAMRI doctoral resesearcher in media
and communication, University of Westminster | @chubykalo,;
article contains charts and a video; dated Feb. 15

Excerpt (from a 10-page pdf document):


Donald Trump has become the first US President to actively use his personal Twitter
channel regardless of any US public diplomacy strategy, with a direct impact on the
public policies defined by the US government and the White House.


During 2017, Donald Trump’s personal Twitter channel –@realDonaldTrump– has been
the main information resource chosen by the US President to generate opinion and
sentiment on US civil society and has become the White House’s public diplomacy tool
to have generated the most headlines in the media.

Given this new political and diplomatic scenario, several issues have arisen that need to
be considered to understand such a new phenomenon of political communication: is this
Trump’s personal branding strategy? And does it affect US public diplomacy? In order to
obtain answers we have focused on the President’s personal Twitter channel to analyse
the content of his activity and try to understand how US public diplomacy is affected by
the Trump Brand. ...


President Trump uses Twitter as an element of personal activity. In practice, there is no

difference in the President’s messages before and after being elected.

He mainly focuses on domestic issues in a partisan way, reinforcing his voting base.
When tweeting about foreign policy he has no institutional strategy to improve American
public diplomacy. Ultimately, public diplomacy is a tool to achieve foreign policy goals
not merely an instrument for self-promotion or advertising. Trump appears to feel like an
observer of the international arena, and not a leading actor. That explains his negative
feelings and unconventional ideas about Russia, Mexico, Qatar, the UK or the London
attacks; ‘unconventional’ in this case meaning not in accordance with traditional US
diplomacy. Herein lies the novelty: while breaking up with media intermediaries and
deinstitutionalising public diplomacy, Trump is sending a direct message, not promoting
diplomatic negotiations. One-way and directly confrontational messages are not the way
to promote dialogue, a key issue in public diplomacy.

The President’s behaviour does not add value to US public diplomacy in the social
media. His hyper-leadership attitude is accelerated by the instantaneousness of Twitter,
it erodes social capital and reduces both trust and intercultural communication. He
overshadows all other foreign policy actors by diminishing the weight of intelligence
from the diplomatic community.

In summary, Donald Trump’s social media use is frivolous, overturning traditional wisdom
and judgment in his presidential statements. He jumps from crisis to crisis, using a
colloquial style in delivering messages instead of providing solid content. He is breaking
the rules and that is only good for the political communication community.
[JB emphasis & comment: what is meant by this statement?]

Looking back at Eisenkot's three years as IDF chief

Ron Ben Yishai, Ynetnews

Eisenkot image from article

Analysis: It is still too early to assess Eisenkot’s performance as IDF Chief of Staff; the real test is how well the army he leads performs on the battlefield; However, it can still be said that Eisenkot is an exceptional military leader owing to the impressive amount of objectives, which he set for himself at the start of his term, which were fulfilled.

Throughout his career, Eisenkot always attributed a lot of importance to the war of consciousness—a campaign with moral, legal, diplomatic and other elements, which is conducted not only to undermine the enemy's "soft power" components but also to bolster the national strength of Israeli society and the legitimacy that Israel and the IDF receive from the international community. On that note, he has dedicated resources of the Operations Branch for psychological warfare, public diplomacy and social networking activities. ...

Are the US and China Inevitable Rivals? Scholars Explore

Trevor Williams, GlobalAtlanta

Image from article, with caption: The Carter Center's China program hosts an annual exchange of scholars to explore issues in the bilateral relationship.

Are the U.S. and China inevitable adversaries, stuck on a collision course as one rises and the other aims to maintain its super-power status?

Apparently, it depends on whom you ask, how you frame the question and which country you’re from.

Four scholars exploring the issue diverged on lines of nationality at a Carter Center Young Scholars Forum, which brought budding foreign-affairs students together with established experts on Jan. 30-31 at Emory University. ...

Robert Daly, director of the Kissinger Institute on China and the United States at the Wilson Center [:]...

“China is doing what any large, wealthy, continental power would do,” he said. “We end up speaking as if China’s rise is aimed at us. It’s not at us at all, it’s for them. It’s about human flourishing, and they’ve been very successful with that.”

That’s an important point in a relationship where intentions can be hard to parse out. Americans are at times doomed to short-termism and can be ill-equipped to read nuance, Mr. Daly said.

And China has undertaken efforts to exert influence in the U.S. in both overt ways — like inbound investment, educational exchange and public diplomacy — and in unacknowledged ways, such as economic manipulation and covert espionage.

“This is a tricky, unprecedented complex challenge,” Mr. Daly said, but it’s “manageable” with the right level of understanding on the American side. ...