February 7, 2011

Soft Power (as a tool for PD) is all the Buzz or is it just Comedic Relief?

Ryan Hocking discusses the ‘two worlds’ of public diplomacy. One of these worlds is the ‘hierarchical image’ of diplomatic systems and the other is the ‘network’ model. Looking to Egypt as an example, there is a considerable amount of discussion of America’s traditional public diplomacy or its influence of its soft power. Washington Post’s Journalist Edward Schumacher-Matos wrote an op-ed article entitled “Beyond 'American-backed' foreign policy” which was published Saturday. In his column he argues,
What the unfolding events in Egypt show, as events have shown in so many other Third World crises since late in the Cold War, is that short of military invasion, American influence is limited and often irrelevant. Roughly $2 billion a year in aid since 1979 has bought us the ear of the Egyptian military and Mubarak, a supposed ally of five American presidents since taking office in 1981. But a willingness to take calls from the U.S. president goes only so far: Egyptian leaders will decide what to do next based on their own self-interest, not ours. Witness their willingness to foment violence in the streets.
Within Schumacker-Matos’ bleak editorial (where he obviously lacks of confidence in American public diplomacy), he discusses the aid the US gives Egypt. Peter Van Ham similarly illuminates sticky power or economic power. He offers that this kind of power “conjures up images of embeddedness” (Van Ham, 6). However, American aid seemingly not meaning a whole lot to the Egyptian people, probably in part due to the fine balance the US must strike in responding to the protests occurring in Egypt. Ultimately, however, it makes one ponder about the extent to which economic power does or does not play in traditional/hierarchal and network public diplomacy. To some extent, the only way in which sticky power of two publics are going to really matter to each other in public diplomacy is if sticky power is deployed as a result of projects through collaboration. This way both publics feel like they are invested in something than rather glued to each other (which insinuates some level of coercion).
One thing is for sure, public diplomacy, as Hocking states, “is now a part of the fabric of world politics wherein NGOs and other non-state actors seek to project their image in the pursuit of policy goals” (Hocking, 41). What does this mean? It means that social media sites, such as Facebook, are altering the playing field for public diplomacy by allowing individual voices to affect change within foreign publics. As a result, the public diplomacy is now being played vertically (between governments) and horizontally (from any actor to any actor). One thing is for sure, within the environment in which world politics is certainly situated, it is important that we take time to laugh. Enter Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s parody of the events of the last month in the Facebook format. In all seriousness though, power is ubiquitous. Who holds that power is becoming more and more of interest in these interesting times where hegemonic power (which the US barely hold, if it does at all) does not necessarily mean that soft power is being effectively used by all actors, particularly state actors.

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