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Intermap on Cultural Relations vs PD

April 18, 2010

Over at Intermap Craig Hayden reports on a visit to the Confucius Institute at the University of Maryland.  His point is that the people who work there resist seeing their work as public diplomacy.  This opens up several issues that I want to pursue in coming posts.

  • How do we define public diplomacy (or from an academic point of view how much effort should we put in to defining it?).  One of the recurrent features of the area is this tension around what ‘really’ qualifies as pd. From an academic point of view there is a strong case for looking at this ethnograhically: what do the practitioners of , loosely defined, pd type activities think that they are doing?
  • Part of these definitional issues are around questions of politics and influence.  In my experience diplomats in general tend to resist seeing their work as ‘political’ not just public diplomacy practitioners or cultural diplomacy people.  As a result an awful lot of energy is expended on trying to define what these activities are not.  Being of a cynical disposition this normally translates into everything that is not what I do or argue.

Coming back to Craig’s post what I was reminded of was Arnold Wolfers’s distinction between possessive goals and milieu goals in foreign policy in Discord and Collaboration: Essays in International Politics (Baltimore, MD.: Johns Hopkins, 1962) p. 74f.  A milieu goal is where a country ‘aims at shaping conditions beyond their national boundaries’ rather than achieving a concrete policy goal.  Wolfers points to activities to promote free trade or develop international organizations as falling within this arena.  It seems to me that promoting the learning of your language would qualify as a milieu goal.  In itself it doesn’t look like politics or influence but by deciding to devote resources to it and selecting where those resources are going there is an element of strategic choice going on.  These activities will shape later choices.  If you’ve put the effort into learning a language you have options that you didn’t  have before.

Thinking about this also reminded me of Nye’s early formulation of soft power in Bound to Lead(New York: Basic, 1990),  pp. 32-33, one of the key sources of American soft power was its success in constructing an international order that reflected its priorities ie in modifying the milieu (or environment – a term that crops up a lot in late 1950s-early 1960s IR writing) that it was operating in.  I find a lot of more recent discussion of soft power tends to focus on attraction and persuasion as modes of influence and as a result misses a key part of what the original argument was.

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