Competition and Public Diplomacy Innovation

May 22, 2011

Public Diplomacy scholars (including me) tend to write articles that point to the changing nature of the media or diplomatic environment and then make the connection to the need for innovation in PD organization and practice.  What is being argued implicitly or explicitly is that states adapt (or should adapt) to a generalized set of changes. ..

…But  the more I read into the history of public diplomacy and across the experience of different countries the more I begin to see the importance of interstate competition in driving innovation in public diplomacy.  French innovations in cultural diplomacy were driven by their competition with Germany, the British Council emerged from competition with Italy and France.  Cold War public diplomacy is obviously driven by competition.  But this is not just a matter of great power politics in reading Evan Potter’s (2009) Branding Canada I keep seeing references to Australia as a comparator you also  get the impression that it was the perception of a declining competitive position that stimulated the Ottawa into action.

What this means is that while PD scholars (like me) express scepticism at Hilary Clinton’s ‘war of ideas’ rhetoric these kind of arguments seem to be powerful motivators of spending and innovation in PD .  This is not to say that innovation can’t be driven by other factors but we shouldn’t forget that PD is something done by states and the history of international relations tends to suggest that competition drives innovation.

This leads to a few questions.  Which countries do states regard as their competitors?  What is the arena in which this competition takes place (politics, culture, idea, trade, attracting students)? How do different types of competition shape the evolution  of public diplomacy organization and strategy? A hypothesis might be that political competition tends to generate different approaches to PD than economic or cultural competition.

Potter, E.H. (2010) Branding Canada: Projecting Canada’s Soft Power Through Public Diplomacy. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press.

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