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Does Public Diplomacy Matter?

Claudiu Sonda




We hear about ‘public diplomacy’ virtually on a daily basis as if it has been around forever but as a matter of fact, this precise term is only circa 50 years old, having been coined in 1965 by Edmund Gullion. In what follows, I will make an attempt at clarifying the meaning of this notorious notion and at understanding it significance in contemporary international affairs.

My proposition is to set a distinction between two forms of public diplomacy, only the first of which will then be analysed under the meaning/content, and relevance aspects. The first type I label as ‘top-down public diplomacy’, which contrasts with the second type, ‘bottom-up public diplomacy’.


Source: Maxime Benzi @ Flickr

Before going into more detail, I want to make a general assessment of the topic. The whole business of diplomacy can be considered as representation and communication. Public diplomacy goes even further into influencing the ‘public attitudes on the formation and execution of foreign policies.’ By ‘top-down’ I am referring to a relation of communication or influence that has a national government (state) as the transmitter and the general public (non-state) as receiver. ‘Bottom-up’ I conceive to be exactly the opposite, a relationship that reflects the communicative and influential input of the public for achieving a certain political output from a government. This can be done either directly, public – foreign government, or indirectly: public – foreign public – foreign government.

Top-down public diplomacy

This typology of public diplomacy refers to all the actions that a government takes to communicate to foreign publics and influence their thinking and behaviour. Also, the spread of a good image of the country worldwide is a task of public diplomacy. What sort of actions do governments undertake in this sense?

A first one could be the direct address by high officials. Representative is George W. Bush’s speech on the war on terror. He thanks ‘on behalf of the American people…the world for its outpouring of support’. His recipients are not foreign government officials, but the general foreign public made up of ‘South Korean children gathering to pray outside our embassy in Seoul’, others who pray in the ‘mosque in Cairo’, and those who kept ‘moments of silence and days of mourning in Australia and Africa and Latin America’. Bush addresses through this speech the Taliban openly, asking for the release of foreign nationals and the delivery of Bin Laden. He also speaks ‘directly to Muslims throughout the world’, claiming to respect their faith. Even though President Bush is only talking to his immediate audience, the Joint Session of the 107th Congress, he is in fact aware that the whole world is watching. He is holding a one-way ‘diplomatic meeting’ with the foreign public via media broadcasting.


Source: Beverly & Pack @ Flickr

One more instrument of public diplomacy is the spread of governmentally-funded NGOS and foundations around the globe with the aim to endorse the image of the country of origin, its values, and to facilitate the execution of foreign policy by preparing foreign audiences into being more receptive. One illustrative example is the Romanian Cultural Institute, which has the mission to promote ‘national culture and civilization in Romania and abroad’, therefore acting as a ‘crucial complementary instrument’ for achieving ‘Romania’s strategic objectives’. Its work is structured around a number of ‘programs, project, and activities’ which mainly focus on identity issues like language, traditions, and artistic and intellectual creations. This case fits more with the prestige of a country function of public diplomacy. States like Romania and Bulgaria who have been admitted lastly into the EU, could benefit from this kind of tool to approach an EU public that has been since critical of the last wave of enlargement ever since it started.

What about the relevance of public diplomacy ? I would argue positively. Both from the theoretical perspective and from the practical side. Regarding the conceptual relevance, this notion of public diplomacy manages to explain a behaviour that would in its absence be harder to grasp. Why would President Bush address people who are not present in the room while holding his speech? Was it merely rhetoric for influencing the members of the Congress and for getting into the graces of the American people? It is more. I would argue it is part of a larger diplomatic effort meant to build up that coalition of 49 countries willing to participate in Operation Iraqi Freedom. The participation to the war in Iraq can be justified by a feeling of empathy to the American sufferings of 9/11 and by a fear of terrorism, both instilled in the foreign audience initially by Bush’s public diplomacy.

On a practical level, public diplomacy is very relevant in the age of globalization and under the dominance of a liberal/democratic international order because state actors’ actions are under more scrutiny. Legitimacy is a higher priority. The amplification of global interaction together with the impact of Internet and social media leads to more interdependence, which in turn distorts the line between domestic and foreign policy. When a Christian fundamentalist burned the Qur’an in the US (2011), the Muslim world immediately reacted: this event transgressed boundaries from a domestic event into a foreign policy instance. A confined episode turned into a threat to US reputation. Respectable reputation along with legitimacy revolves around the idea of soft power, a vital ingredient for decreasing hostility and earning the confidence vote to lead internationally.


The seat of international law: The Peace Palace (The Hague) Source: Ferdi de Gier @ Flickr

The international legal order is constructed today on the basis of the UN Charter. The United Nations is officially the main source of lawfulness and legitimacy on the world scene, argument proved by the intention of Palestine to be recognized by the UN as a member state. A current affairs instance of the role of international law is the Russian annexation of Crimea or the unification of Crimea to Russia, depending on the political position. Article 1 and Article 2 offer different decisions to whether this situation was legal or not. Namely, the right to self-determination of the Russians in Crimea against the right to territorial integrity. Political legitimacy also plays a part in this debate: was the interim government legitimate or not? Regardless of the answer, what matters is that the debate around international norms and principles sugar-coated realpolitik. Why? Because states need to be acting in accordance with what the public opinion sees as right, which in this case is prescribed in the UN Charter.

An overlooked characteristic of public diplomacy is its domestic variation, namely the engagement of the domestic public. The context of democratization in foreign policy-making is valuable in emphasizing the role of the local population in consenting to, embracing and disseminating the principles and goals of the national leaders in an environment where, as mentioned earlier, the boundaries between what is domestic and what is international are fading. Let’s take an example. The People’s Republic of China is established under the ‘people’s democratic dictatorship’. The domestic facet of the public diplomacy in this country has the exact target of promoting the principle of ‘governing for the people’ in foreign matters as well, and it is implemented through constant interaction between the general public and the foreign ministry (conferences, online discussions, visits).


Chinese public diplomacy: Beijing’s Bird’s Nest Source: Earth Hour @ Flickr


To sum up our discussion, we can positively affirm that public diplomacy is relevant in contemporary international relations due to a number of characteristics of the global arena. These are:

  • the states’ need for legitimacy both from the foreign public and domestic one;
  • the higher role of reputation and soft power;
  • the requirement to be compliant with international law which makes states justify their actions to the public;
  • high global interaction and access which leads to more scrutiny of state actions:
  • an ever more blurry line between domestic and foreign issues;
  • increasing involvement of domestic constituencies in foreign policy-making both in democracies and illiberal states;

All these features determine states to consider the international public opinion in the process of decision-making, especially in matters of external affairs. This effort to communicate more, influence more, involve more, promote more to the foreign public complementary to foreign governments is the task of a public diplomacy that is here to stay.

List of references

(Tr.) Sultan C., April 18, 2005, Europe Union: How Fit Are Romania and Bulgaria for the EU?, at, website: ;

Armitage R, Nye J. (2007), CSIS COMMISSION ON SMART POWER. A smarter, more secure America, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC & INTERNATIONAL STUDIES, The CSIS Press, Washington DC;, 30 November 2012, Q&A: Palestinians’ upgraded UN status, website: ;

Carlsnaes W, Risse T., Simmons B. (2002), Diplomacy, Bargaining and Negotiation, in Handbook of International Relations, pp. 212-235, SAGE Publications Ltd;

Constitution of the People’s Republic of China (2004), website: ;

Kerr P., Wiseman G. (2013), Diplomacy in a globalizing world. Theories and Practices, Oxford University Press;

Operation Iraqi Freedom, March 27, 2003, at, website: ;

The Fletcher School and Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University (2014), What is Public Diplomacy, website:

Passionate student of IR and European politics with an interest in developing a high-level expertise in International Security and geopolitics.


Yes, You Should Start Caring About Politics!



One of the most common things that you hear from people a lot of the time is something along the lines of “I just don’t really care about politics.” In fact, you might have even said something along those lines yourself. And it can be tempting to fall into this line of thinking. After all, politics are hardly the most exciting or exotic things in the world. However, the truth is that they impact your life in different ways every single day and if you choose to ignore politics, then that just meant that you’re going to end up falling victim to policies that harm you and the people around you. With that in mind, here are some ways that you can start being more politically minded right now.

Know the issues

Do you know where you stand on many of the most important issues of the modern day? Do you know what most of those issues are? The truth is that many people would rather ignore a lot of the problems that society and the world at large face simply because it can feel as though they’re too big to deal with. Things like the economy, climate change, and social justice aren’t just abstract concepts; they’re things that impact the lives of real people every single day. Being more informed about the issues will allow you to have a much better understanding of your own political views.

Know who to speak to

Do you know who your senator is? Your representative? Most people tend to only know major politicians who have held office at one point or another. Sure, you probably know the president or a senator like John Mccain. But what about all of the other senators like Doug Jones or Mike Crapo? These are the people you can actually contact if you want to start making some changes in the world. Getting to know who you can contact can help you feel much more involved in the modern political process.

Forget about personalities and focus on policies

Modern politics has become as much of a game of personalities as anything else. But the truth is that the personalities of individual politicians are far less important than the policies that they and their party want to enact. After all, the policies are the things that will actually make a difference in people’s lives. You should never vote just because you like or dislike the way that a particular politician talks or what their personality seems to be like. Always vote on policies, not personalities.

Now, this doesn’t mean that you should suddenly let politics take over every conversation that you have or that you need to be constantly thinking about it. But trying to bury your head in the sand and ignore the things that are going on around you isn’t going to do you any good. The only way that you can start to make some genuine changes in the world is if you face up to the realities of the modern world and try to do something about it.

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How Mafia-States Get Away with Criminality



In theory, all 195 states adhere to the Charter of the United Nations and therefore pledge “to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained”. In other words, to play the game and adhere to basic governmental principles. That’s in theory: in practice, a handful of states in the world behave like mafias, and get away with it.

President George W. Bush first used the terms “failed states” or “rogue states”, during his office. Rogue states seem more adapted because, if they are failed states in the sense that they do not carry out their mission, they are not failed for everyone. Afghanistan is, still today, one of the most prominent examples of how to get personally rich by pretending to represent people. In the wake of the NATO intervention in Afghanistan, billions of dollars were poured into the country in reconstruction efforts, based on the belief that if the population was schooled and busy at work, they would be less likely to join rebel ranks. The idea was good, but most of the massive funds were sidetracked to line officials’ pockets and Afghanistan is pretty much in the same shape as it was before the program, if not worse. Business Insider covered the subject (1): “All districts receive central government budget to cover salaries of front-line forces,” reporter Jessica Purkiss wrote for the Bureau. “In many areas in Afghanistan, some of this budget disappears and the actual number of officers tasked with holding back the Taliban is much lower than the number actually allotted.”

And such rogue states also exist close to the Western sphere of Europe and the US. Almost every single State in Central and South America is at the warning level on the Fragile State Index (2) (the term was brushed up to sound less definitively damning than President Bush’s wording). Hungary was bashed this year, along with the rest of EU low-performers, for dropping sharply in the EU’s good governance ranking, as reported by Nicolaj Nielsen, for the EU observer (3): “Bulgaria scored the worst among EU states with 41, followed by Greece (44), Italy (47), Romania (48), Hungary (48), and Croatia (49). Dolan faulted the crackdown on civil society and other independent institutions in Croatia and Hungary for their worsening performance. Both governments were also embroiled in scandals last year. In one case, Hungary’s government allegedly funneled money from the Central Bank to friends and family.” Prime Minister Viktor Orbán learned from the report (4) that “Hungary loses 200 billion forints every year due to the corruption that exists in public procurement cases.”

Not to forget that States are not all mutually recognized and accepted, some of them are self-proclaimed. While some do indeed strive to carry out their stated mission and serve the people they claim to represent, some other are merely mafia groups with a political cover, which deal in various traffics and racketeering. Bordering Morocco, Algeria and Mauritania, lies Western Sahara, where a group named the Polisario Front announced to the world that it was the shield of the Sahrawi people, who originate from the arid strip of land, with the stated intent of creating a sovereign state. But that must be put into perspective with the endless list of allegations and accusations carried against it, regarding the Polisario’s management of refugee camps in Algeria for example. The self-proclaimed government of the Sahrawi – namely the SADR (Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic) – is known for keeping the refugees captive in the camps, or keeping family members as hostage to guarantee men’s returns, maintaining a general state of violence and lawlessness within the compound. In addition, the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) has serious doubts (5) as to what becomes of the humanitarian aid it sends. It suspects not only the food to be sidetracked and sold on the black market, but also to be requested in excessive numbers – the Polisario front claims it holds up to 200 000 refugees but has systematically refused census, leading humanitarian donors to believe the figures are doubtful.

Can this be avoided? Hardly, at the general level. Pablo Escobar coined the phrase which underlies the entire system : Plata o plomo (silver or lead). Officials could be paid off to keep silent and play along, or be shot. Therefore, it is in the nature of corruption systems to maintain themselves because, should a “pure” official arise, he will be removed and replaced by a more complacent one.

Mafia states use the cover of darkness or, better still, a politically activist stance. The Colombian FARCs – Polisario’s allies, incidentally… – and the Medellin Cartel, run by Pablo Escobar, had an intense PR activity with many “social and humanitarian” poses, to help improve their public image and stymie political push-backs. The Polisario Front has moved much of its assaults to the judicial level, in a new form of “civilized” piracy, including with the surprise attempt to seize a Moroccan shipload earlier this year in South Africa. “The conclusion of this case will actually tell us whether it is now conceivable, on the judiciary level, that international shipping industry – which carries 90% of global trade – become hostage to some form of unprecedented and increasingly vicious political piracy,” wrote Philippe Delebecque (6), a French judge specializing in maritime affairs.

Mafia states are here to stay, because the mafia creates the state, and not the other way around. Once the mafia has developed its tentacles and political power enough, it will make kings and topple uncooperative administrators. Other states in the world are fully aware of this fact, and that if they bust a mafia-state, another will replace it within weeks. So, in the best cases, neighboring countries let it be; in the worst cases, they get involved in the graft.


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Should You Support Universal Basic Income? Who else is in favour?

Manak Suri



In the previous article “Universal Basic Income: In Action” we explored that Universal Basic Income under different variants is already being put to trial in different provinces of a number of countries around the world. Before that, in “Universal Basic Income: The Idea” we weighed the potential of UBI in creating a monumental change in the way humanity as a society functions as of today. While there’s still quite some time required to ascertain how easily and efficiently the system can be put into effect and whether it should be put into place at all, some of the more apparent advantages, as well as flaws of the system, are repeatedly considered by experts in determining the answers to the aforementioned questions. In addition, many influential figures have also come out both in support of UBI as well as against it. Let’s take a look at the support UBI has garnered as well as the supposed benefits and criticisms of UBI.

Pros of Universal Basic Income

The first argument often cited in favour of UBI is for its potential to alleviate poverty, improve the standard of living and vastly reduce income inequality no matter which country it is implemented in. the Alaska Permanent Fund (AFP), which we’ve already discussed, was instrumental in improving the state’s income equality rank from 30 to 2. UBI trials in Namibia, Kenya, and parts of India have also yielded positive results in this regard. UBI has also resulted in the improvement of health, especially mental health, as reported by people who have been part of UBI trials in Ontario, Canada. UBI also encourages entrepreneurial behaviour since it guarantees basic subsistence thereby providing an incentive for people to take up a line of work of their liking. UBI trials in India and Namibia have also shown that it has helped promote financial decision making by women resulting in their empowerment. A guarantee of a fixed income every month also brings more power to people when it comes to deciding where they should spend money. The Roosevelt Institute research we discussed previously also suggests an overall growth in the US economy with a countrywide implementation of UBI. UBI is also expected to lead to a positive job growth and lower the dropout rates in schools since it provides more security to families.

Cons of Universal Basic Income

The critics of UBI argue that money that is essential for the poor is being redirected towards the wealthy and those citizens who have no need for it. Robert Greenstein, founder and President of Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in Washington D.C.  “if you take the dollars targeted on people in the bottom fifth or two-fifths of the population and convert them to universal payments to people all the way up the income scale, you’re redistributing income upward. That would increase poverty and inequality rather than reduce them.” In addition to that, it is often argued that UBI programs are highly ineffective when compared to welfare programs that are implemented on targeted populations. Therefore, unless UBI is implemented without the scrapping off of such welfare schemes, it is likely to find opposition from a huge number of people who currently benefit from these programs. Another argument against UBI one may repeatedly encounter is that UBI reduces the incentive to work, which leads to huge costs for the economy. This may also lead to a dearth of skilled and unskilled labour in the economy. The Swiss government have opposed the implementation of UBI for the very same reason, fearing that the current labour shortages may be exacerbated. Finally, an argument that also holds the door open for many debates is that UBI is too expensive to implement and will cost a lot to the government. As opposed to studies which show a growth in the economies through the implementation of UBI, many economists have also opposed it, claiming that UBI in the more developed nations will be very expensive to guarantee an acceptable standard of living to all the citizens.

Who Supports Universal Basic Income?

Since the idea was first proposed by Sir Thomas More in 1516, UBI has found suitors throughout recent history. Founding father of the United States Thomas Paine was in favour of it, philosopher and Nobel Laureate Bertrand Russell argued in its favour, and even Martin Luther King said: “the solution to poverty is to abolish it directly by a now widely discussed measure: the guaranteed income.” American economist Milton Friedman, Bishop Desmond Tutu, and even former US President Richard Nixon came close to bringing UBI to the United States. As of today, a number of high profile names in the Silicon Valley have expressed their support for UBI. An advocate of entrepreneurship and creativity, Mark Zuckerberg sighted UBI as an worth a look in his statement at his Harvard commencement address: “We should explore ideas like universal basic income to make sure that everyone has a cushion to try new ideas.” Tesla co-founder and CEO Elon Musk believes implementation of UBI is inevitable. “There’s a pretty good chance we end up with a universal basic income, or something like that, due to automation,” Musk said in an interview in 2016. Pierre Omidyar, founder of eBay also donated towards a UBI experiment in Kenya. Coursera founder Andrew Ng expressed on Twitter: “More than ever, we need a basic income to limit everyone’s downside, and better education to give everyone an upside.” The list does not stop here.

UBI has at least gained enough attention to get people, investors, world leaders, and governments to talk about it and more importantly experiment with it. The results are not yet out and will take a considerable amount of time still to be able to present a final verdict on UBI and its effectiveness. However, as robots make humans redundant in recurring waves, is there still enough time to just be experimenting?

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