Saturday, November 5, 2011

Public Diplomacy and Noopolitik

The panelists at the Public Diplomacy Council event spoke about their initiatives with new media. The diversity of countries represented was impressive, although most of the speakers seemed to be tied to the U.S. State Department. Their comments were interesting in regards to Arquilla Ronfeldt’s essay on the noopolitik. Noopolitik, as Ronfeldt describes, “requires governments to learn to work conjointly with civil-society NGOs that are engaged in building transnational networks and coaltions.” The panelists on Thursday did not mention any work with local NGOs in their countries of assignment. Instead, they praised partnerships with the private sector. For example, Dr. Michael Anderson spoke about @america’s use of Google Liquid Galaxy technology in Jakarta, Indonesia.  

A lot of what diplomats and foreign service officers do comes down to funding, which many of the panelists acknowledged. Therefore, it makes sense for them to seek partnerships with wealthy corporations like Google. But global, although it does business on a global scale, is really an American corporation. Its values are 100 percent American. They have often run into trouble when expanding their efforts overseas. An idea that gets rave reviews in the U.S. might not always go over well on the other side of the world. When a friend of mine first showed me Google Earth, my reaction was “That’s awesome.” But as Sangeet Kumar recounts in “Google Earth and the nation state,” many countries had serious problems with the invasive technology. I wonder how these nation states will react to Google Liquid Galaxy, which is the basically the same thing, only cooler (or more dangerous, depending on your point of view).

Much of what the panelists said reflected the utopianism associated with social media. There are many benefits to engaging in dialogue on Facebook or on Twitter including real-time communication and interactivity. But technology does not solve all the world’s problems. In my opinion, technology reflects some of the worst stereotypes about Americans. We are wealthy, greedy, and terribly materialistic. In addition, not everyone has embraced social media or even the Internet as much as Americans have. Successful public diplomacy depends on the kind of work that Walter Douglas spoke about in Pakistan. Understanding is key. His team analyzed Urdu conversations happening in the most popular medium in Pakistan – television.

It seems that diplomacy gets underway with a government-mandated agenda. If the government wants the embassy to tweet, that’s what the embassy will do. But I think that more attention should be given to the kind of work that Douglas does. What works for Americans is not always best. Diplomats should adapt to the culture around them and also collaborate with other actors like global NGOs. 

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