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Hot topic: no shortage of reports on public diplomacy

Published on 22 January 2013
Updated on 05 April 2024

Public diplomacy has become a ‘hot button’ issue, not just for diplomats but for a whole clutch of non-state actors – those active in business, culture, education, the media, public affairs and scholars, and even tourism – all of whom contribute to PD and are affected by it.

Why is PD so relevant? One simple reason is that the field of international affairs is no longer the preserve of those that wear striped pants and morning coats. Management of global issues involves a huge range of official agencies and even more, lots of non-official activists. They need to understand the levers of influence available to them and the modalities of getting their objectives to mesh into an increasingly open foreign affairs process. As an emerging discipline, PD also offers potential for one’s own original contribution.

Ministries of foreign affairs around the world have woken up to the need for and power of public diplomacy. Back in 2008, Britain’s FCO produced an interesting report: Engagement: Public Diplomacy in a Globalised World. In a foreword by Jim Murphy MP, then Minister for Europe, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the report’s opening sally is: There are two responses to globalisation. One is to run and hide and the other is to engage. That same year, the Brookings Institute launched its report Voices of America: U.S. Public Diplomacy for the 21st Century presenting ‘concrete steps to strengthen America’s efforts to engage, persuade, and attract the support of foreign publics’. Five years later, such reports still make regular headlines and public diplomacy has taken on a life of its own.

In 2011, a third player, Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, made available to the public a fine document on public diplomacy that is worth a read, giving practical insight into how a foreign ministry can exploit this new set of approaches to building stronger foreign relations, especially in partnership with diverse actors, including non-official agencies.  According to Amb. Kishan Rana, co-lecturer on Diplo’s Public Diplomacy course, this publication is ‘especially useful in de-mystifying a discipline that is sometimes cloaked in needless complexity. It also shows how public diplomacy connects with many disciplines and deserves wide support, as well as participation.’

Once a specilised term, public diplomacy is increasingly becoming a hot topic. Bruce Gregory, an adjunct professor at George Washington University and at Georgetown University who previously served as the executive director of the US Advisory Communication on Public Diplomacy, has helpfully provided his choice of books, articles, and websites on the subject, too. 

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