Week 15: Should the U.S. Really Be Worried About Russian “Propaganda”?

By Tara Schoenborn

When reading the news today, it is almost impossible to avoid running into an article about the United States “losing the information war” to Russia’s increasing soft power. For example, there was an article earlier this month in Bloomberg titled “Sanctions-Strapped Russia Outguns the U.S. in Information War,” that details how the BBG and Voice for America are losing in comparison to Russia Today and its propaganda and speculates that if nothing is done, Russia will “win” in Eastern Europe. Furthermore, articles that appear in big name outlets like the Boston Globe and The Atlantic increasingly attack Russia for its propaganda efforts and frantically assert the U.S. needs to respond. However, my question is, does it?

As the West increasingly attacks Russia for disseminating its propaganda, I want to take a moment to discuss then, what is counter-propaganda? Is that not also propaganda? In terms of strict definition, propaganda is “information of a biased or misleading nature, often used to promote or publicize a particular political cause or point of view.” Russia, through Russia Today and other international broadcasting has most likely engaged in in propaganda, as much of its communication is not transparent and focuses on pointing out flaws in the West, not necessarily promoting Russia, which can be seen in situations like Ukraine or in the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17. However, when it comes to discussing Western nations “countering” this propaganda, I would argue that the same standards apply, as it would be foolish to say that states don’t use international broadcasting to disseminate their own interests and messages. For example, if looking at this same situation from a Russian perspective, the United States’ Voice of America would be propaganda that must be countered. Furthermore, the U.S. is not necessarily justified in all of this high and mighty talk criticizing Russia Today, considering its own history is dirtied with not transparent, covert action funding propaganda campaigns to protect its interests in other nations, which occasionally led to authoritarian dictatorships that were supposed to be preferred to socialism or communism (i.e. Chile, Argentina, etc.). Therefore, I find it interesting to discuss propaganda and counter-propaganda in terms of international broadcasting and information warfare between Russia and the West, because often times, all nations engage it in because, using a realist perspective, nations are self-interested. Furthermore, most of the true differences are rooted in a difference of ideology – not necessarily absolute fact. Sure, certain factual events can be manipulated and result in propaganda, but what it really boils down to is a difference in beliefs. That is why recognizing this, in lieu of pumping more funds into international broadcasting, will be important in the future of public diplomacy.

With the influx of communications outlets and messages infiltrating foreign publics left and right, any “propaganda” from one side or another is not going to be what ultimately decides which nations gain and lose soft power (this lies in basic communications theory that many people often seek out beliefs consistent with their own). What ultimately will decide which nations will have the most influence will come in the form of how nations are finding other, more innovative ways to use public diplomacy to connect with foreign publics and show that, despite differences in beliefs, they can relate or maybe even that their ideology, beliefs or culture is superior. Does this mean increasing academic exchange? Creating artistic summits to facilitate cooperation and innovation? Using food as a cultural export? Instead of just focusing on how the U.S. should counter Russian “propaganda,” I think that that the emphasis should shift to what else is Russia doing besides engaging in international broadcasting (i.e. its university exchange, scholarship program, embassy representation and centers of science and culture) to leverage its power as a threat to the U.S. How will Russia back up its words/information campaign with action? Or will it? How will it change public diplomacy to fit its own ideological framework needs? In my opinion, this will be the true test to whether or not the U.S. should be worried about Russia’s increasing influence in the future and if it will have the ability to counter it.

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Week 15: Should the U.S. Really Be Worried About Russian “Propaganda”?

100 years later and the struggle to recognize the Armenian genocide continues

Last week’s statement issued by Pope Francis recognizing the Armenian genocide as the first 20th-century genocide caused a diplomatic outrage in Turkey. These news are worth focusing on for several reasons.

On the one hand, it shows how Pope Francis has used his position as Head of State and respected universal leader to address one of History’s most controversial issues, which still occur nowadays. Whatever issue the Pope tackles nowadays is constantly criticized, but he injects a heavy dose of gravitas in how he frames his statements.

The other point that remains an essential question in history-making is the issue of the narrative. How can an oppressed group appropriate its own history? How can it share it to the world’s attention? How can its plights be recognized? What legacy does this memory bring to descendants, 50 years or a century after such traumatic eras? 20th-century has grappled with these questions with great inequality.

As this article shows, History is more on the side of the oppressor or the winners, who are free to arrange history to suit their own narratives. History is in itself fabricated, as the ruling elites decide what makes history, pulling out the most valuable and empowering moments, while concealing the somber matters. Turkish textbooks have called the Armenian genocide a lie, overlooking the complex context to build an image of Turkey in the wake of its republic.

However, this narrative can be a burden to Turkey in the long run. Further deliberate refusal to openly discuss and explore this period doesn’t allow a country to heal its wounds with its past, nor does it make it look good to its border states, and to the EU, from which Turkey still works at being someday accepted as a state member. Further international exposure on the genocide thanks to intellectuals, artists (Canadian-Armenian Atom Egoyan, French music legend Charles Aznavour) and high-profile political and religious leaders, such as Pope Francis, put pressure on Ankara to come forward once and for all, while re-activating the debates.

For a country having to come forward with its darkest times is no easy task, and some Western countries still fail to undergo these processes. France still struggles with accepting colonialism’s legacy in today’s racial inequalities. But liberating once oppressed narratives have forced, in many cases, countries to reflect on traumatic era, leading for better education for younger generations.

Stephanie Foul

100 years later and the struggle to recognize the Armenian genocide continues

Week 14: Is Japan’s Multifaceted Public Diplomacy Working?

By Tara Schoenborn

Ask a Westerner how they see Japan and you may hear: Anime? Hibachi? A peaceful democracy? Ask the Chinese and South Korean and you may hear something very different: Two-faced? Brutal? Cheaters?

Why such different perceptions? Why such different sentiments? Is this a Japanese public diplomacy failure? Or success? The obvious and most correct answer would be no – it is not a failure – because much of these differences in perception have to do with history, war and their long-lasting effects. However, although I would not go so far to say that it is a public diplomacy failure, I would argue that Japan could have used its public diplomacy more effectively in the past and even today, especially considering that it is one of the few East Pacific nations that has had a long and enduring public diplomacy effort as a part of its foreign policy strategy.

As Ogoura indicates in her article, cultural diplomacy has always been of importance to Japan’s strategy. Even beginning in Imperial Japan, the government was creating a film bureau and setting up cultural exchanges to broadcast itself abroad. However, while integrating public diplomacy into foreign policy was always essential in Japan’s overall strategy, it has changed drastically over time because it never had one centralized location from which to define strategy and, subsequently, the power to control messaging was left to the leaders. For example, during the 1960s and 1970s, Japanese public diplomacy was extremely important and dedicated to showcasing its booming economy, and used it to attract investors and encourage an export market. However, later, after the economy crashed and new leaders were elected, public diplomacy was not given as much attention or budget, it morphed into primarily cultural diplomacy – exporting anime and other “softer” pop culture ideas to manage perceptions abroad. Today, with President Abe, Japanese public diplomacy is becoming renewed and is seen as essential in fostering a nationalist state and countering other Asian powers during the rise for information. For example, while international broadcasting has never been an integral part of Japanese public diplomacy, it appears that media outlets like NHK are being viewed as important ways to counter Chinese and Russian propaganda. However, what I question is – will this even work?

I think that while it is important for public diplomacy to be seen as a part of foreign policy strategy, I believe that Japan has been hurt immensely by the fact that its public diplomacy strategy is simply at the whim of an administration who can cut or change direction whenever convenient for the political agenda. Additionally, while nation brands continuously evolve and change, I think that if there had been a department or even group/individual position dedicated to thinking about the overall strategy of how to present Japan abroad, many issues with its image today could have been avoided. Japan has flip-flopped its image multiple times among multiple powers and I feel that sticking with one image, or at least having a part of government that has consistently valued it over time, would have been helpful in dealing with regional pressures and problems with its image today.

Even apart from problems in defining and sticking to a brand to internationally broadcast, I have other doubts that an information campaign by Japan will do much to aid its soft power. Due to the already extremely aggressive information campaigns coming from Asia, I have a hard time believe that international broadcasting will set Japan apart from China, South Korea, Russia, etc. Furthermore, I think that an information campaign would be most beneficial for Japan only in the very countries with which it is trying to compete. Due to the long and tense history and, in part to Japan’s early public diplomacy strategy, there is an aura of Japanese superiority, which is an important domestic consideration when implementing Japanese public diplomacy strategy. Therefore, I believe that just sending messages to foreign publics in former conflict areas won’t work because it is unlikely that its own citizens will do anything to back up these claims and, in part, Japanese nationality feeds off this idea of establishing themselves as different than other nations in Asia. If it is going to use international broadcasting, it is going to need to tailor its messages to the right populations and back it up with action in order to make it credible and believable, not propagandistic, especially considering Western domination of public diplomacy and how Western nations view Japan so differently than other Asian nations.

While I do not think that international broadcasting is necessarily the right strategy, after reading some current events, I am unsure of what is. According to a recent story in The Japan Times, public diplomacy initiatives by the Abe administration are not perceived all that well by other nations. The government created a $15 million program to fund Japanese study at nine universities in the United States so that “Japan research would not die out” and “history issues concerning Japan” can become understood in the United States. While those comments are interesting in themselves, the way that the outlet portrays this public diplomacy move paints Japan in a very poor light. The journalist criticizes the Abe government for wanting to vet professors to ensure they are “appropriate” and for targeting overseas textbook publishers that it sees as incorrect – both of which are actions the United States’ institutions don’t respond to very well. Instead of being presented in a diplomatic, respected or even positive sense, Japan is essentially painted as aggressive and desperate to simply counter South Korean and Chinese public diplomacy, which could damage its reputation in nations that it does not even have issues with. Therefore, while there are many complications with Japan’s relationships with other Asian nations, I think that the nation would benefit from beginning to brainstorm ways to connect their citizens to citizens in these other nations in a way that still reaffirms and strengthens Japanese nationality. However, understanding that this may not be a feasible possibility at this time due to regional historical tension, I still think Japan truly needs an evolution in public diplomacy that defines a new way of thinking because, otherwise, it is not going to be able to compete as its neighbors rise or stay relevant in the rest of the world: only viewed for its two-facedness or its anime.

http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2015/03/16/national/to-counter-china-and-south-korea-government-to-fund-japan-studies-at-u-s-colleges/#.VSxw4hDF_pA

https://blackboard.american.edu/webapps/blackboard/execute/content/file?cmd=view&content_id=_2928936_1&course_id=_132740_1

http://www.ui.se/eng/upl/files/107045.pdf

Week 14: Is Japan’s Multifaceted Public Diplomacy Working?

Week 13: The Next Move on China’s Chessboard of Public Diplomacy

By Tara Schoenborn

In recent years, academic and expert eyes have been on China, its public diplomacy and its increasing soft power – with all eager to ask the question, what piece it is going to play next? Traditionally, Chinese public diplomacy has been understood as somewhat reactive, trying to combat negative propaganda from Western democratic nations that fear the rise of its economy, power and ideology. Much of the existing literature on China’s public diplomacy has focused on the increased importance of China to micromanage its messages abroad and its international broadcasting efforts and CCTV, where it has spent over $9 billion. However, the problem with this simple information campaign approach is that it is often hard to measure the effectiveness of these efforts. How many foreign publics actually watch this? Is it worth $9 billion? Is it even cultivating positive effects? Does this portrayal even accurately depict China?

One of the most common criticisms of Chinese public diplomacy is that, although it broadcasts and says many things, it often does other things or does not follow through on its actions. One example could be China’s broadcast and official statements of the meaning of their efforts in Africa versus what it is actually doing in Africa. Do they match up? There are arguments for both sides.

Recently, China has recognized the importance of backing up its words with actions in order to gain legitimacy and actually achieve its soft power potential. One of these ways has been through Confucius Institutes and emphasizing Chinese culture abroad. Through these institutes, the nation uniquely partners with universities to facilitate cultural interaction and create a network among publics within foreign nations. Another effort to improve its public diplomacy credibility is outlined in a recent article in The Diplomat, which discusses China’s people-to-people diplomacy in Japan, with whom China has had a history of tense relations. However, in spite of these efforts, these programs and institutes still meet the same criticisms of legitimacy as other Chinese public diplomacy efforts, like international broadcasting. For example, the article in The Diplomat highlights that although the two nations are finally realizing the importance of cultural exchanges, as seen through the 2014 effort by the Chinese embassy in Japan to foster a language exchange writing contest, political relations remain tense and citizen diplomacy like this is largely underutilized. In fact, often times, these exchanges don’t necessarily focus on anything of tangible importance that would help citizens overcome differences to commonly identify with the other culture and ignore places or topics of tension. For example, there is a lot of news recently about the dispute between Japan, South Korea and China concerning the origin of the cherry blossom. Instead of cherishing the shared heritage and capitalizing on that through exchange or cultural diplomacy, the countries argue over it and the media even further exploits it to paint a negative image of China, which forces it to remain defensive in its overall public diplomacy strategy. Additionally and quite ironically, the Chinese claim they do not want to get into a “war of words” with the others, even though they have an infamous reputation as an international broadcaster with power over information and words.

Although there is a lot of criticism and a widespread lack of credibility surrounding China’s image, Yang points to where the future of Chinese public diplomacy may be heading: harmony. According to Yang, spreading harmony as a Chinese ideal through Confucius Institutes and other efforts may be the key to Chinese public diplomacy strategy because it will show other nations that peace and success does not necessarily have to come in the form of democracy. While not necessarily capitalizing on citizen diplomacy in a way that would be traditional to improving relations with, say Japan, it may just be the queen that China needs to say “checkmate” and truly and finally have a way to leverage its soft power.

http://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2015/apr/05/cherry-blossom-from-japan-not-budding-l/

http://thediplomat.com/2015/03/people-to-people-diplomacy-in-china-japan-relations/

Week 13: The Next Move on China’s Chessboard of Public Diplomacy

Week 12: Love for Luxembourg?

By Tara Schoenborn

What do you know about Luxembourg? If you are like most people, probably not much. However, Luxembourg has recently indicated it wants to change that by launching a nation-branding campaign – and is going about it in a very interesting way.

Currently, the country feels that its image is associated with the financial sector, however, its goal in launching this new campaign would be to develop a positive new brand to bring in more tourism and promote its culture. This January, the government launched a website (nationbranding.lu) that asked its citizens to write down words they associate with their country and to post pictures that they feel describe Luxembourg so that they can better implement a campaign that their citizens believe in. While this is clearly logical and has the potential to create a huge return on investment, I question how much this will actually help. As Nicholas Cull says and the leaders of Luxembourg clearly understand, in order to be successful, an image of a nation has to be evidenced and supported domestically to be credible. Unlike other larger countries, Luxembourg’s small size may have the advantage of actually getting a wide representation of respondents through a survey to actually capture its population. However, I also think that this could have the potential to backfire.

For example, in Luxembourg, the survey results thus far have shown that multilingualism, international character, its location and high quality of life are positive associations with Luxembourg and spoiled, conservative and materialistic residents are the negative associations. While these are telling findings and obviously have some sense of truth in them since Luxembourg distributed a survey, I would caution Luxembourg from over relying on these findings when launching a nation-branding campaign. For example, how can Luxembourg be sure that the answers truly capture its national identity and image abroad? Asking its own citizens is important, but can it really assure that the answers they give will represent the population as a whole and how it lives? If not, the nation’s credibility could be questioned and the image could become more negative than diverse.

Additionally, finding a way to choose and operationalize the answers could be challenging and cause an unintended or undesirable result. For example, does Luxembourg try to include all of the positive answers to create its new brand and risk losing control of the message or just pick one and risk it flops? Furthermore, what do terms like “international character” mean? How does it build an image off of that? Plus, if it is already “international,” is it something worthwhile pursuing since that implies the world already knows? Lastly, how effective can Luxembourg’s efforts really be? It already has a positive and nonthreatening image in the world and trying to run a different campaign may just hurt their image. The world is constantly changing and so are nations’ images, so is it even worth putting money and time and effort into creating a brand, especially when your country does not have any overly detrimental negative images to combat?

As you can see, I think that Luxembourg did something extremely intelligent and relatively unprecedented in that it distributed this survey, however, I am skeptical of the concept of nation-branding as a whole. I think that sometimes it can raise many more questions than it gives answers, meaning that countries should do a careful cost-benefit analysis before they proceed and figure out how the nation-branding strategy fits with their public diplomacy strategy – if at all.

http://www.wort.lu/en/politics/nation-branding-have-your-say-about-luxembourg-s-image-54c242d90c88b46a8ce52096

Week 12: Love for Luxembourg?

Bardo Attacks in Tunis : A Blow to Tunisia’s nation-branding?

The recent events in Tunis’ Bardo museum have struck a major chord worldwide. Not only because they followed the tragedies in France and Denmark, only weeks ago. But they also affect the morals of a country, but also the world’s perception of it.

Tunisia had emerged, following the 2011 Arab Spring, as a country torn by violence, yet convinced of its ability to influence further Arab countries to politically pursue democracy. Tunisia had slowly gained its strength back, after a collapsed tourism due to that breakthrough, but also thanks to the recent promising elections, which had supported evidence that a post-Ben Ali Tunisian democracy was possible. The events, caused by ISIS terrorists, only put a brutal stop to such optimism.

The attacks sought to destroy what was dear to Tunisia : its tourism. 7% of the country’s recovering economy is due to tourism, which enable the existence of 400,000 jobs. Much of Tunisia’s global image and promotion of its culture can be attributed to how Tunisia markets its land and Mediterranean appeal. Millions of tourists, especially French people (more than 1 million) progressively came back to booking more reservations, comforted by the country’s new-found stability.

After the march conducted by the Tunisian government and supported by foreign leaders, one might ask oneself what is left of Tunisia. Where can Tunisia go from there? How can it brand itself now? Tunisia holds the highest numbers of departures for ISIS in the world. How can the country guarantee safety to tourists who want to visit the country, but are scared of new violent outbursts? How can the country repair the ties between its tourism and visitors, whose relations were severed by the attacks?

Bardo Attacks in Tunis : A Blow to Tunisia’s nation-branding?

Going Clear : Scientology and The Prison of Belief

Academy-Award winning director Alex Gibney’s much controversial documentary “Going Clear : Scientology and The Prison of Belief” premiered a couple of days ago, on Sunday, on HBO, following its January opening at Sundance. Based upon Pulitzer-winning journalist Lawrence Wright’s eponymous book, the film is a staggering account of the abuse of power of a cult, then erected as religion, on its members and ex-members. The film also spends much time analyzing the lengths to which members and superiors defend their beliefs when feeling attacked or threatened by exterior groups or organizations. If you can see it, then run for it, as it’s another high-quality documentary in Gibney’s documentary, but its also very entertaining.

After having read the original source material, what kept me most alert, among other facts, was the use of celebrities in helping the cult gain more media visibility and in luring new members into the Church. The cult, created in the 1950s, had already attracted the likes of Hollywood icons like actor Rock Hudson (1925-1985), one of the most powerful box-office stars. Attracting such a big draw was already in the works back then, but the Church scored bigger when it counted John Travolta in the 1970s and Tom Cruise in the 1980s as their most recognizable celebrities.

Two phases in how celebrities advertised Scientology via the media can be observed : before 2000 and after 2000. Before 2000, it was already a well-known fact that both celebrities were Scientologists, but they didn’t actively discuss their involvement in the Church, nor praised the teachings. However, following 2000, a breakthrough arrived. David Miscavage, head of the Church, observed how both celebrities had acquired massive fandom and success, as they were able to not only talk to the common moviegoer who would pay his ticket to see his favorite star in theaters, but actually engage with statesmen, foreign politicians, and influence personalities. Miscavage measured the enormous power wielded his these stars, and their massive appeal abroad. Furthermore, Scientology had come out victorious from its fights against the IRS, which gave greater power to the Church, and more leeway in pursuing new members abroad. Both stars could then serve as active and effective spokespeople able to reach hundreds of millions of viewers through their films.

The shift occurred in the new millennium, when celebrities became unashamed to express their beliefs. They claimed scientology heightened their conscience, gave them newer levels of interpretation and action, helped them hone their craft, and fought their personal insecurities. They also denounced other countries’ perception of scientology, which they described as religious discrimination (in Germany and France, scientology is considered a sect and have acted accordingly).

Having the celebrities come out gave them greater honors and privileges within the Church, in recognition of their ability to diffuse the teachings.

This brings us to the role of celebrities in advocating diplomacy. Celebrities have always been used to sell products, promote ideas or causes. Their images are associated with a godly glamour, wealth, and a universal ability to appeal to the masses. But they also bring a level of acceptance to a cause that is fought. If a celebrities actively speaks for something the audience is generally unfamiliar with, or distant towards an issue, the message and idea now holds a face. “If he/she defends it, and it worked for him/her, then it isn’t so bad”. Instead of having a politician whose goal could be clearly drawn out from the start, a celebrity lends a smoother form of diplomacy. By agreeing to meet a celebrity about an issue, the politician not only meets the celebrity as the glamourous icon, but is also duped by this exterior into being seduced by what the celebrity originally came for. This situation gives blurred lines about the celebrity’s image, and what is truly at stake.

An example that illustrates this point is Tom Cruise’s meeting with France’s then-Home Secretary Nicolas Sarkozy in 2004. By that point, Scientology had elected Cruise to go on a European tour to promote Scientology. In Spain, he had held a speech to celebrate the inauguration of the Church. Tom Cruise met the Sarkozy couple, an event which turned out to be heavily criticized in the French press. While Sarkozy asserted Cruise didn’t push his opinions on him, his meeting a star had a certain purpose. Sarkozy was also prepping himself to be candidate in the 2007 presidential elections,and needed a cooler, more relaxed image that could appeal to youth. Here comes the #1 American movie star wanting to meet him! For Cruise, meeting the Home Secretary certainly mattered. France has always adopted tough actions against sects within the country, and has worked in protecting victims and families. If Cruise could manage to have Sarkozy on his side, then the Church could expect further benefits from a strong candidate as Sarkozy.

This example, added to the film’s latter focus on the role of celebrities in the promotion and image-making of a cult, just show how celebrities can work as diplomats that advance certain ideas and messages that are key to a country, or to a group.

Stephanie Foul

Going Clear : Scientology and The Prison of Belief