Defining Public Diplomacy

The study of public diplomacy is a new and expanding field. CPD defines it as the public, interactive dimension of diplomacy which is not only global in nature, but also involves a multitude of actors and networks. It is a key mechanism through which nations foster mutual trust and productive relationships and has become crucial to building a secure global environment.  There is no single agreed-upon definition of the term; this lack of definitional consensus may well prove to be a good thing. To view various definitions used by practitioners, academics, research institutes, or governments, along with the latest scholarship on the topic please visit CPD's comprehensive public diplomacy PD Hub

A Brief History of Public Diplomacy
As coined in the mid-1960s by former U.S. diplomat Edmund Gullion, public diplomacy was developed partly to distance overseas governmental information activities from the term propaganda, which had acquired pejorative connotations. Over the years, public diplomacy has also developed a different meaning from public affairs, which refers to a government’s activities and programs designed to communicate policy messages to its own domestic audiences.

In the past few decades, public diplomacy has been widely seen as the transparent means by which a sovereign country communicates with publics in other countries aimed at informing and influencing audiences overseas for the purpose of promoting the national interest and advancing its foreign policy goals. In this traditional view, public diplomacy is seen as an integral part of state-to-state diplomacy, by which is meant the conduct of official relations, typically in private, between official representatives (leaders and diplomats) representing sovereign states. In this sense, public diplomacy includes such activities as educational exchange programs for scholars and students; visitor programs; language training; cultural events and exchanges; and radio and television broadcasting. Such activities usually focused on improving the “sending” country’s image or reputation as a way to shape the wider policy environment in the “receiving” country.

Recently, and notably since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington DC, public diplomacy has attracted increased attention from both practitioners and scholars from many parts of the world. As distinct from the “narrow” traditional, state-based conception of public diplomacy described above, recent scholarship has offered a “broader” conception of the field’s scope by developing the concept of the new public diplomacy which defines public diplomacy more expansively than as an activity unique to sovereign states. This view aims to capture the emerging trends in international relations where a range of non-state actors with some standing in world politics – supranational organizations, sub-national actors, non-governmental organizations, and (in the view of some) even private companies – communicate and engage meaningfully with foreign publics and thereby develop and promote public diplomacy policies and practices of their own. Advocates of the new public diplomacy point to the democratization of information through new media and communication technology as a new force that has greatly empowered non-state actors and elevated their role and legitimacy in international politics. As a result, a new public diplomacy is seen as taking place in a system of mutually beneficial relations that is no longer state-centric but composed of multiple actors and networks, operating in a fluid global environment of new issues and contexts.

This new diplomacy will not in the short term displace traditional state-to-state diplomacy as practiced by foreign ministries, but it will impact the way those ministries do business. More than ever before, foreign ministries and diplomats will need to go beyond bilateral and multilateral diplomacy and to construct and conduct relations with new global actors.

The increased interest in public diplomacy in recent years has been facilitated by conceptual developments in other fields. Marketing and public relations notions such as branding have been incorporated by public diplomacy scholars to great effect to cover countries, regions, and cities. Similarly, the concept of soft power coined by international relations scholar Joseph Nye has, for many, become a core concept in public diplomacy studies. Nye defines soft power as “the ability to get what you want through attraction rather than coercion or payments.” In other words, soft power is the degree to which a political actor’s cultural assets, political ideals and policies inspire respect or affinity on the part of others. Thus, soft power has come to be seen as a resource, with public diplomacy a mechanism that seeks to leverage soft power resources.

The debate about a new public diplomacy promises to be global in nature, rather than a debate about U.S. foreign relations, as important as they are. The USC Center on Public Diplomacy at the Annenberg School (CPD) endorses this global approach and encourages a worldwide set of perspectives in its scholarly research, policy analysis and professional education activities. Moreover, the debate is taking on a multi-disciplinary character, with no single discipline determining public diplomacy’s intellectual agenda. Thus, CPD sees public diplomacy as an emerging, multi-disciplinary field with theoretical, conceptual and methodological links to several academic disciplines – communication, history, international relations, media studies, public relations, and regional studies, to name but a few.