Challenging the Challenge of Time

In his book Real-Time Diplomacy, Philip Seib repeatedly argues that international media plays an increasingly larger role in decisionmaking and has accelerated “the information process” vital to diplomacy (2012, 86). This in turn has created an environment in which diplomats no longer have the “cushion of time” (7) they once enjoyed, where they must react to situations as quickly as the information is being disseminated (86). Even just 50 years ago, events on the other side of the world still took time to reach home, where then the bureaucratic wheel would take the time to churn out a decision, and then send the orders back to the embassy. Now, in the era where video of protests in Turkey is simultaneously uploaded to YouTube as the event is taking place, there is an expectation from publics that governments should take action immediately, whether or not the action is the politically wise one.

And if the collapse of the time cushion effects diplomatic practice, it is certainly effecting public diplomacy practice as well. Public diplomacy works best in the long-term, as has been discussed in several posts on this blog and in many of our class readings. A PD initiative may not yield results until months (more likely years) down the road. But how do you create or bolster a PD initiative that has to react to nearly instantaneous global information flows? India’s response, or lack thereof, to the gang rape issues is one such example of how taking the time to “wisely” engage publics may not be the best strategy when the publics are being rapidly fed information about a situation. The challenge then for nations engaged in PD is to balance between the bureaucratic structure of message formulation and the effective use of new media tools (such as social media and the Internet) to add real-time engagement to face-to-face engagement practices.

As Seib states, it is important for nations to be a part of this growing web of information if they are to engage with publics in the way that publics actually communicate (120). But the lack of time means that as the role of diplomacy is being redefined, the role of public diplomacy must be clearly (re)defined as well. Without understanding what it can do and how it can be utilized in this new rapid-fire information ecology, public diplomacy won’t be able to adapt, and therefore won’t be able to be as effective a tool for nation-states, both in the short- and long-term.

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