PD in the Arab Spring: Useful inside and out

Did social media play a pivotal role in the Arab Spring? A recent report from the United States Institute of Peace says maybe not.

“New media outlets that use bit.ly are more likely to spread information outside the region than inside it, acting like a megaphone more than a rallying cry” (Aday, 2013). Despite this claim, one cannot fail to acknowledge how much of a role this played in making the movement that came out of the Arab Spring successful.

A prime example of this is the way the protests played out in Egypt. First quiet on the ordeal, thinking that a regime change was not imminent, the Obama Administration did not pressure Mubarak. When it became evident, through coverage with the help of social media, Obama then supported an “orderly transition.” When the protests started to go full scale, Obama publicly called for Mubarak to resign.

The Arab Spring has had less effect in countries that maintain a strict control on social media. In Bahrain, the Al Khalifa monarchy has deployed a mostly successful strategy of preventing major protests from unfolding in the capital city and implanted a harsh crackdown on activists and opposition parties. In fact, knowing how effective social media can be in propelling protests, two years ago “six Twitter users were sentenced to a year in prison each by a Bahrain court for allegedly insulting King Al Khalifa on an online blog” (Rowder, Business Insider, 2013).

Syria is another country that, while not coming from the actual nation itself, has had its conflict elevated by social media. Activists like Kenan Rahmani have initiated social media devices to draw attention. His “Syria Updater” program has taken over Facebook and Twitter feeds alike. It’s not just for the opposition; Assad regime supporters like the Syrian Electronic Army have also employed communications strategies in favor of their cause.

Either way, social media has been proven to ignite and add to unrest and conflicts. Whether from inside the nation or out, it will continue to shape and contribute to debates well into the future.


Intelligence: A PD Nightmare

“Intelligence has never played so prominent a role in the public affairs of western societies as it does today” (Scott & Hughes, abs, 2009).

Following September 11, 2001, this statement has taken on a new meaning of truth. Nations have to address to what end they are willing to push intelligence for the sake of national security, to what place intelligence gathering is going in the future. Moreover, the more technology advances, the easier it becomes to collect crucial intelligence. In the face of today’s challenges with terrorism and cyber threats, critical questions must be answered on how the intelligence community (IC) will approach them in the future while instilling confidence that the process works in the favor of public interest.

As our nation draws down from two devastating conflicts, the IC has serious questions to answer about what role they will play in the future. Our country will inevitably – as recent events have shown – have to continue to fight a global war against terrorism and extremism, but as the fog of 9/11 lifts, both policymakers and the public will levy more scrutiny on intelligence gathering processes. In addition, as the focus has been so intimately on counter-terrorism in the Middle East and surrounding areas, it remains to be seen on how the IC will adjust to the new foreign policy missions and threats that face our nation.

In the realm of how foreign nations view our country, this also lends a prominent face to the US. With the latest reveal of NSA wiretapping programs, and the ill-fated PRISM, it will inevitably be harder to convince the world that the goals of US foreign policy are to promote freedom from tyranny. The main argument for the two programs is that they are consistent with FISA statute, and only used to target foreign citizens. While the mainstream media is focused on whether or not these programs violate our own citizens constitutional rights, they should also take into account how this will be messaged to foreign populations. PD should be used to communicate this, but it is likely it will be lost in the internal debate in the US.

Public Diplomacy between Asian Powers: Intractably Historic

By: Sean Callahan

The most dynamic, growing part of the world is in Asia at the moment. Rising powers are dominating economically, half the population of the world resides there, and the focus of everyone, including the United States, has shifted to this area. Public diplomacy is in the interest of two of the largest powers in the region, but they can never seem to build on relationship efforts due to historical recounts and differences.

The topic of Japan-Republic of Korea (ROK) history is one that is explained differently depending on which side the details are recounted by. There has never been a more opportune time for each to use public diplomacy to their advantage, and here is why: China and North Korea, they share the same interest in keeping the area stabile.

But as we learn from Nick Cull’s article, Jamming with Uncle Sam, “The first form of cultural diplomacy is the prestige gift: the international presentation of what one considers the finest of its own society.” In the case of Japan and the ROK, both countries share different views of what is the finest. Until the heads of state and elites in the ruling political parties can stop visiting that wartime shrines of soliders that the other considers class A criminals, this relationship will be complicated by historically based mistrust and animosity among regional actors.

Both countries are transitioning to new governments, and face the same threats in the region. In addition, both countries are in a position where their strongest ally – the United States – is in a critical strategic rebalance to the region. If the new governments from Park Guen-hye and Shinzo Abe can reach the respective populations of one another, and communicate their shared interests in economic stability and peaceful intentions, the sky is the limit in what they can accomplish.

In the interest of sharing a view for future of region and ensuring China does not dominate the area, Japan and the ROK must suppress nationalist views and work together. Using public diplomacy to communicate the things that the two countries share could go a long way, but it remains to be seen if the scars of history run to deep to ever hope this is a possibility.


Public Diplomacy: What’s the big deal?

By: Sean Callahan

Communication is perhaps the most valuable tool for a variety of different situations. In international relations, communication is standard at many levels, government officials communicate with other government officials, and the media conveys this information with the public. One of the oft-overlooked forms of communication is public diplomacy, or how a government communicates publicly with foreign populations.

Think about the amount of time and resources that governments put into planning their foreign policy. Some of the nation’s most intelligent citizens work countless hours to carefully construct and craft this policy, always being mindful of how the American public will react to the employ of these policies. Policy makers are in a sense held accountable by the American public for there actions, even those not in elected positions can be deposed when there is an outcry from the public concerned about an action that has been executed by the government.

When speaking broadly about our foreign policy, another population that needs to be considered is the foreign country that this policy is designed for. And just as the government must communicate to their own constituencies and citizens, it is of the utmost importance to outline the goals of a strategy to those that it is being implemented on. This is perhaps more difficult than the domestic population, as citizens of a country generally hold the governments values and goals as reflective of their own.

If a foreign constituency is not on board with these values and goals, they will make it far more difficult to implement a policy. However, this understanding can begin if a government makes it clear that the policy is in the best interests of this population. Clear communication with the population of a foreign country can get them on board with the implementation of a policy, and this will make it far more simple to execute and lead to success.