Public diplomacy, an operation to seduce states abroad

Delivered. Persuade, co-opt and seduce rather than impose. Such is the dynamic of “soft power”, theorized in 1990 by the American geopolitologist Joe Nye as an alternative to the logic of force. The notion has flourished. “The literature on international relations has since been crossed by intense debates as to whether ‘soft power’ can alone guarantee the conditions for power”, notes Christian Lequesne, professor at Sciences Po Paris, in the introduction to the collective work he edited. State public diplomacy is a relatively neglected topic even though it is assuming growing importance.

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We must not confuse propaganda and public diplomacy. The first does not hesitate to use lies and manipulation, seeking above all to destabilize the adversary and to stir up hostility against him. The second aims to generate support through proactive action and targeted narratives. It focuses on attractiveness and constitutes a lever of power. “Unlike ‘soft power’, which describes a state of affairs, public diplomacy, called influence diplomacy in France and Quebec, is the voluntarist construction of mediation by a political authority”, writes Mr. Lequesne, pointing out that “The main interlocutor of the public diplomat is not the diplomat of the other State but all the actors composing the society”.

The rise of “twiplomacy”

Diplomacy is obviously communication to explain political decisions, but it is also the creation of a “Nation branding” (national brand image) and concrete actions, such as school networks abroad, state scholarships for foreign students, television channels aimed at a global audience, cultural centers and institutes. These are all areas that have long remained strong points of French diplomacy.

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The profession of diplomat has certainly always had a public dimension, but new technologies and digital technology have changed the situation, “Directly affecting the principle of hierarchy, the culture of secrecy and risk aversion”, stresses Stéphane Paquin in his contribution. The political scientist In particular, analyzes the rise in power of “twiplomacy” of which former US President Donald Trump was the most caricatural avatar.

Public diplomacy is a central element in the strategy of powers which, like the Russia of Vladimir Putin and even more so the China of Xi Jinping, want to recover what they consider to be their due rank in the international arena. “China now has the world’s leading diplomatic network and pursues a particularly ambitious foreign policy,” notes sinologist Alice Ekman. Beijing thus uses a narrative developed both in seduction – through the “new silk roads” – and in confrontation, with the aggressive language of its “wolf-fighting” diplomats. Added to this is a systematic policy of penetrating international institutions and multilateral forums in an attempt to restructure world governance according to its interests.

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