Introducing ‘citizen diplomacy 2.0’: a framework for the study of online engagement with global affairs
How can citizen diplomacy be distinguished from traditional public diplomacy? The main aims of public diplomacy are to promote nation-states’ goals and policies, communicate their values and ideals, and develop common understanding and mutual trust amongst countries and peoples (Wang 2006). Central to public diplomacy is the exercise of ‘soft power’ (Nye 2004): the utilisation of values, institutions, cultural and other non-military resources, which can lead to a more flexible, effective and constructive means of achieving set diplomatic goals. Given this, it may appear difficult to directly integrate civic input into the structures and practices of traditional diplomacy, which is highly hierarchical and requires professional training, knowledge of international law and a formal career path. However, the concept of citizen participation in diplomacy is not new, although its scope has been quite narrow. Public diplomacy – or citizen diplomacy in the rare occasions in which this particular term has previously appeared either in the scholarly literature (e.g. Sharp 2001) or in international practice (e.g. the US Center for Citizen Diplomacy, http://uscenterforcitizendiplomacy.org/) – refers to diplomacy directed at citizens of foreign countries, i.e. power being exercised upon citizens as part of a state’s strategic communication (Snow and Taylor 2009); although Seib (2010) argues that a broader definition of public diplomacy is due, given the role and primary agendas of non-state actors, including transnational media organisations such as Al Jazeera. As the focus of foreign policy has slowly shifted beyond traditional diplomacy domains (such as bilateral trade relations) in order to address global issues like development, immigration and human rights, civil society has emerged as a
potentially key actor. Melissen (2005: 4) notes that in ‘an environment where the gap between foreign and domestic policy is gradually closing, reputation management has shifted from elites to a broader mass market’. Similarly, Vickers (2004: 182) finds that the blurring of the boundaries between international and domestic information activities, and between cultural diplomacy, marketing and news management is giving rise to a ‘new public diplomacy’; one that does not only see citizens as passive receivers of top-down messages but as active participants: ‘There is an increased acceptance by governments that citizens have a role to play in diplomacy as states seek to enhance their reputation and to export their values through attraction rather than coercion’ (Vickers 2004: 185). Interestingly, in Vickers’ conceptualisation of this new mode of diplomacy, civic action is still defined in relation to state agendas, as opposed to a primary – moral or political – need for civic empowerment at the global stage. Likewise, in a comprehensive reflection on the future of diplomacy, Henrikson (2006: 3) considered five possible scenarios based on current developments in diplomatic practices across Europe, the United States and the world at large. ‘Disintermediation’ would involve a greater use of business methods and of the Internet by diplomats; ‘Europeanisation’ would see the widespread application of the EU regional model in international diplomacy; ‘Democratisation’ at the international level would extend power to those states traditionally excluded from global decision-making, as well as to civil society; ‘Thematisation’ requires an issue-oriented mobilisation of diplomacy in order to address contemporary global challenges (such as pandemics and terrorism); finally, ‘Americanisation’ would see the widespread adoption by diplomacy of practices that are common to US domestic politics (such as lobbying and advocacy). What these five ‘projective visions’ have in common is the need ‘to win greater public support, if not necessarily to involve the people directly in diplomacy’. The strength of this view is that it recognises that the nature and boundaries of civic involvement are not fixed and can be subject to renegotiation due to social, cultural and technological shifts. That is to say, the extent to which citizens can have a role in diplomacy may be affected by changing public perceptions of diplomacy, trust in the institutions of international governance, as well as the emergence of new media practices that enable civil society to have a more active part in global affairs. In other words, civic empowerment is not an automatic or natural consequence of either technological or political evolution – it is a variable affected by multiple factors, including citizens’ own willingness to exercise their voice. In the emerging phenomenon of citizen diplomacy, the citizen can be seen as the subject and the object of diplomacy, where citizens are the social agency whose action relates to diplomatic agendas or has direct implications for diplomacy. Additionally, citizens can also be seen as the agenda of civic action; this may well be different from the priorities and interests of state-centric diplomacy. Edward Mortimer, former Director of Communications to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, notes that, while traditional diplomacy is founded on the notion of delegation, i.e. the indirect representation of pre-existing agendas and state
interests, the diplomatic role of NGOs or citizen actors is the incorporation and direct expression of voices and causes (Mortimer 2010), such as human rights, conflict resolution and sustainability. Therefore the individual citizen may be seen to have an increasingly important role in diplomacy. But how might citizen diplomats be active? Citizen diplomacy might be particularly applicable and constructive in any of the following scenarios: flagging up under-reported issues and expressing underrepresented voices; highlighting the impact of global problems on local communities; scrutinising decision-making bodies and seeking transparency and freedom of information; facilitating the response to humanitarian crises, natural disasters and human rights violations; and promoting conscious and ethical consumption. In addition to these arenas it has even been argued that civil society can have a crucial role in conflict resolution and, in particular, post-conflict peace building. Copeland and Potter (2008) predict that asymmetrical warfare in the twenty-first century will not only depend on the use of soft rather than hard power, but that the kind of public diplomacy employed will have to be considerably more conversational and interactive than the current mode of strategic and close-ended propaganda or public relations monologue. This working conceptualisation of citizen diplomacy may indeed resemble the framework of regular political activism, which also takes place online and at an international or global scale. However, where traditional political activism is usually issue-oriented and ad hoc (it tends to have a specific subject matter and end target), citizen diplomacy is more about the process of advocating causes and persuading people, governments and organisations. For instance, the international civic organisation and global web movement Avaaz.org, which could be considered as a good example of an organisation exercising citizen diplomacy as defined here, is based on the principle that ‘mobilising public opinion on a global scale is something which has a validity in itself ’ (Mortimer 2010). Hence, citizen diplomacy by definition presupposes that the agents of that action subscribe to the internationalist school of thought (if not the more radical, cosmopolitan one), which advocates an active role for citizens in the global community. It is in that sense that the media – and in particular new media and applications – may have an important role in enabling – and, thus, indirectly empowering – citizens to assume or exercise roles and agendas that transcend national boundaries. Having provided a definition and scope of citizen diplomacy and its relationship to established forms of diplomacy, some of its key traits in comparison to the baseline paradigm of citizen journalism are now explored. Such a comparison can further distil the concept and delineate the boundaries of this phenomenon.