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Public diplomacy and the new world order

by on May 4, 2014

It is often questioned whether public diplomacy is about the relationship between state and public or really just about the formation of a new world order. Many aspects hint towards a global power hierarchy that is divided between states and global corporations. Today, a number of companies boast bigger revenues than states and commercial brands have a higher recognition value than most nations. However, even though the global world order seems to change, one factor stays constant. The end of the power hierarchy is dominated by states and corporations from the West and it seems that public diplomacy is used as a tool to recreate the ideological world orders of the past.
According to Simon Anholt’s Nation Brand Index, the top ten most powerful nation brands of 2012 include the US, Germany, the UK, France, Canada, Italy, Switzerland, Australia, and Sweden. The Country Brand Index 2012/2013 by futurebrand lists Switzerland, Canada, Japan, Sweden, New Zealand, Australia, Germany, the US, Finland, and Norway as its top ten. Both lists vary in the exact ranking of the individual countries but have one thing in common. The top ten nation brands are dominated by Western liberal democracies. The most powerful brands according to Forbes are Apple, Microsoft, Coca Cola, IBM, Google, McDonalds, General Electric, Intel, Samsung, and Louis Vuitton. Core Brand lists Coca Cola, Hershey, Bayer, Johnson & Johnson, Harley-Davidson, Disney, PepsiCo, American Express, Kellogg, and Apple as most powerful brands. Again, nearly all of those are western brands.
If public diplomacy is an indicator for a new world order in which states have to share power with multinational corporations, these corporate brands pass low and middle-income countries when it comes to political power. When companies turn into political actors and use public diplomacy to coerce foreign citizens to support their agenda, politics will be even more skewed towards the rich north and the developing countries in the south have to struggle with the increased competition in the diplomatic game.
Further, as people become increasingly mobile and identities become more fluid, it is public diplomacy that is used to gather the support and identification of domestic and foreign populations. Because the richest countries and corporations are based in the global north, it is them that are using public diplomacy most aggressively. It might not be an exaggeration to state that as public diplomacy will be a tool to spread corporate and national identity and as the most powerful brands are from the West we will see a furthering of Western colonization of political, economic, and moral values.
Thus, we could argue that public diplomacy done by governments is a form of cultural imperialism. Traditionally American corporations did not just export goods, they exported a certain lifestyle and values with these goods. American politicians openly encourage corporations to export American values. European companies, however, did not do this in the same manner. This might be one of the reasons that it is seen more western to eat at McDonalds than to drive a Mercedes. Mercedes is associated with luxury rather than American imperialism.
Nation brands are important in public diplomacy. The more powerful the nation brand is, the more powerful is a country’s public diplomacy. An issue for developing countries is that you are not fully in control of your own brand and that you can be branded by others. When George Bush listed Cuba as one of the countries in the ‘axis of evil’ it was a strong tool of American public diplomacy that branded Cuba for a while. While, Cuba’s membership in the ‘axis of evil’ has sunk into oblivion, Iraq, Iran, and North Korea are still marked by the idiom. This shows that public diplomacy is not just about presenting your own country or company in the best possible light, but it can also truly damage the image of weaker political actors. This is a reason that public diplomacy can further imperialism and re-establish colonial hierarchies.
Anholt writes that “for developing countries that are dependent on foreign aid, being seen as worthy recipients of that aid is an essential precondition of their continuing to receive it.” He is basing this on the argument that taxpayers in developed nations will not allow countries that have negative brand images to receive aid. However, taxpayers often now very little about the politics in developing countries and they have even less knowledge of how their government spends aid. It seem that public diplomacy is used as an excuse to refuse a country aid when it is not adapting Western values. Since, Anholt writes that nation brands of developing countries can easily be influenced by governments in the West, this is an even dodgier argument. Adler and MacCannel argue branding is about feeding the demand of the consumer. The wealthiest consumers reside in Western countries and in view highly developed Asian countries. Thus branding and public diplomacy will focus on pleasing this consumer group.
Anholt argues, that governments need to abstain from creating a one dimensional nation brand, but need to promote a wholesome picture of their own nation to avoid negative implications of unfortunate events that damage a nation’s image. He writes: “If a brand image is the catchy reduction of something rich and complex into a simple, naive, one-dimensional formula, then many of the countries which already have one would probably do better to get rid of it.” He advocates for a public diplomacy that gives the people “a richer, deeper, more complex, more nuanced, more democratic, more chaotic, more human view of their land, their population and their civilisation—not a fabricated stereotype to replace the inherited stereotype.” Anholt cites the Nation Brand Index that showed that in the Muslim world, Denmark lost more respect after the Mohammad cartoons than the US lost after the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan. This was due to the simple brand image of Denmark which was only known and loved for being a Scandinavian country. America seems to be more than a brand, its public diplomacy made people so familiar with many aspects of American life that the country was still held in high esteem compared to other countries.
Anholt thinks that “consistent, imaginative cultural exchange does eventually create an environment where respect and tolerance flourish”. However, while people in the Middle East know a lot about the US, Americans know very little about the Middle East. In the end, it seems, public diplomacy in the form of cultural exchange is reserved for the hegemon.!H8qs0
Anholt, Simon; “Brand America: The making, unmaking and remaking of the greatest national image of all time”; 2010; Marshall Cavendish Business, p. 146
Anholt Simon; “Beyond the Nation Brand:The Role of Image and Identity in International Relations”;
Mayes, Robyn; “A place in the sun: The politics of place, identity and branding”; Place Branding and Public Diplomacy; Vol. 4, No. 2, 2008; p. 128


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