Society and Culture // Analysis

28 august 2012

Public diplomacy and its actors

Tatiana Zonova Doctor of Political Science, Professor of the Diplomacy Department of the MGIMO University
Photo:
Flickr / Worldface

NGO - an instrument of trust or an agent of influence?

Amidst digital revolution and the elimination of distinctions between domestic and foreign policies, public diplomacy as an integral part of soft power has come to the forefront of diplomaсy. Professional diplomats, as well as nongovernmental organizations, can be actors in public diplomacy. The legal status of NGOs varies from country to country. Particular attention is paid to the issue of foreign funding of these organizations. In Russia, there is nearly a thousand of NGOs, which are engaged in political activity and are playing an important role in the world. Taking this into consideration, the Law on "Foreign Agents" causes concern and stimulates the growth of protest.

According to experts’ estimates such familiar to our ear terms as “globalization", "regionalization", "integration" are increasingly being replaced by "turbulence", "unpredictable", "transformation". Even such a traditional institution as diplomacy, is going through tumultuous changes. The classical model of diplomacy, suggesting the interaction of States, is only one of the aspects of modern diplomacy. Today, diplomacy is multifaceted. Lately, a special place has been occupied by public diplomacy, as an integral part of what is called "soft power." Unfortunately, in this direction, we essentially lose out to other countries, as was noted by the President of RIAC I. Ivanov.

Our foreign policy lexicon employs two terms - "public" and "social" diplomacy. However, the interchangeability of these terms should be interpreted with caution. We live in an era of global communication, and, therefore, of global translation. The notion of "public" can be translated into other languages as “social”, “civic”, as well as “civil”, and “popular”. It is clear that the diplomacy conducted by non-governmental organizations we call public. This to some extent reflects the practice of the Soviet era, when the activities of such organizations involved in international exchange were carried out entirely within a single state ideology. It is not by chance, that this approach still remains to be practiced in communist China, where these organizations are viewed as public, meaning only the activities of the so-called Gong (government-organized NGOs). What we have is a very narrow interpretation of the whole trend in modern diplomacy which is called «public». It should be noted that in the decree "On measures for the implementation of foreign policy of the Russian Federation" signed by President Vladimir Putin on May 7, 2012 the term «public diplomacy» is used.

Public diplomacy has nothing to do with marketing, it is a dialogue

From the marketing perspective, ie, a set of tools used in advertising for the promotion of sales, with the absence of a mutual exchange of ideas, public diplomacy features an interactive dialogue. Using this dialogue, we gain supporters and allies and create a more humane image of our country.

It is known, that "public policy" is a new mode of exercising power in a time of global informatization. Public diplomacy, which is closely associated with this direction of policy, is a "space" where main actors are politics, culture, science and education, media, NGOs, users of social networks. And, the most important is that publicity is an inherent feature of professional diplomacy now. Theorists believe that professional public diplomacy should become a catalyst for activities carried out by non-governmental actors. And this synergy is very important.

Public diplomacy became the topic for discussions in the middle of the last century [1]>. The most common method of public diplomacy is an appeal to public opinion of a country relying on the assistance of government. Ambassadors also «came out of the shadow». In a host country they began to feature in print media, on radio and television, to explain their country's position in the legislative assemblies. Diplomats embarked on honing the art of debate, they started to persuade and make their opponents change their minds. By a very simplistic interpretation of public diplomacy it is called a kind of synthesis of values, promotion and marketing technologies. However, in reality this is a much more complicated phenomenon. Of course, skillful use of the laws of the market is bearing fruit. For example, Italian Foreign Ministry proposed a good marketing move - to conduct exhibitions and fairs in foreign countries under the title of the world famous F.Fellini's film "Dolce Vita". However, from the marketing perspective, ie, a set of tools used in advertising for the promotion of sales, with the absence of a mutual exchange of ideas, public diplomacy features an interactive dialogue. Using this dialogue, we gain supporters and allies and create a more humane image of our country.

"Twiplomacy" and "twiplomats"

Graphic:twiplomacy.com
The 25 most connected World Leaders on Twitter

The need to engage the public into an instant dissemination of information, as well as misinformation, has become particularly important. Public diplomacy has been enriched by communication in social networks. As a result, there was born a new term - "twiplomacy." Twitter and other social networks have been used by foreign affairs agencies. Presidents, prime ministers, ministers, foreign ministers and ambassadors join social networks and become "twiplomats." The U.K.’s Foreign Office has created a special «web-hub», which provides technical assistance to its "twiplomats" and develops digital strategies of foreign policy. The French agency "Agence France-Presse» (AFP) monitors on-line the influence of the network state actors involved in public diplomacy. The data provides information about the number of officials and experts' followers. The number of followers in the United States is about 43 million people, and in Russia - 2.5 million. It is necessary to think hard about what caused this gap.

An NGO - an instrument of trust or an agent of influence?

Building trust is not easy for professional diplomats, who are restricted by the instructions of their department. Non- governmental actors of public diplomacy are in a more advantageous position. They are able to embrace the entire spectrum of political life of their country, not only translating official data, but the opposition sentiment as well. Russia has successfully launched the Russian International Affairs Council, the Public Diplomacy Fund named after A. Gorchakov, "Russian World" Fund, etc. At present, a lot of NGOs have consultative status with the UN ECOSOC. The partnership relations of these organizations with the UN suggest, in particular, the mobilization of public opinion and political pressure through campaigns and protests, as well as co-financing of the UN programs and funds.

The legal status of NGOs varies from country to country. In some countries, NGOs which are barely involved in politics and financed from abroad become a subject for a special State's scrutiny. Of course, no one can deny that the provision of foreign aid, at times not without serious abuses, is associated with the financing of terrorist and extremist organizations, the violation of tax laws and corruption. Dealing with these and other abuses is possible due to appropriate national laws, adopted in Russia, among other things.

Photo: The JC.com
Activists in Tel Aviv protesting against
“anti-democratic trends in the Knesset”

In 1938 in the United States there was enacted the law on registration of foreign agents involved in lobbying the interests of a foreign state. The law is not applied to those citizens who are engaged exclusively in commercial, religious, educational, scientific activity or activities in the field of fine arts. In 2011 the world's attention was drawn to Israel, where the government of B. Netanyahu had passed the bill in Knesset blocking foreign funding of NGOs. The Prime-minister compared such funding to the "Trojan horse", while the local press expressed dissatisfaction with the policy of the EU and several European countries, sending to Israel the money that “stinks”.

In response, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights put the Jewish state on the list of the countries with limited number human rights watchdogs. The American Jewish Committee issued a statement condemning the Knesset for the infringement of the democratic principles. In Israel itself the government's intention caused a sharp rebuff from the opposition parties and the public. Ultimately, the bill was shelved.

In the EU member states there exists a liberal notification procedure for the registration of NGOs. Foreign nationals may be NGO founders and participants, with the activity of the participants being regulated by national legislation. In the "Fundamental principles of the status of non-governmental organizations in Europe", adopted by the Council of Ministers in 2003, it is noted that an NGO may apply for funding from abroad.

And what is going on in Russia?

Building trust is not easy for professional diplomats, who are restricted by the instructions of their department. Non- governmental actors of public diplomacy are in a more advantageous position. They are able to embrace the entire spectrum of political life of their country, not only translating official data, but the opposition sentiment as well.

As is well known, Russia has recently adopted the Federal Law "On Amending Certain Legislative Acts of the Russian Federation in the Regulation of Non-profit Organizations Serving as Foreign Agents”. The authors of the bill explained this initiative as an effort to make more financial statements of those organizations that are engaged in political activity in Russia and receive money from abroad more transparent. President Vladimir Putin stressed, that the law is not prohibitive by nature. Indeed, the Russian law in general doesn't prohibit foreign funding of NGOs. In years after the disintegration of the Soviet Union, foreign aid has often been provided to Russian non-governmental organizations, academic institutions, media, scientists, etc. Only from 2009 to 2012 the U.S. has allotted nearly $ 160 million for anti-corruption and other humanitarian programs in Russia. The U.S. State Department's 2012 budget allocates more than $ 9 million to support Russian NGOs. Since 1997 250 Russian companies have received support from the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights established by the European Parliament. The so-called European mini-projects require financial support to civil society, seeking to influence at local level the processes of democratic transformation. In Russia the selection of micro-projects is carried out on the basis of regular tenders organized by the Delegation of the European Commission.

The participation of Russian agencies in the financing of non-governmental organizations is very modest. According to available data, the state’s contribution to the annual average budget of Russian NGOs is less than 10%. In Western countries, the funding of NGOs by state is, on average, more than 40%. How wittily remarked the Vedomosti newspaper, after the adoption of the Russian Law on "foreign agents" it may happen, that "all good things in the country are made for foreign money». It should also be borne in mind that in contrast to, for example, Italy where the Ministry of Foreign Affairs each year reviews the list of NGOs receiving state funding, it is not easy for many actors of Russian Public Diplomacy to be funded from domestic sources.

Photo: The Presidential Press and Information
Office Vladimir Putin had a meeting with
Chairman of the Presidential Council for Civil
Society and Human Rights Mikhail Fedotov,
Human Rights Ombudsman Vladimir Lukin and
Presidential Commissioner for Entrepreneurs’
Rights Boris Titov, July 10, 2012

The new law introducing the term "foreign agent" includes cumbersome procedures of reporting the receipt of foreign aid which leads to an increased bureaucracy. The judges of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation drew attention to the difficulties that may arise while applying the law due to the absence of legislative definition of certain concepts. M. Fedotov, the Chairman of the Presidential Council on Civil Society and Human Rights, warned that according to the new law any activity can be interpreted as a political action. If we turn to the Regulations of the Ministry of Justice (as amended by Presidential Decree № 1079 from 14.07.2008), according to it any party should also be categorized as a political non-profit organization, and those parties that use the support from abroad should be registered as "foreign agents".

The new law raises concerns both in Russia and abroad and provokes protests. Perhaps, before the adoption of the law the competent authorities were able to prevent violations and restore legal order on the basis of the existing legislation, more stringent than the European laws in this field currently in force. The emerging problems in relations with Western donors should be solved with the help of diplomacy. Thus, the U.S. Secretary Hillary Clinton has already promised to find a way out which will help to continue the funding of Russian non-profit organizations without causing problems for the recipients of grants. It accidental that the legislators have decided to extend the period of putting the law in force up to 120 days from the date of its publication.

So, public diplomacy is an integral part of the “soft power” policy. The task of public diplomacy - to enlist the public - becomes especially important nowadays. NGOs are acting as conductors of public diplomacy in synergy with a state. The adoption of the law on "foreign agents" raises concern and leads to a strong dissent in the society. In this situation there arises a question, whether in the era of global communication it is necessary to juxtapose the policy of "soft power" to tough administrative practices? Supporting the process of establishing NGOs (even oppositional) as a part of civil society, engage them actively in a dialogue on the issues of domestic and international policy seems to be much more productive.

1. T.V. Zonova “A modern model of diplomacy: the origins of the formation and development prospects”. M.: ROSSPEN, 2003.

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Tatiana Zonova, “Public diplomacy and its actors,” Russian International Affairs Council, 28 August 2012, http://russiancouncil.ru/en/inner/?id_4=718

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