Friday, April 30, 2010

Transatlantic Images: the brand problem

The human mind needs shortcuts to simplify the environment and make sense of the world. When these shortcuts are limited to this, however, it might be problematic.

(Image courtesy of InfoGraphic World. Click to enlarge.)

And, of course, the reaction:

(This image was shared on Imgur.)

This is, certainly, an overly-simplified/exaggerated way of expressing the "generally held" perceptions. And yet, these are also images that nations have to counter: after all, nation branding is all about images and "first things that come to mind."

Just some food for thought...

[See a related post here.]


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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The destructive power of technology

Yeah...never, NEVER do this if you run for the Prime Minister's post.



To quote my all-time favorite George Orwell: "If you want to keep a secret, you must also hide it from yourself." Especially, when campaigning.

BAD PR, Brown. Smiles won't help!


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Got eggs? Ukraine's "Battle for History"...



I'm sure you have already seen/heard about this incident in Ukraine: sad and ridiculous at the same time. The reasons for the deal, as well as the opposition to it, seem to be more than just reasonable. But it all depends on the perspective. And, as always, that is where things get problematic.

I will not even try getting into the various issues involved. (See an interesting analysis here.)  What I wanted to point out, however, is the following short documentary that ran - at least 3-4 times - on Russia Today, on Monday.

       

"Battle for History," indeed...

...just a day before the events in the Rada. Did Russia see this coming? If so, was this a "preemptive attack"?

Well-conceived, I should say. Did it work? It certainly did.

If one looks at the issue as a "battle", providing such a context for the most recent events arguably gave the Russian (and the pro-Russian Ukrainian) side an advantage over (or at least, an equal footing with) the Ukrainian "nationalists". Watching the video segment on the post-ratification street rally, it's not difficult to draw the parallels: the same red-and-black flags, the same rhetoric...

Good public diplomacy?

Just a couple of days ago we had a discussion in class on whether "setting the record straight" with foreign publics can actually make for good public diplomacy (the specific case referred to the "Letter to the Editor" from Venezuela's Ambassador to the U.S. "clarifying" the various issues raised in the press about Venezuela). This might not be the most effective PD tool in general (talk of ethos in persuasion!); and yet, at least it gives a chance to get your explanation/version "out there", especially when the general media coverage is mostly negative and/or one-sided (whatever the reasons).

In the case of Ukraine, Russia could certainly anticipate such a reaction, if not on Tuesday, then any time throughout the week. (Although the "nationalist" MPs might have exceeded all of their expectations: the eggs made for a real good show!) Hence, the strategic timing of the documentary, explaining all the potential "misconceptions" that Western audiences might have regarding the history involved. (A tiny little problem here, however, is the number of people in RT's "audience".)

Nevertheless, a good try.

RT overdid it again, though, with its coverage of the actual events in Kiev. The analysis article read:

The idea [of the agreement] is so simple, and contains so many mutually advantageous features, that it is understandable why the Yushchenko presidency could not stay afloat: it was trying to swim against the current of what are arguably the only realistic parameters for not only successful Ukrainian-Russian relations, but Ukraine’s very economic survival.   [...]

According to Yanukovich, Ukraine will seek a comprehensive economic partnership with the European Union. This statement proves that the Ukrainian leader is truly working on behalf of the Ukrainian people, and not simply for a narrow political agenda."


Hm... Apparently, they haven't got the message yet.

As for history, here's a good quote from Open Democracy:

History is politics in all countries. But in countries which have been through the traumas suffered by Russia and Eastern Europe in the past century, it is unrealistic to hope that they will soon be able to write what the rest of us would regard as "objective" history."

But is there any objective history? Anywhere?

Some food for thought...


[Related: here's a link to a funny, controversial, and not-so-politically-correct blog post on the Ukrainian language. Too bad politics can't be all about jokes...]


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Sunday, April 25, 2010

"Putin' it in English"... in Wien!

Priceless. PRICELESS piece from RT.



Russian - check
German - check
English - check

Any other languages, Mr. Putin? Oh, it might be a state secret...

And then, why am I reminded of the gladiatorial games?

Well done, Vladimir Vladimirovich, nevertheless:

Good PD - check!



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The Armenian Genocide. Whose public diplomacy?



April 24 is the day Armenians around the world commemorate the Armenian Genocide. Every year that day provides Armenia, and especially the Diasporan Armenians, with an opportunity to squeeze into the world headlines and flash their cause yet again. After all, the fight for recognition - which is, essentially, a major, long-term public diplomacy campaign of a nation (actual or "imagined," does not matter here) - cannot yield results unless it gets the support of the publics of its "target governments". And here, major media, domestic and international, do play an instrumental role.

This year marked the 95th Anniversary of the Genocide*, and so I was hoping to get something different in this regard: something new, that would help to make the issue stand out and be genuinely newsworthy. But nothing seemed new. What is more, Turkey appeared to be stealing the show!

See the following AlJazeera news update, for example. The story is, indeed, the leading one (at the time of writing, it is also the top story on AlJazeera's front page); and yet, after a brief introduction in Armenia, the focus shifts to the "exceptional and unprecedented" commemoration of the Genocide in Istanbul.



Earlier, as Anita McNaught was reporting live from that commemoration ceremony at the Istanbul square, she mentioned that the gathering was officially sanctioned by the authorities; while the Foreign Ministry (out of all others!!!) had made sure there is enough police to ensure the security of the Armenians and Armenian-sympathizers who had gathered there (they were being "protected" from a group of nationalists, who were holding a counter-protest).

Similar reports appeared in a number of other news organizations as well, most prominently on CNN Turk and EuroNews. A well-conceived PD move, Davutoğlu! Too bad Reuters or AFP somehow missed the pitch, and rather focused on the standard Yerevan story (which, by the way, was mass reproduced by those major news outlets that ran the story).

 Tsitsernakaberd, the Genocide Memorial, Yerevan, April 24, 2010. Photo courtesy of Armine Halajyan.

So, Turkey was making the news by showing such "unprecedented" benevolent kindness (after all, everything is relative...), while the Armenian Revolutionary Party organized its separate annual rally in Yerevan on April 23 and made sure to burn the Turkish flag for the world to see. Is that really all that we've got to offer?

To be fair, on April 22, the Armenian President announced that the Armenian side will be suspending the ratification process of the Reconciliation Protocols signed with Turkey last October. The timing of this announcement, just a couple of days before April 24, was most certainly a strategic one to stir action and attention before the date. However, it seems that Turkey came up with a better approach, ending up getting more attention for "new" good will, while the Armenians were singing the same old song and backtracking on the much-hailed progress (no matter how limited).

The Eternal Flame, in memory of all those who perished. Tsitsernakaberd, Yerevan, April 24, 2010. Photo courtesy of Armine Halajyan.

What's more, although the Armenians rejoiced in the presence of international media in the capital, for some weird reason neither CNN nor BBC ran stories on the subject on their websites (well, BBC featured a tiny "In pictures" slideshow). While, the major American sources focused on Obama's statement, and how he "refuses" to use the g-word.

There is a public diplomacy catch for Obama, too, then. Firstly, he disappointed - yet again - a certain proportion of his electorate in the U.S., who, so adamantly supported him in 2008 and supposedly believed that he would deliver on his promise. We can put a disillusioned minority of the public in Armenia (the state) in a similar category.

Annual ARF march. Image courtesy of The New York Times.

Secondly, the Turkish-Americans claimed to be upset by Mr. Obama's statement, because he was paying special attention to the issue in the first place. The case was the same with the official Turkish position. What do the Turkish people think? That will remain to be seen. However, with America's current favorability rating of 12% in Turkey, chances are, there won't be a lot of improvement. (Of course, there are many other, much more important, factors at work here. But I will not be going into them, now.)

So what's the score, in the end of the day? Armenians reinforce their "Genocide" brand, get the same old "sympathies" from the major powers (who matter) - even if not formal recognition - Turkey gets commended for its "exceptional" tolerance (kudos, AlJazeera), while Obama chooses the lesser of all the "available" evils.

Oh, and just in case you missed the other big Genocide-related news, here's a pitch: the Kardashian sisters (who, unfortunately, seem to be becoming the Armenians' best-known public diplomats. S.O.S.!!!) referred to their Armenian heritage as a source of inspiration for their new jewelry line launched on April 24. Somehow, they also managed to "spark controversy" by planning a lavish birthday party for the same day. Ingenious! And kudos to all those dedicated "reporters" who manage to keep track...


*April 24, 1915 was chosen as the date for commemoration because that was when 800 prominent Armenian intellectuals and community leaders from Istanbul were rounded up and killed, in the fear that they may start an internal uprising against the already feeble Ottoman government. This became a major concern, especially in light of the advancing Allied forces from the West.

For more thoughts on the subject see "Diasporan Public Diplomacy Gone Wrong. Wake up, Armenia!"



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Saturday, April 24, 2010

In memoriam...


... for all those who perished in the Armenian Genocide (1896-1923).



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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

No comment...



... just a link (Jefferson standing on John Adams's foot).

Enjoy! [Sorry, it's just in Russian].

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UPDATE: Since the video has "miraculously" disappeared from the net, I am linking to some of the articles related to the photos. There are in Russian, too.

Somebody, please, tell RT to stop!

Russia TV, supposedly one of Russia's major public diplomacy tools, puts out many works of journalistic art on the airwaves every day. And despite following the channel for eight months now, I just can't stop being surprised at the ingenuity and creativity of some of its reporters (or should I blame the editors?). In a post, a couple of months ago, I pointed out that a significantly sizable chunk of RT's programming walks a very fine line between what it apparently considers "public diplomacy" and what can easily be perceived as blunt propaganda and antagonistic rhetoric.

Watching some of its news coverage today, two pieces particularly stood out as "impressive".

The first one, quite bluntly, bashes Bush (and oh, poor Glassman!).



The other one was even more surprising, in all the ingenious connections that the reporter managed to find.



[Just a  note about the second video, which, quite amazingly, wanders off to bring in the issue of global warming. During the presentation on Russia in the Public Diplomacy class last week, a classmate asked whether Moscow is trying to promote any major "humanitarian" themes/issues as matters of "global concern", citing the example of Climate Change being embraced by major actors like Britain or Germany. This video, is most certainly, another clear indication that Russia does not seem to accept climate change as a problem in the first place (not to mention the fact that it obviously does not differentiate between "global warming" and "climate change"). RT has been very active in pushing this line, particularly after the Copenhagen summit; but this can be quite "reasonable" if one considers Russian economy's reliance on fossil fuels...]

So, what's wrong with these reports?

These might be legitimate concerns and/or controversies that they are trying to capture. Fair enough. The problem lies, however, in their tone and approach. Somehow, RT manages to introduce sensationalism and make rash generalizations in every story they report on (example here: "American bloggers stayed away from Bush's conference". Erm.. how many bloggers are there in the US?).

Another major problem, which seems to be becoming a trend (but is quite worrisome), is the reliance on "web-cam interviews" with people of questionable authority, who, most certainly, speak along the same lines as RT. Yes, the new technologies are perhaps "giving voice to the voiceless"; however, in RT's case, the use of these tools in such manner is actually counter-productive, since it only undermines RT's image even further.

Russia has a major PD problem, not only in terms of its Soviet legacy, but also because of its current foreign policy (or, at least, some aspects of it). The Kremlin seems to be painfully aware of this problem, and all the frantic efforts to organize, institutionalize, and streamline the Russian PD activities over the past three-four years clearly indicate that.

Yet, no matter the number of different ballet or opera performances the Kennedy Center hosts, or the billions that Moscow spends on (re)building Sochi for the 2014 Winter Olympics, the Western public will still remain skeptical. Major reason? Lack of credibility.

Anholt makes a wonderful point when referring to nation brands, which, in this sense, can be regarded as synonymous to credibility: "[they are] the context in which messages are perceived, not the messages themselves." Therefore, working towards establishing viable credibility should be the first and foremost objective of any public diplomacy initiative, especially in cases where there is a "condescending historical image."

RT English, which supposedly targets a global audience - primarily the American public, through - not only does not promote Russia's credibility, but undercuts it further. Yes, RT knows how to do a good job sometimes (especially, at times of crisis) and it might have quite legitimate points even in the reports above; but the way reporting and presentation are done, they simply overshadow any substance.

In a sense, RT might be trying to model itself after the very informative and enlightening Fox News channel (although coming at it from the opposite side of the "ideological spectrum"). But then, Fox News apparently has strong credibility among its adherents, which might, just as well, include a large number of Americans.

RT, unfortunately, does not enjoy this privilege, and would do better, if it relied more on establishing itself as an authoritative and credible voice, and in doing so, paid a little more attention to its primary objective: public diplomacy.


[UPDATE] A brand new report from today morning - just fresh out of the oven - publicizing British Queen's successful public diplomacy in Russia.



Well, at least "Laughter is the most healthful exertion." Whether it works for Russian PD, is a totally different matter...


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Thursday, April 15, 2010

"New Russia": Not the Old Imperialist

I have been working on several public diplomacy-related papers over the past couple of weeks, one of which is the "culmination" of a semester-long project analyzing Russia's PD efforts with my dear colleague, Laura. I should say, it was very interesting to be working on it, while simultaneously following Medvedev on his "Charm-the-World" spree. Not only did Russia manage to make good use of "tragedy diplomacy", as in the cases of the Moscow bombings and the Kaczyński catastrophe, but it also had its leader actively engaging with the foreigners, be it the Europeans (in Vyborg), the Americans (here, in DC), the Latin Americans (he visited Argentina, and is currently attending the BRIC Summit in Brazil), and, certainly, the world in general (in Prague).

But all these efforts can also be said to remain at the level of traditional diplomacy, as although Medvedev was directly talking to the people, most of his actions were limited to the context of "high-level diplomacy". Just as always, real improvement in image and perceptions will need time to take root, if at all.

As Laura and I were working on the Russia project, two major points came up: the ever-persisting "Cold War" image of Russia that is still very prevalent in the West, and (perhaps as a response) Russia's increasingly blunt attempts to re-brand itself as a "New", progressive country. A quick look at Russia's Pavillion at China Expo, or the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics preparations will certainly attest to that. And yet, it seems that no matter how hard Russia tries, it will be years, if not decades, for it to really acquire credibility and enjoy the trust of the Western leaders and publics (well, a discussion of Russia's PD efforts - and how many of them do not work - would be appropriate here, but that will come in a later post... perhaps).

All this was more than just obvious in some of the responses to the events in Kyrgyzstan. Some were quick to blame Russia in masterminding the so-called "revolution" as a deliberate act to undermine the U.S. influence in the region. This can very well be a possibility, which should not be rejected outright; however, this claim ignores the very reasonable possibility of the existence of a pro-Russian majority in the country. Such claims also ignore - time and again - the simple fact that Russia, which clearly does not enjoy the benefit of having substantial "Soft Power" in the West, is still seen as the preferred foreign "partner" by many in the former Soviet countries.



It so happens that I had to read quite a lot on the concept of "hegemony" as well, and I could not think of a better term to describe Russia's relationship with its immediate region (and the so-called "sphere of influence"), since hegemony, unlike imperialism, does not rely on brute force or dominance. Instead, it is an "opinion-moulding activity" which brings about "consensual order" (sounds somehow all too familiar, although the terminology is a little different). Here, I should also point out an article by Tsygankov, providing a wonderful analysis of the Russian influence in the CIS area, and tracing it back to a single, most important need shared by all of these countries (including Russia itself): stability.

Indeed, Russia's power in the region is by no means limited to the "soft" aspect (there is no denying that). However, it can also be argued that the latter is way much more significant in Russia's "smart power" equation for the region. For example, this 2008-2009 Gallup poll conducted in the CIS is fairly revealing:


Quite obviously the percentage of people thinking that it is more important to have closer ties with Russia even if it hurts the relationship with the U.S. far outweighs the percentage of those who believe the opposite. The only notable exceptions are Georgia and Azerbaijan (for quite obvious reasons), and yet, even in their cases, there is clear preference for Russia. (By the way, I am quite surprised by the results in Armenia. What happened to the much-acclaimed "Complementarity"?)

This poll, then, not only shows how Russia has been successful in maintaining its hegemony in the region, but can also indicate why it is increasingly difficult for the United States to take over that role in those countries (especially if its efforts go well beyond mere public diplomacy). The fact that two-thirds of those polled (granted, one has faith in Gallup's credibility) in Kyrgyzstan would prefer Russia over the U.S., if they were to choose one, is quite telling in itself; but when coupled with all the "democracy" hypocrisy and the dire economic situation, this factor can perhaps shed a little more light on why the Kyrgyz were all too willing (just like the Ukrainians) to embrace Russia again. Bashing Russia as a mere "imperialist" is, therefore, a misperception. Instead, it Russia should be seen as making effective use of its smart power.

Of course, Russia's public diplomacy (writ large) in the region consists of multiple layers and dimensions, the language arguably being the most prominent of them, but it is clearly appropriate for its audiences there (the centuries-long relationship did affect both sides, in terms of learning and accommodation). Engaging with the U.S., however, is much more difficult for what seem to be two major reasons: the fact that the Americans are all too aware of and averse to giving in to Russian influence (no matter how "soft"), and the assumption on the part of Russians that the same PD approach that works in the CIS could work in the U.S., too (even though, with an altered content: see RT).

Medvedev has put a good start. Yet, Russia still has a lot to learn, especially in its "New" capacity.






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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Mr. Obama, keep walking please

Now that the Nuclear Security Summit is successfully over and DC can get back to normal again, all attention has turned to the assessments of the outcomes of this event. The reflections seems to be positive so far, and although most of the "diplomatic" dances and premeditated announcements were by no means a surprise, it is noteworthy that Obama's image - together with that of the United States - got a major boost as a result.

Yes, the actual outcome might not have proved to be really substantial (i.e. in terms of agreements reached during the summit, and not pre-planned or pre-staged ones), except for, perhaps, the communique that promises stronger action against "non-state actors" seeking nukes for "malicious purposes". And yet, having convened such an "unprecedented" gathering of 47 leaders from around the world, Obama clearly showed his commitment to multilateralism and the recognition of the need for cooperation (which comes as a stark contrast to the approach of his predecessor).


In a post this January, I was rather skeptical about Obama's public diplomacy achievements over his first year in office. There was quite a lot of disappointment in the air then, and - still - confusion over his Nobel Prize. And yet, over the past few months, he seems to have been proving himself to the world.

It is really interesting to look back at the reasons cited for his Nobel Peace Prize: "...for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples. The Committee has attached special importance to Obama's vision of and work for a world free from nuclear weapons." Seems like the success in this one summit hit both marks (following the signing of the new START Treaty in Prague last week, of course)!

And yet, this is just the beginning. Not only does Obama already face a fierce battle at home on many of his "oh-so-brilliant" foreign policy initiatives, but he also has to make sure to follow up on some of his other promises: namely, to close Guantanamo, really improve the relations with the Muslim world (yes, the touchy Israeli issue needs to be dealt with), and make substantial progress on Climate Change.

It may be a tough battle, but the returns are more than just worth it. In the increasingly "flat" world, going it alone is not only difficult, but also counter-productive. And certainly, the best image the U.S. can put out there is that of a truly engaged and committed President, who keeps his promises, and genuinely tries, at least, to achieve them. Another major step forward!

Just don't back down, Mr. Obama. Keep walking, please.



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Saturday, April 10, 2010

Nazarbayev, nukes, and PD

I ran into this "piece of art" today morning at the corner of E St. and 7th. Just too priceless not to share.



With the Global Summit on Nuclear Safety just 2 days away, seems like OSCE's 2010 Chairman is not losing the opportunity of "speaking to the world" and venturing into the domain of Soft Power by sharing some of the Semipalatinsk horrors.

And yet, it's all the more ironic that the Human Rights Watch called on Obama to use this week's opportunity to put pressure on the Kazakh leader regarding the "democracy" (rather, absence thereof) and human rights issues in his country. And although the fact that Kazakhstan is chairing OSCE shows that economic and hard power are still the major factors that matter in international affairs, it is also quite telling in terms of Nazarbayev's desire to host the OSCE Summit of the decade and display the "architectural achievements" of his new capital (if nothing else).

President Nursultan Nazarbayev has been in power since 1989. Read more here, and more on the real background here.



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Thursday, April 8, 2010

Oh, these "revolutions"

Reading all the sad news from Kyrgyzstan today, the only thing that these unfortunate events remind me of is this old-time saying - "be careful what you wish for."

And of course, the Soviets had a joke (just as on practically anything):

In 1921, two [former] Red revolutionaries meet and start talking about all the hardship and the horrid famine that hit the country. One of them says, "Hey, let's organize another revolution!" The other replies, "What if we win again?"

Of course, the case is VERY different here, but the parallels of irony cannot be ignored. I just hope people don't suffer anymore.

And, interestingly, there seems to be an absence of a virtual revolution on Twitter, and indeed, it is surprising that it has not yet received another "color" brand. Or is it not?



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Wednesday, April 7, 2010

On Saudi Arabia, camels, and... The Whopper!

Despite selling real bad food, I didn't know Burger King can be consciously selling a real bad image of the US, too. An NPR program today directed me to the following BK ads, meant to be run in the Gulf region. They depict two young Arab (most probably, Saudi) men having Whoppers with two, totally clueless American young women. These are just 30 seconds long, and believe me, they are worth seeing.

Here, the unsuspecting American finds out that her companions live out in the desert, in "double-story tents".



Here, both American women listen intently to the young Arabs telling about the oil wells in their backyards, and how they receive groups of businessmen (and bags of cash) every week, to drill with their hands.



And this one was my favorite.



If you didn't know, the Saudis take daily camel rides to work, and the richer they are, the more humps their camels have (hmm... limos?!?). Notice the third guy in the back, with a Kalashnikov in his hand?

I should say, these are hilarious. At the same time, they are very sad, since they push every conceivable notion of cultural sensitivity to the limit. And yet, despite being over-exaggerated, I have, personally, come across people who were asked whether they are from "Arabia", or whether they know a terrorist (whatever that might mean), just because they are, or look like they are, from the Middle East.

Can't help but think back to a very interesting movie about stereotypes on Arabs, as perpetuated by the beloved Hollywood.



According to an article on the Global Post, the ads were developed by the Dubai-based Tonic Communications, specifically for the BK's Gulf Region franchise.* Given that BK is a business looking to maximize profits, it would also be safe to assume that the advertising agency has done its marketing research and is attempting - at the very least - to strike a cord with its target audience.

If this is indeed the case, then, there comes the inevitable question: is this the image that Arabs (especially the young population - the one BK would be trying to reach, and the one the US considers SO important) have of the Americans?

So much for public diplomacy.



* I would really recommend taking a look at the piece. Especially toward the end, the author has some priceless "mini-stories" about typical American misperceptions about "Arabia."



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Thursday, April 1, 2010

Cold War 2.0

About a week ago the Heritage Foundation held a panel discussion on "Russian Anti-Americanism: A Priority Target for U.S. Public Diplomacy," the purpose of which was - or at least, so it seemed - to point out the lack of streamlined American PD efforts in Russia and the former Eastern bloc in general. The major conclusion was that the Russian "elites" have been championing anti-Americanism for domestic purposes, and thus, the organizers of the event called for more attention and a greater need for a "clear" and a "thought-out" American information strategy in those countries. Some outrageous points made here and there. You can judge for yourselves.

Quite interestingly, though, I came across yesterday's CrossTalk on RT, which looked at the same issue, just from the opposite perspective (I highly recommend watching the entire segment).



Several questionable (and for some, perhaps, outrageous) points were made throughout this discussion as well. However, what is most interesting is that these "panels" illustrate, quite vividly, the mutual perceptions of each other. Just by listening to both discussions it becomes clear that the people of the US and Russia do not have a good understanding of the other former "enemy." Although the panelists (some of them, at least) tried to emphasize that the Cold War is long over, they all agreed that perceptions, especially among the influential decision-makers, are still very much the same, and even the arguments of the speakers themselves often reflected that.

Obviously, the problem can be traced back to the lack of proper and realistic education in both countries about the society of the other, which would, hopefully, help understand the motivations and goals behind respective actions and tendencies. Yet, I should also note that the actual policies are a major factor in this (already historical) mutual distrust and dislike to begin with:

- human rights record of Russia is poor, democratization is questionable at best, and the economy is performing below the perceived capacity (or so the argument goes).

- Russia, when dealing with its direct neighbors, is often seen as following imperialist aspirations.

- the US is often very aggressive in promoting its own version of "democracy" in the region, and although it has proved to be a failure in many of the former Soviet countries, the missionary work persists thanks to certain interests (be they energy, geopolitical, or purely economic).

- double standards are apparent in many decisions and moves, and when they are imposed along with the "universally true" message, they become simply unacceptable to many in the Russian leadership, as well as the Russian public.

Problems are many, and unfortunately, it is reasonable to expect no change in these policies from either of the states. However, there are attitudes and tactics that can be changed, and that can, at least - as already said - help understand why certain decisions are taken. There has been much talk about network-building and relational approaches to public diplomacy, and that can be the key to addressing the problem successfully. (Image: American WWII poster. Courtesy of War Stories.)

Cold War-style information campaigns are obviously not working anymore, not just due to the rise of the Internet Age, or the increasing prominence of horizontal and truly pluralistic information "terrains", but simply because of the credibility deficit on both sides. In this case, pursuing associative public diplomacy - to use Dr. Zaharna's term - between the two publics can, potentially, create the much needed mutuality that can, over time give way to trust and commitment. Thus, the "elites" should, instead of lashing out at each other, foster and coordinate the building of these networks, that will, eventually, provide the space for better understanding, acceptance, and closer cooperation.

I should also emphasize a point I tried to outline in a recent post: the importance of education of the local publics. Not only will that enhance much more successful inter-societal networking, but it can also help the governments in their cooperation, since their closer ties will not be perceived as unpopular anymore (at least, not to extent they are now). Social networking, the media, the educational system, as well as public discussions such as those above, can indeed play a great role in this matter.

The realist in me is yelling now. And I think she has a point. All this public diplomacy talk is great, but it cannot work unless there are real changes in the mentality of the leaders (be it political, business, military, or cultural). Such a shift is absolutely necessary, since it is also the key to shifting the relationship away from the Cold War model, toward a dynamic that would better reflect the pressing needs and challenges of today. Both sides have to compromise, recognizing that they both will benefit as a result (and again, the big assumption here is that they indeed can benefit from close cooperation).

This would necessitate opening up, being willing to learn, and adapt (note: not duplicate) certain modes of "other" government and societal interactions that seem to work. It would necessitate discarding the old "information battle" approach of messages and "stories" to tell or teach, as well as putting aside aspirations to achieve unipolarity and spread one's own version of "universal truth." And most importantly, it would require abstaining from statements, at least in public, that incriminate what was labelled as Putin's "multi-polar vision in which Russia and many other states would check American influence."

Now, what would be the sentiment here, if Cuba actively sought to join Russia in a "security alliance"?




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