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Nationalism and Public Diplomacy

July 1, 2011

Ok.  Let’s be serious.  In contemporary international affairs, national self-determination is a borderline impossible feat.

Negative stigma attached to “Balkanization,” separatism,” and “nationalism,” along with the perceived advent of a post-modern cosmopolitanism, have created public boundaries and reinforced statist distaste for self-determination.  The international system accepts secession only under dire circumstances.  It is no surprise that nationalist movements have only succeeded when they are willing to set aside international norms by resorting to violence (see South Sudan, Ireland, Kosovo, etc.) or a disregard for the international community (Montenegro, Somaliland, Taiwan).  There is a third way.

The convergence of new media technologies, an unprecedented individual access to and participation in politics, and tightening global economic ties has created an environment in which public opinions can trump political realities.

This new paradigm crowns attention as king, instead of traditional power sources such as sovereignty, military projection, or organizational relevance.  An adorable kitten can garner more attention than a rising politician.  If this attention can be shaped into action (ranging from physical participation to mental appreciation), the stateless underdog becomes a “legitimate” actor.  The harnessing of such mediums of attention is carried out through public diplomacy.

For those unfamiliar with the term; “public diplomacy” as a concept came of age during the Cold War when it essentially doubled as propaganda.  “Freedom and Democracy” for the United States, “Revolution and Socialism” for the USSR, etc.  PD manifested itself in broadcast informational messages from governments to foreign publics, engaging them in diplomatic struggles.  Exchange programs, “sister cities,” celebrity participation, “nation-branding” all fall under the general field of public diplomacy.  Over the last decade, the field has been shifting.  Now public audiences are more important than they have ever been; and their opinions and actions affect (and effect) policy results.

Public diplomacy is uniquely capable of creating perceived independence in place of political sovereignty.  If nationalist agencies contribute and engage publicly, creating a narrative of independence, key audiences will likely begin to  participate in the narrative and pave the path to a successful independence referendum.

I argue that embracing public opinions as political realities and acting above the statist international system, nations can achieve the perception of independence that can then be leveraged against the system.

Interesting notion and by no means novel-we could all benefit by more research and writing on the relationship between PD and nationalism (not just paradiplomacy, which focuses on intrastate diplomacy).

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