"Public Diplomacy in the Information Age" was a very successful conference. Congratulations to the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) for pulling this off - a first of its kind international conference on PD in India! I hope this becomes an annual affair. It was also wonderful meeting some of my readers at the conference. I will share my learnings from this conference in subsequent posts and try to examine and ideate on the way forward.
Some initial observations:
- Keeping with the spirit of New Public Diplomacy, it was heartening to see participation of representatives from different sectors - Policymakers, corporate world, diplomats, civil society organizations, students, foreign experts etc - MEA got it right in understanding the importance of collaboration and partnerships. Nobody can go alone in today's world.
- Discussion topics, though not exhaustive, were chosen well that tried to capture the dominant themes in PD discourse today globally, including discussions on PD 2.0 and role of transnational corporations in shaping perceptions and 'generating influence.'
- The tone of the conference was basic. Most issues discussed were maybe 'PD 101' for some participants who have some background in PD or global communications. Nonetheless, there were no dearth of interesting insights for the student and practitioner of Public Diplomacy.
- While ignorance about PD among some participants can be understood given that it is 'new' in India, what I failed to understand was the lack of a nuanced understanding of PD and its role in statecraft among some academics and ex-diplomats. We may not be doing it but aren't we supposed to know what's happening around the world in our respective areas of expertise? Thank god the conference happened!
A question that came up repeatedly was the relationship between 'Public Diplomacy' and 'Power.' Some sections of participants found it difficult to accept that PD 'IS' about 'power.' Public diplomacy is an important tool in the arsenal of 'smart power' of a nation - to enhance influence & achieve national, strategic objectives, lessening reliance on 'disruptive' hard power, to the extent possible, in an increasingly interconnected world. Isn't it interesting that India's attempts at institutionalizing PD follows adoption of 'power projection' in strategic discourses on hard power doctrines? Public diplomacy was essential in winning the cold war and will be key in current struggle against transnational terrorism. 'Persuasion' scores over 'Coercion' and PD is the 'force multiplier' for the Indian Foreign Service (IFS). In the 'Age of Information' where ideas, values, conversations resound across the world, PD will become an important tool of statecraft.