Professors speak on prospects for public diplomacy

Julia Erickson | Daily Trojan

Julia Erickson | Daily Trojan

Two USC professors and a visiting scholar spoke about the changing way governments and their citizens communicate Wednesday at an event hosted by the USC Center on Public Diplomacy.

Philip Seib, a professor of journalism and public diplomacy at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism and professor of international relations at the USC Dornsife School of Letters, Arts and Sciences, discussed his new book, The Future of #Diplomacy.

The conversation also included Conrad Turner, a visiting senior scholar at the Center on Public Diplomacy and a former diplomat who worked in Ukraine, Croatia, Austria and various other nations, as well as Jay Wang, director of the Center on Public Diplomacy.

The discourse was largely centered around the growing role of social media in modern diplomacy. Seib said that rapid advancements in technology that have allowed people to instantaneously consume, produce and share information have given nations the ability to not only communicate with foreign governments more quickly, but also to reach foreign publics directly.

“The key premise of the book is that the future of diplomacy is inextricably linked to the future of media,” Seib said. “It’s also linked to the public’s use of media to become more intense observers of and participants in the diplomatic process.”

Seib also noted that, as a result of these new channels of communication between governments and the public, people have felt more empowered to voice their opinions and become actively involved in policy decisions. In contrast to previous perceptions of diplomacy as taking place behind closed doors and in smoke-filled back rooms, there is a new expectation of transparency that was virtually inconceivable only a few decades ago.

“In the old days, the diplomatic process was conducted by an all-male group that was very elite and very separate from the public,” Seib said. “What has happened now is that the distance [between the public and government diplomats] has narrowed considerably because of all the information being provided by a range of media.”

Seib also discussed expanding diplomatic bureaucracy during the talk.

He pointed out that various bureaucratic organizations within the government have grown exponentially in recent years, in part to meet the complex needs of today’s ever-changing nature of statecraft but also because certain policy areas have generated large amounts of attention and concern.

“If you’re in Washington and you put out your hands and say the word ‘counterterrorism,’ piles of money fall from the sky,” Seib said. “Bureaucracy follows money. If there’s funding, bureaucrats will follow, whether it’s appropriate or not.”

Seib also pointed out that, while social media and other forms of modern communication can increase the transmission speed of diplomatic information between government officials and the public, it is important to remember that Twitter posts may not convey policy nuances as effectively as traditional methods.

“You need policy,” Seib said. “You can’t become so focused on the tools that you lose sight of the fact that you have to have policy, and policy doesn’t always boil down to 140 characters.”

Erin Pineda, a sophomore majoring in international relations, said that she enjoyed listening to Seib’s insights into today’s changing diplomatic environment, and that she will have to understand these developments to succeed in her future career.

“He talked about the closing gap between diplomats and domestic stakeholders and having to be held accountable to them and also constantly being subjected to their opinions,” Pineda said. “You think of [diplomacy] as unilateral where you’re making the decisions, but you have to remember that you are also being held accountable to domestic interests.”