Nowadays the transnational flow of information and intensification of international dialogue give a rise to public diplomacy as an instrument of policy. On the one hand, it is the method of creating a favorable background for the activities of official diplomacy, the search for new alternative ways of resolving conflict issues and, on the other hand, it is the main element in the mechanism of recognition of civil society, which is one of the most important actors in international relations. This emphasizes the independence of such kind of diplomacy from the authorities.
We live in an era of globalized communications, when the information is fractured and fragmented. Every day millions of videos, images, news and personal comments are posted on the websites, chat rooms and other Internet applications for social interaction, making it difficult for the average citizen to deal with in this flood of information. However, this information environment also has a number of drawbacks: it is much more difficult for governments and international organizations to convey to the audience their ideas or opinions and to communicate with it. Nowadays the information is transmitted by communication between individuals from different countries, as well as between individuals and entire networks of such people. So it is not surprising that the information channels of official organizations and institutions are not trusted as a reliable source of information and they are setting up new strategies in order to influence public opinions.
This highlights even greater need in developing the methods of public diplomacy. Strategic communications and media, creating distinctive image and public relations are extremely important for winning hearts and minds of foreign audiences. Nowadays, when many governments are turning to PR companies in order to improve their image abroad, other institutions are working on establishing or improving their own tools of public diplomacy.
Public diplomacy is a tool by means of which the state or organization can tell to the world about itself. It is an instrument of declaring the principle of fairness, and that feature distinguishes public diplomacy from propaganda.
The concept of public diplomacy appeared in the U.S. only in 1960s but now you can find hardly any state or international organization that does not know what does that mean. Public diplomacy is directed to the foreign audiences, and in NATO`s case all the audience is “foreign” to this organization.
NATO – one of the leaders in the international relations – has already adopted a new understanding of modern communication and information policy. The reform of 2010 has changed the principles of functioning of the Alliance, including it`s information policy. More than ever journalists, members of research centers, officials who make responsible decisions and non-governmental organizations are filling corridors of headquarters in order to meet NATO experts. NATO leaders are more accessible to ordinary citizens now: visitors have a possibility to come to Alliance headquarters and discuss the important issues with officials.
Meantime, the image of NATO was never a unified one. And in the context of the recent changes in the Alliance, it is clear that member countries of NATO and partner countries have different ideas about the image and activity of the Alliance. When NATO starts its activities abroad, such as the mission in Afghanistan or participation in educational mission of training security forces, it becomes extremely difficult to explain to the public what makes NATO indeed. And the Allies should make both political and intellectual effort to gain the support of the society. Now one of the main aims in the management of public diplomacy at NATO Headquarters is to develop the special strategies of communication. Such strategies should provide the support for both military operation and cooperation with partner countries.
Dr. Stefanie Babst, Head of NATO Strategic Analysis Capability, points out that in the same time “public diplomacy must be connected to general policy of organization. There is no substitute for a sound policy. You can never communicate a problem away”.
“Public diplomacy of a modern international organization needs to respond to the challenges of the Web 2.0 world. Offering information about your policies and audiovisuals of all sorts online is certainly a useful thing to do, in particular because the number of online consumers has risen exponentially in the western world. Simply posting a video on YouTube does not do the trick, either. If used smartly, however, the new media technologies can do a lot to support your public diplomacy operations” – adds Dr. Babst.
The most useful and interactive communication is the communication with feedback, which combines the public, educational, governmental, business sectors of society and structures of NATO and other partner countries. Not least in this case are NATO TV and Facebook or Twitter accounts. Public Diplomacy Division is the main institutional body that deals with all this range.
Since nowadays public opinion plays even bigger role than some political efforts, public diplomacy is the instrument of an effective activity of any organization, and, ultimately, is a key to its functioning. It is also the way of reacting on the changes in international relations and preserving the reputation at the same time.
Now, NATO’s main role in public diplomacy is to explain the policy of the Alliance in order to allow the deeper understanding of security issues and to engage the public in constructive dialogue. NATO has to create a “strong” image, so the audience must see the Alliance as a defender, the organization it can trust and rely on. Moreover, this issue becomes even urgent now, when according to the survey, conducted by the German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF), the majority of member states audiences support NATO. So, NATO leadership needs to find the common interests with audiences and involve the public in policy planning of Alliance. Actually, it is very simple: just be transparent and not to waste such a support.