Food Diplomacy

Last class we spoke briefly about soft power and its many definitions. One of the definitions we reviewed was from the Nye reading titled “Public Diplomacy & Soft Power.” In this reading, Nye defines soft power as “the ability to affect others to obtain the outcomes one wants through attraction rather than coercion or payment. A country’s soft power rests on its resources of culture, values, and policies. A smart power strategy combines hard and soft power resources. Public diplomacy is an important tool in the arsenal of smart power, but smart public diplomacy requires an understanding of the roles of credibility, self-criticism, and civil society in generating soft power.”

Nye later recognizes that there are three main ways in which power influences others’ behavior. The first being threats of coercion, then inducements and payments and finally “attraction,” that which makes others want what you want (soft power). He specifically mentions that “A country may obtain the outcomes it wants in world politics because other countries want to follow it, admiring its values, emulating its example, and/or aspiring to its level of prosperity and openness.”


I would like to emphasize his idea of soft power being one that rests on culture and values. It is quite evident that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has openly been a strong proponent of soft power in all of its forms. I wrote about food in my first blog, and I should conclude by writing about food again. I’d like to briefly discuss the State Department’s food diplomacy program known as “Diplomatic Culinary Partnership.” I feel this is a great example of very soft power, one in which we share our U.S. values through food. I argue that this is an alternate form of dialogue that elicits emotion and communicates values, ideals and more. Many have criticized such a program, but they completely disregard the power of food as identity and as communication. Often, food says a lot more than what one can exchange at a negotiation table—there is obvious shared meaning.  American Chef Corps is made up of 80 food professionals who are deployed abroad as culinary ambassadors who do what most diplomats would do, although with a culinary twist. They “cook for visiting dignitaries, speak to groups, write articles, blog, tweet or find other ways to extol the virtues of American cooking and food products.”[1] I argue that with such programs in where emotions elicited and values are communicated in a way that most will understand (food), there is a greater likelihood for there to exist openness to an attraction in which others want what you want. Overall, food helps transcend boundaries, an imperative for public diplomacy.



Soft Power: Another Form of Imperialism?

Soft power as explained by Joseph Nye is getting others to want what you want without the use of coercive means. Reading Nye’s piece of public diplomacy and soft power from a post-colonial perspective motivated me to rethink my understanding of soft power and its place U.S. diplomacy. If we are a question that values diversity and freedom for all, is it ethically correct to use “soft power as a means to obtain our ends? That is the question that I’ve been reflecting upon since I read Nye’s piece.
The sole objective of soft power is to advance U.S. interests without making our nation look like the “bad guy.” It almost seems like a euphemism for manipulation. This is the problem that many developing and non-western nations have with the U.S. government. This to many of them is just another form of American imperialism. The most frustrating aspect of this is that it is packaged as something good and almost beneficial when for many, it is a manipulation of power.
I also understand that as a nation, the use of soft power is an important tool in our diplomatic toolbox. Rather than using force, this is seen as a more benevolent way of getting our objectives met. However, I think that it’s time to reconsider the way that we approach developing nations when practicing public diplomacy. If not reconsider than at least be honest about the approaches that we employ. I would love to hear other thoughts on this topic.

Public Diplomacy and Moon Rocks

Public diplomacy has long been a tool in the arsenal of diplomats, to paraphrase Nye, and it’s easy to see why. Closely intertwined with soft power, it is a strategic way of imparting information about key policies and messages to other countries. The appeal of somemoon rock forms of public diplomacy are easy to understand – a female U.S. celebrity attending special an embassy event in another country and talking about women’s rights, for example, or a U.S. ambassador sharing a tweet to with thousands of followers. Recently, though, I attended a lecture about a far less obvious form of public diplomacy: moon rocks.

Yep, you read that right. Moon rocks. Now how on earth could a moon rock play an important role in the public diplomacy history of the United States? I was wondering the same thing myself a few weeks ago when I attended a lecture at the National Air and Space Museum about the moon rocks collected during the Apollo missions.

Although it sounds silly today, moon rocks carried a great deal of public diplomacy capital shortly after the Apollo Missions. At the time, a great deal of excitement and curiosity surrounded the rocks, which drew positive attention to the United States. The U.S. prominently displayed a moon rock at the 1970 World Fair in Osaka, Japan, where it was so popular that people would wait between four – seven hours just to see to it. I’m paraphrasing from my memory of the lecture, but one Japanese reporter apparently quipped that the United States needn’t have bothered to display anything else but the moon rock, and that people would have been grateful for the extra space to squeeze to see the aforementioned object. President Nixon also used the moon rocks as a public diplomacy tool. He distributed rice-sized fragments of moon rock to 135 foreign heads of state. The moon rocks were mounted on a wood plaque and looked fairly unimpressive, but this did not diminish their effectiveness as a communication tool. Part of the moon rock’s usefulness as a public diplomacy tool had to do with the scientific achievements that it represented for America and by larger extent, mankind.

While their popularity as public diplomacy tool eventually died, the moon rocks’ unusual legacy poses interesting questions about public diplomacy today. What kinds of public diplomacy tools do we have today, and are they more virtual than physical?  

By Kira

A tweeting State Department

One of the main rules any company should keep in mind when engaging in social media is that whoever is responsible for the blog posts/tweets/status updates/re-tweets/likes etc. should enjoy working with social media. Enjoying to work with this type of media will make the posts more authentic and believable.

When I read Comentez’ article I wondered if the people at the State Department responsible for all tweets etc. actually enjoy what they are doing and if they are truly aware of who their readership is.

When the article talked about how people had to learn how to write shorter reports and make shorter videos I could not get stop thinking that these people are old-school trained marketing folks (at best, at worst their training never involved marketing and outreach) to whom the idea of social media does not come naturally. It is true, every organization or company needs to adapt when a new marketing strategy is adopted (and the public diplomacy campaign is nothing but that). However, these tweets are not intended to sell more yogurt or advertise a Black Friday event. These tweets are supposed to represent the United States and it’s mission in the world. Can you really do that in 140 characters? Can you really create an interest? Spark a change? If you do not know who your readership is (exactly), aren’t those tweets and status updates just a feeble attempt in trying to reach anyone who is willing to listen?

A company knows who they are tweeting for (consumers with their special demographics, and maybe employees). A country tweeting for potentially everyone in the world? I’m not sure I see the overlap in the audience. Social media is great, but I think that for a nation it is not the way to do diplomacy.

What I do think will work better is what was mentioned in the article, the provision on wifi or cellphone net alternatives. This way the people themselves are engaging. They are required to come up with their own ideas and content. It is, in a way, helping people to help themselves. This is where the future lies and this is what “21st century statecraft” a.k.a. public diplomacy should be about.


where the reading got it wrong (imho)

I admit I do not know a lot about Islamic fundamentalism and Al-Quaida to say I am truly knowledgable but what I do know is that Khatib in her chapter “Communicating Islamic Fundamentalism” is wrong in putting Hamas and Al-Quaida in one category. She writes, “Al-Quaida is a network of movements operating worldwide … While the movements agree in opposing Israel, for example, not all of them engage in anti-Israeli missions (such missions seem to be conducted mainly by by the Islamic Jihad and Hamas in Palestine)” (Khatib in International Communication: A Reader, Thussu D. (Ed.) pg. 283). She implies that Hamas is a movement under the umbrella of Al-Quaida yet both share opposing roots and goals. In the case of Hamas the fight is concentrated on a national goal which is the independence of Palestine.

Just to be clear, I do not sympathize with either movement and am not making a political statement. But to put all movements in one box because they carry the label of fundamentalism with them is imho wrong. [This is also not to say that there is no Al-Quaida movement in the areas controlled by Hamas. I do not know if there is or not.]


The Evolution of Louis Vuitton

So we have been talking a lot of international communications as it applies to the nation-state, networks, international relations theory, cosmopolitanism, and so forth. Well this post wants to take a different spin on international communications and see it through the eyes of a couture handbag retailer, Louis Vuitton. (Just as a side note, I work in fashion retailing, so this post fits right in with that!) From the mind of 16-year old Louis Vuitton Malletier, who set out to be a trunk-maker, developed into a globally known fashion house. Starting in 1854 evolving to the 21st century, Louis Vuitton is recognized as the most valuable luxury brand in the world. Yet, throughout its transformation from 1854 to 2012, its adaptation to the changing international atmosphere has enabled them to maintain their recognizable brand throughout the world. And something that has further facilitated this dominance is via social media. As Caitlin detailed in her blog post, the pros and cons of social media, it seems to help Louis retain his valuable status.

In 2009, Louis Vuitton with the opening of their global ‘maisons’, launched their social media presence. While Louis Vuitton markets and develops products with a ‘traditional’ appeal, this social media presence helps them to bridge ‘modernity’. Pulled from an Louis Vuitton’s launch of the London ‘maison’, setting up a social media presence provides them one more avenue in their “global communication process.” So just as political movements, the Department of State and other actors incorporated social media into their international communication strategies, retailers have needed to do the same. While this is certainly an adaptation of Caitlin’s pros and cons article, it applies to more than just governments, NGOs, and transnational networks. Global fashion houses are cognizant of similar issues impacting their business, sales, and the continuation of the brand.

So while we have been discussing international communications in more of a state, non-state, and network light, Louis Vuitton along with the other traditional fashion houses (such as Chanel), have had to pick up their game as well. Integrating social media into their international communication strategies have helped them to uphold their iconic status across the globe!


P.S.: Just check out their Facebook likes!



A subject near and dear to my heart … Zumba. It seems a bit crazy to think about Zumba in the context of International Communications … but really the successful fitness program, developed by Mr. Beto Perez, has grown to over 150 Countries. Started in the mid 1990’s in Colombia, ‘Beto'(as he is called by Zumba-goers and instructors around the globe) accidentally created a whole new fitness program. Using salsa and merengue in place of traditional aerobics, this ‘dance-fitness’ took off. Through the help of entrepreneurs, Beto brought Zumba to the United States in 2001, starting with just master classes, Beto’s creation blossomed into a full-fledged fitness program known around the globe!

Using social media and strategic mission, Zumba continues to grow across the globe. Unlike other fitness programs, Zumba focuses on the ‘dance-party’. Typical programs stress sections of the body it tones, strengthens, or lift or emphasizes a ‘total-workout’. Well … Zumba went about it a different way, transferring the program into each new country, Zumba continues to frame the program as fitness “without the strain, without the sacrifice, just the pure joy of a party.” Zumba emphasizes fun for all, its line of programs – Gold, Sentao, Aqua, Atomic, and Toning – enable everyone (kids and older people) to get in on the party! Furthermore, its ability to promote its brand and it’s mission through Facebook, helped to carry the dance-fitness program overseas. By establishing individual Zumba Facebook pages in each new country grew into, Zumba could tailor it’s messages and programs to appeal to those new fitness goers. Zumba’s use of Facebook to grow the program has enabled it to become a global phenomena (unlike Jazzercize!). By framing it’s mission into each cultural context and relying on Facebook input as the means to develop the program internationally, Zumba Fitness is able to “spread the philosophy of health and happiness and of loving everything you do” around the globe!