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What is Public Diplomacy?

by on November 27, 2013

The following post shall define what public diplomacy is and how technological advances throughout the 21st century have contributed to its expansion. It will also argue that the definition of public diplomacy has changed over time due to technological advancements throughout a globalized world.


The term ‘Public Diplomacy’ was first termed in 1965 by Dean Edmund A. Gullion. “However, recent scholar ship has shown that the term predates American usage for more than a century. This underscores the contention that public diplomacy has meant, and continues to mean different things in different historical and national contexts”[1]. Suggesting that there is a new concept of Public Diplomacy, and that the concept is different for each nation. Such concept is unsurprising given the diversity of the globalised world. It is unsurprising that such concept has developed and changed due to globalization and the technological advancements that have occurred throughout the 21st century.

What is the ‘New Public Diplomacy’?

One intellectual describes New Public Diplomacy in the 21st century as “the communication of international actor’s policies to citizens of foreign countries”[2]. Such description appears straight forward and self-explanatory, however defining how one state communicates to another countries citizens is becoming more difficult. Public Diplomacy revolves around state to state and public communication. If the communication methods of such states differ or advance, the concept in which public diplomacy is employed would also change.

The increase in technology over the last decade has amplified the number of mediums in which state governments can communicate with the citizens of foreign countries. Philip Sieb outlines this by stating that “empowerment through information has been greater in recent years from the growing pervasiveness and influence of satellite television, the internet, cell phones and other such devices”[3]. This suggests that states and citizens can empower themselves through the growing mediums in which information can be taken from. One can conclude that such advancement with one example being social media, can now be used as a form of public diplomacy, something that would have been employable two decades ago.

The expansion of such technology comes into perspective when one notices that in the UK alone, it was recorded that in “2013, 36 million adults (73%) in Great Britain accessed the Internet every day, 20 million more than in 2006, when directly comparable records began”[4].

However, such medium cannot be employed and therefore traditional approaches to diplomacy are having to be undertook with countries such as China. Even with technological advancements being made, throughout china the internet access is censored by the government under what is commonly known as the ‘Great Fire Wall of China’[5] and therefore different strategies have to be employed when creating public diplomacy strategies. This supports the notion that the term public diplomacy can mean different things in different historical and national contexts.


I would conclude that Public diplomacy is the way in which states communicate with foreign citizens, however how states employ such concept changes from state to state. This is because of the diversity between states in which access to information differs geographically. States have different motives as to why they are seeking to influence foreign publics so if one is to study Public Diplomacy it should be done on a state by state basis, using comparative methods, rather than making generalisations.


[1] Pamment, J (2013) New Public Diplomacy in the 21st Century, Routledge & James Francis Group

[2] Pamment, J (2013) New Public Diplomacy in the 21st Century, Routledge & James Francis Group


[3] Sieb, P (2011) Toward a New Diplomacy: redirecting U.S Foreign Policy, New York: Palgrave McMillian

[4] Office for National Statistics (2013) Internet Access- Households and Individuals [Online] Available at:—households-and-individuals/2013/stb-ia-2013.html


[5] Human Rights Watch (2006) Race to the Bottom, Vol 18-8, Pg. 10


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  1. jonssonigul permalink

    The rise of the New Media has certainly made a change regarding public diplomacy, since people can access various views regarding political issues instead of being “lead by a leash” like during the Cold War, when information and media channels were restricted to a large degree. The question is if we today instead are drowning in information and if we really are more well informed. Thank you for bringing up an interesting subject.

  2. Hi,
    I must say I see the role of the media and social media as well as an important part in diplomacy. It has made diplomacy more accessible and policy makers more responsible. In the next couple of years number of mobile phones will overcome the number of people in this world. Therefore nearly everyone will have an access to the Internet in some form. As the technology is progressing, public diplomacy is just getting more public. Even though it is something no one predicted 48 years ago it is seems that we are heading the right direction. It is truth that there are some negative aspects of the role of the media in public diplomacy, like the CNN effect, however there is not much we can do about it. We cannot simply stop the evolution of technology.

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