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Debating the future of soft power practices in Washington DC

On June 6th, The Hague Journal of Diplomacy launched its latest double special issue, “Debating Public Diplomacy: Now and Next”, in Washington DC. The seminar on the future of soft power practices, at the Pew Research Center known of its global opinion polls, took place against the backdrop of concerns about states and their leaders influencing and destabilising the political process in other countries, openly or by illicit means.

Emphasising the importance of bridging the study-practice gap, the Leiden University Institute of Security and Global Affairs (ISGA) teamed up with the Center on Public Diplomacy at University of Southern California, Los Angeles, and the Pew Center. Leading US scholars as well as Washington-based practitioners discussed current trends in diplomatic engagement with foreign publics - and increasingly with their domestic constituency. Eminent IR scholar Joseph S. Nye of Harvard University, who coined the term soft power almost 30 years ago, kicked off a panel discussion moderated by Jan Melissen, Senior Fellow at ISGA and founding Editor-in-Chief of The Hague Journal of Diplomacy (HJD).

Developments in diplomacy

Panellists suggested that the former transatlantic consensus regarding the nature of diplomatic communication with publics is challenged by authoritarian powers abroad and the forces of populism and nativism at home. They also alerted that the preoccupation with technological change goes at the expense of the more important psychological perspective. In the fight against state-sponsored 'fake news' and other forms of disinformation, for instance, human factors rather than ‘digital change’ are driving the success of such campaigns.

Greater engagement with foreign diaspora groups in Western countries deserves more priority, both scholars and practitioners argued. Such groups have a potential in-between advantage for public diplomacy that has been insufficiently appreciated by foreign policy-makers. Academics at the seminar also argued that communication dynamics untethering culture from the state may create more space for humanity-centred diplomatic practices that would reflect cultural diversity and a growing global consciousness.

Header: Jan Melissen is sitting second from the left

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