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Corroding consensus-building: how self-centered public diplomacy is damaging diplomacy and what can be done about it


Public diplomacy (PD) is an activity which has become central to the analysis of modern diplomacy. Yet while there are common definitions of PD widely used internationally, practice between states has come to diverge more and more. There is disagreement in the academic literature about what should be included in PD activities, the actors, and boundaries. But there is little analysis of the effects of PD on mainstream diplomacy. This paper, written by a diplomat and sometime practitioner of PD, argues that PD is losing its connection with wider diplomacy which is based on reciprocity and consensus-building. The digital revolution has enabled PD self-promotion which diminishes the necessity for diplomatic partnering. Global rivalries are played out daily for global publics with little room for quiet reflection and compromise. Such self-centered PD has immersed itself in the confusing and divisive nature of online engagement. While the Internet has brought massive benefits and opportunities to both diplomacy and PD, the consensus-building part of true diplomatic engagement is receding. The activities of ISIS and Russia were just the first major collective challenges to diplomacy through new PD techniques. In the past, diplomacy has responded to crises and conflicts and rebuilt its options. Now PD’s chaotic and troubling evolution needs a new response. This should include partners in the non-state sector and the owners of technology platforms. The article takes a practitioner’s perspective and proposes a forum where state and non-state experts could discuss appropriate collective responses by diplomacy so it can reassert options available for consensus-building.

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Correspondence to Paul Webster Hare.

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Hare, P.W. Corroding consensus-building: how self-centered public diplomacy is damaging diplomacy and what can be done about it. Place Brand Public Dipl 16, 153–164 (2020).

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  • Consensus-building
  • Self-centered public diplomacy
  • Collective action