This article is written by Hassan Ahmed, he is a graduate in International Relations from the National University of Modern Languages, Islamabad. His interests include building connections between the theories and practices of international relations and applying new approaches to IR phenomena.
The Importance of People-to-People Diplomacy:
The times are long past when diplomacy was considered a specialized job reserved for a select elite. With the shift in the nature of polities the diplomats serve, the scope of diplomacy also broadened. Diplomats dealt with political, military, and security matters, which were considered as primary concerns of the state, through secretive communication with their peers.
However, the priorities of the many states have shifted since, with human development and people’s well-being becoming the accepted normative concern of the state. Also, due to developments in information and communication technology, contact and awareness among people have become easier, faster, and inevitable.
These developments provide states an opportunity to support building deeper and grassroots connections with people of other states. The practice of people-to-people diplomacy developed in this context.
This particular mode of diplomacy has become increasingly necessary for the states for several reasons. Firstly, the norms governing international relations have shifted, as indicated above, with human interest becoming an important part. Moreover, it has been proven to have immense potential for peace-building.
Finally, the power of soft power in the current world order has increased manifold, and it is an effective way to build and maintain soft power. States today can not achieve foreign policy objectives without the free involvement of their citizens in informal diplomacy.
People-to-people diplomacy, also expressed synonymously with the terms “public diplomacy” and “people’s diplomacy”, is a form of diplomacy that entails contact and communication between public officials, common citizens, and foreign people for the public interest.
The difference between activities characterized as people’s diplomacy and other pure international exchanges is that these are deliberate efforts related to a country’s foreign policy goals and wider national interest. This can be achieved through private think-tank collaborations, joint academic ventures, educational engagement, cultural exchanges, and establishing transnational business and economic ties.
Diplomacy has “broadened”, which implies that there are several things about diplomacy that have not changed, that it retains some of its old characteristics. For instance, official diplomacy in much of the world is still centered around the promotion of a state’s interest abroad. Diplomacy regarding matters of security is still secretive and dealt with by professional diplomats.
Significance of Diplomacy:
But as national interest has evolved to include non-traditional sectors such as the environment, the role of the people in relations among states has also increased. Nowadays, global governance and international relations are not only about war, peace, and security, but also about health, environment, economy, etc. The involvement of professionals other than diplomats and politicians is required in these sectors.
Human interaction among nations can prove to be one of the most effective factors in limiting war and conflict and is a promising approach for peace-building. Public opinion and psychological factors such as feelings of familiarity and friendliness among people for another country can play an important part in the making of foreign policy.
Sympathetic communication between people and people’s representatives will lead to better chances of integration, cooperation, and mutual well-being. People-to-people diplomacy is an effective way of ensuring these outcomes. It is more effective in building long-term and deeper ties than government-to-government contacts as it involves the free and inclusive participation of people having a broad range of interests and ideas.
Another reason for the growing importance of people’s diplomacy is that powerful states in the current international order rely as much on soft power as on military might. Indeed, the importance of soft power has only increased with the march of time. People’s diplomacy is a proven method for building such soft power.
For instance, cultural and educational exchanges and preferential trade arrangements provided by the European Union for the people of developing countries as a part of people’s diplomacy have led to Europe becoming a powerhouse in non-traditional modes of power.
Although the benefits of people’s diplomacy are obvious, a number of states lag behind in this key development for a complex set of reasons. A state unwilling to encourage and trust its officials to interact with the people of host states and its citizens to support their interests while engaging with foreign nations is vulnerable to external isolation and internal strife.
This occurs when the governments are authoritarian and facing real internal divisions that they are unwilling or unable to solve. Such governments also support feelings of enmity and hatred against another nation. However, many states which were isolationist or had problems with their neighboring countries are slowly embracing people’s diplomacy.
Uzbekistan would be a prime example. Strictly isolationist and having conflicts with its neighbors under the first President Islam Karimov’s dictatorial regime, it has since established friendly relations with them by employing people-to-people diplomacy. China is another example, which achieved international recognition through engaging American players in table tennis matches (ping-pong diplomacy) in 1972.
In essence, to be a successful state in contemporary international society, it has to engage with the common folk of other states while also supporting its citizens to build ties with other countries. People’s diplomacy produces good results for the economy, international stability, peace, and quality of life. Nations that have failed to build a tradition of people’s diplomacy have lesser chances of gaining their national interest without conflict.