An Analysis Of German Public Diplomacy

The terrorist attacks of 9/11 triggered the revival of a previously underutilized foreign policy tactic: public diplomacy. This essay seeks to discuss the possibilities of positive achievements of public diplomacy as well as its limits. Assessing the concept’s scope for success or failure makes it necessary to primarily focus on its results. Because it is of relevance for the evaluation if public diplomacy can make a difference it will nevertheless be valuable to first introduce the concept, and what results governments want to achieve by its means.

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The example of Germany’s public diplomacy during the World Cup 2006 and its efforts to target Arab audiences demonstrates that public diplomacy has a lot of potential to improve the image of a country, enhance dialogue, establish long-term international relations and hence effectuate a country`s aim for economic, cultural and social prosperity, and national security objectives. This essay suggests that major limits to the concept of public diplomacy can be imposed by a chasm between domestic and international perceptions, by lacking engagement of emotions and by negative personal encounters. Other important constraints include autocratic political situations in the host countries and the incoherence of government policies. Although the concept of public diplomacy in general is just an adjunct to policy, it can still independently make a difference. Evaluating the limits and possibilities of public diplomacy is not only important to explain the necessity of annually spent tax-money, but also to improve and reassess different strategies of a requisite tool of international politics.

II. The Concept of public diplomacy

Discussing what public diplomacy and its different strategies can achieve makes it essential to clarify what the concept is understood to be. During the Cold War public diplomacy was strongly instrumentalized by the superpowers in order to promote their different political and social models (Melissen 2005: 3). In 1965, Dean Edmund Guillon of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy first used the term (Brown 2002). However, in the 1990s the US and several other countries abandoned their public diplomacy efforts to a large degree because it was no longer seen as a necessary tool during times of peace (Leonard 2002: 48). Facing the challenges of globalization and an increasingly interconnected world in the new millennium, most foreign offices agreed with Nye (2004a) that “politics in an information age may ultimately be about whose story wins” and thus reintegrated public diplomacy into their policy strategies. Due to the dispersion of democracy and an increase in the accessibility of information, the focus now lies on a governmental process of communication to persuade a foreign government by winning over the general public (Leonard 2002: 48) “aiming at generating understanding, agreement or even support for the sponsoring nation and its politics, policies and polity” (Zollner 2006: 163-164.).

Leonard, Stead and Smewing (2002) differentiate three dimensions of public diplomacy, which differ in scope and function: “News Management”, which reactively addresses concrete incidents within a short period of time (classical media work) – “Strategic Communication”, which proactively strives to influence the agenda of media in a foreign state in the long term – and the building of relationships of peers that create mutual trust and comprehension between two states (ibid: 8-21). In this regard it is helpful to refer to the theory of ideational liberalism. It describes why states have an interest in “winning hearts and minds” (Taylor 2006) of the people of another state. Governments are seen as representing their societies and are “therefore constrained by the underlying identities, interests, and power of individuals and groups [aˆ¦] who constantly pressure the central decision makers to pursue policies consistent with their preferences” (Moravcsik 1997: 518). The competition to assert certain values within a society and, the attempt to control the strengthening of an advantageous picture of a country aiming to influence the internal politics of a country, can partly be advanced by public diplomacy (Ostrowski 2009: 139). A state, which influences another state via public diplomacy, exerts soft power, which Joseph Nye, who coined the term, describes as “the ability to get what you want through attraction rather than coercion or payments” (Nye 2004: preface).

III. German Public Diplomacy during the World Cup 2006 – achievements and limits

1. German Public Diplomacy – goals, strategies and actors

In today’s globalised world, where reputation becomes more and more important (Anholt 2007: 9), Germany is competing for markets, investments, research, students and tourists (Deutschlandbild 2007: 27). Thus the specialist department of the Foreign Office (Auswartiges Amt, AA), the Directorate-General for Communication, Public Diplomacy and the Media and – due to the decentralisation of cultural and educational policies after World War II (Taylor 2006) – various distinctive mediators, organisations and foundations, see public diplomacy as a tool to promote the country’s domestic and foreign policies, gain support for these positions and create an enabling international environment for its objectives (Deutschlandbild 2007: 28-31). The main intentions of public diplomacy work are to build up communication networks with multipliers such as journalists, artists or politicians, and to address the population of the host countries. The idea behind the establishment of good public relations is that these multipliers generate a positive attitude towards the country. A common way to reach the population of the host country is through the organization of cultural events or cooperations between universities and schools (Ostrowski 2009: 142-43.) Given their specific knowledge of the host countries the missions are particularly able to assess what kind of public diplomacy is needed to improve the bilateral relationship. In 2005/2006 for example a “Germany-Japan-Year” was conducted to alter the perception of Germany in Japan. 1200 different projects and over 100 lifestyle events resulted in a rise in Japanese tourists as well as higher investment rates (Deutsche Au?enpolitik 2004/2005: 199-102).

Since German unification, the country seeks to not only be perceived as “Europe’s economic powerhouse”, but also as a responsible actor in the international field. Public diplomacy, which is, since the 1960s, described as the “third pillar” of foreign policy, attempts to change the country’s image towards the one of a modern, European rooted nation, a major actor against antisemitism and racism (Zollner 2009: 262). The government believes that a good reputation is a prime force to enhance the national economy, position the country on the international stage, encourage tourists to visit the country and build a network of relationships. All of these decisions will then bring about more prosperity for the whole country (Deutsche Au?enpolitik 2004/2005: 193).

2. The World Cup 2006 – changing a nation’s image

In order to assess what public diplomacy can achieve and what constraints it faces, it is useful to look at previous campaigns and evaluate their “measurable” success along gallup polls, changing “brand values” or publications. An insightful example is the World Cup in Germany in 2006, which was the starting point for a proactive public diplomacy. Germany uses sovereign ratings as well as Simon Anholt’s “Nation Branding Index” [1] to survey which attributes are associated with the country. In the beginning of 2006 Germany was internationally known for having a credible government, a high potential for direct investment and internationally recognized consumer goods and labour. At the same time Germany was hardly known for tourism, culture or “modern life” (Deutschlandbild 2007: 8-11). Germany’s image was still closely associated to “Third Reich”. The activities of the AA therefore seek to create, under the umbrella project “Germany – land of ideas”, a more realistic, broad and up-to-date image ( To achieve broader acceptance in the field of training junior managers and excellence in higher education, other campaigns such as “Research in Germany” were started ( “Facts about Germany” and other publications were distributed by the missions, and informative websites in different languages were launched (

According to the internal evaluation of the AA the campaign was successful and achieved the aspired goals. For example, ranked fifth in Antholt’s Nation Index in the first quarter of 2006, Germany could place herself second at the end of the same year (Deutschlandbild 2007: 12, 15). The country could improve its positioning within international politics and its image as a crucial actor against racism and antisemitism. Statistics show that by the end of 2006 19 percent more interviewees than in the beginning of the year considered Germany an important location for research and education. In contrast to the overall perception prior to the World Cup the country was now viewed as a cosmopolitan and hospitable country (Deutschlandbild 2007: 16-17).

Yet, a major hindrance to public diplomacy work can be that besides governmental and cultural activities personal encounters also contribute to the reputation of a country. Since most communication is nonverbal, feelings, images and experiences influence people more than simple information. The decision of indivuals to like or dislike a country, to choose it as a destination for travel, investment or study, will commonly be based on human interactions (Deutsche Au?enpolitik 2004/2005: 193). Governments can only have a limited impact on the proliferation of information since “most ideas that people absorb about a country are beyond the control of national governments” (Leonard 2002: 50). Choosing an event such as the World Cup as a framework for a campaign in so far achieves to “move beyond intellectual forms of communication” (ibid: 53).

It is also very important to take into account that the World Cup was an event which was positively perceived by the German population. According to Anholt (2007: 71) Germany’s international “branding” is usually highly limited by the German population detracting the country more than anybody else. “Germans aren’t quite sure how to love themselves, [aˆ¦] and it’s hard to love somebody who doesn’t quite know how to love himself” (ibid). The praxis of communication during the World Cup succeeded in a stringent external and internal communication and managed to engage the domestic population’s enthusiasm.

Another constraint public diplomacy faces is that it can enhance stereotypes. Even though these new stereotypes have been volontarily reformed they still reduce a nation to certain catchwords. Although the internal assessment of the public diplomacy campaign during the World Cup concentrates on the positive results, gallup polls can vary and are not always reliable. Yet it has to be taken into consideration that public diplomacy must be seen as a long-term commitment to support national interests and therefore it should always be part of the political agenda (Zuhlke 2008: 43).

IV. German Public Diplomacy and the “European-Islamic Cultural Dialogue”

1. Achieving a dialogue with the Arab world

A major aspiration of the German public diplomacy is the dialogue with the Muslim world to achieve mutual understanding and long-term security goals. Since the 1970s Germany has tried to position herself as a credible mediator between the West, Arab countries and Israel, and after 9/11 the former foreign minister Joschka Fischer enhanced the plan by appointing a commissioner for the “European-Islamic Cultural Dialogue” (Taylor 2006).

In times of globalization, where diplomacy is not primarily secretive anymore, it is increasingly important that foreign publics perceive foreign policy as legitimate. This means that the public opinion of different states is of great importance (Ostrowski 2009: 140). John J. Hamre (2007: 3) points out that in order to accomplish national security objectives, it is necessary to generate mutual respect and approach communication as a “method of community” (Henrikson 2006: 4).

Therefore the AA operates on different levels, with different instruments and in cooperation with the major actors of German public diplomacy, in particular the Institute for Foreign Cultural Relations, the Press and Information Office of the Federal Government, Germany’s TV and radio broadcaster Deutsche Welle (DW) and the Goethe Institut.

Through a holistic approach the German government seeks to achieve a true dialogue that furthers German interests, encourages democratic structures, and ensures national security objectives.

2. Public diplomacy in autocratically ruled countries

The aim to feature an open dialogue with the Arab world can be restricted. There are limitations to such dialogues, which are rooted in cultural and political circumstances. This means that situations such as the political system of the host country can affect its scope for success.

Referring back to the theory of ideational liberalism it can be argued that the exercise of influencing and controlling collectives is futile in autocratic systems with restricted media-systems and a low significance of the public opinion for the government. The results of a survey among German missions indicate that only half of them operate in free media systems without censorship (Ostrowski 2009: 142), and this demonstrates how useless public diplomacy can be, if no one listens. To add to this, when inhabitants fear being accused of being linked to the West, it can be counterproductive (Azimi 2007).

Germany therefore approaches public diplomacy not only through the promotion of peace and democracy but also holistically by engaging different actors on different levels in policies and projects that help civil society create independent media systems and democratic structures as a force against corruptive and repressive regimes. Other than American policymakers, who ignored this bias and found themselves as “captive to the repressive domestic policies of these authoritarian regimes” (Hoffmann 2002: 86), Germany’s policies actively support forces in the Muslim community to create modern democracies and acknowledge that broadcasts alone are insufficient for “rudimentary foundations in place on which the democratization of Arab and Muslim societies can begin” (Hoffmann 2002: 85). Since the freedom with which embassies and other institutions can undertake a public diplomacy role varies highly with the political and social localities, helping countries build democratic structures is not only in the interest of the host country (Berridge 2005: 129).

The German Academic Exchange Service, funded by the AA, provides inter alia scholarships, exchanges from and to North Africa and the Middle East and establishes universities to advance economic and democratic reforms through the promotion of knowledge (Zollner 2009: 266). Since the end of the 1990s the AA also organizes mediadialogues that give journalists the possibility to discuss their opinions and experiences. Young scholars are being invited to several events to discuss political participation, the role of electronic media and the possibility of political interaction for transformational processes and the building of democratic structures (Deutschland kommunizieren 2005: 196-198). DW, which is understood to be an elementary part of Germany’s public diplomacy, reveals Germany’s views on political, cultural and economic endeavours, contemporary life and thus seeks to paint a “likable picture” (Zollner 2006: 170-171). In East Africa DW strives to redefine the relationship with formerly colonized countries (Fortner 1994: 21). DW currently produces inter alia eight hours of radio in Arabic (Deutschlandbild 2007: 40) and co-produces Al-Iraq Al-Yawn (Iraq-Today), addressing young Iraqis (Zollner 2009: 265). In addition to several informative websites on Muslim and German life, the Institute for Foreign Cultural Relations and a private cultural organization publish an online magazine about art in Arabic countries (ibid).

The aim of the above is a dialogue that touches on relevant topics for the society in light of foreign policy and democracy. Where as the tone of US public diplomacy is often “declamatory, without any apparent intent to engage in dialogue or listen” (Leonard 2002: 51) and rooted in a “top-down approach” (Zollner 2006: 163), the German approach tries to move “Beyond Public Diplomacy” (Hoffmann 2002). A field study, which surveys the achievements and limits of the DW activities in Egypt, Marocco and Syria points out that interviewees in countries where media is censored acknowledged DW “for its efforts to promote democratic values and to establish dialogue between the west and the arab world” (Zollner 2006: 174).

On the other hand there were also voices against any kind of involvement seen as criticism (ibid: 175). Above all the positive attitude towards German broadcasting abroad indicates that public diplomacy achieves to portray the country in contrast to its Nazi-past and practised cultural imperialism. Against this background it can be said that the general limit of public diplomacy, the inexistence of a democratic system, can prove to be an opportunity when various actors seek to engage in a holistic approach.

3. Public Diplomacy and the coherence of government policies

Soft power is based on the idea that a nation’s ability to achieve a certain outcome “arises from the attractiveness of its culture, political ideals and policies” (Nye 2004: preface). A basic limit of public diplomacy in that sense is that foreign publics do not always wish that another country achieves its ends, and – concerning security objectives – not “everyone looks forward to a more interconnected and tolerant world” (Armitage/Nye 2007: 7). Soft power is still power and it does not necessarily have to be appealing to other societies (Joffe 2006). Western public diplomacy’s attempt to win over Arabic countries and deter extremism does not necessarily discard the hatred towards the Western world. Globalization not only exposes the extensive gap between rich and poor people in developing countries, but it also evokes a threat to traditional cultures. It is highly contentious if globalisation has caused this chasm of living standards – but telecommunication and other information networks definitely raise awareness of it (Edelstein/Krebs 2005: 95).

A main limit of US public diplomacy towards the Muslim world is that it is “not the packaging that others dislike. It’s the product” (ibid.: 89). Many people in developing countries believe that their poor livelihoods are caused by the West. Political uprooting happens particularly where inequality prevails. The AA therefore seeks to approach public diplomacy not only on a cultural and economic level but also on a level where actors such as the Federal Agency for Technical Relief which provides relief assistance as a “humanitarian ambassador”, the German Society for Technical Cooperation and the German Development Service are engaged (Zollner 2009: 266).

It can thus be argued that fixing the causes should be prioritized over covering the symptoms. To “place all its eggs in the basket of public diplomacy” (Edelstein/Krebs 2005: 99) is alluring but in several cases just a “cosmetic embellishment” that does not change the substance of bad policy.

This raises the question of whether public diplomacy is in fact only “an adjunct or accessory service to major policy initiatives” (Henrikson 2006: 1). Where as in general it has to be developed in reconcilement with foreign policy, it can be argued that it should at the same time not relate to it too much, since the failing of policies can damage the overall credibility of a nation (Melissen 2005: 11). Especially non-state actors who are not directly perceived as being an arm of government can span “bridges between different cultures” (ibid: 12).

An example of this is the aforementioned success of DW, which is majorly due to its editorial independence from the foreign office (Zollner 2006: 170). But also party-funded political foundations, which are permanently physically present to channel policy exchange and build lasting relationships suggest that under certain circumstances public diplomacy can generate a higher credibility when it is detached from government policy. It enables the endurance of relations to another country even when intergovernmental relations are difficult or when transitions between administrations take place (Leonard 2002: 54-55). It can in this regard even “make up for the failures of traditional diplomacy” (Brown 2006). Maintaining an international dialogue through public diplomacy allows the continuation of human relationships and the creation of networks on different levels of society that create images of a country which provide a broader picture than that given by extremists or other threats to national security (ibid).

V. Conclusion

Public diplomacy is a tool used in foreign policy with the aim to improve the image of a country and build long-lasting international relationships. The example of the German public diplomacy during the World Cup and its assessment through various gallup polls show, what public diplomacy can achieve. Possible limits such as negative personal encounters or incoherent domestic and international perceptions could be weighed out by the significance of the occasion. The deliberate public diplomacy carried out by embassies further proves how specific knowledge can create maximum outcomes regarding improved economic, cultural and social relationships between two countries. The concentration on the Muslim world as an important goal to impede the spread of extremism accounts so far to be an “achieving” public diplomacy. The reciprocal dialogue thus aims to address the underlying grievances of autocratic systems and, through the engagement of various actors on different levels and its partial detachment from policy, succeeds in converting the limits of public diplomacy into strengths. Yet it has to be taken into consideration that getting the right mix of different programs remains a difficult task. German public diplomacy is – compared to the US model – still in the fledging stages and evaluations with explanatory power are relatively rare. Nevertheless it can be said that Germany succeeds in positioning herself as an actor against racism, who is – through a combination of public diplomacy and policy – regarded as a responsible actor in the international field. Although public diplomacy is not a panacea for all the difficulties in international politics, it is definitely not a waste of tax-money. The acknowledgment of its limits should lead to an improvement of its implementation, and not to a rejection of the whole concept.

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