Adapting Public Diplomacy to the Populist Challenge

In: The Hague Journal of Diplomacy
Andrew F. Cooper Balsillie School of International Affairs, University of Waterloo Waterloo, ON N2L 6C2 Canada

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Public diplomacy has been externally directed via a strategy of assertive reputation-building. In an era of insurgent populism, this model faces strong backlash, driven by the image of public diplomacy being disconnected from domestic publics. Under these conditions, an opportunistic set of ascendant political leaders — even those located at the international system’s core — have considerable incentive to diminish ‘their’ own diplomats as part of a wider campaign to stigmatize the traditional establishment. While more attention needs to be directed to the causes of this disconnection between diplomats and public, this article highlights a number of key ingredients in a menu of adaptation to the populist challenge. Above all, the focus of engagement in public diplomacy should be broadened to include domestic as well as foreign audiences. Disruption, it must be emphasized, does not mean the end of public diplomacy. Rather, public diplomacy must take a domestic turn.

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