BERLIN – The world’s task in addressing North Korea’s saber rattling is made no easier by the fact that it confronts an impoverished and effectively defeated country. On the contrary, it is in such circumstances that calm foresight is most necessary.
The genius of the Habsburg Empire’s Prince Klemens von Metternich in framing a new international order after the Napoleonic Wars was that he did not push a defeated France into a corner. Although Metternich sought to deter any possible French resurgence, he restored France’s prewar frontiers.
Attempts to isolate and marginalize Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir have been mixed at best. The man many people believe is ultimately responsible for the violence and misery of Darfur – and who has been indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for it – has worked tirelessly to show that, as a head of state, he can still galavant across the globe to international conferences and state meetings.
Of course, Bashir hasn’t always been able to go wherever he wants. He hasn’t visited a ‘Western’ state since he was indicted by the ICC in 2008. While he has visited ICC member-states, notably Chad and Kenya in 2010, he is still severely constrained in his movements and Malawi, a member-state which originally let him visit in 2011, has since declared that he is unable to do so again.
As many readers will know, the marginalization of perpetrators of atrocities is a central argument for proponents of international criminal justice. In brief, the argument suggests that investigations and the issuance of arrest warrants against international criminals will isolate them, both within their networks of power such as a government or a rebel group as well as within the international context. In the long-run, it is hoped that this marginalization can ultimately fill the docks of international criminal tribunals and deter the commission of crimes.
Years of diplomatic incidents between Malawi and Zambia culminated recently in Zambia’s donation of five million liters of fuel to Malawi. The gift was ostensibly for the funeral of the country’s late President Bingu wa Mutharika, who died on 5 April 2012, after a heart attack. The political wrangling that has led up to this gesture, however, has a complicated backstory.
In 2007, Michael Sata – then the Zambian opposition leader – travelled to Malawi for a private visit, but was deported on arrival at Chileka Airport and driven 400 kilometers back to Zambia. Four years later, Sata was elected Zambia’s president.
At the time of his deportation from Malawi, Sata reportedly joked that Bingu had given him a fully fueled Lexus GX with a private chauffer (i.e., the immigration officer) for the journey, which was far more than Levy Mwanawasa, then the President of Zambia and Sata’s political opponent, had ever done.
Deverell is a British military figure who notes, with obvious pride, that he was involved in negotiations between the UK and Gaddafi. He is frustrated with a trend of criticizing the British government and institutions over their relationship with Gaddafi:
“it has become politically expedient to decry the relationship fostered since 2003 between the last British government and Gaddafi’s regime.
Former prime minister Tony Blair, officers from the British secret intelligence service, the London School of Economics ( in the news again last week): all have been criticised for the personal relationships they built with senior Libyans, to the extent of being accused of turning a blind eye to human rights and other abuses.”
As the highly contested treasure trove of the State Department WikiLeak just keeps giving and giving, an interesting and under reported cable came to light earlier this week. It had to do, quite unexpectedly, with the social media strategy of the US State Department and specifically, the US Embassy’s social media efforts in Jakarta, Indonesia.
Jakarta? You ask. Yes, interestingly enough the US mission in the growing Southeast Asian archipelago nation is the most active of all in this ‘new’ and rapidly evolving field of public diplomacy. With more than 300,000 ‘Likers’ on Facebook at present and an impressive presence on Twitter and Youtube, the US mission in Jakarta was in a push to get a significantly bigger budget for its social media outreach in advance of President Obama’s November 2010 visit, the leaked cable reveals. Although the cable reveals nothing particularly controversial, it gives interesting insights into the growing importance of social media in America’s outreach efforts in highly connected developing countries, particularly in Asia. It also provides insights into the growing, albeit not openly publicized, funding involved in spreading the message about the US, its leadership and about its policies in the region by directly and interactively reaching out to a younger generation, active on Facebook and other social media channels. And the strategy seems to be working- in less than a year, the number of Likers on their Facebook page has grown six-fold, from 50,000 to 300,000 and the number of Twitter followers from 1,000 to more than 16,000, with regular interaction from fans of both services.
This development begs a lot of interesting questions about the future of public diplomacy:
Are other diplomatic missions, even just other US missions around the world, taking note of the Jakarta Embassy’s success?
Is there something unique and special about the Indonesian environment where social media-focused outreach efforts find particularly fertile ground beyond Obama’s personal connection to the country?
Is the ‘soft power’ message that they are getting out uniquely suited to the kind of informal, multisensory interactivity that services such as Facebook, Twitter and Youtube represent and do these provide a highly fertile new ground for such ‘persuasive’ activities and the building of soft power across the world?
Is social media changing the landscape of public diplomacy drastically and for good and what might its long-term effects be?
Does this finally bring foreign relations closer to the people and their concerns or is it simply a veil behind which business-as-usual continues (the highly fortified US embassy in Jakarta, seen above, is a powerful reminder of this metaphorical paradox)?
For more information on this fascinating topic, check out our recent ISN Insights package on E-Diplomacy and look out for an article coming up in February on the specific impact that social media is having on foreign relations.