Ryan J. Suto's Blog

29 January 2011

Diagramming Public Diplomacy

Academically, public diplomacy must be a broad concept. There are many strategies, concepts, terms, and tactics that fit within the field. And just like any other academic field, there are aspects subject to concentration and specialization. That said, I still think the field would benefit from a consensus on a definition. The problem is that everyone else thinks so, too. There are more ‘What is Public Diplomacy?’ writing out there than anyone should read (including this post). Ultimately, we must be aware of the blurry lines that bind fields together.

So, I could simply offer up another definition of public diplomacy. I could write that public diplomacy is the image of a state or its people, as maintained by a government, organization, or people, and held by international publics. I could then go on for 500 words defending that definition. Or, I could just present a diagram, which I think is much more accurate, simple, and enjoyable.

Public Diplomacy

 The lines represent communication. Note that there are arrows on both sides, representing two-way communication. The rest speaks for itself. Are there other diagrams, graphs, or pictures representing public diplomacy? What do you think?

2/3/11: I updated the discussion of this diagram. Check it out!

25 January 2011

An intersection of law and public diplomacy? International defamation law

This is a summary and review of the article Should states have a legal right to reputation? Applying the rationales of defamation law to the international arena by Elad Peled. It appears in the Brooklyn Journal of International Law (35 Brooklyn J. Int'l L. 107).


In this law review article, Elad Peled explores the possibility of an internationally recognized right to state reputation. Despite the mouthful, the basic idea is pretty simple. Most individuals have limited knowledge of foreign states, and foreign affairs (pg. 11). Thus, the media significantly shapes the political positions a person holds in the arena of foreign policy (pg. 7). Also, public opinion of global actors may help shape a responsive government’s foreign policy (pg. 11). Indeed, “[s]ince the global phenomenon of democratization has increased governments' attention to their citizens' views regarding foreign policies, mass media and public opinion have come to play major roles in international politics” (pg. 7). As such, the perception of a foreign state impacts the choices of state’s officials regarding interactions with that foreign state (pg. 6).

Peled goes on to argue that states honor their international commitments because non-compliance to international norms and standards is damaging to their economic and foreign policy well being, as it would deter global actors from interacting with them (pg. 7, 9). But currently international publics may be wrongly informed of the compliance of states to such standards.  “[D]efamatory falsehoods reduce states' incentives to comply with international law, and render global decision-making less informed and, consequently, less efficient” (pg. 2). Thus, a statutory mechanism protecting state reputation would increase the efficiency of foreign policy and global politics (pg. 8).

Peled cites an international jurisprudential consensus on a crucial aspect of this possibility, stating, “…almost every state in the world has a civil or criminal law protecting individual and institutional reputation against defamation…” (pg. 2). Just as in other markets, market failures occur in the marketplace of ideas, and as such many feel regulation is appropriate. Peled assures us that this structure would only protect against factually inaccurate assertions of concrete events, and thus would not threaten damaging opinion or political rivals of any given state for mere dissent (pg. 3). Ultimately, Peled argues that such regulation is only justified if the benefits outweigh the costs, and that information must be reliably accurate in order to be valuable (pg. 10, 15).


While it is important that such limitations on free speech remain restrained, this limitation may cover too few utterances to be effective and produce benefits sufficient to outweigh the costs. As many know from consuming media, there is a fine line between an assertion of fact and a mere opinion. For example, according to the National Park Service, “more than 110,000 men, women, and children” of Japanese decent were interned during World War II (http://www.nps.gov/manz/index.htm). What if a Japanese news agency were to report that “we believe that 150,000 people” were interned? Would it be actionable under this proposal? What if the news agency said “some have suggested that nearly 200,000” were interned? Would that be actionable? It seems unlikely, as neither of these statements present “inaccurate statements of fact depicting concrete events”, but merely statements of opinion (pg. 3). The amount of energy expended, political compromises hatched and sovereignty questions raised may not be worth outlawing such a narrow range of statements.

Moreover, I feel that one must question the sufficiency of this mechanism which aims to limit harm to states based on such false information. While reputation may be ultimately protected, truth may not. Inaccuracies which hurt a state would be punished, but inaccuracies which help a state would not. Thus, by bringing to international attention one type of falsity, this structure may implicitly give credence to an arguably congruent falsity: propaganda. However, we all learn in public diplomacy that positive news often simply is not news. So perhaps this may not have a much of a reputational impact as damaging news, but I feel it still would likely remain an important factor for consideration.

I find the possibility of protecting state reputation to be a fascinating idea. And while the reputation of a state is very important, a statutory structure such as this may not currently be the most efficient approach. The global arena is still considerable governed by anarchy, though the United Nations and other NGOs are trending our world into a more structured future. Until that world is reached, an institution charged with protecting state reputation will likely gain little response from states with inflexible definitions of sovereignty. Presently, it seems the best way to protect and maintain state reputation is the use of strategic public diplomacy, as there is still unrealized potential there.

02 January 2011

A short note about reapportionment and democracy

As you likely know, the decennial census counts the population of each state and distributes seats given to each state in the House of Representatives for the next decade. The census purports to do this proportionally. However, the data show that this is not done proportional enough, at least not to meet our modern conception of democracy.

The 2010 census has told us that the most populous state is California with 36,961,664 people. As such, the state has been given 53 representatives in the House. Wyoming is the least populous state with 544,270 people, getting only 1 representative in the House. Thus, in the House, Wyoming has 544,270 people per vote while California has 697,390 people per vote. Each representative’s vote in the House is equal. As such, 544,270 Wyomingites are equal to 697,390 Californians. Wyomingites have 1.28 times greater voice than Californians in the House. Following that formulation, in the Electoral College Wyomingites have 3.64 times greater voice than Californians do; 2.8 times less democratic than the House!
            What’s worse is the Senate. Now, the whole reason for the Senate is to give each state equal voice in the federal government. The original Constitution gave the power to appoint Senators to the state legislatures, meaning the voice being distributed was quite literally to the states, not the people. Due to the 17th Amendment, we now popularly elect senators. Since each state gets 2 senators Wyomingites get 67.9 times greater voice than Californians in the Senate!

It’s clear that the structure of our bicameral national legislature favors less populous, usually agrarian states. This is unsurprising considering the mostly rural past of this country. But just like all of electoral engineering issues there are trade-offs and big political implications.
·         Without giving the least populated states inflated power, California and a few other large states could dominate national politics. However, one could counter that those states deserve to benefit from such domination; they have the population to back it up.  
·         Also, the least populous states often favor more conservative politics, likely giving Republicans unrepresentative power on Election Day.
·         Pork projects and subsidies are currently often found in states with low populations; think Bridge to Nowhere and Ethanol subsidies.

Lastly, note that the Constitution only reads, “[t]he Number of Representatives shall not exceed one for every thirty Thousand, but each State shall have at Least one Representative…” In 1790 the U.S. population was 3,929,214, and the 1787 document allots for 65 representatives, giving 60,449 people per representative. In 2010 the national population is 307,006,550. However, the number of representatives has remained constant at 435 since the passage of the Permanent Apportionment Act of 1929. Thus, we now have 705,762 people per representative.

My purpose for pointing out such numbers is to show that each generation must look at the decisions made by generations past We must recognize that the old adage of ‘one person, one vote’, is overly simplistic and misleading. If the spirit of the saying was ever true, it certainly isn’t now. Note that gerrymandering and corruption needn’t be invoked. In the final analysis, the only thing holding our nation to our skewed system is ourselves.