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Milton Wolf Seminar on Media and Diplomacy

2018 Seminar

Public Diplomacy in Moments of Geopolitical Transformation

April 16-18, 2018

Discussion abounds about dramatic geopolitical shifts: the end of the American unipolar moment, the rise of G-Zero, the end of NATO, a new Cold War, Russian and Chinese soft and hard power on the rise, global populist movements, etc.  Potential examples are endless.  There is little agreement on the immediate causes and long term consequences of these shifts. However, as we take stock of the evolving geopolitical realities, public diplomacy (or lack thereof) and the role of media and communications are no doubt critical to the current state of and future of international relations.  Governments around the world increasingly view social networks as the primary conduits between governments and foreign publics and between foreign publics and domestic publics and actively seek to build networks of fans, followers, and friends.  Words like fake news, disinformation, computational propaganda, net neutrality, among others are buzz words among diplomats and pundits alike.  The 2018 Seminar will examine Public Diplomacy in Moments of Geopolitical Transformation, with a particular focus on the current and potential role of media and communications actors in these transformations.

This general theme allows a discussion of many salient subjects, including information polarization, democracy and information technologies, and information and economic development.  It also allows for a critical perspective on the institutions involved in classic state-to-state diplomacy, public diplomacy, and media and society to explore innovative ways forward.  What do recent shifts in the international system suggest about traditional definitions and practices associated with public diplomacy? To what extent do state-driven narratives like China’s one belt one road and America First conform to or upend how we think about power and agency in international relations?  Are geopolitical transformations opening up new spaces for action by entrenched and emerging state and non-state actors and to what effect?

Sponsorship: The 2018 seminar would not be possible without the kind sponsorship of the Wolf Family Foundation, the Austrian Marshall Plan Foundation, and Perry World House.

Seminar Agenda

6:00 – 8:00 PM Welcome Reception and Registration (Diplomatic Academy)

9:00 AM - 10:00 AM — Welcome Tea & Introduction

  • Katharine Eltz-Aulitzky, Executive Director, The American Austrian Foundation
  • Monroe Price, Annenberg School for Communication University of Pennsylvania
  • Ambassador Emil Brix, Director, Diplomatic Academy
  • Amelia Arsenault, Senior Advisor, Public Diplomacy Research and Evaluation Unit, US Department of State

10:00 AM - 12:00 PM — Session 1: Is this a Transformative Moment in International Information Diplomacy?

This introductory session will reflect on whether there are indeed vast changes—geopolitical and technological—that are gnawing at older models of public diplomacy. Panelists will explore, for example, persistent tendencies and radical changes in the way states try to influence the population of other states. Recent developments, such as the contentions concerning the manipulation of publics in the US, in France, in Ukraine, and elsewhere suggest that suggest this might be a transformative moment:  in terms of organization, vocabularies of intervention, lessons learned, and the geographies of saliency.  Among the areas that could be indicative are what might be called the anxieties of information flows:  the mysterious power of algorithms, the sudden rise of computational propaganda, the invisibility of decision making, and the concentration and industry power. Other grounds for new anxieties include:  fears for national sovereignty accelerated by information technology, the disappearance and significance of trusted intermediaries, and the threat of cyberwar.  Do these add up to a “transformative moment,” and if so, what transformations? Panelists will discuss current transformations, historical antecedents, and expound on what they consider the reality behind the rhetoric of geopolitical shifts.

  • Monroe Price, Annenberg School for Communication University of Pennsylvania (Panelist & Moderator)
  • Elena V. Denezhkina, Research Fellow, Centre for Russian and East European Studies, University of Birmingham
  • Ambassador Leigh Turner, British Ambassador to Austria and UK Permanent Representative to the United Nations in Vienna
  • John Hudson, National Security Reporter, Washington Post

12:00 PM – 1:30 PM — Welcoming Lunch

1:30 PM – 3:00 PM — Session 2: Sites of Contestation Part I: Propaganda, Continuity and Change

This session will kick off an afternoon of discussion and debate about active sites of contestation in the international community. From concern over computational propaganda, fake news, and information warfare to freedom of expression and net neutrality, the ability to shape national media ecosystems is a critical site of conflict in contemporary international relations. Using Russian information operations as a case study, this panel will explore the evolving role of propaganda and information sovereignty in the international system. Panelists will explore the rhetoric and the reality behind Russian disinformation campaigns in a variety of contexts. They will focus on myriad ways external actors are working to shift narratives and understanding in response to perceived Russian influence, in Ukraine, in the European Union, the United States, and globally.

  • Ambassador Emil Brix, Director, Diplomatic Academy (Moderator)
  • Jacek Kucharczyk, President, Institute of Public Affairs, Poland
  • Igor Rozkladaj, Lawyer, Center for Democracy and Rule of Law, Ukraine
  • Konstantin von Eggert, Journalist & Political Commentator, TV Rain
  • William Burke White, Director, Perry World House, University of Pennsylvania

3:15 PM – 5:00 PM — Session 3: Sites of Contestation Part II: Geopolitical Hotspots

This session will focus on current geopolitical hotspots where there is active consideration and reconsideration of the instruments of reform, assistance, democracy development and institutional reformulation.  Case studies presented in this session will include dynamic theaters –places where there are both continuation of historic policies and active reassessment of the role of domestic actors and the international community.  Panelists will consider the evolving role of the state, media actors, and civil society in shaping the current and future diplomatic resolutions to these hotspots.

  • Omar al-Ghazzi, Assistant Professor, London School of Economics (Panelist and Moderator)
  • Josh Lederman, Foreign Policy Reporter, Associated Press
  • Sung-Yoon Lee, Kim Koo-Korea Foundation Professor of Korean Studies, Tufts University
  • Andy O’Connell, Manager, Global Policy Development, Facebook

9:00 AM – 10:45 AM — Session 4: Impact on the Institutions of Public Diplomacy and Democratic Change

Public diplomacy institutions responsible for international broadcasting efforts, exchange programs, and a whole host of other people-to-people activities are not surprisingly in a state of flux.  These institutions are seeking out ways to adapt to unpredictable and expansive geopolitical changes and a consistently evolving media and communications environment. Panelists will discuss the many ways that state and non-state actors are attempting to identify and shift the institutions of public diplomacy and democratic change in light of recent geopolitical shifts.

  • Angus Robertson, former Deputy Leader of the Scottish National Party (Panelist and Moderator)
  • Gerry Power, Chief Research Officer, M&C Saatchi World Services
  • Sonja Gloeckle, Senior Director, Center for Insights in Survey Research, International Republican Institute
  • Alexander Klimburg, Director, The Hague Center for Strategic Studies

11:00 AM – 12:30 AM — Session 5: Threats to Multilateral Institutions and the Impact on Democracy Discourse

Multilateral organizations like the UN, UNESCO and the OSCE, European Court for Human Rights are under pressure. There is speculation on the future of the international security architecture, the viability of transnational justice, and the appropriate balance of power between national and international interests. Panelists in this session will examine significant issues related to these and other institutions that are charged with consideration of the nourishing of international norms regarding free expression and democratic societies. Panelists in this session will examine the current and future state of these organizations, how are multilateral organizations responding, and to what effect.

  • Simon Haselock, Founding Director & COO, Albany Associates (Panelist and Moderator)
  • Alister Miskimmon, School of History, Anthropology, Philosophy and Politics – Head of School, Queens University, Belfast
  • Kristina Stoeckl, Assistant Professor, University of Innsbruck
  • Frane Maroevic, Director – OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media 

12:15 AM – 1:30 PM — Lunch

1:45 PM – 3:15 PM — Session 6: Technological Shifts and Political Shifts

This panel will explore the extraordinary period of review and examination of social media platforms and corporate media and communications companies generally as they impact issues of shifting public opinion,  affecting elections, shaping national identity.  This panel will touch on the relationship between large multi-national social media platforms and governments and the rise of data and analytics companies providing strategic communications services to governments, and in particular affecting their role as it affects diplomatic processes.  Panelists will explore how these topics affect Google, Facebook and other peer organizations.    The panel will also discuss how political shifts, including towards more authoritarianism relates to the prevailing model of public diplomacy and the organization and influence of public opinion.

  • Amelia Arsenault, Senior Advisor, Public Diplomacy Research and Evaluation Unit, US Department of State (Moderator)
  • Theresa Rodríguez de las Heras Ballell, Professor of Communication Law, Universidad Carlos III, Madrid
  • Vidya Narayanan, Director of Research, Computational Propaganda Project, Oxford Internet Institute
  • John Hudson, National Security Reporter, Washington Post

3:30 PM – 4:00 PM — Wrap Up Discussion

During this session all panelists and participants are invited to share their thoughts and conclusions on the two days of discussion.

4:00 PM – 5:00 PM — Emerging Scholar Discussion Session

During this afternoon session, emerging scholars will be invited to describe how the issues discussed relate to their own projects and activities.

  • Megan Burnham, MA Student, Indiana University, USA
  • Samantha Dols, PhD Student, American University, USA
  • Mona Elswah, PhD Student, Oxford University, UK
  • Oliver Gruenbacher, MA Student, Diplomatic Academy, Vienna, Austria
  • Clay Gruber, MA Student, University of Pennsylvania, USA
  • Pauline Heinrichs, PhD Student, Royal Holloway, University of London, UK
  • Sanjay Jolly, PhD Student, Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania
  • Emelie Poignant Khafagi, MPhil Student, University of Oxford, UK
  • Nathalie Maréchal, PhD Student, Annenberg School for Communication, University of Southern California, USA
  • Chloé Nurik, PhD Student, Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania, USA
  • Elizabeth Parker, MA Student, Goldsmiths, University of London, UK