Recently, I was invited to be a panelist at a public diplomacy panel at Galatasaray University. Together with Phil Seib of USC, Asli Sancar and Dilruba Catalbas Urper of Galatarasay University, we discussed the state of Turkish public diplomacy. My talk focused on the gap between the study and practice of public diplomacy in the country. Below you can find a summary of my talk.
My argument was straightforward. We (Turkey) do not know what diplomacy is, therefore, our understanding of public diplomacy is heavily flawed. There is a Turkish saying which summarizes Turkish history as winning wars but losing at tables. It is believed that even though Turkish armies have won their battles, our (lack of) diplomatic skills and understanding caused us to lose in treaty negotiations. It would not be an exaggeration to claim that Turkey, to an extent, considers diplomacy to have negative connotations.
Turkish foreign policy always had and still has a strong domestic component. Foreign policy priorities are built on domestic ideologies – an argument presented and ironically continued by PM Davutoglu. It is possible to see the remnants of this link also in public diplomacy. For instance, Turkish ambassadors visited Mardin – a city in eastern Turkey – as part of Turkish public diplomacy outreach.
The country’s current foreign policy understanding is based on Prime Minister Davutoglu’s “strategic depth” concept – which, in return, is based on geopolitics. Our public diplomacy understanding, summarized here by Ibrahim Kalin – former coordinator for Office of Public Diplomacy, current spokesperson for the President – is based on realist power understanding.
Turkish public diplomacy is rich in actors, yet not so rich in coordination. Below is a (probably incomplete) list of Turkish public diplomacy organizations working in Central Asia. Office of Public Diplomacy (shown as KDK in the list) was expected to coordinate all Turkish efforts, but thus far, is struggling with its mandate.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs does not offer a specific public diplomacy track. Similarly, all institutions under the Office of the Prime Minister hire generalist civil servants. TRT is more interested in production and delivery of TV and radio content. Yunus Emre Institute is a cultural organization with limited resources. Shortly, there does not seem to be a job market for PD specialists.
Turkish academia welcomed the concept of public diplomacy. Yet – apart from minor exceptions – all research projects, courses, and faculty are under communication schools. International Relations and Political Science departments did not necessarily integrate PD into their curriculum. Most courses are predominantly “case-study” courses with little to no theory involved. Similarly, there are no nuanced discussions, such as measurement, evaluation, and comparative studies.
Nearly all the books published in Turkish on public diplomacy are single-case studies on Turkey. The only PD-like books translated into Turkish are Joseph Nye’s soft power books.
Bridging the Gap and Issues
There is little to no cooperation between academia and practice. The first obstacle on the way is the domestic component of the issue. Academics are avoiding political labels, therefore not reaching out to state-actors or NGO-actors that are known to have links with certain groups. These two groups of actors constitute the majority of practitioners in the country.
The second obstacle is tenure and promotion guidelines. There is little incentive for scholars to seek collaboration with practitioners (unless such a collaboration is going to end in a patent application or a company).
The last (minor) obstacle seems to be the location. Most of the academic institutions interested in public diplomacy are located in Istanbul, whereas, practice institutions are in the capital, Ankara.
My humble suggestion is the introduction of a semi-digital panel of experts, emulating the Public Diplomacy Council. Hopefully soon, I will be typing a blog post announcing the establishment of such a council.