Glocal Diplomacy


By Elizabeth Colton -

Diplomacy, the world, the earth and its oceans, the global media, world politics–and also my hometown Asheville and our mountains-region of Western North Carolina are all always on my mind.  They are each interrelated now—just not in our thoughts but virtually and actually in today’s world.

Our world is global– and it’s glocal.  The so-called bigger world and the local are melded into one, each influencing the other.  Our local places and people are part of the wide world.  The global community will increasingly know of our place and consider it a world-destination. How we make this happen without destroying what is good and the core reasons for our being on the world map is critical.

Diplomacy is known as a tool nations use for peacefully promoting their national interests, their foreign policy, overseas and around the world.  International organizations also practice diplomacy for promoting their agendas and causes.  Diplomacy is usually considered the domain of nation-states and international bodies in the area of foreign relations.  But diplomacy is not theirs exclusively.

Global Diplomacy and  Glocal Diplomacy are not different in their practice.

Cities, regions, states, people, and local organizations can also utilize global diplomacy for putting their names and interests out into the wider world. Asheville and Western North Carolina can also use diplomacy as a tool for promoting their reputation, interests, and concerns, and putting our place out onto the world stage.

Diplomacy, politics and the media are all intertwined in today’s global village. One field of activity doesn’t take place without affecting or being affected by the other.  There’s no way to discuss one—diplomacy, politics or the media—without trying to understand the role of the others.

Diplomacy, a “peaceful” tool for promoting one’s interests as in the nation’s foreign policy, does not function  in a vacuum.   World and national politics form the arenas where diplomacy operates.  The news media’s coverage or lack thereof and now the new social media can dramatically alter the course of diplomacy and politics—and vice versa. The key is to try to figure out how to develop positive interactions with the other field from whichever side you’re working.

All this is true not only for nations but also for states and regions and cities—diplomacy and the media are at their disposal.  The word “glocal” is an apt term for the potential of a place like Asheville, WNC.  Glocal means that global and local are not distinct, that they are part and parcel of each other in today’s world.  Recognition of glocality is key to the success of a city’s or region’s world diplomacy.

A city like Asheville can use all the same tools for promoting itself in the world that a nation or international organization has at its command.  In earlier days, many cities were like nations—as city-states—and sent their diplomats around the world to promote their interests. The Land of the Sky-Asheville and Western North Carolina can do the same in this 21st century.

Recently, in Washington, I heard a foreign policy analyst—actually a nuclear arms negotiator—talking about our world of continual crises that go on forever without resolve. We all know about these. In this international relations discussion, the discussants cited one failed or overlooked diplomatic effort after another for the world’s continuing crises—North Korea, Iran, the Middle East impasse between the Israelis and the Palestinians, terrorism, Pakistan, Kashmir, Afghanistan, Iraq, American relations with China and Russia, and the list goes on.  It was a dismal view of diplomacy and its global role.

Yet despite all these pessimistic recitations of historic diplomatic failures, I remain hopeful or at least believing that diplomacy is still the best answer and needs to be tried again and again. As a journalist, I have covered diplomacy, war, and politics. As a professor, I have taught them diplomacy, politics and the media and their interrelationships as a subject of study. And I have practiced diplomacy as a diplomat for the United States and also as a Peace Corps Volunteer and as an international civil servant at the United Nations.  So, I know about the failings, about the squandering of opportunities, the failures and mediocrity in decision-making, and the personalities that use diplomacy for their own ends.  Yet I still believe diplomacy is the best tool for promoting good and for solving problems in the world.

The media from time to time have focused on unusual moments or even successes in diplomacy when something unexpected and often unofficial seems to bring countries together diplomatically or promote a little known country. In talking about kinds of diplomacy or diplomatic ways of promoting one’s country or national interests, topical words—like “sports” or “music” or “environmental” or “arts” have often been attached to “diplomacy” to highlight the arena in which diplomacy worked to build positive relations.  Often “sports diplomacy” on a field or court has led to diplomatic breakthroughs.

Media coined “ping-pong diplomacy” between China and the United States when those games opened the way eventually to normalizing relations between the two countries in 1970s, “wrestling diplomacy” once between Iran and the U.S., and now “basketball diplomacy” and “internet (or social media) diplomacy” with North Korea.  Terms like “shuttle diplomacy” have been used for whirlwind diplomatic efforts in the jet-age ofr efforts to bring peace in the Middle East. “Oil diplomacy” for the OPEC  nations was preferable to war.

And small, relatively little known countries, like Oman with its “perfume diplomacy” or San Marino and Andorra with their “stamp diplomacy” or little Latvia with its “opera diplomacy,” have all promoted themselves through establishing special niches in the world marketplace.

In Maldives, that once remote archipelago in the middle of the Indian Ocean, I was the first foreign correspondent who lived there and wrote about it at the beginning of its tourism before many foreigners had discovered it.  On my moving from Maldives after living there as an anthropologist and journalist for nearly two years, the Maldivian newspaper wrote that I “had put (their) little country on the world-map.”  Now the world knows about the beautiful Maldivian resort-islands through its “tourism diplomacy.”

Right now diplomats of many countries, like Thailand, Japan, India, and now the U.S., are practicing “gastronomic diplomacy” to promote their local foods and culinary uniqueness.  Botswana and Gabon use their wildlife-tourism to promote their national treasures in the world.  Nepal and Bhutan publicize themselves by highlighting their mountains.  Regardless of the size or remoteness of a place, each has the potential now with mass media and also still word-of-mouth diplomacy to promote  itself.

In the practice of international diplomacy, the United States and other nations showcase their artists, musicians, writers, chefs, athletes, business leaders as part of their promotion of their foreign policy agenda.  As an American diplomat, I often organized a variety of programs in collaboration with U.S. business partners in hosting concerts with our visiting musicians, art shows, and conferences on social entrepreneurship, freedom of the press, intellectual property rights, human rights, environmental organization, best business practices and leadership training—all to publicize what we as a country have of value to offer to the world.  We brought athletes to train at sports camps in host countries, writers to teach, experts on rule of law, democracy organizers, CEOs of major U.S. companies to teach and promote businesses. We worked to promote America’s “Sister Cities” program. The goal was always the diplomatic promotion of U.S. foreign policy around the world.

Asheville and Western North Carolina and all the towns and organizations in the region can adopt the same diplomatic tools used by countries.  For many generations, we have benefitted from promoting our mountains, tourism, health-care facilities, air and atmosphere in general.  Our Asheville involvement in the “Friendship Force” has long sent our citizens around the world to make friends and tell others around the world about our place and have the citizens of the host countries come on return visits to our place. We still have these qualities and programs and much more to promote through diplomacy.

The words “marching-band diplomacy” could be applied to Asheville High School’s diplomatic role when it marched in this year’s Presidential Inauguration Parade.  Western North Carolina athletes at last summer’s Olympics in London were “sports-diplomats” for this remarkable region that has long cultivated athletics of all kinds.  The city’s chefs and local farmers are working together in “culinary diplomacy” to promote Asheville’s world-class restaurants.  Asheville Lyric Opera now through its own “opera-diplomacy” is getting its name out into the international world of opera-lovers.  We are positively touting our creative entrepreneurial environment as an example of what can be done in a free and encouraging community.

Our diplomacy for world-promotion of our city of Asheville and all the towns and region of Western North Carolina can and should utilize all the tools available in traditional mass media and new social media.  Still, the most important means of diplomacy is the person-to-person.  “Citizen diplomacy” is the true face of global and glocal diplomacy.

Elizabeth (Liz) Colton, Ph.D., known as “a worldwide connector” on Twitter @eocolton, grew up in Asheville and never forgot her deep mountain roots as she lived and worked around the world as a journalist, diplomat, educator.  Now through her EOColton&Associates Global Collaboration consulting firm based in Asheville and Washington, Dr. Colton speaks and advises globally on diplomacy, politics, education, journalism & the media.



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