A new public diplomacy as banks close foreign embassy accounts? Not exactly

The term “public diplomacy” is problematic, born out of bureaucratic wrestling in the mid-1960’s as the “struggle for minds and wills” gave way to counting tanks, bombers, and missiles. It’s very use today continues to signify something that is different, but it is not a separate line of activity that is discretely separated other “private” or any other diplomacy. It is not faery dust to be sprinkled on when the time is right. And don’t get me started on niche terms like “baseball diplomacy” or “music diplomacy” or “left-handed comb diplomacy” or whatever. “Public Diplomacy” is a term that should be abolished and replaced with a more generic label as it prevents proper integration of various information, engagement and influence activities across the government, notable but not exclusively, in the State Department. To some, public diplomacy does not fit here because private entities are engaged with foreign governments, the exact opposite of how many define “public diplomacy.” What a mess, but to the point of this post…

The latest debacle in DC is an example that will surely invite some commentator to “coin” a new term, “banking diplomacy.” What I’m referring to is a post by Foreign Policy’s Josh Rogin about US banks closing accounts of foreign embassies. To me, this is a fine example of the trouble with “public diplomacy” as it creates immediate trouble (and no doubt discussions and negotiations) behind and in front of closed doors with a variety of organizations. There will be private and public maneuvering, with Josh’s piece likely one such intentional example by some party to the situation. (If Josh was informed by an observer without a direct stake, would that make this less ‘public diplomacy’? My head spins at the mere thought of considering this.)

I recommend reading Josh’s article. It is worth asking if the banks that are taking action against governments because they “are calculating that the effort spent making sure government accounts are not being abused for money laundering purposes, sometimes with suspected links to terrorism, is becoming too complicated and costly” are also moving against the private accounts of individuals of said governments. If not, a follow up question would be to ask if the private accounts had more money, and thus more profit, than the government accounts.

Not surprising, much like reciprocal visa fee increases by other countries to match US increases, we may expect other governments and banks to pressure US missions.

No word if State was actively enlisting the support of Treasury in their effort to fend of a diplomatic (or “public diplomatic”?) row.

Thoughts on either my rant – which has long been fermenting and begging for a post / article of its own – or the bank issue?

See also my personal evolution of “what is public diplomacy”: