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Dennis Rodman shoots again

I came across this article in the HuffPost today that I wanted to share as we’ve taken interest in Rodman and sport diplomacy.
This time Rodman gives diplomacy on a lower level, than preventing nuclear war, a go. An American citizen has been sentenced to 15 years of hard labour in North Korea and Rodman is now asking his lifelong friend Kim to do him a solid favour.
This is a diplomatic effort by Rodman that might succeed, read the HuffPost article here:

And as curious facts I include a post on the FP blog about the Kims’ love for basketball with a particular scoring system:


Phoenix ”Entertainment”

Can this French pop group contribute to Korean public diplomacy in any way?

The Boston Marathon attack: Sports, diplomacy and terrorism.

Breaking news today from the US about a couple of explosions which occured during the notorious Boston Marathon, around 3 pm EDT. The city switched from a festive climate to one of terror and fear in no time, with over a hundred people injured and three deceased. With the F.B.I. currently leading investigations, and no certainties as to whom to blame yet, president Obama expressed solidarity for the families of those affected and reassured American citizens by stressing the White House’s commitment of having the “full weight of justice” unfold upon whoever  is to be held accountable for the attacks.

Boston Marathon 2013 - Bombing

The moment one of the bombs detonated near the finish line of the Boston Marathon

Echoes of 9/11 conditions public opinion into linking the latest events to Taliban extremist terrorism; however Pakistani Taliban spokesman Ahsanullah Ahsan quickly denied involvement to the press, blurring such allegations. Weather it is a domestic or foreign act, the guilty party adds on to a preceding tradition of attacks carried out at significant sports events.

In 1972’s Olympic Games in Munich, the Black September insurgent group took hostage the Israeli national team and killed several people, including a number of athletes. On July 27 1996, during a public concert at Atlanta’s Olympics, a former US army officer set three bombs underneath a bench, killing two people and injuring 120. Furthermore, in 2008, a Tamil suicide bomber stroke at a Sri Lankan celebratory marathon causing death and injuries, while the following year the Sri Lankan cricket team was attacked on the way to a match in Pakistan.

The International community has reacted to such threats overtime by implementing public security measures during relevant sporting games, especially since the post-9/11 Olympics. For example, in view of the Beijing Games, the Chinese Government resorted to very strict and enhanced security arrangements. Several sporting events had to even face cancellation due to security threats, like the Dakar Rally cancelled in 2008; and the  1997 Grand National horse ride, postponed due to concerns about the Irish Republican Army’s intentions.

So why are sporting events recurrently targeted by political terrorism?  An answer is to be found in the universality of sports, as it brings people together no matter the cultural and political differences. International sporting events such as the Olympic Games promote values of cooperation, communication and fair confrontation, contributing to strengthening bilateral and multilateral relations.  Sports diplomacy is to be seen as a tool to intensify dialogue and cultural understanding between all kinds of people.

Chinese table tennis players at the General Headquarter of United Nations, playing a demonstration match, April 19, 1972.

Chinese table tennis players at the General Headquarter of United Nations, playing a demonstration match, April 19, 1972.

Some famous examples of sports diplomacy are to be found in the ‘Ping-Pong diplomacy’ of the early 1970’s, which inaugurated an era of interaction between the USA and the People’s Republic of China. Also the banning of Apartheid ruled South Africa from the 1964 Summer Olympics is believed to have pressured the country towards a radical change in public policing.

Nowadays states are not the only actors on stage when it comes to global politics, with an increasing number of transnational organizations operating in all sectors. Sporting institutions such as FIFA are now greater than ever in terms of power and appeal to the masses, and governments are increasingly aware and willing to cooperate and shape sporting events to a mutual advantage, making of Sports Diplomacy an undeniable political tool.

The Royal Diplomat: HRH Crown Princess Mette-Marit of Norway

Mette Marit

Foto: Stian Lysberg Solum / NTB Scanpix

The debate of the symbolic role of the Norwegian Royal Family and especially the Crown Princess has been launched by a book published this week1.

The Crown Princess herself is a portrait of contradictions. She was a single mother working as an untrained waitress with a rough past including drug abuse when she met HRH Crown Prince Haakon. When their engagement was announced many predicted that it could lead to the downfall of the Norwegian monarchy2.

Over a decade later the debate is now on what values HRH Mette-Marit is portraying and is this characteristic of the Norwegian society. Her role as Princess is lined with contradictions, a modern women in an old-fashioned institution. Apolitical in her title, but full of actions. She reaches out to the poor and those less fortunate, both within Norway and globally, but does so in a manner and attire that is expected by a royal.

HRH Princess Mette-Marit is a UNAIDS International Goodwill Ambassador and is a youth leadership advocate. “We need to unleash the full power and potential of young people to lead the global AIDS response. We can do that by engaging them as equal and empowered partners” she said before UN High Level meeting on AIDS3.

Mette Marit med Cola

Foto: Lise Åserud / Scanpix

She visited Nicaragua in 20074 as UN Goodwill Ambassador. Here a picture from meting with an organisation that works for promoting rights for women and young people. An educational theatre piece was put on about addressing HIV/AIDS related myths. One of the performers snitched the beverage the Princess was holding, took a sip of it and gave it back, whereby the Princess immediately responded with a sip. An action that was applauded by the audience5.

The Princess has been criticised in the Norwegian media and by scholars for travelling the world promoting awareness and rising money for the battle agains HIV/AIDS in designer clothes, calling it hypocrisy6.

What fails to be discussed and acknowledged through such statements is the role the monarchy can play for diplomacy. That is also to say that the image of the monarchy is important and is socially constructed, so that a Crown Princess cannot attend an official meeting in her worn sweatpants. Approaching it differently, the signals the Princess is sending by working on the ground can be discussed as promoting human egalitarianism. The Norwegian media’s attention on her choice of clothing might be a part of creating the aesthetic dimension of a media spectacle8 that royals often are. In Norway especially where the domestic celebrity scene is small the monarchy has a particular place.

A figure such as HRH Princess Mette-Marit can promote soft power, her fame is drawn from ascribed celebrity7, combined with her personal background and apolitical status translates to a credible voice9.

In a world where every issue is politial the actions of a future Queen of a country ever so small and remote can speak louder than words.

1 Johannesen, Hedvig Skonhoft (2013) Stemmer. Nasjonal klassereise: Mette-Marit og politikkens abdikasjon. Oslo: Aschehoug

2 Osborn, Andrew (2001) ‘Norway’s royal union causes an uncommon row’, The Guardian, 23 August 2001. [online] (accessed:12.4.2013)

3 UNAIDS (2011) ‘UNAIDS International Goodwill Ambassador HRH Mette-Marit of Norway supports youth event ahead of High Level Meeting on AIDS’, UNAIDS Feature Story, 7 June 2011. [online] (accessed:12.4.2013)

4 Det Norske Kongehus, ‘‘Nicaragua 2007’’, Det Norske Kongehus, 28.11.2007 [online] (accessed:12.4.2013)

5 Johnsen, Vibeke (2007) ‘Stjal et kyss av Mette-Marit’, Side2, 08.11.07 [online] (accessed:12.4.2013)

6 Elnan, Cathrine (2013) ‘Dansk forfatter langer ut mot kronprinsesse Mette-Marit’, NRK, 21.1.13. [online] (accessed:12.4.2013)

7 Rojek, C. (2001) Celebrity. London: Reaktion Books (pp. 17-20)

8 Kellner, Douglas (2003) Media spectacle. London: Routledge. (p.5)

9 Nye, Joseph S. (2008) ʻPublic Diplomacy and Soft Powerʼ, The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science. 616; 94-109.

Power and Public Imagery: How Margaret Thatcher became the “Iron Lady”

“We have lost a great leader, a great prime minister and a great Briton.”  

“I’d say RIP Maggie but it wouldn’t be true. If heaven exists that old witch won’t be there…”

Mixed feelings hit the Brits in reaction to the news of Baroness Thatcher’s death. Aged 87, she passed away in London on Monday, 8th April 2013.


The so called Iron Lady remains as controversial as always, even  post mortem.  First female British prime minister, uncompromising and firm politician, she changed the face of post war Britain both abroad and domestically, forever.

The international media is currently flooding with articles and online tributes to the former politician, proving the undeniable truth: no matter what she stood for, Mrs Thatcher was a celebrity indeed.  The media did play a major role in this iconic woman’s life both endorsing it and being endorsed by it, largely contributing to her world-wide impact during 11 years of service at No 10 – from 1979 to 1990- and after.

Since the very start as party leader, Margaret acknowledged the effect of media on current politics and did not shy away from taking advantage of such a reality. She wisely invested time and money on media rearrangements for herself and the Tory party.

Advertising and marketing were no novel concepts in political campaigning, with the US reshaping the rules of political broadcasting since the Kennedy vs. Nixon debate all the way to projecting a former actor into the White House. Margaret Thatcher was eager to dub these american phenomena and did not hesitate to hire PR and communication experts such as The Saatchi Brothers, Gordon Reece, Laurence Olivier and Tim Bell in order to boost her public image and give her party credibility of a new sort.

The Baroness took image management very seriously, and initiated in British politics what her successors; Blair in particular, would have made the norm.  From a relatively modest background, being the daughter of a provincial grocer from Lincolnshire, Thatcher understood how vital it was to scroll off prejudice.  Subsequently, Gordon Reece, an outgoing showbiz person, was handed the task to reshape Thatcher’s public image.

Reece provided advice and guidance on changing her notoriously high pitched voice into a lower, deeper and more persuasive tone; on altering her choice of clothing keeping it austere and consistent rather than frivolous and colorful; and  assisted her on how to behave ‘on screen’, in front of cameras.


Left: A young Margaret debuting as the Conservative candidate, Dartford, 1950.
Right. Serving her third term as British PM, 1987.

Reece made sure Thatcher could be heard by all on popular radio platforms, and worked on keeping her image in touch with ordinary English women, to the extent of having her pose in her domestic environment, doing the washing in a notorious 1975 photo shoot.

Thatcher kitchen, 1975

Thatcher in her Chelsea home kitchen, 1975.

Clothing and styling also plaid a major part with Margaret King, a professional within the fashion business whom largely contributed to establish Mrs Thatcher’s signature look.  She joined the image management entourage in the late 80’s, imposing the’ all-British-look” as a new imperative to reflect Thatcher’s support for the domestic economy.  Everything had to reflect political and moral integrity, in a male dominated world. Mrs King promoted tailored suits to fit within the manly environment of international politics and “banned” looks including popular accessories such as handbags.  All outfits had to be listed and carefully selected to suit each public appearance, allowing Mrs T. to achieve her notorious “power dressing” look.

Enough evidence to prove how successful politicians are the ones whom not only have a clear political agenda, but also display an expertise in how to convey messages to the masses. In our media dominated global era, where live broadcasting and 24/7 reporting are so not peculiar, image still affects our opinions more than we like to admit.

It is worth concluding with a quote by Margaret Thatcher herself, whom once wrote:

Every politician has to decide how much he or she is prepared to change manner and appearance for the sake of the media. It may sound grittily honourable to refuse to make any concessions, but such an attitude in a public figure is most likely to betray a lack of seriousness about winning power.”  (The Downing Street Years, 1995)

Ding Dong…the last special relationship?

ImageThatcher in her tory blue

The death of our Iron Lady Margaret Thatcher has sparked an explosion of media coverage – laments, condemnations, condemnations of those condemnations… a truly British send off.

PM David Cameron has hailed her as ‘lion hearted’, Lord Saatchi as ‘immortal’, and Boris Johnson as ending ‘defeatism and pessimism of the post-war period … She fought against the clubby, cozy, male-dominated consensus of both main parties – and she won’[1]. Well many who will always remember her as Thatcher the Milk Snatcher would disagree especially with this last comment. Famous for claiming ‘if you want something done ask a women, if you want something said ask a man’[2] she certainly did a lot, yet women still remain an overwhelming minority in Westminster and British politics can hardly be described as anything but ‘clubby and cozy’. Even incestuous, with the same faces appearing on year book photos from Eton, the Bullingdon club at Oxford, and now Westminster.

ImageSpot the tory.. Infamous Bullingdon Club photograph

A true daughter of conservative capitalism, she ‘brought the spirit of enterprise’ to Britain; shutting down the mines and locking the working class within them by prescribing a whole generation with welfare cuts and long-term unemployment, and the North with poverty levels still being suffered today. If it wasn’t the working class then it was the comparatively non-political football fans and acid house ravers, and all it did was lose her votes. Her advocacy for capital punishment and support for the 2003 Iraq invasion complete her immaculate image as the fearless and formidable Iron Lady. Immortalized in her notorious tory blue two-piece she will never be forgotten; revered by some but not so much by the ‘masses’. Her diplomacy skills may have received a divided response at home, yet her special relationship with President Reagan and the soft power they emulated was a tough act to follow for ensuing partnerships between the US and the UK.

It has been revealed by Wikileaks that American diplomats at the time saw Thatchers as the ‘personification of a British middle-class dream come true’ , noting her ‘immaculate grooming, her imperious manner, her conventional and somewhat forced charm, and above all her plummy voice stamp as the quintessential suburban matron, and frightfully English to boot … none of this goes down well with the working class of England’[3]  Yet the Thatcher-Reagan years have since been hailed as one of the most successful partnerships in relations between the US and Britain, one thing Thatcher was clearly good at was turning this damning opinion around.

The pair have been described as ‘political soul mates’[4] and in many ways the cohesion of their ideologies, foreign and domestic policies, and complimentary natures had an added strategic benefit. Their publicized strength of unity during the Cold War created a force to be reckoned with on the global stage, a soft power tool which penetrated and swayed international politics. As well as the shared strategic interests, the pair made use of public diplomacy to engender support for their affiliation. Unlike Bush and Blair’s comical attempt to emulate their diplomatic partnership, the concept of branding worked for Thatcher and Reagan, perhaps because in that moment the world was waiting to receive the golden age of conservatism, but also because of the clever representation of their relationship as a ‘political marriage’ which attracted support and reverence from national and international press. To this day the the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom is still running, allegedly leading the  British and American aim to change the world, strengthening the special Anglo-US relationship ‘advancing the conservative revolution begun by lady Thatcher’. Wow, what a legacy. [5]

Despite the abhorrence that many would feel about this ‘conservative revolution’ Thatcher’s abilities as some kind of soft power expert cannot be denied and indeed her passing causes leaders to look back and learn from such examples as her mediation and coordinated use of hard power from the UK and US, combined with the soft power of the Catholic Church in working against Communism [6]. As well as this innovative use of smart power I would argue that for Reagan and Thatcher it was a lot about image. The publicity of their relationship and strength of unity, as well as the dynamic nature of their friendship provided a strong and seemingly fearless union on the world stage that has not been emulated since. The relationship between the US and UK has remained strong, but the devastation caused by the ridiculed Bush and Blair union destroyed much of this image, and Obama and Cameron similarly cannot hope to have the charisma of Thatcher and Reagan.

U.S. President Barack Obama, right, and David Cameron, U.K. prime minister, participate in an official state arrival ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, D.C

To give the Iron Lady credit her success with US and UK relations will always be remembered for the right reasons – unlike her steely domestic policies – indeed she conducted her relationship with Reagan with the expertise and nuance that only she could achieve. Obama and Cameron comparatively lack something that Thatcher and Reagan had, beneath all the pomp and spin doctoring of the image of this ‘special partnership’ the true relationship is political and strategic. Whether or not it was just clever branding and image making, Thatcher and Reagan had a true friendship, it was at times rocky, but nevertheless this was always used to their advantage.

So Margaret Thatcher was a successful public diplomat.. at least to the Americans. At home opinion is much more divided, mostly by class. The world knows she was wrong about one thing, that ‘there is no such thing as society’ has been proven wrong with a vengeance.

North Korea: Rodman can’t save us now.

This is part two to my North Korea topic and should be considered a separate article which follows an earlier post.

As a brief recap, I pretty much described Dennis Rodman as an Adonis of a man and defended reasons for choosing him while questioning and reiterating some of the issues in having him as a diplomat. These issues are better highlighted in the work of my colleague whom writes under

Anyway, if you’ve read his work on Rodman and mine, or both and have been reading the news I think it’s safe to say that Rodman has really, for all his skills and plus’s Been as effective as eating soup with a pencil .

Mr Kim has since declared a state of war against South Korea, breaking the unofficial treaty that has held since 1950 and has also stated that the USA is a potential target as well. This includes states under US protection, so South Korea, Japan and pretty much ‘The West’. This is in many ways a terrifying time as the world media explains and comments although does very little reporting on the events as they’re unfolding, global misinformation to the public hasn’t helped ease the nerves especially when you consider that NK is nuclear. The point here is, Mr Kim has made threats, even to destroy the USA where the person he flaunted as a personal friend, and who brought joy to the people of Pyongyang (Rodman) hails .

While I’m being slightly facetious, Dennis was hardly going to pick up the phone, invite Kim to a round of golf and talk him to see sense. At this point I’m going to make a leap of faith and say that celebrity diplomacy fails or at least have failed in this case. The USA has said and I quote “inter the quote” and both sides seem fixed to go to battle. I actually have family and friends both in Tokyo and Seoul who say that until the factories stop, no one is going to fight anyone, more so they say Kim’s desires are to expand, and no use nuclear force on South Korea or Japan would mean his empire would have to wait a few hundred years. But unfortunately until academia recognizes interviews via Skype and FaceTime, I can’t source this assertion in this post.

Regardless, Pyongyang does have nuclear capabilities, they’ve already carried out two tests with a third scheduled, they lack the capability of attaching warheads although so did the USA with the Manhattan project. This is at its core a diplomatic breakdown, the USA is vastly superior in terms of military might and nuclear advancement and any plane carrying a bomb from NK could be dispatched with ease by the US air force, North Korea could still inflict a horrific amount of damage in one final flourish. 30407/

The diplomatic community now stands poised and terrified of the peace broker purer pairing to go to war, with states such as Britain and France tugging at the trouser leg of peace like a hyper Jack Russell . Even more worrying is that the alliance in these peace pooches has come in the form of Russia, whom are not fans of the USA or most of Europe which to me indicates genuine panic if we have now entered the stage where the same boat is leaking for us all.
However, the silver lining has emerged, China (again who’d have thought), have no desire to fight the west and although they are and ally of North Korea have publicly expressed a reluctance to follow Mr. Kim into a war. Indeed, states such as Russia and Britain have said that the key to peace in this situation is dependent on the state diplomacy between China and North Korea. The Chinese will cease this opportunity with two hands as really this is their bigger chance of exercising extreme soft power and effectively, allowing the US to save face. A fascinating dynamic for the following reasons: first of all, no one in this situation is a nihilist, secondly if China succeeds, then serious questions will be asked about whether the USA is ‘top dog’ as the peace broker. In addition, the sycophantic nature of US politics means that the USA may even improve relations with China as a result and indeed if there is some form of conflict resolution, this could all be really to bring the USA to the negotiation table in a hope to get some form of concession against increasing international sanctions.