Fear and empathy in international relations: Diplomacy, cyber engagement and Australian foreign policy

Just published in Place Branding and Public Diplomacy


Emotions in international relations, as in human relations, are invisible but leave traces in the policy articulation. Such traces can reveal how emotional interpretations of the environment in which national states operate shape and frame certain policy and strategic choices. Drawing on the concept of the “institutionalisation of empathy and fear” developed by Crawford (Int Theory 6(3):535–557, 2014), I first operationalise and then apply this concept to the Australian foreign policy. This framework is applied to the analysis of the foreign policy documents and strategies published by the Australian government in the last decade. In particular, I focus on Australia’s foreign policy articulation and interpretation of the internet and digital technologies. New, pressing problems are emerging in the digital environment due to a range of cybersecurity threats, including an increase in the frequency of automated accounts and the dissemination of fake news and digital propaganda. From perceiving the internet as a communication platform that allows for listening to and dialogue with foreign publics, Australian foreign policy is increasingly framing the internet as strategic infrastructure that requires defending and guarding. The attention is, thus, moving towards short-term ‘defensive’ goals—as a result of a higher perceived fear of the latest evolution in the geopolitical context. The shift in Australian foreign policy indicates a form of institutionalisation of fear in response to the challenges emerging from the digital environment. I conclude by arguing that a more belligerent international environment highlights the tension between national interest—which evolves and changes due to political shifts and contextual elements—and the understanding of public diplomacy engagement as mutual understanding and mutual influence.

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