The United States has thus far avoided getting publicly involved in the Indonesia–Australia spying row; however, it can’t afford to do so any longer. Australia has demonstrated a naiveté in thinking that public diplomacy rows such as this can be settled using traditional ‘cocktail diplomacy’. Likewise, its apathy to public diplomacy on social media may be indicative of an inability to plan and conduct strategic communications campaigns. Indonesia is home to 50 million Facebook users, 35 million Twitter users and a projected 42% social media penetration of the population by 2017. As broadband internet access penetrates further into rural Indonesia, US–Allied strategic communications and public diplomacy are only going to grow in complexity and importance.
‘Cocktail diplomacy is dead,’ reads the simple Facebook post from retired Admiral James Stavridis after attending the World Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland. Indeed, as information technology continues to mature and proliferate across the globe, public diplomacy via social media will be increasingly important as citizens become more aware of international politics and attempt to shape policy by exerting influence over their respective leaders. Nowhere does this statement resonate more profoundly than in the current Australia–Indonesia row.
Following the Snowden revelations, Indonesia’s highly socially networked population took to Twitter, Facebook and the blogosphere to denounce the Australian spying. While Indonesia’s government tried to get ahead of the popular outrage and launched its own statements on social media, Australia maintained silence on its official Twitter/Facebook accounts, promising only to send a formal démarche within a week. This thumb in the eye of public diplomacy in favor of more traditional ‘cocktail diplomacy’ did nothing to assuage the growing outrage and resulted in Indonesia’s suspension of elements of the Lombok Treaty such as coordination of counter human-trafficking operations, leading to confusion, misunderstanding, accusations of violations of sovereignty/territorial waters, increased military patrols/redeployments and an escalating war of words both at the civilian and military levels.