“Diaspora Diplomacy” as a foreign policy strategy
Over the last few years, various countries have developed administrative and diplomatic capacities to
systematically establish their influence on, and communication channels with, their diaspora communities. One
of these countries is India with its Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs which was set up in 2004. The Ministry of Malians Abroad and African Integration was formed in Mali in the same year. And Turkey created its Presidency for Turks Abroad and Related Communities in 2010. The institutionalisation of “diaspora diplomacy” showcased here is part of a wider trend and a distinct indication for the fact that a country’s diaspora community has become considerably more important as a subject of interest for foreign policy and associated government activities.
The scientific definition and concept of diaspora are not clear, however, and can vary depending on the research angle. Nevertheless, there are three main features. Diaspora can be viewed as the result of lasting migration, whereby the migrants arriving in a host country largely retain their ethnic-cultural identity and develop an idealised image of their homeland. At the same time, it is mostly associated with the formation of diaspora organisations within the host country which contribute both to retaining a collective identity, as well as to consolidating the ease with which their own groups can be politically mobilised. The latter encompasses the potential to influence political actors both at home and within the host country.
The observation that government activities relating to their diaspora communities have intensified appears to gain a new dimension within this context. It increasingly adds a political component to the continual general expectation that diaspora members and migrants contribute to the economic development of their home country, for instance by transferring money.
Home countries use foreign policy strategies which can be summarised using the term “diaspora diplomacy”. These strategies can vary, both in their manifestation and in their degree of legitimacy. A considerably problematic understanding must, however, be emphasised at this point. Its primary objective is to generate loyalty towards the home country and ultimately convert it into political influence by propagating particular nationalistic and religious narratives, as well as by means of certain practices, such as organising cultural festivities or holding elections abroad. This concept based on engendering loyalty consequently results in exporting the friend-enemy scheme of the home country’s political discourse, culminating in efforts to protect “loyal” diaspora members from the influence of political dissidents. The outcome of such idealism is the increased use of security measures in dealing with diaspora, for example the surveillance of political dissidents abroad.
It is advisable that countries like Germany, which have a large number of different diaspora communities, devote more attention to the policy of diaspora diplomacy, both on a political and academic level.
This article was published in November’s issue (2018) of the Diplomatic Magazine.
Yunus Emre Ok is currently pursuing a Master`s degree in Political Science and International Relations at the Free University of Berlin and King`s College London. He has completed an internship at the Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy at the University of Hamburg as well as at the Center for Strategic Research of the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. At IFAIR, the author assists in the organisation`s think tank activities for the regional area “Eastern Europe and Eurasia”.