Mutual Understanding?

We often hear the words "mutual understanding," but do we really know what we mean when we say those words? According to, it is to: "n : sympathy of each person for the other." But what then is sympathy? It implies a relationship, an affinity, and in general a relationship with feelings towards another.

How does one achieve this "mutual understanding" then? Rotary strongly supports this principle through thousands of exchanges annually, both long-term and short-term in nature. Through these exchanges relationships are built, at least for a time. However, at the end of these exchanges everyone must go home, whether it is a GSE Team, a High School Exchange, or a year of study abroad. Relationships are built, but often fall by the wayside when we return to our homes. This is a real concern for Rotary and all organizations that sponsor exchanges.

How can Rotary Scholars and Fellows work then to preserve the relationships that are built over such a short period of time? What are some solutions?

Often the key is proper communication of some kind. We are blessed today with the internet, which allows quick, convenient, and cheap communications between individuals nearly anywhere on earth. This is of course granting that those involved have access to the internet in the first place. That aside, we have the tool and have had this tool for over a decade now. I recall sending my first emails in 1994 from my University account to a former classmate who was admitted to the Air Force Academy. This was when I was still in High School!

You can lead a horse to water, but how then do you make it drink? How can I get my mother to log on and write? Again, literacy aside, we must find ways to encourage those with these tools to use them, and those designing them must find ways to make it easier to use. Certainly, Digitarians are one example of a group seeking to make this happen. Free email has also worked wonders. Blogs too have been great for allowing my to communicate as a Peace Fellow with my sponsor Rotarians in Kentucky.

Still though, it is often difficult typing into a black hole. Nuance of voice and intonation are lost in writing (but were also hampered by old fashioned letters). These difficulties aside, how can one sift through the heaps of data, emails, etc. and build valid relationships?

I am completely comfortable working in the digital world, making friends online, and bringing that world into my real world and friends. Through the Rotary World Peace Fellow Association, I have built relationships with fellows at the six other centers. These are people whom I have never met in person before.
It can be done, but key to building relationships is having a shared interest, a venue, and a desire to continue the relationship. It is not possible to connect with everyone in the world, but it is possible to find the right people, at the right place, with the right energy to push forward with a working relationship that complements those of real life. It is through these endeavors that we can better achieve mutual understanding, or affinity, for one another through digital means.

Public Diplomacy As Tool

In order for this to take place, extensive reforms need to take place at the U.S. State Department. Congress folded the United States Information Agency into the State Department in 1999 in order to bring it closer to foreign policy making institutions. The strategy was to ensure that public diplomacy was “on the takeoffs and landings” of foreign policy.[1] Secretary Rice should meet this goal of merger during her term.

The United States and others must not only practice smart public diplomacy but culturally sensitive public diplomacy. Policy makers must not exclude minority cultures, especially indigenous peoples, from the policy-making processes. Public diplomacy can play a role in determining not only what is good for America’s or any country’s interests, but also what is best for foreign constituents. It is imperative that the United States make changes to meet the challenges set forth by the UNDP Human Development Report, including how the people of nations communicate with one another.

[1] Dizard, Wilson. “Remembering USIA.” Foreign Service Journal. July-August 2003. Page 61.

The Problems of Public Diplomacy

The Problems of Public Diplomacy

The literature on public diplomacy is primary focused on the United States, however many countries practice public diplomacy in many different forms. Some governments diffuse their public diplomacy across a variety of agencies, others have independent organizations, while yet others simply hire public relations firms or create independent foundations. Besides the U.S., NATO has a public diplomacy office and the United Kingdom has recently adopted the term. However, the public diplomacy here refers to all these efforts regardless of their name.

Dean Edmund Gullion of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University first coined the term “public diplomacy” with the creation of the Edward P. Murrow Center for Public Diplomacy in 1965.[1] Although synonymous with the non-pejorative sense of propaganda, I define public diplomacy as communication between the government of one country directed towards the people of another in order to promote an understanding of the government’s policies, and to create a sense of mutual understanding between the people of both countries.

Nearly all nations have some form of public diplomacy. The Department of State (DOS) of the United States of America and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in the United Kingdom conducts various kinds of public diplomacy. Programming includes libraries in foreign capitals, International Radio Broadcasting (Voice of America and the British Broadcasting Corporation), exchange of journalists, teachers, and scholars, student exchange, and numerous internet resources. The British Council and the Goethe Institute are two other examples of public diplomacy, which is also known as cultural diplomacy.

These organizations represent a contradiction within public diplomacy. The field shares two goals – to sell the policies and agenda of the government and build a sense of mutual understanding between the people of two or more nations. Within the latter though, there is also a tension between focusing on the decision makers of a country – academics, journalists, and NGOs, versus focusing on the entire population. This is especially true in the Muslim World.

The structure of the US Department of State’s two arms of public diplomacy represents the compromise of this contradiction. First, there is the propaganda arm of public diplomacy designed to “sell” a nation and its policies. At the Department of State, this is International Information Programs (IIE). According to the Department of State, “IIP designs, develops, and implements a variety of information initiatives and strategic communications programs, including Internet and print publications, traveling and electronically transmitted speaker programs, and information resource services. These reach (and are created strictly for) key international audiences, such as the media, government officials, opinion leaders, and the general public in more than 140 countries around the world.”[2]

Second, there are educationally and culturally focused outreach programs. At the Department of State, the Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs handle this branch of public diplomacy. According to the Department of State, this bureau “fosters mutual understanding between the United States and other countries through international educational and training programs. The bureau does so by promoting personal, professional, and institutional ties between private citizens and organizations in the United States and abroad, as well as by presenting U.S. history, society, art and culture in all of its diversity to overseas audiences.”[3] There are dozens of programs funded by this bureau, including Fulbright, the International Visitor Program, and other programs to assist in the preservation of culture and cultural resources of other nations.

Non-US examples of programs include British Marshall Exchange programs, the German Carl Duisburg Foundation, as well as the Japan Foundation. Government agencies control some agencies, while others are outsourced others to private or semi-private organizations (such as the Institute for International Education or the British Council). Private programs can also be facilitated by governments, such as sister city relationships or private exchange programs such as World Learning, Inc.

In all cases, the focus of most public diplomacy is not on dialogue, but on persuading a target audience. Ambassador Christopher Ross, in a Harvard International Review article, outlined seven pillars of public diplomacy.[4] It represents the priorities of the field. They include policy advocacy, context, consistency, tailoring the message, utilizing the media, alliances and partnerships, and finally dialogue. The last of the seven pillars is dialogue, but with a focus on influential leaders such as rising political leaders, educators, and journalists. Although cultural exchange and mutual understanding are aspects of public diplomacy, they are not the primary mission of public diplomacy.

This has been especially true by US public diplomacy since the attacks of September 11, 2001. Since that time, the United States government and the people of the United States have become acutely aware that there is an “enemy” that “hates” America. Frequently people asked, “Why do they hate us?” The Washington think tanks and government offices set to work to answer this question. The last three years have seen two major efforts at redefining public diplomacy, which was practically shattered after its merger into the US State Department in 1999.

One of the first mantras used in response to the attacks of September 11 was to “win the hearts and minds of our enemies.” The problem with public diplomacy was in “selling” the idea of the United States. On October 11, 2001 – just a month after the attacks – Charlotte Beers, the Uncle Ben’s Rice ad queen of Madison Avenue swore in as Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. In March of 2003, after receiving a great deal of criticism, she resigned. CNN Reported, “U.S. officials also complained privately that though Beers spent a lot of money on slickly produced media ads, she did not understand her target audience: Muslim-majority countries where anti-American sentiment runs high.”[5] Two years of hits and misses proved that advertising does work in public diplomacy.

After the advertising fiasco, the Pentagon began to take the lead. In September 2004, the Department of Defense’s Defense Science Board Task Force issued a report on strategic communication. The report defines public diplomacy within a framework of four core instruments of strategic communications. According to the task force, public diplomacy is not dialogue, but persuasion.

Public diplomacy seeks through the exchange of people and ideas to build lasting relationships and receptivity to a nation’s culture, values, and policies. It seeks also to influence attitudes and mobilize publics in ways that support policies and interests. Its time horizons are decades and news cycles. Public diplomacy is distinguished from traditional diplomatic interactions between governments. In an age of global media, the Internet revolution, and powerful nonstate actors — an age in which almost everything governments do and say is understood through the mediating filters of news frames, culture, memory, and language — no major strategy, policy, or diplomatic initiative can succeed without public support. Fulbright scholarships, youth exchanges, embassy press briefings, official websites in language versions, and televised interviews with ambassadors and military commanders are examples of public diplomacy.[6]

In this report, the Defense Science Board of the Department of Defense reflects the newest take of public diplomacy by the Bush Administration. Advertising did not work, so now the Bush Administration is adopting public diplomacy as a tactic to battle terrorism. This report redefined public diplomacy as a tool of persuasion – that is propaganda, but still not dialogue.

The United Kingdom has rejuvenated its public diplomacy efforts, in many ways modeling itself after the United States. According to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s Public Diplomacy Strategy, the UK seeks to sell the UK as both a destination and an idea. There is no mention of dialogue or mutual understanding. It too is a campaign of persuasion.

Although public diplomacy does involve some exchange of individuals, the major focus of the Department of State and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is on promoting their nations policies first, and their own culture second. Although there is little effort to listen, the Defense Science Board’s recommendations to recognize that listening, an important aspect of dialogue is missing. “Policymakers, diplomats, and military leaders often do not appreciate that “listening” and influence analyses are critical prerequisites to effective communications strategies.”[7]

Nations need to listen on numerous levels, both within their states (democracy), and internationally (public diplomacy). Secretary Rice, in the opening statement of her confirmation hearing laid out a vision for her term that includes a change of perception for public diplomacy. She said, “We will increase our exchanges with the rest of the world. And Americans should make a serious effort to understand other cultures and learn foreign languages. Our interaction with the rest of the world must be a conversation, not a monologue.”[8]

As the Secretary moves to achieve this goal, she must answer a number of questions. Who are the stakeholders in America’s foreign policy? How shall the United States listen more to foreign audiences? What kind of participation should the U.S. use in various countries in order to increase input from stake holding audiences? What structures that currently exist should the Secretary improve in order to build some “ears” for the United States? A clear answer to any of these questions is not possible.

The Ambassador to the United States from Algeria, Idriss Jazairy, recommends a “new age” public diplomacy. He wishes to see the United States lead not with power, but with authority. He notes, the U.S. should not make the world agree with its decisions, but use feedback to foresee the impacts of its decisions. He believes that, “At a time when some bemoan the rise of unilateralism such a vision of public diplomacy through a dialogue-and-feedback loop would offer greater hope and harmony in world affairs.”[9] To achieve harmony in world affairs, and to democratize the process, states need to initiate dialogue in their public diplomacy efforts.

Hady Amr also supports dialogue in his Analysis paper for the Brookings Institution. He makes two points. First, the US should communicate more effectively. Second, it should listen more careful through dialogue. These two authors, and six other policy papers by government agencies or think tanks agree on the following points:

1. There is a need to improve perceptions of the United States, especially in the Muslim World.

2. The current structure of public diplomacy is inadequate.

3. The current funding of public diplomacy is inadequate.

4. U.S. policy toward the Middle East is opposed in Muslim-majority countries.

5. The U.S. should expand exchange programs in the Middle East.[10]

[1] “What is Public Diplomacy?” USIAAA – United States Information Agency Alumni Association homepage. Web accessed: 02/14/05

[2] “Bureau of International Information Programs.” US Department of State.

[3] “Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs.” US Department of State.

[4] Ross, Christopher. “Pillars of Public Diplomacy.” Harvard International Review. Volume 25, Issue 2. Summer 2003.

[5] Bush’s Muslim propaganda chief quits.” CNN Online. March 4, 2003.

[6] Report of the Defense Science Board Task Force on Strategic Communication. Department of Defense. September 2004. Page 13.

[7] Report of the Defense Science Board Task Force on Strategic Communication. Department of Defense. September 2004. Page 28.

[8] “"Opening Remarks by Secretary of State-Designate Dr. Condoleezza Rice." Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Washington, DC. January 18, 2005.

[9] Jazairy, Idriss. “Public Diplomacy at a Crossroads.” The Washington Times. August 19, 2002.

[10] Amr, Hady. “The Need to Communicate: How to Improve U.S. Public Diplomacy with the Islamic World.” The Brookings Institution. Analysis Paper #6. January 2004.

Cultural Liberty vs. Cultural Imperialism: Creating a Dialogue to Meet in the Middle

The United Nations Development Program’s (UNDP) 2004 Human Development Report is revolutionary in its focus on culture – and the importance of what it calls cultural liberty. According to the report, cultural liberty is an important aspect of being able to lead a “full life.” As the Report states, the idea of cultural liberty “is a simple idea, but profoundly unsettling.”[1] It is unsettling because it goes so far in redefining culture in the context of international law.

Although the Report does not specifically mention the Declaration of Human Rights,[2] it intrinsically links cultural liberty with human rights. Specifically, the Declaration on Human Rights considers all people to be equal, protects individuals against distinction of any kind (including race, language, or origin), and it guarantees the right to life, liberty, and security of person. Just as the Declaration was revolutionary for individual human rights, this report is critical for the cultural liberty of both individuals and societies.

This visionary framing of human rights, cultural liberty, and development is not without problems. Just like the 2003 report, which defines Human Security, valid criticisms of this Report include being too broad and sweeping to in order to be effective. This report is not necessarily a norm creator. However, the report is critical in outlining the important foci of development and other international issues today. Culture is important for it affects not only how developing countries should act, but also developed nations. Challenges to Cultural Liberty come from both quarters.

The Report focuses on the challenges to achieving Cultural Liberty in chapter two. Of specific concern is exclusion through living modes and participation. The report defines living mode exclusion as when “the state or social custom denigrates or suppresses a group’s culture, including its language, religion, or traditional customs or lifestyles.” Likewise, exclusion refers to social, economic, and political exclusion along ethnic, linguistic, or religious lines.[3] Challenges come from both states or governments and societies, or people within the states.

Namely, “The core argument of this Report is that societies should embrace, not suppress, such multiple and complementary identities.”[4] Importantly, individuals define identity, not an outside entity. Cultural liberty, according to the UNDP, “is a vital part of human development because being able to choose one’s identity – who one is – without losing the respect of others or being excluded from other choices is important in leading a full life.”[5] In short, cultural liberty requires that democracy hear everyone’s voice. Thus, cultural liberty becomes a foundation for democratization as well as development.[6]

The Report recognizes threats to Cultural Liberty including cultural domination within a state and globalization. The state level challenges include right wing political parties, the tolerance of minority persecution, and outright genocide. It is individual states responsibility to ensure cultural repression does not take place. Globalization in this report represents the unrestrained diffusion of culture around the world that creates a threat for those who wish to preserve their way of life. What marks this threat to cultural liberty is that this Report sees globalization as an unguided force that states must work with, and not attempt to impede.[7] Again, states bear the responsibility for protecting cultural liberty from globalization within their borders.

What the paper does not discuss is the overt and planned imperialism that threatens many aspects of life around the world, including cultural liberty. It is not the purpose of this paper to analyze either the foreign policy of any nation, nor the cultural leakage of globally dominant cultures. By cultural leakage, this paper refers to the export of movies, music, and the accompanied culture also seen as a product of globalization. In this context, cultural imperialism includes what the United States and now the United Kingdom call public diplomacy.

[1] UNDP, Human Development Report 2004. Page 1.

[2] UN General Assembly resolution 217 A (III) of 10 December 1948.

[3] UNDP, Human Development Report 2004. Page 27.

[4] UNDP, Human Development Report 2004. Page 28.

[5] UNDP, Human Development Report 2004. Page 1.

[6] UNDP, Human Development Report 2004. Page 47.

[7] UNDP, Human Development Report 2004. Page 85.

Using Public Diplomacy to fix Public Diplomacy

I propose implementing Amr’s plan by initiating, on a country-by-country basis, an open and ongoing dialogue process. Ambassadors have held “roundtables” and conferences in the past, but this proposes to be different. It shall bring together the stakeholders of a region with the Ambassador and his foreign policy making circle, and through changes in how U.S. foreign policy is constructed, create a system to bring feedback back to Washington.

The United States administers policy from Washington, often with little or no feedback from the recipients of its policies. Foreign Service Officers give feedback to Washington through cables, and do so often through the press and contacts with local government officials. This is often limited to contacts made in capital cities, or consulates in the field. Poor language capabilities exacerbate this further. Seldom are the views of local citizens taken into consideration. It is important to initiate a dialogue, on a state-by-state basis, appropriately applying overarching US policy through dialogue.

According to Amr, “Muslim citizens desire – indeed crave – a dialogue with America.”[1] The first step in achieving a dialogue is to identify the stakeholders within a state or a region concerning a particular policy. This is especially important in the Muslim World, as identified by Amr. It is also important throughout the world, where NGO’s and civil society play an increasingly important role.

Once a U.S. Embassy identifies stakeholders, they can come together with U.S. Policy makers, Embassy officials, and experts from the U.S. to identify common interests and values. The United States and the Muslim World share many basic values, but there is a disjuncture between those values and current U.S. policy.

Finally, the stakeholders, U.S. Embassy officials, and others can create a plan of action for implementation. Amr defines this as a “paradigm of ‘joint planning for joint benefit.”[2] As an example, just exchange of individuals is insufficient. Propaganda is also insufficient. It is necessary to give the stakeholders ownership of both the problems and the solutions to the issues that face both the United States and the target country.

The NGO Habitat for Humanity is a prime example of an organization following this model of self-help and using the principal of ownership, literally. A core principle at Habitat for Humanity is the nature of grass-roots participation. “Habitat operates through locally governed affiliates with a strong emphasis on grassroots organizations and local autonomy. Habitat affiliates are independent, nonprofit organizations that operate within specific service areas in a covenant relationship with Habitat for Humanity International.”[3] Through this structure, local stakeholders and community members have ownership in both the homes and the organizations that they lead. It is not a gift from above, but help from within.

The United States can initiate this through its own programs and practices, and in some cases already does. For example, JUSEC or the Japan-U.S. Education Commission was established in 1979 by the governments of Japan and the United States. According to JUSEC’s website, “Binational governance is the fundamental concept of the Fulbright Program. In Japan, this is realized through a ten-member Commission of five Americans and five Japanese who are appointed annually by their respective governments. Two members on each side represent the government while the remaining members come from the private sector.”[4]

According to Amr, this is critical in order to increase participation in the formation of U.S. foreign policy, where appropriate. In referring to exchange activities, Amr notes that, “simple immersion, without dialogue, fails to induce communication and therefore does not constitute effective public diplomacy. Similarly, sending experts to the Islamic world to speak about the United States may accomplish some goals, but cannot achieve a fulfilling or sustainable two-way dialogue with Muslim communities.”[5] The same is true for any nation or community.

[1] Amr. Page 22.

[2] Amr, Page 22.

[3] “Myths about Habitat for Humanity.” Habitat for Humanity International. Homepage. (February 14, 2005).

[4] Japan United States Exchange Commission. Homepage. (February 14, 2005).

[5] Amr, Page 23.

Hisashiburi - Too long!

It's been way too long since I've posted to this blog. However, there is yet so much to say. For now, I'll post a series from one of my papers that will likely turn into a thesis. Please enjoy.

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