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.

No comments:

Popular Posts