Public Diplomacy and “Rethinking” National Security

Of late, we have been discussing the concept of “preventive diplomacy” which has gained some currency for several years but which still remains in a kind of “early development” phase both in terms of what it means and how to fully implement it in practical day-to-day terms.

Experts have talked about winning the “hearts and minds of populations around the globe for decades. Yet today after continued application of this theory, America and it allies have won neither the trust nor the support from many of the world’s most disaffected peoples. Indeed many feel great distrust. Resentment towards the United States has grown rather than diminished in the case of those who say they support “terrorists” emotionally if not via actual participation. This opinion briefly swung in the opposite direction when Obama became president but soon afterward it regressed.

Clearly the problem is not just about perception but results from specific actions and policies undertaken by the U.S. and its allies. That we are losing the public relations “war” is clear. It is also a factor that deep poverty, exacerbated by the global economic crisis has left many at the bottom of the economic ladder to experience extreme desperation and anger. The rich countries not meeting their Millennium Development goals, only exacerbates the problem. But America still has not found its ‘better voice” in speaking to the peoples beyond out border.

I would contend that one fact was the abolition of the semi-independent United States Information Agency (USIA) and its misconceived “integration” into the Department of State. Few would argue that this “integration” enhanced our public diplomacy programs or added support for public diplomacy professionals. We have failed to provide resources or even imagination in telling “our story”. While some new programs were added in the last administration, they were ineffective and viewed as biased. The BBC is more respected for its content and fairness than most of our own efforts.  Further we have not made even truly significant additions to existing radio and TV outreach. Some of our expensive programs do not even reach their intended audiences, like our Cuba broadcasts, while others in important regions have been cut back or eliminated entirely.

Let me be clear on another matter all the electronic and “virtual ” efforts will not work without the “person to person” exchanges, cultural outreach, and interactions that develop long-term understanding and cooperation. Granted this can not be done on the cheap but it is necessary to tell our story and engage those abroad in serious dialogue.

The question then is how do we re-structure our public diplomacy to function as a preventative diplomatic institution, so our efforts are the best that America can offer in terms of culture, information, and person-to-person exchanges? We need to change our micro and macro diplomatic strategies.

If one looks at the attitudes in Pakistan toward America, one can see the failure in one of the most volatile and dangerous places in the world. We spend more money building useless Cold War weapons that will never be used in combat than we do in winning the “hearts and minds” of those who easily fall prey to those that use hate as a weapon against us.

We need to discuss this within Congress, the administration, the media, and the public with a much greater sense of urgency that we have recently shown.

6 thoughts on “Public Diplomacy and “Rethinking” National Security

  1. Harry Blaney October 12, 2010 / 5:16 PM

    I want to thank both Chuck Woolery and Fred Coffey for their thoughtful posts on this question.

    Regarding Chuck’s comments, I think we do not want to “scare” people into doing good if possible, but they do need to know the consequences for us and global stability and well being of not dealing with both poverty and emerging conflicts. While fear is a strong emotion it can lead to both good and bad behavior. We need to focus it on good behavior.

    Fred’s comments are appreciated. I have just learned that they are finally establishing PD Deputy Assistant Secretaries in each of the regional bureaus at the State Department. What I do not know is how decisions will in fact be made about programs, policies and resources on both the Washington level and at posts. Like Fred, I agree strongly and have argued in the past for what he calls the “last three feet.” I hope others will suggest here ways of establishing a new “Golden Age” of Public Diplomacy and “people-to-people” exchanges as well as the new innovative technical outreach stuff.

    • Chuck Woolery October 13, 2010 / 2:36 AM

      Very important distinctions! Thank you for making them clear.

  2. Fred Coffey October 12, 2010 / 3:23 PM

    Excellent outline. Harry Blaney understands. The fragmentation of USIA into State Department engendered a loss of much of the public diplomacy support to the all important field posts where we listen, learn and communicate “the last three feet”. Now support tends to PR which isn’t PD. State refuses to restructure to provide strong response to overseas PD needs.
    We will keep floundering until the Under Secretary for PD and PA gets full control of PD while now it is layered in the six regional bureaus.

  3. Chuck Woolery October 12, 2010 / 1:51 AM

    Part of the problem has been the development community’s lack of interest in making this ‘hearts and mind’ case to their donors and the American people within the context of national security. To many liberal leaders appear to fear using fear to generate interest or support of their humanitarian work. One such leader once told me “the poor wouldn’t want our help” if we had to scare people to get their help. It appears a strong humanitarian motive overpowers any commitment to achieve significant humanitarian results. The environmental movement has used fear of climate change to generate significant change in public opinion. In the late 1970s Jimmy Carter’s Presidential Commission on World Hunger contained an insight regarding Americans probably not committing sufficient support to ending world hunger on humanitarian grounds alone. After the horrors of World War II the link between humanitarian needs and national self interest was obvious. Somehow we lost that special insight. IED’s have at least awakened it in our Armed Forces.

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