Sunday, November 20, 2011

Rebirth of Public Diplomacy after 9/11

We’ve spent a lot of time recently, especially after attending the conference at GW, discussing public diplomacy. We read in Hanson’s chapter about “War and Peace in the Information Age” about how public diplomacy first became important during the Cold War. It was a war of ideas, battling the basic tenets of communism. Public diplomacy became an extremely important part of U.S. foreign policy for the first time. After the Cold War though, public diplomacy was somewhat abandoned. Cultural centers closed and the U.S. government seemed to think that since we were the “super-power” of the world that either everyone liked us, or it just didn’t matter.

9/11 quickly proved that was disillusioned thinking.  The US realized that maybe we weren’t as loved by all as we had assumed. And public diplomacy did once again become a much more important part of US foreign policy. Some actions seemed to work like Radio Sawa, a radio station aimed towards Arabic speaking youth in the Middle East. They mix popular music with news from an American viewpoint. Although it is a public diplomacy effort, the website says it is “committed to the highest standards of journalism.” I think it’s a little conflicting for something to be considered a public diplomacy effort and journalism. 

Another effort that wasn’t as successful was the Office of Strategic Influence in the Pentagon. They had plans to plant news items in the media in foreign countries and even considered planting false news to put the US in a better light. When information about these plans leaked, the office closed within four months. The New York Times reported at the time that it was hard to get information about this fairly secretive office. The Times did report on what critics of the office said though. One of the main criticisms was that if news was planted for Reuters or a similar news agency, then news could make it’s way back to the U.S. very easily. And by law, the Pentagon and CIA are not allowed to engage in propaganda in the U.S.

Many were not satisfied with the supposedly amped-up efforts and the Council on Foreign Relations put together a task force made up of former ambassadors, academics, global business leaders, representatives from global NGOs and representatives from international think tanks. They released recommendations that are really interesting, even though many of them never took effect.

First they overall, just wanted to make public diplomacy a more crucial part of U.S. foreign policy, predominantly by placing more attention on leadership within public diplomacy. They also wanted to enhance training for ambassadors and build congressional support for public diplomacy.

The most interesting aspects of the proposal included partnerships with the private and non-profit sectors. They really wanted to create a Corporation for Public Diplomacy, modeled after the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. This organization would work on private funding and help foster new, creative ideas for public diplomacy from the private sector. They wanted to reach out to foreign media, which is also something that probably would have been more effective if done by NGOs already working in the area.

For the most part, the extension of public diplomacy didn’t spread to the non-profit or private sectors, like CFR’s task force recommended. And that’s not too surprising. The U.S. government, like many other governments and international organizations like the UN are reluctant to allow the private sector in, but I think it could have been helpful public diplomacy in the post-9/11 days.

1 comment:

  1. Jessica, thank you for your posting. It is interesting to read your blog writing about the public diplomacy. I did not know that the US law that does not allow the Pentagon and CIA to engage in propaganda. I thought that propaganda is one of forms for information war and therefore, I never thought that Pentagon and CIA cannot involve the propaganda.

    I also agree that the government should bring NGOs in the field of public diplomacy. In terms of administration and implementation of projects, many of NGOs are more flexible than the government. This characteristic of NGOs would enable them efficiently engage to foreign publics. With the traditional view that defines who is a global actors, as you mentioned, NGOs were not counted. However, thesedays, the governmental bodies including UN system, recognize the importance of actors in a private sector and admit them as a part of "official actors" gradually. I also hope their engagement to Public Diplomacy field would be enlarged.