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A Blog on Understanding, Informing, Empowering, and Influencing Global Publics, published by Matt Armstrong

The Public Diplomacy of Drones

Today’s article in the Wall Street Journal entitled “More Drones, Fewer Troops” looks at the policy behind the increasing use and reliance on drones, but it misses an essential point: unmanned warfare’s impact on public opinion and public diplomacy.  While the technical and budgetary advantages of unmanned systems are front and center, their impact on foreign policy are often an aside, usually in the context of meddlesome by-products of using “drones.”  We have seen, if not acknowledged, the powerful impact of human intervention (e.g. SEAL Team Six) over the powerful impact of robots, either remote controlled or autonomous.  Leaving the issue of the public diplomacy of these activities on the margins of planning is short-sighted and unwise.

In my article “The Strategic Communication of Unmanned Warfare” (June 2008), I explored the impact of ground robots, intentionally avoiding flying drones because since World War II, flyers and targets were largely anonymous from each: death rained from above.  Today’s communication environment and technical advances are removing the “air gap” between the ground and the flyer, or drone in this case, allowing for direct links between policy and the people on the ground.

This topic requires a deeper discussion.  Public diplomacy and strategic communication must be on the take-offs of drones, not just the landings, crash landings or otherwise.  In lieu of an organization that could look at this, I invite comments and articles on the subject to be posted at MountainRunner.us.

See also Unintended Consequences of Armed Robots in Modern Conflict from October 2007.

 

Absent Leadership in Public Diplomacy

From the President to the Secretaries of State and Defense, we have frequently heard how public diplomacy is key to America’s national security. While Congress debates the encroachment of the military into areas traditionally occupied, lead, and resourced by civilian agencies, there remains too much darkness when it comes to understanding the dysfunction in the structures of America’s public diplomacy, let alone at the State Department as a whole. Whether it is absent leadership at USAID, empty Undersecretary and Assistant Secretary positions across State, including the Assistant Secretary positions at International Information Programs.

Such absence of leadership leads to meandering efforts and poor use of resources. This is a core issue behind the Congressional examination into Defense strategic communication activities – a warranted development considering the lack of leadership, as noted in this report from earlier this year.

The absence of leadership – even if the seat is being warmed – can lead to other agencies taking a piece of your pie. In the case of State, the void left by inaction and poor action by State in global engagement led to the often clumsy buildup by Defense. Today, USAID may suffer: the US Department of Agriculture Secretary, Tom Vilsack, has asked the Secretaries of State and Defense to reallocate $170 million from DOD, DOS, and USAID to USDA for work in Afghanistan. In IIP’s America.gov (a site I used to tout) there’s a clear shift from informing and engaging through news to engaging through social media for the sake of engagement (apparently under the what-I-thought-was the outdated rubric of “to know me is to love me”). It’s perhaps a bit ironic that the same failure of leadership led to the disestablishment (abolishment to be blunt) of USIA ten years ago.

Continue reading “Absent Leadership in Public Diplomacy” »

Interagency failure: DHS detains VOA reporter for 10 days

Last month, the Department of Homeland Security detained a Voice of America reporter for 10 days. The man, Rahman Bunairee, had the proper visa and documentation to show he was coming to the US for a year – the primary reason of which was to escape Taliban threats. But the DHS completely disregarded both the paperwork and the requests – including formal petitions – from the Broadcasting Board of Governors to release Bunairee.

Even after his release – helped by intervention from the State Department – DHS revoked his ability to work here, leaving a critical member of America’s information team to counter Taliban and Al Qaeda information on the sidelines. Worse, the BBG nor any other part of the Government can help him financially because of DHS’s decision.

The situation has not changed after a month. Imagine if DHS made what amounts to a unilateral decision on a member of our military – uniform or civilian? The is beyond a failure of interagency cooperation.

This beyond-boneheaded decision undermines not only our ability to engage in the struggle for minds and wills played out primarily in AM and FM in Afghanistan and Pakistan – the “market” Bunairee used to work and had to physically escape from – it also sends a message to other reporters currently and potentially working for America.

I recommend you read Jeffrey Hirschberg’s column in The Washington Post for more.

DOD as our public diplomat in Pakistan

The headline Schoomaker champions Pakistan relief mission is just further emphasis of the empty promises of the Karen Hughes public diplomacy and the emphasis by the military on public outreach (see US Military rates PD higher the USG). True, the military is a branch of the USG (US Government), but the paltry sum the USG itself dedicated to cultural diplomacy compared to sustained efforts and funding by the military, instead of USAID or other services / functions / paths, is not to lauded. The fact the military is the outreach is great, but is the military liason w/ the civilian sector going to build the long-term relations we want? Is that the image of America we want the locals to have? Do we really want the children equating America w/ Chinooks? Is that worse or better than McDonald’s?

The Army’s role in providing aid to earthquake survivors in Pakistan “might be the most important bullets that we’re firing in this global war on terror,” said Chief of Staff. Gen. Peter Schoomaker Jan. 12.

The Army’s senior officer visited Pakistan as part of a tour through the Central Command area of responsibility over the holidays, and was struck by the positive impression U.S. soldiers were leaving on the local population.

“The most popular toy in Pakistan today is the little plastic Army Chinook,” he said, referring to the CH-47 lift helicopter that is delivering much of the U.S. aid in the stricken regions.