Who should manage US public diplomacy, State or Defense?

I asked the question a while back about whether Defense should be given control over the creation and execution of US public diplomacy efforts. Here were the results of the poll:

  • 5.9% :: Defense should be the primary and lead in formulating and carrying out America’s PD
  • 11.8%  :: Defense and State should be co-equal in creation and execution
  • 23.5% :: Defense should only be given specific tasks
  • 29.4% :: Defense should but only within a limited scope and in deference to State/Other Civilian ownership
  • 29.4% :: Defense has no business participating in America’s Public Diplomacy efforts

The poll indicates that readers believe Defense should have at most a limited role in America’s public diplomacy and an equal number believe Defense should be out of the PD business entirely.

I revisit this poll from many months ago because of an article Eddie forwarded from the Armed Forces Journal, Why the military can’d do it all. You should read the whole article, but here is some of the red meat pertinent to the above survey results (highlights are mine):

We cannot as a nation or military give way to mission creep because the interagency was shortsighted or underfunded in fulfilling its charter. This is not a question of being inflexible in the face of modern challenges; it’s about knowing your own capabilities and core competencies, as well as those of your potential enemies or perceived threats. I am not taking aim directly at State or any other department or agency within the federal government. Instead, I am looking at the individual charters of each organization and correlating their current project resources and budget levels.

For example, the current budget request for the Defense Department is more than $387 billion, while State’s is about $9.2 billion and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) requests $8.3 billion. It should be clear that the only organization poised to make an impact with this accounting is the Defense Department. I would argue that providing State and the USAID increases in personnel and resources is necessary to balance the instruments of power and to put the right face on U.S. foreign policy.

Remember, the primary mission of our forces is to provide physical security for the nation by defending national and vital interests, while defeating all enemies, foreign and domestic. This shouldn’t change in any context or medium. Relevancy at this basic level is timeless. This fits perfectly within the construct of the instruments of power and the DIMEFIL. It provides the hard power we rely on when absolutely necessary. Unlike the tools used by a mechanic or a surgeon, these so-called “instruments” do not come with owner’s manuals or certification processes, although all are embedded with rules and restrictions set forth in the pages of the U.S. Constitution.

As I watched our commander in chief give the latest State of the Union address, I was impressed to see and hear each of our nation’s instruments of power was embedded throughout his speech, but I also find it difficult to understand why our civilian and military leadership continues to overemphasize the capabilities of the armed forces as we continue well beyond our core competencies. If we are to create a generalized military force, there are serious debates to be had. This isn’t a case of our military forces being incapable or unable to protect our nation and win its wars. It is about our nation’s leadership realizing that it must demand all components of the DIMEFIL be used in concert and ensuring the interagency does its fair share to reach national-level objectives that affect our national and vital interests. It is up to the leadership of the Defense Department to realize that we are not always the best tool for every situation and to ensure our leadership is fully aware of the consequences when the military instrument of power is brought to bear against all enemies, foreign or domestic….

In the past year, I have heard much debate on the necessity of legislating a follow-on to the Goldwater-Nichols Act for the interagency and for increasing jointness among the services. I propose a different tack. I recommend using the stand-up of U.S. Africa Command as a platform for integrating the interagency and instruments of power.

This effort should be resourced and led by State. The current situation elevates the combatant commanders to the historical level of viceroy by virtue of structure, budget and resources. I recommend the creation of a civilian counterpart to which the combatant commander is subordinate. Create a leader for each continent of the globe and make no exceptions. Within the continents there would be the equivalent of an interagency joint task force for each country, with the military component subordinate to the civilian ambassador or equivalent. This would assume that the civilian departments of the federal government have trained experts in their professions, and that the USAID is able to fulfill its charter with organic personnel and resources. The Defense Department would provide support and physical security for mission accomplishment as directed by its civilian leaders….

The final structural iteration would provide for all federal departments and agencies to restructure their organizations into this newly formed integrated global entity. So, when federal departments coordinate, the lines of authority and responsibility would be clearly delineated, and each organization would be able to reach its counterparts at the same level and breadth. This is why the stand-up of Africa Command is important to the future of our foreign policy.

2 thoughts on “Who should manage US public diplomacy, State or Defense?

  1. Well, the Constitutional answer is that all actions of the United States, including public diplomacy, should be executed by the President. “State” and “Defense” are tools which may not make sense, as we earlier decided that “War” and “Navy” didn’t make sense anymore.Happily, though, this question is most important in things that actually matter.. you know, unlike public diplomacy 😉

  2. Given the current state of media technology, I don’t think government is capable of delivering competent public diplomacy. The barriers to entry are so low, the technology so ubiquitous that it is just not possible for a government bureaucracy to keep up. We are all aware of how non-state actors like al-Qaeda and Hezbollah can run more effective PD operations than the most advanced states. There is a lesson in this. The solution to our PD problem will not come from government, rather it will come from citizens who have an interest in public diplomacy who will take the initiative and use the technology we all have access to and just do it. We need to start thinking in terms of an “entrepreneurial public diplomacy”. What is required is a change in our conceptual framework. We are conditioned to think of public diplomacy as a government function, therefore we reject out of hand that there are any other options. But this is not the 1950s and 60s when technology was big, bulky and expensive. We need to re-jigger our conceptions of public diplomacy. Here we are 5 and a half years after 9/11 and we still don’t get it, while our adversaries are way ahead of us.Let’s do a thought experiment. Let’s say we decided to create a non-profit whose purpose was to do public diplomacy, what projects would it undertake? Documentary films, audio speeches distributed on cassette tape, short films distributed on Youtube or emailed from cell phone to cell phone, lectures by pro-liberal democracy muslims, graphic novels in arabic telling stories of arab liberal democrats fighing authoritarianism and fundamentalism, etc. There are a lot of options and obviously some trial and error will be involved in determining what works, but the reality is that we don’t need government to do this, we can do it ourselves.

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