Understanding Public Diplomacy

When talking about Public Diplomacy, what definition do you use? What’s your understanding of the concept of Public Diplomacy, or Strategic Communication while we’re thinking about this? While I’m still working on a concise phrase, here are some thoughts from others on Public Diplomacy.

The purpose of public diplomacy is to “promote the better understanding of the United States among the peoples of the world and to strengthen cooperative international relations.”

How you do this is by making “known what our motives are, what our actions have been and what we have done to assist peoples outside our borders.” It is important to do this because “it is very hard for us here at home to comprehend the degree with which we are not comprehended and the degree with which we are misrepresented.”

Why you do this is because “real security, in contrast to the relative security of armaments, could develop only from understanding and mutual comprehension.”

Perhaps a tactic is Under Secretary Jim Glassman’s concept of a “convener of discussions,” for example, because “truth can be a powerful weapon on behalf of peace.”

The goals for public diplomacy efforts could be

  • Tell the truth.
  • Explain the motives of the United States.
  • Bolster morale and extend hope.
  • Give a true and convincing picture of American life, methods and ideals.
  • Combat misrepresentation and distortion.
  • Aggressively interpret and support American foreign policy. 

Do these sound good? I think the quotes and list are spot on. We’re trying to rediscover how to interact with non-state actors, and to influence or even undermine state or non-state actors through people-centric engagement, when we’ve gone through this before. As the discussions heat up around undoing the “unilateral disarmament” of our “arsenal of persuasion,” it is important to know that at one time we had a Department of Non-State: it was called the United States Information Agency, which, incidentally, was created five years after the above were written or spoken and nearly two decades before ‘public diplomacy’ was coined.

The sources for the above, in order of appearance, are below the fold.

  • The one-line “purpose title” of PL 80-402, otherwise known as the Smith-Mundt Act, signed into law January 27, 1948
  • Secretary of State Marshall testifying in favor of the Smith-Mundt bill in 1947
  • Eisenhower testifying in favor of the Smith-Mundt bill in 1947
  • The Smith-Mundt Committee’s report recommending passage in 1947
  • The six key requirements the Committee listed for the Act to be effective in 1947

See also:

6 thoughts on “Understanding Public Diplomacy

  1. Is the Convener like Master’s of the Universe?Did you get a chance to figure what a direct American employee is and what is not? Email me if you have the answer.

  2. He made another mistake because they are American employees. He should kick out another embassy employee and agree that he asked people to spy.

  3. Very interesting Post. I am following the ideas in your blog closely.Our current thinking in the UK is that Public Diplomacy begins with listening. Practitioners like myself will be seen as pure propagandists if we do not genuinely listen.
    Credibility is also a key attribute for all of our activities. Lose this and people tune out. The messenger is also crucial. We believe that we are not the most effective messenger to many audiences. Why would the Arab street listen to someone like me?
    A recent Foreign and Commonwealth Office publication sought to kick-off a wider debate on Public Diplomacy practice in the UK. I am seeking comments on our new Embassy blog. I would love to see both your and your readers comments on our current thinking.

  4. Mr. Armstrong,I happened upon your blog this evening and think I’ve discovered a treasure trove.
    I saw Glassman’s speech to the National Press Club Friday in C-SPAN. What struck me was that he was much more interested in getting the foreign publics to turn away from ideologies that are antagonistic toward the U.S. interest, and less concerned with raising any sort of good feelings toward the U.S. itself among those publics. That is, he is focused on the isolation of those ideologies among foreign publics. I am interested in your thoughts on this.

  5. Brian, thanks for reading and the compliment. Glassman, and others, ‘get it.’ He doesn’t buy into the enemy’s propaganda, reacting to the messages as if they were true. Beers’ “Shared Values” promoted American in an “us versus them” competition that wasn’t. The core of the ideological debate isn’t the attractiveness of America, just as it wasn’t in the early Cold War. It is, and was, about exposing the lies and distortions of the enemy and empowering locals to be on our side. In other words, it is and was “them versus them” because, after all, if the locals don’t participate in the struggle, they won’t have the buy-in or the fortitude to resist and fight back.

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