Operationalizing Public Diplomacy

Operationalizing Public Diplomacy by Matt Armstrong, 14 October 2008, at Routledge Handbook of Public Diplomacy

In the 21st century, perceptions matter more than facts as “super-empowered” individuals wield technology and manipulate public opinion for their own purposes unburdened by the truth and unchecked by less adroit global powers as they seek support across borders. This chapter looks at the origins and purposes of modern U.S. public diplomacy as a means to engage foreign publics directly, bypassing their governments, in a struggle to support the peace and security of the United States. This diplomacy with publics, which included carrots and sticks similar to traditional diplomacy, was required to fight an unknown enemy that seemed to be everywhere and set on destroying the American way of life.

This chapter begins with a look back at the original purpose and function of public diplomacy borne out of the total war period of the early Cold War years. I then describe how public diplomacy transformed from an active and holistic engagement into a passive practice based on emotions as part of a U.S. re-election campaign. This is followed by two sections that form the heart of this chapter. The first is an overview of the importance of information in modern conflict and the second is recommendations to operationalize public diplomacy so that it sits between and informs both strategy and tactics. This chapter concludes with the assertion that this view of public diplomacy must be reinvigorated and made central in Information Age warfare where perceptions trump bullets.