Briefly, as I explore different definitions for public diplomacy (see here and here and here), one thing is constant: the purpose of public diplomacy is to convince people of something. Thus, the below quote, with all due to respect, struck me as patently false:
"The aim of public diplomacy is not to convince but to communicate, not to declare but to listen." Manuel Castells (source)
I like Professor Castells (and not just because he gave me an A a few years ago) but this statement, shared by a surprising many, is part of what is wrong with America’s global engagement. It harkens to the (amazing) belief that you can inform without influence and is, I believe, a carry-over from decades of increasing passivity and misunderstanding of public diplomacy in which we failed to understand the global environment (who we were was self-evident) and a lack of insight and foresight into the global security situation (information as a weapon).
The aim of public diplomacy is most certainly to convince people of certain ideas and to undermine support of others, if passively at times, through the availability of news and information and through personal encounters.
We do not fund public diplomacy, nor did we institutionalize it over sixty years ago, just for the heck of it. The aim of public diplomacy is most certainly to increase our national security. Call it public diplomacy, or strategic communication, or global engagement, is to successfully engage in the struggle for minds to affect the will to act through a spectrum of means that may have immediate to very long term results. Public diplomacy must be based on concepts of returns on engagements that are so often immeasurable by standard assessments but must be analyzed through a variety of (sometimes subjective) lens. The tactics of public diplomacy may often require indirect enabling of “local” (not necessarily in the geographic sense) networks of proponents (witting or not) who may only “activate” in a crisis situation.
Public diplomacy is about listening and declaring. It is is a two-way intelligence activity. This is most obvious in the area of exchanges where the aim is to take future and current leaders and insert them into a situation to understand and at the same time influence another culture. There is give and take, listening and declaring, adjusting and understanding.
Public diplomacy must declare certain principles and objectives as well as listen, calibrate, and inform policy makers (which includes the American public, like it or not) to create a better understanding of the world around. If the aim was to simply listen, then the National Security Agency should be in charge.
It is time we had a strategic view of public diplomacy and integrated it into our strategic planning. Public diplomacy is not just about creating a forum for listening or dialogue. That is not a purpose but a means of engagement.
As the State Department and the Defense Department go through their quadrennial planning (good on State to start its own, it’s long overdue), they must incorporate the fundamental importance of information-based engagement as a pillar to perhaps their entire purpose. At least consider the importance of information to our adversaries who predominately if not exclusively exist on their successful peddling of perceptions through actions and words, sometimes without resorting to lies.