What is it about U.S. public diplomacy that we must hide it from Americans? Is it so abhorrent that it would embarrass the taxpayer, upset the Congress (which has surprisingly little additional insight on the details of public diplomacy), or upend our democracy? Of our international broadcasting, such as the Voice of America, do we fear the content to be so persuasive and compelling that we dare not permit the American media, academia, nor the Congress, let alone the mere layperson, to have the right over oversight to hold accountable their government? [Read the rest here]
Courtesy of Bruce Gregory, Professor of Media and Public Affairs, here is the latest update on resources that may be of general interest for teachers, students, and practitioners of public diplomacy and related courses and activities. Suggestions for future updates are welcome.
Last week, Representatives Mac Thornberry (R-TX) and Adam Smith (D-WA) introduced a bill to amend the United States Information and Educational Exchange Act of 1948 to “authorize the domestic dissemination of information and material about the United States intended primarily for foreign audiences, and for other purposes.” The bill, H.R.5736 — Smith-Mundt Modernization Act of 2012 (Introduced in House – IH), removes the prohibition on public diplomacy material from being available to people within the United States and thus eliminates an artificial handicap to U.S. global engagement while creating domestic awareness of international affairs and oversight and accountability of the same. This bill also specifies Smith-Mundt only applies to the Department of State and the Broadcasting Board of Governors, eliminating an ambiguity creatively over the last three decades.
Looking into the future from the past is often fascinating. A Bell Labs film from 1961 on the changing communication environment predicts the future information age as it projects its technology into the future. This includes machine to machine communication, online ordering, e-commerce, and cellular phones, is no different. The underlying purpose is preparing the audience for change.
For well more than a decade, Korea experts who specialize in international media have been examining the impact of foreign broadcasts and DVDs on users in North Korea. They have done so through a combination of in-country surveys and debriefings of defectors from North Korea, refugees and travelers abroad. In annual reports, Freedom House and Reporters Without Borders invariably have ranked that country as having the “least free” media in the world. Yet the curtain of near total silence appears to be opening as never before in North Korea.
2012 PDAA Awards Recognize Public Diplomacy Excellence
The Public Diplomacy Alumni Association, formerly the USIA Alumni Association, gave its 2012 achievement awards to U.S. public diplomacy professionals working in Zimbabwe, Okinawa, and Washington, DC. The announcement is below.
A high level conference on public diplomacy and China’s reputation in the world will take place in Beijing later this month. The event is co-sponsored by the Charhar Institute, China’s primary public diplomacy “tthink tank”, the Clingendael Institute of the Netherlands, the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the China-Europe Academic Network (CEAN). The title theme is “Geo-cultural Perspectives on Public Diplomacy – Trialogue among Chinese, European, and American Scholars.”
The forum brings together a mixed group of leading Chinese and international scholars, think-tankers, and practitioners to discuss a geo-cultural perspective on public diplomacy based on a China-Europe-US-Dialogue.
The event starts on May 19 at 9am (Beijing time) and will end at 4:30pm. I am not aware of any webcast or transcription, but I will share what I can after the event.
The conference opens with three 30min keynotes, including one by me:
Zhao Qizheng is the Vice Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Peoples Political Consultative Conerence and Dean of the School of Journalism and Communication at Renmin University. Amb. Markus Ederer is the EU Ambassador to China.
An hour-long “dialogue with journalists” follows the keynote. The second session of the day is “Debating China’s Public Diplomacy” with panelists speaking for 10min each. Tentative topics include “Is there a China model for public diplomacy?” and “What can China’s public diplomacy towards Pakistan tell us?”
The third session will be chaired by Clingendael’s Jan Melissen. Panelists, again with 10min each, include Phil Seib of USC’s Center on Public Diplomacy, Ronald Gratz, Wang Jay, and Ingrid d’Hooghe.
What would you highlight as positive examples of U.S. public diplomacy over the past ten years?
There are certain challenges to having an effective global policy. We may often look toward the environment and other actors, usually adversaries, but what about organisational structures and culture?
Two years ago, I wrote about the need to reorganize the State Department to meet modern requirements. There were two basic principles in my argument. First, the department needed to match its geographical breakdown with the Defense Department’s. Second, the geographic bureau chiefs at State should be elevated to be more equal with their Defense counterparts, the Combatant Commanders, and they have similar diplomatic powers as Ambassadors considering the changed role of Ambassadors today.
Recently, I came across a relevant journal article, “The Reorganization of the Department of State.” Published in The American Political Science Review (Vol 38, No 2, in April 1944), it was written by Walter H. C. Laves and Francis O. Wilcox. Both were on leave from the Bureau of the Budget, the predecessor to today’s Office of Management and Budget, and both were diplomats, and arguably public diplomats. Laves worked in the Office of Inter-American Affairs, a Presidential office intended to counter German influence in the Western Hemisphere, later serving as the Deputy Director at UNESCO (1947-1950), and then a professor of political science. Wilcox joined the State Department in 1942 and was later the first chief of staff to the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations (1947-1951). He returned to State to become the Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs (1955-1961).
While the entire “The Reorganization of the Department of State” is worth reading, if you do not have access or the time, the opening paragraphs give a great overview.
This was written in 1944 after what would be the first of two Departmental Orders that year to reorganize the State Department. The first order was dated January 15 and the second December 20. It is worth reminding that this reorganization was done by the department and did not require Congressional pressure, at least direct pressure, or legislation. Conventional wisdom holds that changed oversight by authorizers and appropriators, decades of legislative directions to create this or fund that, that similar autonomy is not available today.
After the second order, Laves and Wilcox followed up with another journal article in April 1945: “The State Department Continues Its Reorganization.” An excerpt of this is below, though the entire article is worth reading.
It is fascinating, and sometimes distressing, that 50-60 year old reports and articles are highly relevant today. The arc of U.S. public diplomacy might be more aptly described as a spiral: always in motion and nearly making a full circle as it goes up or down and covering an always changing surface area.
What if you put neuroscientists, social scientists, conflict resolution experts, and diplomats together in a room? Is there something to the “human dimension” of conflict that the science of the brain can inform the art of conflict resolution and mitigation? The Project on Justice in Times of Transition, in partnership with the SaxeLab at MIT, launched the initiative “Neuroscience and Social Conflict: Identifying New Approaches for the 21st Century” to find out.
The first meeting was February 9-11, 2012, at MIT in Boston. PJTT and SaxeLab brought together a high-level group of experienced leaders from the Middle East, South Africa, Northern Ireland, and Central America with conflict conflict resolution experts, social psychologists, and leading neuroscientists to survey the latest findings in neuroscience and brain research to brainstorm and exchange ideas for addressing conflict.
I attended the February meeting and it was an eye-opening few days that started early and continued over dinner into the night. The presentations were honest, devoid of grandiose assertions of magic bullets, and each were followed by collegial discussions fueled by fresh questions and ideas.
Rebecca Saxe, the Director of SaxeLab, highlighted some of the general assumptions most scientists looking at conflict and conflict resolution share:
People respond to conflict as human beings and there is some generalized experience that can be captured
Behaviors can reflect emotions, associations, norms, and narratives that are not accessible through cognition or introspection
People resist changing their minds and simple persuasion is almost never sufficient to make them change
The science presentations shared research on how particular parts of the brain were involved with specific behavior and emotions, such as fear. Discussions included the role of humiliation in perpetuating war, motivations for “prosocial” and empathetic behavior, group norms, among others.
The acknowledged drawback of some of the existing scientific research is the “normal” person for much of the brain imaging is an MIT student, which all acknowledged is not a true representation. The scientists were eager for advice on how to modify their experiments to test on relevant questions, topics, and people.
The first meeting left all of the participants more interested than when the meeting started. Follow up ideas include:
Convening a second meeting to inventory key areas of research relevant to conflict resolution
Studying specific conflict resolution approaches to test assumptions underlying various established methodologies
Exposing leading neuroscientists to active conflict resolution and negotiation situations
It has long been said that a picture is worth a thousand words, but what words to which people? The pixels or streaks of paint of an image is the only commonality shared by different audiences. The context in which they are received and interpreted matters. Beyond the intended framing, including words or other images, personal and shared history, language, current or developing narratives, and other inputs, both direct and indirect, all matter in the impact of a picture.
On March 16, 2012, Georgia State University, in conjunction with the Strategic Studies Institute at the U.S. Army War College, convened a conference entitled Visual Propaganda and Online Radicalization. This public event followed two days of working meetings between the conference’s speakers and others from a variety of disciplines to better understand the role of images, still and moving, in recruiting, radicalizing, and mobilizing support. Also discussed was the possibility of over-analyzing images.
Conference day presentations are available here. Speakers included David Perlmutter, Scott Ruston, Anne Stenersen, Carol Winkler, Hussein Amin, Saeid Belkasim, Cori Dauber, Doug Jordan, Jad Melki, Shawn Powers, and me, Matt Armstrong.
My presentation was “Now Media, Identity, & the Marketplace for Loyalty.” Video of my part of the conference, which was a quick 15min, is here. This presentation will be more fleshed out elsewhere, including a book chapter Shawn Powers and I are writing presently named “From Nation-State to Nations-State: Conceptualizing Radicalization in the Marketplace for Loyalties.”
In the case of over-analysis, there was an interesting discussion on the use of fancy Islamic calligraphy in logos or brands of insurgent or terrorist groups. The meaning of these texts were analyzed but elder native Arab speakers from and living in the Middle East dismissed some of the conclusions. The contention was the youth cannot read the script or don’t bother to read it. The result is the calligraphy is better interpreted as a picture rather than text. The meaning is derived from the appearance of the image framing the logo as religious, Arab, or something else based on its similarity to other script, or all of the above.
The product of the working meetings will be book from the Strategic Studies Institute on visual propaganda.
Since 9/11, the U.S. Government has invested heavily in technology-based solutions to understanding, informing, and influencing people around the world and across a variety of mediums. Many of these efforts were sponsored by the Defense Department for reasons that include major appropriations by the Congress, a capability (and culture) of contracting, a capability (and culture) of development, and an imperative for action (non-action may result in an unnecessary death). In 2009, the Defense Department’s Rapid Reaction Technology Office (RRTO) surveyed the landscape of science and technology programs intended to support Strategic Communication with the purpose of identifying gaps between capabilities and requirements as well as suggesting areas of improvement.
The 2012 report is based on interviews with experts inside and outside government, surveying programs, and reviewing academic and professional literature. Gaps identified in 2009 have not been closed over the past few years, according to this new report.
McCants further identified areas where the Government has made limited research & development investments not addressed in the earlier report. There additional areas include technologies for facilitating and managing online engagement and persuasion campaigns. The specific report headings are:
Survey and validation theories and techniques for influence in the digital realm
Target audience analysis, trend monitoring, and source criticism
Online measures of effectiveness
Training in techniques of communication and persuasion in the digital realm
Immersive virtual environments and simulation games for non-military purposes
Persuasive technology on mobile devices for encouraging positive behavior
Crowd sourcing for problem solving and accountability
Studying adversary use of social media
Technology for promoting freedom under repressive regimes
Expanding investment in emerging technologies
This report acknowledges the importance of engagement, empowerment, and cultivating relationships over simply better targeting of messages. The report reinforces the 2009 statement that there are no silver bullets.
“Despite the focus of this report on technology for communication and persuasion, such technology will only succeed in advancing U.S. interests if it serves well-informed policies; if the senior makers of those policies use and understand the technologies themselves; and if the practitioners carrying out those policies remember that putting a human face on an institution’s words and actions and establishing positive relationships — on and offline — with people working toward shared goals matter more than the substance of any particular message. Ironically, digital technology is making this human connection more possible now than at any time in the modern era.”
The survey of current programs included in the report continues to use the taxonomy of program developed for the 2009 report: Collaboration, Discourse, First Three Feet, Infrastructure, Modeling and Forecasting, Psych Defense, Social Media, and Understanding. The inventory reflects an increased understanding of the communication environment and suggests. Out of the some 30 programs listed, only one is at the State Department (the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communication, or CSCC) and arguably a benefactor of S&T investment rather than a product of S&T investment.
(Full disclosure: I was a co-author of the 2009 report and consulted on the 2012 report.)