Active or Passive Strategic Communication: What’s the Role of Government?

By Jamie Gayton

Army War CollegeIf we ascribe to the United States Army War College interpretation of U.S. national interests, we accept, 1) Defense of the Homeland, 2) Economic Prosperity, 3) Promotion of Values, and 4) Favorable World Order, as the categories that represent those national interests. The United States Government generally accepts responsibility for developing and refining these national interests and as such should initially take responsibility for developing a road map consisting of actions and communication that would foster movement toward their attainment. This is commendable – it is clearly responsible action by the developer of the goals and objectives supporting our interests, but must the government remain the lead executor in any specific category? Could it be possible that other organizations or entities might better support the achievement of national interests in certain areas for example, Economic Prosperity or Favorable World Order?

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Event: Homeland Security’s Wicked Problems

Homeland Security’s Wicked Problems: Developing a Research Agenda for Homeland Security” is a two-day event co-hosted by The Heritage Foundation, Center for Strategic and International Studies, The U.S. Army War College’s Center for Strategic Leadership, and The George Washington University’s Homeland Security Policy Institute.

The location is The Heritage Foundation’s Allison Auditorium and the dates are November 12, Thursday, 9a-4p and November 13, Friday, 9a-12:30p. RSVP to attend.

I will be on the first panel Friday morning at 9:30a: Communications During Crisis: Roles, Responsibilities, and Capabilities. On the panel will be Jonathan Thompson, Executive Vice President, Systems Media Group, and former Director for External Affairs, Federal Emergency Management Agency; Kimberly Dozier, CBS News Correspondent; and Matt Armstrong, Armstrong Strategic Insights Group, LLC. Moderating is Professor Dennis Murphy, Professor of Information in Warfare, United States Army War College, Center for Strategic Leadership.

Ackerman: State Dept Project Signals Foreign Policy Shift

Spencer Ackerman has an article at The Washington Independent on the forthcoming Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR) based on his interview of Anne-Marie Slaughter, the State Department’s influential Director of Policy Planning. The QDDR is the State Department’s initial foray into strategic planning. According to State’s website, the QDDR

will provide the short-, medium-, and long-term blueprint for our diplomatic and development efforts. Our goal is to use this process to guide us to agile, responsive, and effective institutions of diplomacy and development, including how to transition from approaches no longer commensurate with current challenges. It will offer guidance on how we develop policies; how we allocate our resources; how we deploy our staff; and how we exercise our authorities.

Anne-Marie says this exercise is “not an abstract planning exercise” and that the “implications go far beyond the budget.” According to Anne-Marie, the QDDR will result in institutional changes, but what remains unknown except that USAID will not be completely absorbed by State.

Anne-Marie put forward three operating themes for the QDDR. First, “U.S. foreign policy is beset with “collective problems” — from terrorism to climate change to pandemic disease — that require joint international action.” Second, is “how State and USAID work with the military to address “the question of civilian operational capacity to crisis.” And third, is the “space between what AID or DIFD [the U.K.’s foreign-assistance agency] or UNDP [the United Nation Development Program] does and what peacekeepers and international armies do.”

Spencer’s interview unveiled who is working on the QDDR. Anne-Marie is overseeing five working groups of senior officials from both State and USAID.

  • Kurt Campbell, the assistant secretary of State for East Asia, and Karen Turner, director of USAID’s office of development partners, head the group responsible for “Building a Global Architecture of Cooperation.”
  • Maria Otero, the undersecretary of state for democracy and global affairs, and Gloria Steele, USAID’s global-health chief, work on whole-of-government solutions.
  • Johnnie Carson, State’s top African-affairs official, and George Laudato, USAID’s Mideast chief, handle “Investing in the Building Blocks of Stronger Societies.”
  • Conflict prevention and response is under Eric Schwartz, State’s assistant secretary for population, migration and refugees.
  • Susan Reichle, USAID’s senior democracy and humanitarian assistance official.
  • Ruth Whiteside of State’s Foreign Service Institute and JeanMarie Smith, Lew’s special assistant, are in charge of “Building Operational and Resource Platforms for Success.”

It seems to me, as Spencer wrote from our interview, that the QDDR is focusing on interagency processes rather than intra-agency barriers and friction. In this case, it may be safe to say that the interagency process is the “low hanging fruit” that is easier for the picking.

We will see what, if any, real change the QDDR will bring. As I said in the article, the “QDDR will ultimately be just a document. What it spurs will be the real test.”


Bruce Gregory: Mapping Smart Power in Multi-stakeholder Public Diplomacy / Strategic Communication

The following was delivered at “New Approaches to U.S. Global Outreach” hosted by The Institute for Public Diplomacy and Global Communication at George Washington University on October 5, 2009. It is available here by permission of Bruce.

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Hitting Bottom at Foggy Bottom at

My article “Hitting Bottom at Foggy Bottom” is online at

Discussion over the fate of Foggy Bottom usually focuses on the tenure of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the troubles of public diplomacy, and the rise of special envoys on everything from European pipelines to Afghanistan and Pakistan. But Americans would benefit more from a reassessment of the core functionality of the U.S. State Department.

Years of neglect and marginalization, as well as a dearth of long-term vision and strategic planning, have left the 19th-century institution hamstrung with fiefdoms and bureaucratic bottlenecks. The Pentagon now funds and controls a wide range of foreign-policy and diplomatic priorities — from development to public diplomacy and beyond. The world has changed, with everyone from politicians to talking heads to terrorists directly influencing global audiences. The most pressing issues are stateless: pandemics, recession, terrorism, poverty, proliferation, and conflict. But as report after report, investigation after investigation, has highlighted, the State Department is broken and paralyzed, unable to respond to the new 21st-century paradigm. …

Read the rest at Originally titled “Fixing State” (my title was too staid and the “State of State” was taken), it highlights forgotten or ignored structural and capacity issues at State that contributed to Defense leadership in foreign policy and public diplomacy.

Related Posts:

Preparing to Lose the Information War? is a related post that gets into some detail where “Hitting Bottom” is high level.

Comparing the Areas of Responsibility of State and Defense gives a bit more detail on converting State to a regional actor.

USAID challenges reflect greater problems at the State Department looks at the importance of development. (See also The Intended ‘Psychological By-Products’ of Development on the psychological effects of the Marshall Plan; and from last year, USAID and Public Diplomacy.)

House Appropriations Concerned Pentagon’s Role in Strategic Communication and Public Diplomacy examines the theory of House Appropriations and Walter Pincus that “State should be doing this”.

Defense Department Plan on Strategic Communication and Science and Technology is a report that noted a need for leadership and coordination in strategic communication programs earlier this year.

American public diplomacy wears combat boots from May 2008 highlighted the leadership in basic engagement the Defense Department was exercising in the absence of an effective alternative.

Developing a National Strategic Communication and Public Diplomacy Strategic also from May 2008 highlights Congressman Adam Smith’s (D-Wash) effort to get the country’s efforts in global engagement on track.

The Cost of Keeping the Principal off the X from October 2007 is particularly relevant post on State’s view of the world. This issue resurfaced with the recent “outing” of the behavior of both the contracted Kabul security and the lack of action by the Department. See also an event I put on October 2006 titled American Mercenaries of Public Diplomacy.

Pushing Humpty Dumpty: the rebuilding of State

There are few that would question that the US State Department is a dysfunctional organization. The structure, fiefdoms, and bureaucratic knots have many knowledgeable analysts whether it is possible to bring State into the 20th century, let alone the 21st century. I believe it is possible, indeed absolutely essential but doing so requires major Congressional intervention as State cannot or will not revamp itself, regardless of the leadership of the Secretary of State or of her Under Secretaries and Assistant Secretaries (many of these critical leadership positions, by the way, remain empty).

Yesterday I asked whether the State Department is so full of problems today that it must be rebuilt from scratch if there is to be effective civilian leadership of America’s foreign affairs? The question was came out of my latest conversation with a colleague who, like many others, wants to break apart the State Department because of the because the impression the present structure is incapable of change. Different constituencies want different things, but the general idea is to break it into smaller pieces, like pushing Humpty Dumpty and don’t him back together again: create an independent USAID, independent USIA-like entity, remove or dramatically revise INR and so on.

Spencer Ackerman (a fine judge of intellect, by the way) is rightly concerned whether there is a constituency or motivation to rebuild State in Congress or elsewhere. 

There is no congressional constituency in Congress for destroying the State Department to create some fantastical super-totally-capable-New State Department. If there’s a constituency at all for destroying the State Department, it’s a constituency that wants to weaken diplomacy as an instrument of U.S. foreign policy. See, for instance, Newt Gingrich’s long-forgotten 2003 rant about the State Department representing a fifth column within the Bush administration. … My suspicion is that overhauling the State Department will miss the point in the same way that the post-Vietnam era military purge of counterinsurgency capabilities missed the point or the period calls to abolish the CIA miss the point.

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Question: is it time to rebuild the State Department from scratch?

Is the State Department so full of problems today that it requires rebuilding from scratch if there is to be effective civilian leadership of America’s foreign affairs? From the recent report on the dysfunction within the Africa Bureau (which ignored the failure of intra-agency integration), the militarization of foreign aid and situation with USAID, to the continuing problem of the militarization of public diplomacy and strategic communication underlying the question of who represents America to the world, are we seeing more of the iceberg?

If change is necessary, are the Secretary of State’s authorities and leadership enough to push the necessary changes without creating a paralyzing backlash from within? Must change come from Congress in a modern (and more sweeping) version of the Goldwater-Nichols Act (which would beg the question of who would be the modern Goldwater)?

What are your thoughts?


USAID challenges reflect greater problems at the State Department

A primary pillar of US engagement with the world in the modern era is foreign assistance. Institutionalized under the Marshall Plan and later the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 that created the US Agency for International Development, development aid was and continues to be a means of denying ideological sanctuary to our adversaries that prey on poverty and despair as well as focusing on developing the capacity for self-governance through economic and other development.

In March 2008, General Anthony Zinni (ret.) and Admiral Leighton Smith (ret.) told Congress

the ‘enemies’ in the world today are actually conditions — poverty, infectious disease, political turmoil and corruption, environmental and energy challenges.

USAID’s mission today is as important as ever and yet it remains leaderless with declining morale and shrinking funds as increasingly America’s foreign development aid wears combat boots, just like its public diplomacy.

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House Appropriations Concerned Pentagon’s Role in Strategic Communication and Public Diplomacy (updated)

American public diplomacy wears combat boots. That was the first sentence of my chapter in the Handbook of Public Diplomacy published last year. I argued that public diplomacy and its related strategic communication had gone too soft and that the Defense Department necessarily, if unwilling and sometimes clumsily, stepped in to fill a gap left by an absent State Department. Today, the situation is different with Defense running increasingly sophisticated efforts, often with the collaboration and support of State and other entities within the Government. And of course, the Smith-Mundt Act has an effect here on public diplomacy and strategic communication.

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What is the purpose of Public Diplomacy if not to influence?

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).

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Broadcasting Board of Governors: empty seats at the public diplomacy table

The Broadcasting Board of Governors, or BBG, is the agency overseeing all United States public diplomacy broadcasting, that is non-military broadcasting for audiences outside of the territorial US.

It is also the name of the Board that governs those broadcasts that nominally consists of nine members, eight of which are nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate. By law, no more than four members may be from the same political party (in effect, four Republicans and four Democrats). The ninth member is the current Secretary of State (ex officio).

The BBG is also the agency everybody seems to love to hate.

In the spirit of the popular incumbency chart published here on the Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, below you’ll find a unique chart and timeline on the membership of the Board that you won’t find anywhere else.

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Elevating public diplomacy and strategic communication as national security priorities

Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Michèle Flournoy’s plans to create a team to improve coordination and collaboration within the Defense Department and across Government were announced. The team, led by Rosa Brooks, will also, according to Defense News, “will be tasked with reaching out to key members of Congress on specific issues.”

Flournoy is "establishing a small team with responsibility for global strategic engagement issues," said Army Lt. Col. Jonathan Withington, a Pentagon spokesman. "This team will assist policy offices and senior leaders with the development of outreach and engagement plans, and will help coordinate DoD-wide engagement efforts."

Withington said the team will be composed of about five existing policy shop employees, and will be headed by Rosa Brooks, a principal adviser to Flournoy and a former Los Angeles Times columnist.

The goal is to "improve overall coordination of DoD public diplomacy and strategic communication efforts," the spokesman said.

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Defense Department Plan on Strategic Communication and Science and Technology

A newly released report from the Department of Defense may be the first to specifically consider the role of science and technology (S&T) efforts supporting the broad range of Strategic Communication (SC) activities across the whole of government. The Strategic Communication Science and Technology Plan, April 2009, (PDF) produced by the Rapid Reaction Technology Office (RRTO) within the Office of the Secretary of Defense’s Director, Defense Research Engineering (DDRE), responds to direction in the Fiscal Year 2009 National Defense Authorization Act, which calls for the Department to leverage these efforts to designate an “S&T thrust area for strategic communication and focus on critical S&T opportunities.” Congress and RRTO authorized publication of this report on

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NATO Public Diplomacy: Six Colors / Six Couleurs

imageNATO Public Diplomacy is a bit different than US public diplomacy. Unlike US public diplomacy which is (quaintly) aimed exclusively foreign publics, NATO public diplomacy is aimed chiefly at member countries and secondarily at partner countries. From the American perspective of audience-based tactics, this seems to be more like public affairs but the methodology is certainly more like public diplomacy.

Earlier this year Dr. Stefanie Babst, the NATO Deputy Assistant Secretary General for Public Diplomacy Strategy, stated the key principles to govern NATO “new public diplomacy” that will sound very familiar to any public diplomat (full speech is here, PDF:

1. Public diplomacy is about listening. …
2. Public diplomacy must be connected to policy. …
3. Public diplomacy must be credible to be effective. …
4. Public Diplomacy is not always about you. …
5. Public Diplomacy needs to respond to the challenges of the Web 2.0 world.

In this spirit she suggests that NATO public diplomacy might actually want to connect directly with a broad audience.

NATO should be more courageous in using digital tools to directly interact with the public. Why not host a permanent blog on the NATO website? Why not widen the debate about NATO’s new Strategic Concept beyond the ‘usual suspects’ and try to obtain new thinking through, for instance, online discussions with citizens on specific aspects of NATO’s future role? Let us hope that when Allies discuss NATO’s future strategic course at the forthcoming Summit in Strasbourg and Kehl, they will also take a moment to sign up to a 21st century public diplomacy approach.

I couldn’t agree more.

Quoting History: Reorganizing to look busy

We worked hard, but every time we began to function new plans or reorganization were initiated.

I learned later in life that we have a tendency to deal with any new situation by reorganizing. Also I learned what a wonderful method this is to give an illusion of progress while in reality it creates chaos, inefficiency and demoralization.

— Caius Petronius, Roman civil servant of Emperor Nero, died 66AD

It seems that two millennia ago the workforce was also perceived as widgets that will function within whatever structure is available. The truth is, if an organization needs to be “fixed”, changing the organizational chart creates “chaos, inefficiency, and demoralization” today as it did yesterday without a change to the working culture.

Comment on Judith McHale’s talk at CNAS

[The following was originally posted as a comment by a reader – TOX – to my post on McHale’s talk at CNAS. It is ‘promoted’ to an entry to give it the visibility it deserves. –MCA]

I was less impressed with the new Under Secretary McHale’s prepared and unprepared remarks. She seems very competent and understands complex communications and engagement challenges globally from her previous experience, but that did not shine through yesterday. Defining the key themes and messages for the office of Public Diplomacy will be essential to prevent comments such as lack of knowledge stemming from only two weeks on the job. President Obama did not get away with that answer and neither should she. Perhaps an approach similar to General Petreaus would be valuable where 100 leading representatives of government, non-profit, and commercial expertise come together to help shape policy over 100 days. Public health NGO’s in Africa, to international media, .COM leaders, military IO and Public Affairs representatives and more could be a potential pool of interested subject matter experts that can make a difference. President Obama used similar groups of expertise in his digital outreach strategy leading to a powerful grassroots movement. This kind of strategic review is both valuable for future plans and seizing the momentum of being new in the office so people perceive the office to at least have a plan and commitment. The following observations are only highlighted to hopefully improve the effectiveness of this critical office.

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Judith McHale at CNAS: Public Diplomacy: A National Security Imperative

Below are Under Secretary Judith McHale’s prepared remarks she delivered at CNAS today. I found her speech to be good and full of promise but as several observers note, it was light on specifics. But, considering she’s been in for two weeks and in the bull pen for only a couple of months (most of which were at a distance from State in contrast to Jim Glassman’s extended, unfortunate, and unnecessary six month lead time during which he was far more engaged), she still needs to pick her battles. She’s a good public speaker, far better off the cuff than reading prepared notes (like many of us).

Some quick comments on the Under Secretary’s speech:

  • If I were to pick one key take-away from her speech, it would be this: “This is not a propaganda contest – it is a relationship race. And we have got to get back in the game.” Understanding this and the power and importance of information, trust, hope, credibility, as well as the destructive power of accidental misinformation and intention disinformation can be realized. Realizing this means we can operationalize public diplomacy (which, conveniently, was the title of my chapter in The Handbook of Public Diplomacy). Success depends on building up proxies, this is a struggle for minds and wills to empower others to fight what is often their fight to begin with.
  • In Q&A, McHale’s answer to a question from Mitzi (when did you leave CNA? been a while since we’ve talked) along the lines of “Why is Afghanistan Important?” gets at the problem of the quaint firewall put in place in the 1970’s and 1980’s that prevents America’s from seeing and hearing the What and Why of American foreign policy.
  • She discussed the “turf war” between State and Defense, but that may be easy compared to the “turf war” related to educating Americans.
  • Public Diplomacy and Strategic Communication are not synonymous. SC includes Americans and the American media, public diplomacy does not (it should, but it does not, which is one reason “Global Engagement is a better term… and better than “public affairs” which is should have remained). But I accept Dennis Murphy’s observation (in his first Tweet ever), “lexicon gets in the way of definitions. Simpler is better for the uninitiated to convince value of info.”
  • McHale highlighted the importance of Information & Communication Technology for Development (ICT4D) to public diplomacy. (link and PDF).
  • In mentioning the tremendous public diplomacy campaign supporting President Obama’s Cairo speech, she (understandably) failed to mention the text message subscription service was not global, but available only to cell numbers outside of the United States.
  • Some of her speech is a rehash of Jim Glassman’s talking points, but that doesn’t make them any less important. Unlike Jim, McHale has the very visible support of the Secretary, the President, and Congress.
  • The real proof will be what happens next.

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HR 2410: Public Diplomacy requires Leadership, Training, Access, and Oversight

Yesterday, the House passed HR 2410, the Foreign Relations Authorization Act for FY 2010-2011, on a vote of 235-187. This bill is potentially the most important Foreign Relations Authorization bill in decades. Congressman Howard Berman (D-CA), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, gets it:

The State Department and our other civilian foreign affairs agencies have a critical role to play in protecting U.S. national security. Diplomacy, development and defense are the three key pillars of our national security. By wisely investing resources to strengthen our diplomatic capabilities, we can help prevent conflicts before they start, and head off the conditions that lead to failed states. This approach is much more cost-effective than providing massive amounts of humanitarian aid, funding peacekeeping operations, or — in the most extreme circumstances — putting U.S. boots on the ground.

This prepares the Government toward the present reality of “global persistent engagement” rather than “persistent conflict”. As it should, public diplomacy figures prominently in this bill. The bill would would: 

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Questioning the Difference between Public Affairs and Public Diplomacy (Updated)

imageWe live in a world in which everyone who must manage and marshal public opinion, which ranges from democratically elected politicians to terrorists, rely on new and old media to stay relevant. Organizing for this information environment requires requires forethought and planning. The resulting functional structures and audience segments shapes the purpose, nature, and outcome of the engagement, regardless of whether it is one-way or two-way or one-to-one or one-to-many.

With getting further, here is an open question:

In your opinion, what is the difference between Public Affairs and Public Diplomacy?

Please respond in the comments. Also, feel free to extend your response to include the difference between Defense Public Affairs and Information Operations or Psychological Operations.

I asked this same question on Twitter. Here are the answers received so far:

AFPADude: some would say audience, I would argue there is no difference anymore due to several factors

FantomPlanet: What are the differences btwn civil affairs and civil diplomacy?

Steve_Schippert:Affairs is about image, releases, projection while PubDip is about engagement, discussion, 2 way comm on issues. Methinks…

T M Russo: interesting question! my thoughts: public affairs= the workings of gov’t, public diplomacy communicates those workings

The following responses came through Facebook:

PA/PR: Channel based information outflow with the goal of message transfer. PD: Information outflow with the goal of message engagement (discourse,discussion, processing and retransmitting in new forms). Dependent on social media.

Well, the state department says PA is working with U.S. media and PD is programs overseas! Go figure.

Same as the difference between "Tactics" and "Strategy". PA = short term engagement, PD = long view.

No wonder nobody understands, unless we’re all talking tongue in cheek.
Logically, diplomacy applies to non-Americans. President Obama doesn’t conduct diplomacy when he meets with the governor of California. That’s politics. It is diplomacy when he meets with Mubarak. The "public" part refers to anyone outside a government. Thus, anyone outside a government outside the U.S.
Then, logic doesn’t often work and Smith-Mundt was originally written with domestic constituencies in mind and before "PD" became a working term.
Maybe, Matt, it’s time for a new conference!

Already in the works…

See also: see Nick Cull’s Engagement Is The New Public Diplomacy Or The Adventures Of A Euphemism Of A Euphemism