Public Diplomacy’s ‘Missing Years’

Cover page for USIS daily news bulletin from Sep 1945

There was a time before USIA when the U.S. Government practiced what we now call public diplomacy. This period is often forgotten or ignored.  For too many, the history of U.S. public diplomacy begins with the establishment of United States Information Agency, or USIA.  However, it did not and pretending it did start with USIA not only misrepresents the past and subsequent trajectories, it is also a disservice to those who worked hard to establish peacetime public diplomacy. Continue reading “Public Diplomacy’s ‘Missing Years’”

When do we start the honest debate over the Smith-Mundt Modernization Act?

Sardonic? Ironic? Satire? Which word best fits the the lack of serious debate over the Smith-Mundt Modernization Act and the realities for which public diplomacy and international broadcasting are required and operate? See my post at the Public Diplomacy Council about this. 

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]

Also, see Josh Rogin’s Much ado about State Department ‘propaganda’.

Smith-Mundt Modernization Act of 2012 introduced in the House

 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 imagined sometime over the three decades.

Continue reading “Smith-Mundt Modernization Act of 2012 introduced in the House”

North Koreans Quietly Open to International Broadcasts

By Alan Heil
(This post originally appeared at The Public Diplomacy Council.)

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.

Continue reading “North Koreans Quietly Open to International Broadcasts”

Debating China’s Global Reputation – a conference in Beijing May 19

Source: USIA Archives
Source: USIA Archives

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:

  1. Zhao Qizheng: The Future of China’s Public Diplomacy
  2. Matt Armstrong: The Learning Curve of US Public Diplomacy
  3. Amb. Markus Ederer: The Potential of Public Diplomacy in China-EU Relations

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?

Neuroscience and Social Conflict: Identifying New Approaches for the 21st Century

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
  • Generate opportunities for concrete research on perpetrators of violence who have been de-radicalized [see Google Ideas’ “Formers” project]
  • Evaluating the impact of social media-based public diplomacy efforts
  • Create a multi-disciplinary study and research program that investigates core questions related to conflict resolution

This effort continues with a working group, which I am a part of, to help guide the initiative forward. The working group includes:

  • Matt Armstrong, former Executive Director, U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy
  • Eileen Babbitt, Fletcher School of Law and Public Diplomacy, Tufts University
  • Dan Batson, Professor of Social Psychology, Kansas University
  • Kim Brizzolara, feature film and documentary producer
  • Emile Bruneau, Researcher, SaxeLab, MIT
  • Betsy Levy Paluck, Professor of Psychology, Princeton University
  • Mohammed Milad, Massachusetts General Hospital, Department of Psychiatry
  • Tim Phillips, Co-founder, Project on Justice in Times of Transition
  • Lee Ross, Professor of Psychology, Stanford University
  • Rebecca Saxe, Professor Cognitive Neuroscience; Director, SaxeLab, MIT
  • Gary Slutkin, Executive Director, CeaseFire
  • Jessica Stern, former member of President Clinton’s National Security Council staff

There is more to come on this subject.

Your thoughts?

Visual Propaganda: a cross-disciplinary conference on the influence of images

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.

Thank you, Mom

If you have not seen the Proctor & Gamble marketing campaign entitled “Thank you, Mom“, you really should. An Olympic Partner for London 2012, the campaign will run for these last 100 days before the start of the summer games.  It is the largest campaign in P&G’s 174-year history.
The campaign launched with the digital release of the short film “Best Job,” a moving celebration of mom’s raising great kids and Olympians, according to a press release. The video was shot on four continents with local actors and athletes from each location — London, Rio de Janeiro, Los Angeles and Beijing — and will be found online, across social media, TV, and print.*

How might the State Department produce similar vignettes that could translate policy initiatives including women’s issues, empowering young people, and other democracy and civil society issues?

The Bureau of International Information Programs has both the technical capacity, including a HD studio and post production suite, and the creative capacity. Madison Avenue agencies (both literal and figurative) would be willing to help, as private discussions have raised and previous efforts demonstrate. This partnership would not be unusual as there is established, if perhaps forgotten, precedent that extends at least to 1951, before the USIA was established, in the form of both formal and informal advisory relationships.

Such cross-cultural outreach like this P&G campaign that supports and praises moms would likely enjoy the support of senior leadership in DC and the field. It would likely have traction with Ambassador moms and Ambassador wives. The vignettes would have a ready audience to the growing number of Facebook friends of the various State Department sites, many of which need content.

What do you think?

*Does this make the ad “old media” or “new media”? Try “now media”…