Selected Articles and Resources on Public Diplomacy

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Dog Food, Diapers, Diplomacy

By Donna Oglesby

Address to St. Petersburg West Rotary, 19 February 2003

It would not surprise me if you found the title for my remarks today more than a little frivolous given the current state of global events. NATO appears to be on the rocks, the French Ambassador, standing up to U.S. Iraq policy in the UN Security Council got an unprecedented round of applause last Friday, and the streets of Europe and some major cities of the United States filled with a millions of protesters over the weekend making physically evident what they have been saying in polls for months -- that more than 70 percent of Europeans oppose war against Iraq at this time.

Such an outpouring of public opinion in opposition to American policy toward Iraq makes it extremely difficult for foreign leaders to respond positively to U.S. requests for assistance. As is clear to Prime Minister Blair in Great Britain -- where one and a half million people took to the streets in protest and only one in ten British favors his support of American policy -- he may well pay a political price for his alliance. In Italy, Spain and Turkey surprisingly large crowds voiced their opposition to their governments being part of the shrinking coalition of the willing that the Bush Administration is counting on to disarm Iraq and overthrow Saddam Hussein by force if necessary.

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Public Diplomacy and Information Technology: America’s Semi-Secret Weapons

By Alan Kotok

In the aftermath of the 11 September 2001 events, it has become clear that many parts of the Islamic world misunderstand American policies and actions, and that misinformation about the United States can spread like wildfire, through information technologies (IT), such as the Web and e-mail.

The United States once had a professional public affairs agency to explain American policies and ideas to overseas audiences and report back on worldwide attitudes to the foreign affairs community. But since 1999, the U.S. Information Agency or USIA as it was known, has been sliced, diced, and scattered around the State Department, with its resources eviscerated and authority diminished.

IT: a double-edged sword

The democratization of technology, as Thomas Friedman calls it in his book The Lexus and the Olive Tree , has opened up vast markets overseas for American technology. But at the same time, the technology of Internet protocols (e.g. TCP/IP), World Wide Web, electronic mail, inexpensive desktop and laptop computers, and streaming and compression technologies that enable audio and video images to travel over ordinary communications lines have fundamentally changed the way individuals worldwide interact with each other.

In many respects, these new forms of communications increase interpersonal collaboration, particularly in the business and academic communities. But as we have seen since 11 September (and those who cared to look before then), these technologies can foster a subterranean network of hate and violence, not only of Islamic extremists, but of neo-fascist hate groups in the West. Attempts to police the content will most certainly fail and run into legitimate free-speech concerns. Our best hope of countering the rising flow of mis- and disinformation is through effective public affairs programs, using the skills of professionals in worldwide languages, cultures, the media, and education.

Once there was a U.S. Information Agency

USIA once had a collection of these professionals, but due to short-sighted economics, Congress abolished USIA as an independent agency in 1998, and distributed its functions around the main bureaus in the State Department. USIA coordinated all overseas embassy information and cultural programs, including well-known activities such as Fulbright scholarships. It also included the Voice of America and WorldNet television network. After 1998, Voice of America and WorldNet became part of the Bureau for International Broadcasting, that includes other government overseas broadcasting operations.

Ironically, Congress chose to abolish USIA just as the new information technologies began to take hold overseas. Soon after 11 September, for example, vicious rumors began to spread around the Internet about that tragic day, including patently false rumors about American Jews in the World Trade Center that were given advance warning of the attacks. The inability to counter these and similar rumors have made it increasingly difficult to get America’s policy message across to important audiences overseas that need to hear it.

Also, the United States needs to take proactive measures to build long-term understanding for American society, culture, and ideas. For many years, official exchange programs that bring foreign leaders to the United States and send American opinion leaders overseas, helped build a more sophisticated knowledge base about this country and its people.

IT can provide effective tools for public diplomacy

Fortunately, in the right hands, new information technologies can provide our public affairs professionals with effective new tools to tell America’s story. Our public affairs officers overseas and in the U.S. need to use these tools at least as well as our adversaries. With advanced knowledge management technologies, such as XML, our overseas embassies can find specific information needed, assemble it into messages, and provide media worldwide with these messages much faster and in more tailored form than before. As public affairs professionals can tell you, speed, accuracy, and completeness are vital in making your case.

Also, the collaborative development tools used routinely in the technology industry, such as e-mail discussion lists, message boards, and online conferencing, can support the work of traditional visitor exchanges. Teams consisting of people working remotely have developed software standards and applications, often without personally meeting each other. These collaboration tools, again in the right hands, can extend the visitor experiences and develop long-term relationships among professional colleagues.

About 20 years ago, a group of ex-USIA officers formed the USIA Alumni Association, but recently the organization took on the task of making policy makers more aware of public diplomacy's promise and to encourage more focus and better use of resources in our current efforts. Public diplomacy helped win the Cold War, and it can help overcome the philosophy of hate being spread overseas today.

Full disclosure:

The author worked for USIA from 1969 through 1984 in various assignments, both overseas and in the United States, including a tour as chief of technology planning from 1982-84, and now takes part in the USIA Alumni Association.


U.S. Department of State - International Information Programs,

Public Diplomacy Web Site (USIA Alumni Association),

Thomas L. Friedman, The Lexus and the Olive Tree:

Reprinted with permission from: Inc., U.S. Techno-Politics

Originally published: 28 May 2002


STATE and USIA: Blending a Dysfunctional Family

By Dell Pendergrast

Shuttle buses now roll regularly between Main State and SA-44, the building in southwest Washington that USIA once called home. Today, a shiny new plaque decorates the government facade at the old USIA headquarters at 301 4th Street, announcing that it now houses the Department of State. Still, these symbols don't really address the elusive objective of putting public diplomacy, as Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has promised, "at the core of American foreign policy." It will take more than plaques, shuttle buses, and policy statements to make this a reality.

Political and organizational cosmetic changes are not enough. Finding a place for public diplomacy inside the State Department will require an overhaul of traditional diplomatic culture. Foreign policy is no longer the monopoly of diplomats working secretly in foreign ministries and embassies. The world has changed dramatically, opening up international relations to a new, large cast of players who operate in the cacophonous bazaar of the global information revolution.

Separated physically and psychologically from Foggy Bottom, USIA adapted more rapidly to the changing contours of the new global environment. The agency recognized that international relations had become an interactive process, transformed by new technologies such as the Internet and by almost instant access to news, and that, because of this revolution, non-governmental organizations must be engaged in the conduct of American diplomacy. The State Department, absorbed in the conventional business of government-to-government relations, lagged behind. The merger of the two agencies provokes a serious concern about USIA's more open, technologically advanced, publicly-oriented style of diplomacy disappearing inside a larger, dominant culture less hospitable to organizational innovation.

Two fault lines separate the two cultures. First, public diplomacy assumes a broader context for international relations. Second, its internal values are different from those of traditional diplomacy. New information technologies are changing the world today as much as the invention of movable type revolutionized Renaissance Europe. In a world where instant communication takes place across oceans and state borders, governments cannot manipulate public policy and public opinion. There is too much information clogging the electronic superhighway for that. But the State Department continues to think that the world has not undergone a revolution. This type of "old-think," a style of diplomacy that assumes that public opinion can be controlled, is embodied in the venerable daily State Department press briefing and the ritual of preparing press guidance every morning for the press office. Neither practice takes into account the global communications revolution, which has produced so many other sources of information with faster, more direct and more persuasive public impact that these institutions seem like the Pony Express in the era of the Internet.

In the increasingly decentralized international environment, the State Department retains its old hierarchical patterns of rigid, top-down management, inadequate technology and preference for diplomat-to-diplomat communication. Major studies last year by the Henry L. Stimson Center and CSIS stressed the urgent need for major change in the way that State does business in the 21st century. These recommendations have been ignored, a pattern established in the past with internal State Department management studies that recommended reform. USIA professionals and their organizational culture may not be received any better.

Today, non-governmental organizations are more active in international relations. In the last few decades, more than 15,000 NGOs in the United States have had some role in foreign policy. For many years, USIA pioneered working with NGOs, particularly as partners in reaching overseas audiences and institutions outside the halls of government. The State Department has been always a little uneasy with advocacy groups, particularly those that support unorthodox or opposition views, whom they regard as irritants and obstacles to be avoided or preempted. Sometimes State will summon NGOs for breifings, but an authentic commitment to partnership and open dialogue is still missing. These organizations often have access, capabilities and grassroots influence that the State Department should welcome and cultivate. The USIA experience with NGOs, which has been more of an open exchange and partnership, should serve as a useful model for a reformed State culture.

If the State-USIA merger is to have any impact on the State Department, a culture that values secrecy, the final products of diplomacy must be addressed. The State Department restricts e-mail communication and other Internet access to State offices in Washington, D.C. and overseas missions. This collides with a 21st century world characterized by openness and the free flow of information. While no one would dispute that some elements of foreign affairs -- particularly confidential exchanges among governments -- must be protected, the technology exists that would both open the State Department and protect its appropriately secret communications. It is time to discard the old notion that the State Department must speak in guarded, confidential whispers about the treasures of foreign policy. The world just doesn't work that way anymore.

Diplomats have also been too preoccupied with the final byproduct of diplomacy: a final communique, a signed treaty or a brokered government-to-government agreement. But a world awash in foreign affairs information and peopled by many players outside the government cannot wait until diplomats have dropped every bracket and inked every document. For diplomacy to be effective, the tools of public diplomacy must be used throughout the process to explain what is going on, why it is being done and how it is proceeding. Waiting for the ink to dry on a policy statement or treaty and then trying to sell the result is not effective.

So far, all that has happened to integrate USIA with State is that the organizational chart has been redrawn, lines of authority have been established and a new letterhead has been printed. The cultural changes needed to assimilate USIA's public diplomacy function into State are, however, barely visible. Indeed, a former senior USIA officer now working in the State Department, told an audience at an AFSA conference on Nov. 17 that no one is practicing public diplomacy at Foggy Bottom. The only public diplomacy being practiced is overseas, he said. Inside State, the tradition-bound hierarchy prevents public diplomacy priorities and initiatives from percolating up to senior management. Speaking at the same conference, Evelyn Lieberman, the new under secretary for public diplomacy and a former high-ranking official in the Clinton White House, described herself as a "missionary" to State because many colleagues, she admitted, do not understand public diplomacy or value USIA professionals' expertise.

The problem, however, goes beyond improved understanding between former USIA employees and State Department personnel. The State Department organizational culture must change and restructure itself not only to absorb new colleagues from USIA, but also to meet the challenges of conducting foreign policy in the next century. This will require bold departures from traditional recruiting and training methods and changes in how the State Department thinks about and communicates with foreign and domestic publics.

On the occasion of USIA's formal merger with the State Department on Oct 1, 1999, Madeleine Albright declared: "In our era public diplomacy is not simply nice to have. It must be a core element in our foreign policy." USIA professionals welcomed and applauded the secretary's words. But we still wait for evidence that the State Department is prepared to make the fundamental organizational changes that public diplomacy requires in today's world.

(The above article originally appeared in the March 2000 issue of the FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL . Reprinted by permission.)


Thoughts on Public Diplomacy and Integration

By Howard Cincotta

Is public diplomacy an oxymoron? A generation ago, many foreign policy professionals might have answered yes. Diplomacy, at least traditionally, has been an exercise conducted by diplomats in hushed antechambers with tall ceilings. More recently, public diplomacy has been stereotyped as a slightly upscale term for public relations-- necessary perhaps, but not really central to the real work of international affairs or state-to-state relations.

For many students of international affairs, a quintessential model of traditional diplomacy is the 1814-1815 Congress of Vienna, where diplomats of Europe--at least those nations that had defeated Napoleon's France--established a European order that survived essentially intact for almost a century. To suggest that Prince von Metternich and his colleagues needed to win the hearts and minds of their people would have been met with incredulity.

Now let's change the rules. Imagine the Congress of Vienna in a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week world of cable television and the Internet; global networks of trade, telecommunications and currency flows; thousands of international news and media outlets; and hundreds of nongovernmental organizations and private enterprises representing a spectrum of economic, social, ethnic and political interests. However one assesses these developments, it is safe to say that any agreement reached inside Vienna's tall, hushed rooms would have been merely the first step in the task of remaking 19th-century Europe.

International affairs is no longer the preserve of nationstates and multinational organizations. In an age characterized by the dispersal of power, globalization and the omnivorous consumption of information, public diplomacy has come into its own. Today, public diplomacy is neither an oxymoron nor an afterthought, but an integral component for successfully conducting U.S. foreign policy.

Moreover, public diplomacy is not simply public relations--a final brushing of clothes and combing of hair before sending the latest policy initiative toddling off to the school of hard knocks. It is, instead, a set of skills and tools for any diplomat who must communicate with the vast and varied foreign publics that are now players in international affairs: governments certainly, but also news media, academics, students, youth groups, technologists, artists, cultural organizations, community and regional entities, private enterprises and a vast array of special interests and nongovernmental organizations.

The basic instruments of public diplomacy are hardly new. The United States, for example, has conducted educational and cultural exchange programs for almost 60 years. Cultural diplomacy is usually an exercise in deferred gratification, since such exchange programs typically don't offer immediate or obvious payoffs. Instead, programs such as the Fulbright educational exchanges represent a long-term strategic investment in establishing mutual trust and understanding. Similarly, the U.S. information programs overseas have a long pedigree: the daily Washington File (formerly the Wireless File) began operation in the State Department in 1935 after an ambassador complained that the slow distribution of official information was "about as useful as a Roman ruin in a fast-changing world."

The world of information since has neither slowed nor stopped changing. In recent months, the biggest internal change, of course, has been integration. Public diplomacy programs, once administered by the U.S. Information Agency, are now integrated into the Department of State under the first Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, Evelyn Lieberman. Moreover, public diplomacy officers serve in each of the Department's regional and functional bureaus and in public affairs sections of the embassy.

Within the new Department, public diplomacy--perhaps reflecting its fluid nature--sprawls untidily outside any single organization box. Under Secretary Lieberman directs two bureaus--Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) and Public Affairs (PA)--plus the Office of International Information Programs(IIP). ECA administers programs that include the relatively well-known Fulbright and Humphrey exchanges and American Studies programs as well as the lesser-known but vital work of the cultural properties staff. They're charged with protecting the threatened artistic and cultural heritage of peoples throughout the world. Besides producing the Washington File in five regional and five language editions, IIP administers a worldwide speaker program, maintains a large international web site ( and conducts an extensive array of other electronic information services.

With integration, the Bureau of Public Affairs, too, now has important responsibilities for public diplomacy as well. The Foreign Press Centers, with offices in Washington, D.C., New York and Los Angeles, facilitate the work of hundreds of international journalists working in the United States. Interactive Worldnet broadcasts, which permit officials to discuss issues with global audiences via satellite television, are now part of PA's information arsenal as well.

If integration is the big internal change, technology has had the greatest external impact on public diplomacy. The telecommunications revolution has transformed the international environment for conducting foreign policy. Increasingly, the new diplomacy is electronic and online, incorporating digital technologies to organize and deliver timely, authoritative policy materials to foreign publics throughout the world--whether as web sites, direct email, digital video, electronic journals, online information resource centers or reference and bibliographic services.

In this information environment, there can be no trade-off between truth and timeliness. Wrong or contradictory information damages a nation's credibility. Yet a delay in responding to a critical issue can cede the public high ground to others. Internet time is immediate and unforgiving: policy information must be right, and it must be fast.

The advent of public diplomacy by no means replaces the need for confidential negotiations and the private exchanges of views. Quite the contrary. Who could imagine a successful Middle East peace, arms control arrangement or bilateral trade deal taking place in the glare of international publicity? On the other hand, who can imagine sustaining any diplomatic agreements in these arenas without a public campaign to explain and advocate their provisions, working actively to win public support? A foreign policy that cannot be explained to many different publics is no policy at all. Moreover, one can hardly imagine beginning to make a case to support a particular policy if the United States has not established a minimal foundation of trust and mutual understanding.

The author heads the electonic media and visual services team in the Office of International Information Programs of the Department of State. This article originally appeared in STATE MAGAZINE, Feb.-March 2000 . Reprinted by permission.


Public Diplomacy Council, Public Diplomacy in a Restructured Foreign Affairs Community

The President's decision to consolidate the organizational structures and programs of the Department of State, the U.S. Information Agency (USIA) and the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA) creates a unique opportunity to establish the centrality of public diplomacy to America's international engagement in the 21st Century.

The Public Diplomacy Foundation welcomes this opportunity, convinced that direct communications with the people of other nations, as well as understanding and influencing public attitudes abroad, is essential to the conduct of U.S. international relations. Indeed, the exponential growth in instantaneous global communications -- whether via the Internet, fax, cellular telephone or direct satellite TV --combined with the rapid spread of democratic institutions and market-oriented economics in the wake of the collapse of Communism, only serves to emphasize the key role public diplomacy can and must play as part of America's overall foreign policy.

The merging of the three foreign affairs agencies should serve to underscore the fact that there is only one American diplomacy, under the direction of the President and the Secretary of State. But, as has been observed and reaffirmed repeatedly by its practitioners in the field, such as American Ambassadors overseas, in today's world, 90% of that diplomacy is public.

Emphasizing the critical importance of public diplomacy also recognizes the reality that, in a more democratic world, people have a direct influence on the positions, policies and attitudes of their elected governments. Dealing with those people, considering their views, and helping them to understand the history and ideals of the United States along with the full spectrum of its citizens' diverse opinions, is, the Foundation believes, manifestly in the national interest.

The Foundation also believes, however, that the importance of public diplomacy in a restructured foreign affairs community can only be maintained -- and, ideally, strengthened -- by ensuring its programmatic and organizational integrity. More than four decades of experience demonstrate the synergies and the benefits to national interest resulting from administering informational, cultural and educational programs in close coordination, most especially in the long term perspective that is frequently overlooked due to the overriding need to respond to short-term crises.

Therefore, the Public Diplomacy Foundation strongly urges all parties involved in the foreign affairs restructuring to ensure that the integrity of public diplomacy is preserved and strengthened in the Department of State. Most especially, a new Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy should retain direct control over the funds, programs, personnel and other resources essential to the conduct of America's overseas public diplomacy. Fragmentation of U.S. public diplomacy could produce the atomization and death of the one element of our foreign affairs apparatus that is truly suited to the times, the technology and the tenets of democratic governance for which the United States stands.

Maintaining the coherence of public diplomacy under the direction of the Under Secretary of State avoids the temptation to redefine "public diplomacy" as "public affairs" -- the domestic dissemination of information and opinion designed to bolster support for any Administration's policies among the American public. While public affairs considerations are important and understandable factors in foreign policy implementation, the people and resources needed for a long-term national "outreach" to the populations of other countries must not be drained to address short-term domestic pressures.

Preserving a distinct organizational structure and identity for public diplomacy can ensure that perhaps its most important practitioners -- the American people themselves and their non-governmental institutions -- will continue to act in partnership with government in the explication of American ideals. Private sector support and engagement are absolutely essential in the process of understanding, informing and influencing the people of other nations, and nothing will drive away that private sector faster than the perception that public diplomacy has somehow been "politicized" and subordinated to short-term imperatives.

Because of its firm belief that the attitudes and perceptions of the people of other nations play an ever-increasing role in determining the success of America's political and economic actions on the world stage, the Public Diplomacy Foundation is convinced that the restructuring of the foreign affairs community can enhance the effectiveness of the public diplomacy programs that have served the country and its people so well in the half-century since World War Two.

Public Diplomacy Council, December 1999


Other Resources

We thank the Public Diplomacy Council for its contributions to this list of resources.

  • Foreign Policy Magazine, March-April 2003. Dot Com for Dictators by Shanthi Kalathil. Internet-based technologies are changing the information infrastructures worldwide, and challenging the ability of totalitarian regimes to control the flow of information. "As nations such as China embrace the Web to streamline government and boost economic growth, they also create opportunities for greater transparency, accountability, and freedom."

  • Foreign Policy Magazine, March-April 2003. Europe’s Muslim Street, by Omer Taspinar. "The 15 million Muslims of the European Union (EU)—up to three times as many as live in the United States—are becoming a more powerful political force than the fabled Arab street."

  • NewsHour with Jim Lehrer. The website transcript of Terry Smith's public diplomacy segment (January 21) includes extended off-air interviews with each of the participants: Under Secretary Charlotte Beers, media analyst Mamoun Fandy, BBG member Norman Pattiz, Radio Sawa news director Mouafac Harb, and Radio Sawa consultant Bert Kleinman.


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Updated: 4 April 2003.
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