How to Reinvigorate U.S. Public Diplomacy
To reverse America’s declining image abroad, both public diplomacy and related international broadcasting agencies need a clear chain of command as well as adequate personnel and financial resources. In addition, public diplomacy programs that once helped nurture positive long-term relations with foreign publics and opinion leaders must be restored.
The 1999 reorganization that placed the previously independent USIA within the U.S. Department of State and cut loose international broadcasting efforts has not been effective in addressing this challenge. Sensing the problem, the White House established its own Office of Global Communications in 2001 to formulate and coordinate messages to foreign audiences. The Department of Defense (DOD) unsuccessfully tried to merge public affairs and information warfare capabilities to rapidly shape international public opinion. Last year, House International Relations Committee Chairman Henry J. Hyde (R-IL) introduced the Freedom Promotion Act of 2002 to revitalize USIA within the State Department and reform foreign broadcasting, but his bill died in the Senate.
Instead, reflex should become habit. Public diplomacy is effective only when it builds on long-term relationships that identify common interests between people and capitalize on them. It must be strategic, consistent, and flexible in its use of channels and, above all, must encourage two-way communication.
In 1999, after years of decline, the bulk of public diplomacy was folded haphazardly into the State Department, with international broadcasting remaining independent. To its credit, this “reinvention” finally integrates traditional and public diplomacy at the most basic level. Now the resulting structures must be adjusted to make them work. Both public diplomacy and foreign broadcasting should be strengthened and made more efficient. Some programs, like exchanges that were cut, should be restored; others that have fulfilled their purpose, like some broadcasting operations, should be phased out.
Public diplomacy is an important leadership tool. Its mission flowered during the great international conflicts of the twentieth century, but its philosophical roots go back to America’s founding. In his farewell address, President George Washington counseled, “as the structure of a government gives force to public opinion, it is essential that public opinion be enlightened.” The same could be said of U.S. diplomacy and foreign views of America.
April 23, 2003
The authors hold senior positions in policy analysis and international affairs with The Heritage Foundation. Helle Dale, formerly an editor with The Washington Times, holds degrees from the University of Copenhagen and Tufts University. Steve Johnson had prior service with the U. S. departments of State and the Air Force; he is a graduate of the University of Wyoming and Georgetown University.