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Review by Dennis M. Murphy

Nancy Snow and Philip M. Taylor (eds.), Routledge Handbook of Public Diplomacy New York and London: Routledge Publishers, 2009, ISBN: 978-0-415-95302-3, 408 pp.  $55.95

“Public diplomacy outreach…includes communications with international audiences, cultural programming, academic grants, educational exchanges, international visitor programs, and U.S. Government efforts to confront ideological support for terrorism.” So states the U.S. Department of State website.  Interestingly and importantly this definition focuses on the means by with the innocuous “public diplomacy” effort is implemented and neglects the important processes (ways) and most important outcomes (ends) expected of public diplomacy in support of foreign policy objectives.  To address these shortcomings and provide a balanced, and heretofore lacking conceptual framework, Nancy Snow and Philip Taylor have pulled together an impressive number of academics and practitioners to lay the foundations of the concept in the 29 chapters of this handbook.  Organized topically into six parts, the editors have attempted to provide a resource with wide-appeal ranging from the lay-person interested in public diplomacy to the advanced practitioner.

It is impossible within this short space to cover each of the articles, so a focus on specific unique takeaways along with apparent common trends will have to suffice. Part 1 of the anthology discusses the context of public diplomacy and begins appropriately with a historical overview by Cull of the “90 year career of the phrase ‘public diplomacy’.” He points to the shortfall of a definition based lexicon that changes over time and how it confuses those outside the field who act as interlocutors for public diplomacy practitioners.  As such he, by implication, supports the need for a more balanced and thorough conceptual framework.  Next, Vlahos provides a fascinating historical comparison brought forward to present day that argues that leaders often cannot disentangle domestic and external persuasion…and the domestic effort is often dominant.  It’s not hard to understand the increasing importance of this thesis, given a modern information environment where blowback and bleed over of messages worldwide is now an expected norm.

In Part 2, the handbook transitions to applications of public diplomacy with a piece by Armstrong who votes for an aggressive application of public diplomacy from what he argues is currently an inherently passive  “neutered beauty contest” of soft power which looks increasingly like domestic political campaigning.  He offers that an active “operationalizing” of public diplomacy is critical to a world that is increasingly about ideology and perception.  Consequently he agrees with Vlahos’ thesis, but at the same time is at odds with many other chapter authors who would evaluate this forceful approach as counterproductive.

Parts 3 and 4 of the handbook provide a number of well-written and insightful pieces.  Pratkanis’ social influence analysis adheres to the aggressive approach that Armstrong argues for while providing a detailed checklist applicable to public diplomacy in international conflict.  Gass and Seiter follow with an outstanding primer on the value and importance of credibility.  Kelton Rhoads then provides a detailed argument outlining the necessary but not sufficient nature of cultural knowledge in public diplomacy efforts.  Instead, Rhoads recommends unequivocally that public diplomacy practitioners understand “the universals of human psychology first, and then [supplement] them with cultural knowledge.”  Kovach, Kiehl and Snow follow with anecdotal accounts of their own practical application of public diplomacy along with analyses.  All three pieces are forceful based on the credibility of the authors and the easy way they read.

Global approaches to public diplomacy are addressed in part 5. While the editors admittedly note this section as an abbreviated effort, there is great value in considering other nations’ approaches, given the tendency of the United States national security practitioners to assume their methods may be preeminent. Of note are the chapters on China and Central and Eastern Europe. Rawnsley deftly provides insight into the exploding efforts in Chinese public diplomacy, while tempering his analysis with recognition that the authoritarian rule of the Chinese government undermines the important values upon which soft power is based. Szondi provides perspective into the function of public diplomacy in transitional countries, using Central and Eastern Europe as examples, with a good primer on the various aspects of reputation management necessary to achieve desired ends.

The final part of the book concludes with two important chapters.  Nelson and Izadi discuss the ethics of public diplomacy.  They state that “American public diplomacy will be propagandistic and unethical unless government officials are willing to listen and change, to engage with foreign publics at the communication level and at the policy level.”  They abhor what has commonly become known as the “say-do” gap offering that public diplomacy must be part of the policy making process. Ronfeld and Arquilla review and bring forward their concept of “noopolitik” from its 1999 introduction by the duo. Noopolitik is an approach to statecraft emphasizing information power “in expressing ideas, values norms, and ethics….”  They note in their original monograph that information must be a distinct part of grand strategy in order for noopolitik to become effective.  They address the present noting that while non-state actors (specifically non-governmental organizations and extremists) appear to embrace noopolitik as a strategic approach, the United States has not and, in fact, is not positioned to do so given a loss of soft power over the past decade.

While the variety of unique approaches across the totality of the book is impressive, there are a number of overarching themes that bear mention. First, it is apparent that Joseph Nye’s concept of “soft power” has taken root. It is referenced as a lead-in to numerous chapters. Next, while this review began by eschewing the focus on the means based definition of public diplomacy, the reader cannot help but be struck by the variety of definitions of that concept that appear throughout.  Thus, the value is truly in the follow-on analysis of the concept and its desired ends that are important, and not the definition of the term itself.  Next, there is a consistent and recurring drum beat espousing the importance of dialog and listening vice one way communication; the former often expressed as “new” or “21st century” public diplomacy. Additionally, the importance and value of Murrow’s “last three feet” of public diplomacy are echoed in numerous pieces arguing for the value of face to face engagement on a very personal level. Finally, “propaganda” is addressed numerous times, but interestingly is variously considered as good, bad and/or neutral pointing again to the danger of lexicon given differing perceptions.End.

Dennis M. Murphy
Dennis M. Murphy

Dennis M. Murphy is a Professor of Information Operations and Information in Warfare at the U.S. Army War College.  He served in a variety of command and staff positions over his 27 years of U.S. Army service.  Professor Murphy was appointed as the first George C. Marshall Fellow for Political-Military and Diplomatic Gaming at the Department of State’s Foreign Service Institute in 1999.  His work in information operations (IO) and strategic communication includes a tour as senior observer-trainer for the Battle Command Training Program, Operations Group Delta (Joint Task Force and Combatant Command trainers) where he trained NATO multinational forces on IO prior their initial deployment to Bosnia.  He has written on information operations, strategic communication, network centric warfare and national security issues and published in Military Review, Field Artillery Journal, Foreign Service Journal, NECWORKS Journal, Parameters and IOSphere.  Professor Murphy currently serves as the Director of the Information in Warfare Group at Center for Strategic Leadership, U.S. Army War College.


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