22 June 2011

Reviewing U.S. Public Diplomacy

Yesterday, the Council on Foreign Relations hosted a discussion with Judith McHale, Undersecretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs at the U.S. Department of State. The event was titled: "U.S. Engagement with the World: A Review of U.S. Public Diplomacy." You can read a transcript of the session HERE or watch the video HERE - but I will highlight a couple of the key points below:

On defining public diplomacy (PD):

the way we define public diplomacy is basically our efforts to strengthen and expand the relationships between the government and people of the United States and people around the world.So it's the people-to-people component of diplomacy, which is why engaging a broad cross-section of the American public is critically important in that.
On the new target audience for US public diplomacy (PD): McHale began by noting that PD efforts used to focus on the elite because that's where state power was concentrated - but the global power structure is shifting. McHale says

In a world where power and influence truly belongs to the many, we must engage with more people in more places. That is the essential truth of public diplomacy in the Internet age.

But it is not just a diffusion of power that necessitates greater engagement. The landscape of actors looking to influence that power has broadened as well.

Today, we must contend with an increasingly savvy and motivated set of influencers on a global stage, each armed with a vast array of affordable, adaptable tools to spread their message.

We also have to counter lone extremists who pump their ideas into circulation as easily as legitimate actors.

On the perceived importance of PD and strategic communications among US senior leaders: McHale declared that President Obama and Secretary Clinton both "get" the concept of PD and its importance in supporting America's foreign policy objectives. McHale said:

We have brought public diplomacy perspectives in at the highest levels and emphasized innovation in the field to support our foreign policy objectives.

..at the beginning of the Bush administration, the strategic communications budget for the Defense Department was roughly 50, $60 million. By the end of it, it was close to a billion (dollars). So over eight years, you had $900 million increase -- something like 6,600 percent increase in funding in that area.

On Pakistan: McHale frankly acknowledged the complexity of managing America's relationship with Pakistan, but she believes that enduring the struggle is a better option than walking away.

The wrong thing would be to sort of become so discouraged that you pull back from trying to engage with the people of Pakistan or elsewhere, because only by continuing to engage, by continuing to find those areas where we can agree on and things that we can move forward, I believe that's the path for going forward.
On Syria:

I think we've been fairly consistent in saying, you either proceed with the reforms, or as the president said, he gets out of his way.

On China: McHale characterized China as being a challenging environment in which to operate, but she offered at least three ways in which the US is trying to increase its engagement in China:

  1. The president's "100000 Strong" initiative aimed at increasing the number of American students studying in China.
  2. Heavy reliance on social media.
  3. Strengthening engagement with American businesses that operate in China.