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[infowar.de] Pillars of Public Diplomacy, von Christopher Ross, State Department
21 August 2003
Public Diplomacy Necessary for Policy Success, Says State's Ross
Amb. Christopher Ross article in Harvard Review
(This article by Ambassador Christopher Ross, State Department Senior
Adviser (Arab World Public Diplomacy), was published in the Harvard
Review Summer 2003 and is in the public domain. No republication
Pillars of Public Diplomacy
Grappling with International Public Opinion
By Christopher Ross
(Ambassador Christopher Ross is U.S. State Department Senior Adviser for
Arab World Public Diplomacy.)
Modern diplomacy, once a largely one-dimensional, nation-to-nation
process, is now a multidimensional enterprise in which so-called
"non-state" actors and foreign publics play an increasingly prominent
role. The latest Iraq war is the most dramatic, but hardly the first,
example of this phenomenon. The rise its influence of non-state actors
has been paralleled by two other equally important developments:
globalization -- the integration of peoples, societies, and economies --
and information technologies that now link nations, cultures, and
societies in complex and unprecedented ways.
This is the transformed international environment in which public
diplomacy now operates. In such a world, the public-diplomacy quotient
of virtually every foreign policy issue today has risen dramatically,
whether regarding a trade negotiation over genetically modified corn,
the reconstruction of Iraq, or the threat of HIV/AIDS.
Policies can still be forged in private, confidential talks among
professional diplomats, much as they were 200 years ago, but no policy
initiative can succeed over the long term without the understanding and
support of multiple foreign publics and other non-state actors.
Equally vital is a shift in US State Department culture that moves
public diplomacy closer to the center of diplomatic work. To shape
mindsets abroad, mindsets at home must be changed first. This process
began with the integration of the US Information Agency into the
Department of State in 1999. More recently, the administration of US
President George Bush has reversed a decade of declining resources for
public diplomacy through substantial increases in funds, personnel, and
The disciplines of persuasive communication are inescapable, and the
realm of foreign policy is no exception. The public diplomacy and
international communications of the United States must reflect a basic
set of principles and practices -- the seven pillars of public diplomacy
-- to meet its mandate "to inform, engage, and influence" foreign
The Seven Pillars
The first of these so-called pillars is policy advocacy, and all public
diplomacy activities, however varied, are designed to support US
national interests and meet its international duties. Above all else,
the first responsibility must always be to ensure that foreign audiences
understand US policies for what they are, not for what others say they
To be more than a series of ad hoc responses to changing events, public
diplomacy must be incorporated into the ground floor of foreign policy.
Policy makers must take to heart the maxim that a policy that cannot be
explained clearly and understandably, to many different audiences is not
sustainable. In the Bush administration's national communications
strategy, therefore, foreign policy and public diplomacy are
inextricable and integrated throughout the process of policy formulation
An effective national public diplomacy effort must be coordinated
throughout the government to ensure that information priorities are
clear, overall themes are established, messages are consistent, and
resources are used effectively. Types of messages, language, audience,
format, and media will vary greatly. All, however, should be part of a
comprehensive public diplomacy strategy linked to the formulation of
policy at its inception and coordinated broadly throughout the foreign
The daily point-counterpoint of policy debate is only one element of
public diplomacy. It is equally vital to systematically address the
slower pulse of public attitudes, to connect with human emotions and
perceptions where our values and worldviews reside most deeply. As one
writer has said, "People are drowning in information, yet desperate for
It is here, in the quest for deeper understanding and broader dialogue
with states and peoples, that the Bush administration has worked hard to
reenergize US public diplomacy, which has lost focus and funding since
the end of the Cold War.
Advocacy alone is rarely enough to build genuine understanding, much
less active support. Therefore, the United States must also rely on the
second pillar's providing reasons and rationale -- the context -- for
its policies. Such context requires US policies to remain rooted in the
fundamental values and culture of the United States. In the words of the
US National Security Strategy report: "We do not use our strength to
press for unilateral advantage. We seek instead to create a balance of
power that favors human freedom."
Media coverage of the Iraq war offers an immediate and dramatic example.
Arab, European, and US media outlets have certainly reported different
or conflicting "facts," but the most dramatic differences in coverage
reflect deep-seated, often divergent assumptions about the context, or
meaning of the conflict -- from its origins to its outcome. As a pre-war
example, the Bush administration designed its Shared Values Initiative
for the Arab and Muslim world to provide channels of dialogue and
foundations of mutual trust, which are critical to any understanding or
agreement on key policy issues.
The most frequent question about the Shared Values effort is why it does
not directly address the most divisive policy issues in the US-Arab
relationship, including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the removal
of Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq. But this is the wrong question. The
Shared Values Initiative, by intent, does not address divisive policy
issues directly. Instead, it tries to establish broader arenas of mutual
interests, common ground, and interaction by talking about such subjects
as religious tolerance and family life-values deeply held and respected
by US citizens and residents of the Arab world.
Some commentators have responded by saying, in effect: "Everyone knows
about US freedoms and religious tolerance -- it is irrelevant to the
pressing issues of the day." Yet every international poll of attitudes
in the Middle East and Asia consistently suggests the contrary -- that
publics in Arab and Muslim countries are neither knowledgeable about the
United States nor simply critical of US policies. These polls conclude
that their governments and Western-educated elites may be familiar with
US values and culture, but the general population clearly is not.
Instead, many regard the United States as irreligious and hostile to
Islam, espousing a culture antithetical to their own culture and values.
In such an environment, it is unlikely that US policy messages will even
be heard, much less judged fairly. Coverage of the US and coalition
military campaign in Iraq by the Arab media is a vivid example of this
dynamic in action.
To suggest silence on these subjects until the Middle East conflict,
Iraqi reconstruction, or other policy issues are resolved in misguided.
To the extent that the administration's policy message is discounted
because of strongly held stereotypes, such as "The United States is
anti-Muslim," policy advocacy will fail. Audiences co-opted by the myth
of US hostility to Islam, for example, will not support our call for
international action because they will discount our values and motives.
The immediate pressure of the Iraq war's information dimension has not
obviated the need for such initiatives; to the contrary, it has made it
more vital than ever -- even if the benefits of such "values-based"
communications are usually long-term and often obscured, literally, by
the immediate, polarizing images of conflict.
The third pillar of diplomacy is that US international messages must be
consistent, truthful, and credible. To formulate a public message for a
single exclusive audience is to make a fundamental conceptual and
operational mistake: all public messages can, and will, reach multiple
publics. In the end, credibility is the sine qua non of international
communication. We must always say what we mean and mean what we say.
The US State Department is a leader in developing public diplomacy
initiatives for the United States, as reflected in its role as co-chair
of a new interagency Policy Coordinating Committee. At the same time,
the Bush administration has also established a new White House Office of
Global Communications, which grew out of the Coalition Information
Centers established during the Afghanistan conflict to strengthen the
focus and responsiveness of public diplomacy. The White House office can
help identify themes, set priorities, coordinate foreign policy
communications within the government, and sensitize decision makers to
the importance of public opinion abroad.
Both the Office of Global Communications and a strengthened public
diplomacy function in the State Department are key to developing
consistent, authoritative international information messages and
The fourth pillar is a corollary to the third. The obverse of
consistency is our ability to tailor messages for specific audiences.
There need be no contradiction between consistency and tailoring. For
example, an information campaign in support of open trade or religious
freedom will employ vastly different images and words for different
audiences. The values that stand behind such efforts, however, are
In an age of satellite television and the Internet, policy messages must
be not only accurate, but fast. Silence is a vacuum that the media will
fill with someone else's viewpoint if the United States is unwilling or
unable to speak with one voice, and speak immediately.
The new digital technologies, moreover, provide unprecedented
opportunities for taking "content" -- a basic statement or explanation
of a US policy, for instance -- and "pouring" it into containers that
range from web page and e-mail publishing to print products or broadcast
materials for television, radio, or digital video conferences.
US public diplomacy has done well in some aspects of information
flexibility, notably the use of Listserv e-mail and web sites to provide
fast, authoritative transmission of official texts and transcripts,
often in local or regional language versions. At the same time, new
opportunities and challenges abound. The US has not yet fully come to
grips with ensuring its share of the voices on the Internet, notably in
chat rooms and other types of online conversations that routinely
discuss US foreign policy with no official voice or presence providing
balance or counterpoint.
By contrast, the US State Department has long recognized the potential
of satellite circuits for allowing experts and officials in the United
States to interact formally and informally with journalists and opinion
leaders throughout the world through digital video conferencing. In
2002, for example, the State Department conducted over 450 video
conferences through more than 150 facilities located in Washington, DC,
and at our missions throughout the world.
In shaping specific programs for specific audiences, we must conduct
audience research that is as frequent and in-depth as resources permit.
The discipline of persuasive communication in this regard is compelling:
it is not what is said that counts, it is what is heard. And it is only
through research and feed-back -- coupled with a sure understanding of
the cultures in which we operate -- that we can craft the right messages
for the right audience.
For example, in the case of the Shared Values documentaries of US
Muslims, we conducted careful pre-campaign attitude and message testing
through polls and focus groups -- as well as an intensive follow-up
assessment of their effectiveness, most notably in Indonesia. When we
tested Indonesians for the levels of recall and message retention, we
found them to be significantly higher than, for instance, those of a
typical soft drink campaign run at much higher spending levels for many
This kind of exceptional result means that the messages were both
relevant and very interesting to their audience. In random taped
interviews, people made it clear that these messages literally opened
their minds and challenged the carefully taught fiction that the Muslim
population of the United States is harshly treated, illustrating instead
that religious tolerance is a fundamental value and practice in the
The Role of Mass Media
At a time when many large and diverse publics are informed and energized
about foreign affairs, it is no longer sufficient to explain our
policies to 200 opinion leaders; the United States must also find ways
to repeat key messages for audiences of two million, or 20 million,
through national and transnational media, which make up the fifth
We must leverage our messages through all the communications channels at
our command: Internet-based media (email publishing and websites),
broadcasting (radio and television), print publications and press
placements, traveling speakers, and educational and cultural exchanges.
Such channels include the independent government broadcasting services
administered by the International Bureau of Broadcasting (IBB) under the
supervision of the Board of Broadcasting Governors: Voice of America,
Radio Free Europe, Radio Free Asia, Radio Sawa (Arabic), Radio Farda
(Persian), Radio/TV Marti (Cuba), and WorldNet television. These
broadcasting services demonstrate that support for US values and
interests is entirely consistent with independent journalism and news
In seeking out channels for reaching broader audiences, the primacy of
television, and, consequently, the impact of images, cannot be
overestimated. In media terms, for instance, the Iraq war was really two
wars. The Arab media displayed one set of images of the conflict, and US
media outlets showed another, each playing to different assumptions and
audience biases. One clear lesson from this experience is that the
globalization of information -- especially the immediacy and impact of
television -- can divide as well as unite.
For the pre-war Shared Values Initiative, we estimated that more than
280 million people were exposed to these messages through pan-Arab
satellite television and newspapers, as well as through selected
national media, during the holy month of Ramadan.
In Egypt, we invited local broadcasters to film the story of several US
Agency for International Development projects, highlighting the families
that benefited from the clean water, improved education, and micro-loans
that resulted. The television coverage, readily available to a mass
audience, confirmed the commitment of the United States to improving the
quality of life around the globe.
Building upon the Shared Values initiative and continuing to focus on
the Middle East, we are initiating a new program called Shared Futures,
which will bring sustained attention in the new postwar era to our
interest in and contributions to economic, political, and educational
change in the Muslim world through media campaigns, television, media
co-ops, exchanges, and other creative programming -- in partnership with
local institutions wherever possible.
Alliances and Partnerships
The sixth pillar, alliances and partnerships, recognizes that as the
number and importance of non-state actors have grown in international
affairs, the official voice of the United States has grown smaller. We
cannot reach these new audiences by ourselves. We need the strength of
international alliances and private-sector partners, whether global
corporations, Humanitarian organizations, or US ex-patriot communities
Such partnerships not only bring fresh ideas and added resources to our
efforts, they can also offer third-party authenticity and verification
for messages that might otherwise be dismissed when communicated through
We need to take the best of the United States to other countries, to
offer who we are and what we stand for, sharing with them our
contributions in representative government, science, technology,
literature, the arts, and English teaching. We may never be able to
match the massive, sometimes pernicious weight of Hollywood and pop
culture, but we can ensure that the diversity of our society and culture
is better represented to foreign audiences.
In the case of Shared Values, for instance, we worked with the Council
for American Muslim Understanding (CAMU) not only in preparing the
mini-documentaries, but also in recruiting speakers to travel overseas
and talk about Muslim life in the United States. CAMU also assisted in
creating an interactive web site (www.opendialogue.org) where US
citizens and people from Muslim-majority countries can interact and
Dialogue and Exchanges
The final pillar of public diplomacy recognizes that the United States
must build the foundations of trust and mutual understanding through a
genuine commitment to dialogue. We must listen to the world as well as
speak to it. The failure to listen and to provide more avenues for
dialogue will only strengthen the stereotype of the United States as
arrogant, when, in fact, we are often only being inattentive.
Opportunities and avenues for feedback and dialogue, therefore, should
be built into our public diplomacy efforts whenever possible. US
Secretary of State Cohn Powell has said, "We touch every nation and
every nation touches us." We must demonstrate both sides of this
equation in all our international communications.
Our most important tool for enhancing dialogue and understanding is one
of our most durable: the estimated 35,000 educational and cultural
exchanges that the US State Department conducts or sponsors every year.
These exchange programs are only a small fraction of the total universe
of US international exchanges, now an estimated US$12 billion annual
venture in the United States.
Such exchanges -- the celebrated "last three feet" of communication --
are inestimable in demonstrating the ideas of freed optimism, and sense
of future possibilities that make the United States so compelling to the
world. The United States has had long experience with a wide range of
educational and cultural exchanges -- whether young political leaders,
academics, students, journalists, artists, or others -- and we have
found that the experiences of our grantees are almost always positive
The significance of this conclusion cannot be overstated, especially at
a time when there is so much focus on the policy and cultural
differences among the United States and many of its allies in Europe,
Asia, and elsewhere. At present, more than 50 percent of the leaders of
the global coalition in the war against terrorism are former
participants in our largest exchange effort, the International Visitors
Program. More than 200 current and former heads of state, 1,500
cabinet-level ministers, and many other distinguished worldwide leaders
in government and the private sector have participated in this same
The prime directive of US public diplomacy will always be to ensure that
we advocate the policies of the United States as clearly and powerfully
as possible. At the same time, it is crucial that communications be
delivered in a proper context, through a commitment to sustained
dialogue and engagement. By adhering to the principles embodied in the
seven pillars of public diplomacy, the United States can advance not
only its national interests, but the universal values of freedom,
equality, and opportunity that we share with the world.
(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S.
Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)
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