Quotable: CPD Report on the Way Forward for Public Diplomacy

Sunday, January 29th 2017

In November 2016, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), along with the Center on Public Diplomacy (CPD) at the University of Southern California, convened public diplomacy thought leaders currently working in and out of government to assess the successes of PD in the outgoing administration, and make recommendations for a future course.


Headline:     Public Diplomacy and National Security in 2017


Subhead:      Building Alliances, Fighting Extremism, and Dispelling Disinformation


Authors:       Katherine A. Brown, Shannon N. Green, and Jian “Jay” Wang


Source:         Center for Strategic and International Studies


Date:             January, 2017


Link:  https://csis-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/s3fs-public/publication/170117_Brown_PublicDiplomacy2017_Web.pdf


Key Quotes:


  • The new global landscape requires foreign ministries and diplomats to go beyond bilateral and multilateral diplomacy and broaden and deepen relationships with a broad and diverse range of actors.


  • The public diplomacy (PD) toolkit of informational, educational, and cultural programs is central to this objective by creating and maintaining relationships with influential leaders and opinion-makers in civil society, commerce, media, politics, and faith communities worldwide.



  • The Trump administration will inherit a sound public diplomacy apparatus at the U.S. Department of State that facilitates more than 90 educational and cultural programs each year and costs just 2 percent of the entire $50.655 billion International Affairs budget for Fiscal Year 2016.


  • . . . the Obama administration elevated exchange and professional development programs as fundamentally transformative experiences for foreign and American citizens; created a paradigm shift in the State Department's mastery of the digital environment, including using social media . . . ; and invested more in PD professionals’ advancement so that PD can be closer to policymaking processes.


  • Moving forward, the PD career track at State should continue to be strengthened through investment and trust in foreign service officers (FSOs).


  • . . . enduring challenges remain for PD professionals. They include:


  • Confronting the gap between ideals and reality within the United States with foreign citizens as domestic news is often picked up and relayed overseas by foreign outlets. News stories on violence, police brutality, and the issues American society confronts every day, such as racism and discrimination, illustrate our enduring value of transparency. But they can also undermine messages about American pluralism, inclusiveness, and tolerance with non-American audiences.


  • PD professionals must be better prepared to address and contextualize domestic events in the field rather than stick to sanitized talking points that do not resonate with foreign citizens.


  • Thought leaders and experts consulted for this study made the following additional recommendations for PD going forward: ● Focus on initiatives that work instead of creating new ones . . . . . ● Empower public diplomacy professionals in the field . . . . . ● Invest in our public diplomacy professionals


Dispelling Disinformation Directed by State Actors through Public Diplomacy


  • Increasingly we are seeing state actors direct disinformation and covert influence campaigns to shape public opinion around the world. These false narratives are often meant to undermine or muddle U.S. and allied messages and goals, making clear and concerted action more difficult.




  • Themes:  The United States has historically stood for transparency, liberal democracy, and pluralism, which have proved attractive themes to foreign audiences in the past.


  • Tools:  In the era of social media, when audiences can always find material that confirms their preexisting biases or worldview, the most important tactic is to support local voices who are more credible to audiences than a remote voice like that of the U.S. government or Kremlin-sponsored media for that matter.


  • Structures:  The Public Affairs Sections in U.S. embassies throughout Eurasia are essential to maintaining relationships with foreign citizens and coordinating with allied governments to counter negative influence on both bilateral and regional levels.


Enduring Challenges


  • Themes:  The powerful and inclusive vision of liberal democracy once articulated by twentieth-century leaders no longer holds the same appeal to foreign audiences.


  • According to the recent World Values Survey, citizens even in liberal democracies are becoming more cynical about democracy’s value to society and more open to authoritarian alternatives.


  • Designs for effective campaigns to deflect authoritarian influence are challenged by the fractures within the American/Western narrative. Appeals to pragmatism do not resonate as strongly as emotional appeals or conspiracy theories tailored to affirm preexisting views.  


  • Tools:  Implementing PD campaigns is also a challenge as the space for civil society and educational exchanges is shrinking in Eurasia and around the world.


  • Structures:  There has not been enough regional planning for the United States to work with our allies and synchronize and amplify each other’s activities. While Western nations largely agree on what needs to be done, they have failed to mount a sustained or coordinated campaign to push back on Russian meddling or disinformation thus far.




  • Themes:  We need to articulate in the broadest terms who we as “the West” are, what we want, why we want it, and what our goals and strategic interests are. In present conditions it is important that American values—such as human rights—be presented as universal rather than geographically specific.


  • This said, in terms of narratives, PD professionals need to tell stories that are not about the United States as much as about local leaders and change-makers. Our programs and narratives must resonate with and be responsive to local audiences. It should not be solely focused on countering the narratives of others.


  • Tools:  PD tactics to counter disinformation need to be revamped. The White House and State Department should work with Congress on legislation to support properly resourced and stable public diplomacy platforms and programs in countries and regions most affected by disinformation campaigns.


  • Structures:  There are two forms of coordination within the U.S. government that need to improve.


  • First, the intelligence community needs to do a better job of declassifying and releasing intelligence that demonstrates Russian and other states’ attempts to influence political and social debates and sow doubt and suspicion within the United States and between the United States and its allies.


  • Second, the U.S. government should bring together a brain trust of experts on disinformation (e.g., academics and private sector) to inform the U.S. government’s approach to this issue.


Donald M. Bishop is the Bren Chair of Strategic Communications at Marine Corps University in Quantico, Virginia. 

Mr. Bishop served as a Foreign Service Officer – first in the U.S. Information Agency and then in the Department of State – for 31 years.  Specializing in Public Diplomacy, political-military affairs, and East Asia, he attained the rank of Minister-Counselor in the career service.  He was President of the Public Diplomacy Council from 2013 to 2015 and is now a member of the Board of Directors.

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Author: Donald M. Bishop

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