Public Diplomacy Council member David I. Hitchcock, a Foreign Service Officer in the U.S. Information Agency for 35 years, wrote a short and clear description of how the Public Affairs Section in Tokyo in the 1980s developed a “plan of action” to advance a U.S. foreign policy goal. Since that time, U.S. Public Diplomacy has developed new programs, expanded the toolkit, and moved into the age of the social media. Yet current Public Diplomacy practitioners can still learn something from the old USIS template.
Overseas, Hitchcock served in Hue, Kobe/Osaka, Sapporo, Tokyo, and Tel Aviv. He held many significant positions in Washington, becoming USIA’s Area Director for East Asia and the Pacific. He was the 1987 recipient of the Edward R. Murrow Award for Excellence in Public Diplomacy, and he was a senior foreign affairs fellow with the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
It was at CSIS that he drew on his years of experience to write a short monograph, U.S. Public Diplomacy. At the time, there were proposals — Washington buzz — to separate USIA’s “advocacy” from its work to explain American society and build long-term relationships. Hitchcock believed in the synergies that both kinds of work provided. They were “too intertwined to be divisible,” he noted.
His 1988 monograph contained one of the best short descriptions of how USIA officers brought many kinds of resources — programs in the toolkit, if you will — to help attain U.S. foreign policy goals. This was, of course, long before the internet and social media changed the landscape of international and intercultural communication. What joins the USIA approach and Public Diplomacy’s new modalities, I submit, was how programs unfolded from a plan.
Here’s an excerpt.
USIS in Japan develops a plan of action focusing on U.S.-Japanese economic issues, especially the need for Japan to make it easier for the United States and other countries to enter the Japanese market. Its branch posts sponsor a series of seminars throughout the country, with major Japanese economic organizations as cosponsors. Experts from U.S. universities, the American Chamber of Commerce in Tokyo, and from the U.S. and Japanese governments are invited; Japanese speakers also participate. USIS in Tokyo plans its Japanese-language bimonthly journal of commentary (cultural, political, and economic articles together, much like the Atlantic Monthly) to focus on the same theme as the seminars. One of the articles, by a Fulbright lecturer currently in Japan, will analyze the Japanese distribution system, comparing it with market distribution in the United States. Meanwhile, the USIS library in Tokyo has organized a major book exhibit on the same theme, as well as special bibliographies. Its twice-monthly library “Alert,” distributed to influential Japanese nationwide, will concentrate on recent book and article additions on the same subject.
During this period, the binational Fulbright Commission has been sponsoring collaborative research on U.S.-Japan economic relations. The results of this two-year project will be made available to participants in the USIS seminars. One keynote speaker is unable to fly to Japan at the last minute; a closed circuit Worldnet TV interview from the United States by satellite is arranged instead. One of the seminars is planned specifically for Japanese economic journalists; another involves a mixture of academicians and business leaders. At each of the seminars, official texts of recent statements on trade issues by the U.S. secretary of state and other senior officials are distributed. Meanwhile, under USIA’s International Visitor Program, USIS Tokyo is also inviting a team of young economists, including Japanese officials and promising assistant professors, to visit the United States for a month to confer with colleagues and counterparts and to gain a better view of U.S. thinking on bilateral trade and other economic issues. Some of the team will participate in the seminars on their return to Japan.
So what is this? A cultural program? An informational event? Is this an example of U.S. advocacy activity? Part of the educational exchange program?
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The ability of USIS posts, with Washington support, to muster and coordinate such an array of program activity around one central theme suggests a managerial advantage stemming from this integrated approach and also indicates an exceedingly close — in fact, too intertwined to be divisible — between long-range, general objectives of understanding and shorter-range, more specific objectives (in this case, trade problems).
Donald M. Bishop is the Bren Chair of Strategic Communications in the Brute Krulak Center for Innovation and Creativity 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.