1. FACTS ABOUT THE “LEAN” PUBLIC DIPLOMACY BUDGET: The U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy (ACPD) has released an important report that is essential reading for anyone interested in the state of public diplomacy as practiced today by the State Department and the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM). Called 2020 Comprehensive Annual Report on Public Diplomacy and International Broadcasting: Focus on FY 2019 Budget Data, the 287-page tome uses voluminous data and clearly written text to answer one deceptively simple question: What PD strategies, programs and resources are being used to advance U.S. foreign policy objectives?
To call the ACPD’s annual report “comprehensive” is an understatement. To their great credit, Commission Executive Director Vivian S. Walker, Senior Advisor Shawn Baxter and Program Assistant Kristina Zamary have produced an invaluable, high-quality — and thoroughly vetted — reference document that promotes transparency in budgets and spending. For example, the report uses good charts and other visuals and “Spotlight” case studies to explain how the over-all PD spending in FY 2019 — $2.21 billion, a 1.1 percent increase from FY 2018 — was used by various bureaus, posts and programs.
Besides pulling together useful budget information and other details scattered throughout the vast State and USAGM bureaucracies, the report makes numerous recommendations to different stakeholders — the White House, Congress, the Secretary of State, USAGM, the Foreign Service Institute (FSI), etc. One specific recommendation is that the position of the next Under Secretary for Diplomacy and Public Affairs be filled with a career officer. The report says that “current or recently retired Senior Foreign Service Officers in the public diplomacy profession would be worthy of consideration to lend stability to this often vacant position and sustained leadership to career PD professionals.”
A major conclusion is that PD spending is “lean” and does not match the need for resources. Its spending was 3.9 percent of the 2019 international affairs budget, or 0.17 percent — less than one-fifth of a percent — of federal discretionary spending. The report argues that “sufficient and sustainable public diplomacy funding is especially crucial now” due to such challenges as “the impact of COVID-19 on exchange and educational programs; the increasing intensity of malign influence campaigns; and the need for sustained interagency coordination to assure cohesive action in the global information space.”
Hopefully, the report — published by the ACPD per its Congressional mandate — will be read and seriously considered by the incoming senior Biden-Harris team. It also should be used at FSI and read by all applicants for the Foreign Service Exam. For the full text or information on the ACPD, visit https://www.state.gov/2020-
2.TACKLING CLIMATE CHANGE AT HOME AND ABROAD: President Biden has made clear there is no greater long-term challenge confronting the United States and the world than climate change, or the climate crisis.
A series of his early sweeping actions included rejoining the Paris Agreement; naming former Secretary of State John Kerry as the first-ever Special Presidential Envoy for Climate (SPEC); naming former EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy as the first-ever National Climate Advisor and head of the White House Office of Domestic Climate Policy; re-establishing the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology; and signing of an executive order that “clearly establishes climate considerations as an essential element of U.S. foreign policy and national security” and directs “all agencies to develop strategies for integrating climate considerations into their international work.”
The new President’s ambitious goals will require an unprecedented “whole-of-government” approach if they are to succeed. It is often noted that climate change is a tough problem to address both politically and economically, but it is also unusually challenging in terms of communications. If Biden’s goals are to be implemented, they will require effective strategic messaging addressed to both domestic and international audiences. Some Americans believe climate change is a hoax and question whether there even is a “climate crisis,” while many others demand quick results, like “clean energy” jobs. Many foreigners want the United States to lead and spend more to protect the climate.
So far, it is unclear how public affairs and public diplomacy will be mobilized and structured to help the high-powered Biden core climate team advance its agenda. The questions are numerous.
- Will the U.S. Government be able to speak with one clear, consistent voice?
- How active internationally will offices like Energy, Interior, EPA, and the Council on Environmental Quality be?
- Who will have the lead on coordinating and directing efforts to explain various U.S. policies, including the commitment to “environmental justice”?
- To which office, or spokesperson, should American and foreign journalists turn to for credible answers, information, and briefings?
- Will SPEC Kerry, who has a seat on the National Security Council, have his own public affairs staff or spokesperson, or will he rely on White House or State Department personnel? What role, for example, will State’s Bureau of Global Public Affairs (GPA) or the Office of Policy and Public Outreach in the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs play?
- Will our public diplomacy officers posted abroad get additional resources — people and funds — for climate effort programming? How will the United States cooperate with both the private sector and the wider international community?
Hopefully, the new administration is planning and thinking about these concerns right now as the new political appointees take up their positions and policies are formulated. With the United States actively back at the climate change table, two major tests for the Biden international vision are quickly approaching: the President will host a leaders summit on Earth Day, April 22, 2021, and senior U.S. officials will participate in the November 1-12, 2021 UN Climate Change Conference — COP26 — in Glasgow, Scotland. Both of these events will require considerable public diplomacy support and will generate plenty of media reaction and civil society attention.
Secretary Kerry has already given a number of welcomed public statements since being appointed SPEC, and has even said that Glasgow is going to be the most important meeting that the United States has ever had. And in January 27, 2021 remarks to the World Economic Forum, Davos 2021, he explained the new U.S. approach: “So, we rejoin the international climate effort with humility – and I mean that – and ambition. Humility because we know we wasted four years in which we were inexcusably absent. Humility knowing that today almost no country, and for certain, no continent is getting the job done.”
For a White House fact sheet on how the new administration is tackling the climate crisis at home and abroad, go to: https://www.whitehouse.
For information about “Climate Power 2020,” a non-governmental organization of researchers, creatives, organizers, social media experts, activists, and communications professionals which advocates for bold action to change the politics of climate, go to: https://www.climatepower2020.
Several of the new Biden climate team leaders, including Kerry, McCarthy and Samantha Power, have served as advisors to the independent project, which was created by the Center for American Progress Action Fund, the League of Conservation Voters, and the Sierra Club. The project has a new six-figure paid media ad campaign to educate the public on the climate crisis. It included a full-page ad in the January 24, 2021 New York Times. Boldly headlined “President Biden: You Can Be the Climate President,” it praised the rejoining of the Paris Agreement, but said that move simply is not enough given the incredible challenges. The project’s other themes have included: “Our moment to take bold action on climate change is now.”; “We believe in science.”; “Racial justice=climate justice.”; “It’s time to stop ignoring the experts.”; and “Our stories have the power to change the conversation.”
For an analysis of the climate change challenges confronting the new administration, see Pulitzer Prize winner Elizabeth Kolbert’s February 8, 2021 The New Yorker article, “A New Day for the Climate,” at https://www.newyorker.com/
3. “THE LONGER TELEGRAM” ON CHINA: I don’t usually recommend extremely lengthy or anonymous items, but am making an exception because the rise of an increasingly authoritarian China is clearly America’s biggest foreign policy challenge, and the public diplomacy community needs to be part of the discussion.
To stimulate public discussion of China, the reputable Atlantic Council has released an amazing, “must-read” paper by an unnamed author, self-described as a former senior government official with deep China expertise and experience, who opposes the Trump Administration’s approach to attacking the Chinese Communist Party as a whole. Titled “The Longer Telegram: Toward a New American China Strategy,” this important paper clearly hopes to influence the new Biden Administration. Its immodest title is a clear reference to the historic July 1947 Foreign Affairs article — published under the pseudonym “X” but written as a secret cable by legendary diplomat George Kennan — which outlined how to contain the Soviet Union.
Atlantic Council President/CEO Frederick Kempe has explained why the bold paper, which focuses on President Xi Jinping and his behavior, is so important: “What makes the paper worth reading, all 26,000 words of it, are the author’s insights into China’s internal and party fissures, the authors solutions to the current lack of any coherent national strategy toward Beijing, and the paper’s controversial call that the Biden administration draw ‘red lines’ that, should deterrence fail, will prompt direct U.S. intervention.”
The public diplomacy professionals will note that the proposed strategy calls for prosecution of “a full-fledged global ideological battle in defense of political, economic and societal freedoms against China’s authoritarian state-capitalist model”.
For the full text of the paper, go to: https://www.atlanticcouncil.
4. RAPPIN’ AWAY OUT IN VIETNAM: Some PD veterans cringe when they hear about the attention the State Department seems to give these days to programming around rap. But anyone who knows changing U.S. and global cultural tastes and demographics understands why American rap is such an effective PD tool to reach today’s young audiences. Clearly, our embassy and ambassador in Hanoi get this.
A recent clip “starring” U.S. Ambassador to Hanoi David Kritenbrink and Wowy, a famous Vietnamese rapper, effectively sent Tet (Lunar New Year) greetings to Vietnamese families and subtly reminded people of how well reconciliation has evolved during the past 25 years. The 3-minute music video of the two rapping about their respective roots, the important traditional holiday, and bilateral relations generated mainly positive reaction within the country. Thanks to extensive international media attention, the video also attracted lots of interest outside of Vietnam. Released on the Embassy’s Facebook page, the clip was produced by Vietcetera, a Hanoi-based, new media start-up that features Vietnamese and English content.
To view the viral rap video, go to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VlrZcVAaF2M.
5. PD DOCUMENTS U.S.- INDIA COOPERATION: In this day and age of 24×7 news and brief, often superficial social media messaging, it is refreshing to see an embassy’s public affairs section giving attention to producing a substantive editorial product with detailed text, lots of facts and examples, and some terrific graphics and photos. Embassy New Delhi has just released (in hard copy and on-line) “The U.S.-India Partnership: Ambition and Achievement,” an impressive,123-page mini-book about the state of U.S.-India relations, which — in recent years under both Republican and Democrat administrations and through POTUS visits — has seen steady, fundamental transformation.
The new publication documents much more than just the usual bilateral political, defense, and economic and trade cooperation. It takes a truly comprehensive view of the complex, evolving relationship between the world’s two largest democracies. It includes substantive sections on issues such as energy, health, science and technology, and dynamic people-to-people ties, including thousands of Indian students in American universities and an active Indian diaspora in the United States.
In-house editorial work on the publication began well before the November U.S. elections and was completed around the time when Ambassador Ken Juster, a political appointee, was about to depart India after President Trump’s loss. Fortunately, the overall tone of the publication is non-partisan, and the contents will not get dated too quickly.
In the preface, Ambassador Juster, diplomatically, makes a good point:
“It is worth noting that each U.S. administration has successfully built upon the accomplishments of its predecessor in improving ties with India. I believe that we have done just that in the last few years, together with equally committed partners in the Indian government and among the Indian people. And I am confident that the next U.S. administration will continue this work by strengthening the bilateral relationship further in the years to come. In two great democracies such as ours, it is natural for governments to listen to public sentiment, and it is clear that a strong relationship is what both the American and Indian people want.”
To view the full text, go to: https://in.usembassy.gov/the-
Dr. Michael H. Anderson is a public diplomacy and Asian affairs specialist with nearly 30 years of Foreign Service experience serving in the US Department of State and the US Information Agency (USIA) and working in South Asia and Southeast Asia. His Public Affairs Officer (PAO) postings included New Delhi, Jakarta, Karachi, Singapore, Manila and Port Moresby. He also has been a journalist, a teacher, a Peace Corps Volunteer in Malaysia, an information officer with UNICEF, and an East-West Center grantee. He is a member of the PDC Board.