1. PUBLIC DIPLOMACY IN AN UPENDED, POST-PANDEMIC WORLD: This seems to be the season for one study after another of how to improve diplomacy or use PD to address one problem or another in this changing, uncertain world. But one new report — a research collaboration between the USC Center on Public Diplomacy (CPD) and a London-based strategic communications firm called Sanctuary Counsel — caught my eye because it appreciates how traditional PD work has been affected by the pandemic. Titled “Socially Distanced Diplomacy: The Future of Soft Power and Public Diplomacy in a Fragile World,” the study offers insights from leading international foreign policy experts and practitioners “on the fundamental shifts in the balance of global soft power and challenges to diplomacy in the age of COVID-19.”
The critical issues report is important because it is probably the first report of its kind to specifically assess the impact of the pandemic on soft power. Not surprisingly, it confirmed the reputational damage done to the United States and most Western countries. But one of the most useful parts is its clear analysis of four lessons the PD community has learned since it was forced to go entirely digital: “The primacy of listening” (the power of listening); “lifting up diverse voices”; “hybrid public diplomacy” (the idea that virtual activity is not a replacement for in-person programming, but it still can be a powerful enhancement for relationship-building); and “public diplomats need allies”.
Credit for the report should go to lead author Jonathan McClory, Partner, Sanctuary Counsel, and contributors Dr. Katherine Brown, President/CEO of Global Ties U.S., and Dr. Jay Wang, Director of USC’s CPD. For the full text, go to: https://uscpublicdiplomacy.
State’s first-ever Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer (CDIO), Ambassador Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley, with 30 years of diplomatic experience, is now on board and working with a sense of urgency on ways to hire, retain, and advance a diverse workforce. She has been empowered to finalize and implement the Department’s Diversity and Inclusion Strategic Plan and to report directly to the Secretary. For remarks by the Secretary and the Ambassador at the April 12, 2021 ceremony announcing her appointment, go to: https://www.state.gov/
Meanwhile, the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA) — which is both a professional organization and exclusive representative for the U.S. Foreign Service — is contributing to the discussion of how to make a service that is truly representative of our country. For example, it has recommended a number of measures to “arrest the growing problem of declining retention and to restore and repair morale in the Foreign Service.” Following a 2020-2021 survey of members and a series of member town halls, AFSA has come out in support of: a larger Foreign Service; creation of new Foreign Service specialties; a more flexible, family-friendly Foreign Service; a more transparent and streamlined assignments system; a less-biased EER and promotion process; targeted, early mentorship; leadership accountability through 360s; and a well-resourced Chief Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Officer. For the AFSA recommendations, go to: https://www.afsa.org/sites/
For a thoughtful analysis of the lingering diversity problems affecting nearly all mainstream institutions, see Jamal Simmons’ Democracy Journal piece at: https://democracyjournal.org/
The political contributor at CBS News and co-chair of the Internet Innovative Alliance points out that Black inclusion stalls at around 4 percent: “It is as if someone put sticky tar on the road to African American inclusion in institutional leadership that slows progress to a crawl midway between zero and 10 percent. The 4 percent phenomenon is likely not a coincidence.” Simmons concludes: “Staged integration through rethinking recruitment, formalizing and compensating talent sourcing networks and lateral leadership transitions will kickstart the process.”
3. WHAT ABOUT REJOINING UNESCO? The Biden Administration has made no secret of the fact that it wants and needs multi-lateral partners. The quick U.S. return to WHO has gotten a great deal of generally positive reaction, but what about the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), which the United States helped created in 1945 and actively participated in for decades in support of issues such as heritage protection, literacy, and free expression?
President Trump took the United States out of UNESCO in 2017, after President George W. Bush had rejoined in 2003, after President Reagan had pulled out in 1984. Among the complicated reasons given for the different withdrawals were the agency’s perceived “anti-Israel bias” and disarray and poor management amidst much political tension.
The new administration has yet to really focus on UNESCO membership, but the international organization wants the United States back, and many diplomats, educators, scientists, and cultural experts argue it would be in America’s interest to pay its back dues (reportedly $600 million) and rejoin as soon as possible so it can influence UNESCO’s goals of fostering peace, security, human rights, and sustainable development around the globe.
UNESCO is far from being a household word, but it has been getting more attention of late. For example, on World Press Freedom Day, May 3, 2021 UNESCO and the International Center for Journalists released an important study titled “The Chilling: Global Trends in Online Violence Against Women Journalists,” and journalist and Fulbright alumna Maris Ressa is the 2021 Laureate of the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize. Also, on April 30, 2021, UNESCO organized the “2021 International Jazz Day Virtual Global Concert” with the Herbie Hancock Institute of Jazz. American actor Michael Douglas was the host, and new U.S. UN Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield made remarks about the contributions of jazz. The program showcased artists from 20 countries performing from the United States and other locations around the world. Jazz great Hancock is a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador. His nonprofit Institute’s students and major jazz artists have performed at various events sponsored by the State Department.
PDC member Dr. Kyle Long, Adjunct Assistant Professor of International Education and UNESCO Co-Chair in International Education for Development, the George Washington University, organized a lively April 22, 2021 virtual International Education Webinar on “Should the U.S. Re-Join UNESCO?” His four panelists were in general agreement that a return to UNESCO — with some conditions or reforms — would be in U.S interests. The experts were former U.S. Ambassador to UNESCO Crystal Nix-Hines; Kristen Cordell, Council on Foreign Relations International Affairs Fellow, CSIS; human rights lawyer Jared Genser, Managing Director, Perseus Strategies LLC; and Dr. James H. Williams, Professor of International Education and UNESCO Chair in International Education for Development, the George Washington University.
Finally, on June 2, 2021, as part of its Future of Cultural Diplomacy series, the Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center will host a virtual conversation with UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay. She can be expected to explain UNESCO’s priorities and views of a possible U.S. return to the organization.
4. LESSONS FROM PAST “WARS OF IDEAS”: It is always good to see retired public diplomacy practitioners sharing their expertise and addressing challenges of the present. One of these challenges is how U.S. diplomats and the military can work closer together to counter propaganda’s effects. Donald M. Bishop, a Foreign Service PD officer for 31 years and a former Public Diplomacy Council president, addresses that issue in a scholarly and timely piece, “Propagandized Adversary Populations in a War of Ideas,” in the Spring 2021 Journal of Advanced Military Studies.
Building not only on his PD career in tough posts like China and Afghanistan but also his experience as a U.S. Air Force veteran and his current position teaching strategic communications at Marine Corps University, Quantico, VA., Bishop explains why policymakers and commanders — thinking about confronting adversary nations — “must think about the propaganda that girds the power of these regimes and understand how their propagandizing affects both populations and members of the armed forces.” His conclusion:
“Totalitarian rulers still use propaganda and ideology as tools of control, and they still aim for dominance. They now add cyber and informational stratagems to project their brute ideas and power into other societies, including our own, and this adds an extra measure of risk into international relations and national security.”
For the text, including ideas on how the State Department “must be a full partner” in any whole-of-government approach to a war of ideas, go to: https://www.usmcu.edu/Portals/
5. START SPREADING THE NEWS “NYC REAWAKENS”: Anyone following the Biden Administration’s messaging knows that “America’s back!” But what about New York City? Arguably the most important and the most international city in world, the Big Apple has been through very tough public health and economic times with COVID-19. All that — hopefully — is about to change, and a little slick international promotion might help.
Before more than 200 domestic and international travel writers, Mayor Bill de Blasio on April 21, 2021 announced a $30 million global marketing campaign — the City’s largest ever — for tourism recovery. Called “NYC Reawakens,” the unprecedented campaign will reinforce the City’s resilience and its “unmatched energy, excitement, and dynamism.” The campaign is being managed by NYC & Company, the City’s official destination marketing organization and convention and visitors bureau. For details, visit: https://business.nycgo.
The City hopes to be “fully reopened” on July 1, and NYC & Company predicts that in 2021 36.4 million people will visit the City. This would be a recovery of more than 50 percent of the record 66.6 million visitors that came in 2019.
From a public diplomacy perspective, however, the best indicator that NYC has, indeed, reopened and comeback would be a return by numerous foreign visitors, including participants in official exchange programs like the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP). As any PD officer knows, the Big Apple is usually high on most visitors’ list of preferred U.S. destinations. The City’s energy and excitement and unique attractions like Broadway, the UN, the Empire State Building, and the Statue of Liberty are “must see” venues. City officials argue that the Big Apple is better than ever and cite new attractions, such as remodeled terminals at LaGuardia and Newark airports, the new Moynihan Train Hall, and the newly expanded Javits Center, and the reopening of iconic museums and cultural venues, and Broadway’s projected return this September.
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.