Pillars of Public Diplomacy: Grappling with International Public Opinion. (Perspectives)

By Ross, Christopher | Harvard International Review, Summer 2003 | Go to article overview

Pillars of Public Diplomacy: Grappling with International Public Opinion. (Perspectives)


Ross, Christopher, Harvard International Review


Modern diplomacy, once a largely one-dimensional, nation-to-nation process, is now a multi-dimensional 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 in 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 HTV/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 training.

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 publics.

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 are.

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 and implementation.

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 affairs community.

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 context."

It is here, in the quest for deeper understanding and broader dialogue with states and peoples, that the Bush administration has worked hard to re-energize US public diplomacy, which has lost focus and funding since the end of the Cold War. …

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