Public Diplomacy: Lessons from King and Mandela

By Wolf, Charles, Jr.; Rosen, Brian | Policy Review, October-November 2005 | Go to article overview

Public Diplomacy: Lessons from King and Mandela


Wolf, Charles, Jr., Rosen, Brian, Policy Review


AMERICA HAS AN image problem. While the problem is serious, it is complicated by more variation than is usually ascribed to it. For example, according to the Pew Global Attitudes Survey of June 2005, the "U.S. image [is] up slightly, but still [is] negative." This variation is further reflected by the fact that in two of the world's potentially most important triangular relationships--namely, those between China, Japan, and the U.S. and between India, Pakistan, and the U.S.--it is the United States that is regarded as most friendly by the other two members of each triad.

America's image problem is especially acute in the Middle East and among predominantly Muslim populations. Recent polls highlight the depth and breadth of the animus. In 2002, Gallup conducted a poll of nearly 10,000 residents in nine Muslim countries. By an average of more than 2:1, respondents reported an unfavorable view of the United States. The prevalence of an unfavorable view in Iran is unsurprising because that country has had an adversarial relation with the United States for more than 20 years. More troubling are the results from ostensible allies. Only 16 percent of respondents in Saudi Arabia, supposedly one of America's long-standing allies in the region, held a favorable view, while 64 percent reported an unfavorable view. Results from Kuwait were even more disconcerting. In a country that the United States waged war to liberate a decade earlier, only slightly more than a quarter of those polled expressed a favorable view of the United States.

This displeasure cannot be easily dismissed as vague and loose views held by those in remote lands whose attitudes and behavior are immaterial to the U.S. It may not foreshadow calamitous outcomes for the U.S., but it hardly provides reassurance that such outcomes will not ensue. As President George W. Bush plainly stated the task, "We have to do a better job of telling our story." That is the job of public diplomacy.

The term "public diplomacy" was first used in 1965 by Edmund Gullion, a career foreign service diplomat and subsequently dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, in connection with establishment at the Fletcher School of the Edward R. Murrow Center for Public Diplomacy. The Department of State now defines "public diplomacy" as "government-sponsored programs intended to inform or influence public opinion in other countries." But it can perhaps best be understood by contrasting its principal characteristics with those of "official diplomacy." First, public diplomacy is transparent and widely disseminated, whereas official diplomacy is (apart from occasional leaks) opaque and its dissemination narrowly confined. Second, public diplomacy is transmitted by governments to wider, or in some cases selected, "publics" (for example, those in the Middle East or in the Muslim world), whereas official diplomacy is transmitted by governments to other governments. Third, the themes and issues with which official diplomacy is concerned relate to the behavior and policies of governments, whereas the themes and issues with which public diplomacy is concerned relate to the attitudes and behaviors of publics.

Of course, these publics may be influenced by explaining to them the sometimes-misunderstood policies and behavior of the U.S. government. Additionally, to the extent that the behavior and policies of foreign governments are affected by the behavior and attitudes of their citizens, public diplomacy may affect governments by influencing their citizens.

In this article, we consider how to inform and persuade foreign publics that the ideals that Americans cherish--such as pluralism, freedom, and democracy--are fundamental human values that will resonate and should be pursued in their own countries. Associated with this consideration are two questions that are rarely addressed in most discussions of public diplomacy: Should the U. …

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