Public Diplomacy

Eric Brahm

August 2006


Public diplomacy (also called cultural diplomacy, media diplomacy, public information, internal broadcasting, education and cultural programs, and political action) provides a means of influencing foreign publics without the use of force. The now-defunct U.S. Information Agency defined public diplomacy as "promoting the national interest and the national security of the United States through understanding, informing, and influencing foreign publics and broadening dialogue between American citizens and institutions and their counterparts abroad."[1] The areas of public diplomacy used to influence foreign target audiences are media diplomacy, public information, internal broadcasting, education and cultural programs, and political action.

The idea of public diplomacy emerged from the U.S. Office of War Information, which existed during WWII. During the early part of the Cold War, a succession of offices within the U.S. Department of State had responsibility for the dissemination of information abroad. During the Eisenhower Administration, an independent agency was created for the purpose. The agency was later abolished by President Carter and its functions folded into the newly created International Communication Agency (ICA) in 1978 (later re-designated US Information Agency, or USIA, in 1982 during the Reagan Administration). In the 1990s, USIA and the Voice of America (VOA) were incorporated back into the State Department. Most recently, the White House established its own Office of Global Communications in 2001 to formulate and coordinate messages to foreign audiences. Other significant agencies include the International Broadcasting Bureau and the National Endowment for Democracy.

In the current ‘war on terror,' many argue that the United States use of public diplomacy is an important tool to offer desperate youth, particularly in the Arab world, a compelling ideological alternative to extremism.[2] To be effective, however, there needs to be a recognition amongst policymakers and politicians that public diplomacy is a long-term effort. To realize greater benefits, some have called for restoring these functions to an agency that has independent reporting, an increased budget, as well as greater training to do a better job.[3] There is also a need for better organization and a better articulated overarching strategy in the conduct of public diplomacy.[4]

One observer has suggested a list of best practices in the conduct of public diplomacy, at least from the perspective of the United States.[5]

  • First, the primary goal is policy advocacy, in other words, to ensure that foreign publics understand US policies and motivations. As such, public diplomacy must be incorporated into foreign policy and it should involve coordination amongst a number of government agencies.
  • Second, public diplomacy must be rooted in American culture and values.
  • Third, the messages conveyed need to be consistent, truthful, and credible.
  • Fourth, it is important to tailor messages to a particular audience.
  • Fifth, a strategy needs to reach not only to opinion leaders, but also the mass public through national and global media outlets.
  • Sixth, there are a number of non-state actors such as multinational corporations, the expatriate community, and humanitarian organizations that can serve as partners to help deliver the message accurately.
  • Finally, the US needs to recognize public diplomacy is a dialogue and to also listen to sentiment in other countries.

The Internet has become a major tool for information dissemination and interactive communication between the US government and their target populations as well as developing links with civil society actors around the world. Arquilla and Ronfeldt have described the strategy as 'noopolitik' as opposed to state-centered realpolitik. The former involves the use of soft power to shape ideas, values, norms, laws, and ethics.[6]

Cultural and educational programs, such as the Fulbright program, seek to provide a deeper understanding of a country's society, values, institutions and motives for forming the positions it takes. While funding of arts and cultural exchange was a prominent part of the ideological battle between the US and USSR, support has declined since the end of the Cold War.[7]

[1]"What is Public Diplomacy?" U.S. Information Agency Alumni Association, September 1, 2002, at (April 2, 2003).

[2]Finn, Helena K. The Case for Cultural Diplomacy: Engaging Foreign Audiences. Foreign Affairs, Nov-Dec 2003 v82 i6 p15.

[3]Stephen Johnson and Helle Dale. "How to Reinvigorate U.S. Public Diplomacy" The Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 1645 April 23, 2003.

[4]GAO Report on Public Diplomacy, 2003

[5]Ross, Christopher (2003) Pillars of Public Diplomacy, Harvard Review, August 2003.

[6]Arquilla, J. and D. Ronfeldt 1999.The Emergence of Noopolitik: Toward an American Information Strategy, p.w13 (Santa Monica CA: Rand.) 1033/ MR1033.pdf/MR1033.chap3.pdf

[7]Smith, Pamela (2000) "What is public diplomacy," Address before the Mediterranean Academy of Diplomacy, Malta.

Use the following to cite this article:
Brahm, Eric. "Public Diplomacy." Beyond Intractability. Eds. Guy Burgess and Heidi Burgess. Conflict Information Consortium, University of Colorado, Boulder. Posted: August 2006 <>.

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