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 You are in: Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs > Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy > Releases > Remarks

The New Diplomacy

Chairman Harold C. Pachios, Advisory Commission for Public Diplomacy
Remarks to Wellesley College
Wellesley, Mass.
December 4, 2002

I am grateful for the opportunity to talk about public diplomacy. President Clinton appointed me to serve on the United States Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy nearly nine years ago. Over the first eight and a half years I found public diplomacy was of little interest to anyone, save the people at USIA and a few of us who were semi-professionally engaged in it.

September 11th changed all of that. Now it is a hot topic. Americans have become painfully aware of the lack of understanding - - indeed, misunderstanding
- - between our world and the Arab world; between our world and much of the Islamic world.

The question is asked by everyone, “why do they hate us?”
Consequently, people have turned their attention to what the government, particularly the State Department is doing about this. Hardly a day goes by when a leading newspaper or television commentator does not do a piece on public diplomacy.

Our Commission monitors such attention carefully. And I can tell you that between the end of 1993 and September 2001, I can recall only two or three newspaper articles about public diplomacy and a couple of brief references by television commentators.

What is public diplomacy? It should be called the new diplomacy. What am I referring to when I say the new diplomacy? Is it different from what we have come to understand as traditional diplomacy?

From the time governments were organized until very recently, diplomacy involved conveying a message to another government, usually delivered by a government official - - an ambassador - - to a representative of a foreign government, and the response of foreign government officials.

The interrelationship of countries was generally governed by these exchanges of messages between governments, and these exchanges were customarily secret. The information revolution which occurred in the last half of the 20th Century, particularly in the last decade of the 20th Century, dramatically changed all of that.

Now it is ordinary citizens of countries who more often than not govern the relations among nations. Huge numbers of people all over the world have the microwave discs enabling access to satellite television broadcasts. Put simply, in rapidly expanding numbers we are all, no matter in which country we reside, watching the same television pictures. So ordinary people in non-western countries no longer have to rely on their government for information.

Rapidly increasing numbers of people throughout the world are gaining access to the Internet. Thus, not only is the information not filtered through governments, in many cases it is not even filtered by the press. Even more important to the conduct of international relations is that the Internet has allowed ordinary citizens of all countries to rapidly, comprehensively, and (this is the big one) simultaneously communicate with like-minded citizens in all the countries of the world.

Among other things, this phenomenon has given NGOs enormous power to govern the relationships among nations. Think of this: international treaties on the environment, human rights, economics, and, for example,  land mines largely rest on the activities and advocacy of NGOs.

Finally, the information age has required every government in the world to respond to broad informed masses. Domestic public opinion is not only important in the democratic countries of the west, even the policies of authoritarian governments are strongly influenced by public opinion.

It is against that greatly altered international landscape that we need to examine rampant anti-Americanism, particularly in the Middle East and Central Asia, and what the government is doing about it.

We need to do something about it because we cannot achieve American foreign policy objectives such as peace in the Middle East and winning the war on terrorism without the support of foreign public opinion. Our objectives require a multi-lateral approach, and that depends on positive public opinion in those countries on which we depend for support. And our objectives depend on an altering of public opinion in the Palestinian territory and Israel, for sure. But also depends on a demand for peace by the ordinary citizens of every Arab country.

What are we doing about this? Well, some of what we are doing, we have been doing for a long time. For 50 years the public diplomacy task was undertaken almost exclusively by the United States Information Agency (USIA), although other agencies such as the Defense Department, the State Department, AID, and the Peace Corps were engaged in it.

Over the years the staples of public diplomacy have involved exchange programs such as Fulbright, Humphrey and Muskie exchanges, and a very useful exchange called the International Visitors Program which brought young, up and coming, academic, political and military leaders to the United States for three or four weeks of travel, briefings, and orientation.

The traditional tools also included radio broadcasting through the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Those were among our most potent public diplomacy tools during the Cold War. It also included the establishment of American libraries and cultural centers in key capitals of the world; the production of documentaries and printed material describing life in America; and sponsorship of concerts, art exhibitions and other activities designed to convey a sense of American culture.

At the core of all of this were USIA’s foreign service officers. And today - - post 9/11 - - foreign service officers posted in public diplomacy posts throughout the world still represent the core of what we do to explain policy and America in the world.

In contrast with many of State’s political and economic officers, USIA’s public affairs officers,  now assigned to the State Department, assigned to each embassy around the world, very fluent in the host country language, and who spend most of their time “on the street” developing relationships with academic and cultural leaders, NGOs, and particularly strong relationships with journalists who represented the independent press wherever it existed.

In the 1950s and 1960s most Americans accepted these activities as necessary. And, accordingly, Congress and each succeeding presidential administration provided fairly strong support. The height of USIA’s prestige and acceptance probably occurred in the 1960s. President Kennedy appointed one of America’s best known and revered journalists, Edward R. Murrow, to head USIA. And the President enlisted his good friend George Stevens, the famous movie director, to produce a number of documentaries describing American life. They were award-winning documentaries, and they were shown in many places in Asia and Eastern Europe. In those days Voice of America was one, if not the most important information source for free-thinking intellectuals and students behind the Iron Curtain.

But with the end of the Cold War all of this changed. Neither Congress nor the Bush I and Clinton administrations saw a rationale for these activities. In 1994 a confluence of forces - - the end of the Cold War, budget deficits, and the “Contract with America” Congress - - led to greatly reduced Congressional appropriations for exchanges and other public diplomacy accounts. The State Department’s Educational and Cultural Exchange Programs appropriation declined by more than 33%, adjusted for inflation, from 1993 to 2001. In 1993 3,846 people participated in exchanges from societies with significant Muslim populations. By 2001 the figure had gone down to 2,869 participants. Exchanges with Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Yemen declined during the same period by 21%, and exchanges with Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh and India declined by 34%.

Congress was in a mood to cut spending, especially in non-military foreign affairs areas. This mood prevailed for most of the decade (and almost all of the Clinton period), and it ultimately drove Congress to merge USIA into the State Department without any regard for the merits of, and new requirements for, information age diplomacy.

Attitudes in Congress and the White House also carried the day in part because public diplomacy had only modest support among the American people. As I pointed out previously, the press had absolutely no interest in the subject. Even groups like the Council on Foreign Relations did not press for it. Public diplomacy simply was not a priority of Presidents or of Secretaries of State of both parties from 1988 on. At most, they gave it lip service. All of that is background. What has changed?

An essential starting point is to recognize that U.S. foreign policy has been weakened by the failure to include public diplomacy systematically in the formulation and implementation of policy. Public diplomacy needs to move from the margins of foreign policy to the center. Examination of, and sensitivity to, what America intentionally and unintentionally communicates to the world ought to be a priority.  In short, public diplomacy, as practiced by the State Department, and by USIA since the 1970s, needs to be rapidly reformed.

First, is the matter of resources. Approximately $1 billion is now being spent annually on public diplomacy, approximately half of which is dedicated to broadcasting enterprises, and a quarter of the total is being spent on exchanges. For comparison and perspective, consider that we spend $30 billion for intelligence activities.

Let’s start with the people who do this work. We need capable men and women, preferably people with some aptitude for public affairs and outreach, to join the foreign service and specialize in public diplomacy. My years of inspecting and evaluating USIA and State Department operations have taught me we have a few good ones, a lot of adequate ones, and some terrible representatives.

Two years ago the State Department spent only $75,000 to recruit foreign service officers for all professional cones: political, economic, consular, and public diplomacy. That doesn’t equal the money the Pentagon spends in one day to recruit young people to join the R.O.T.C. or N.R.O.T.C. in college.

The State Department does not provide any training for foreign service officers serving in public diplomacy posts. The Defense Department, on the other hand, spends millions each year to send military officers in public affairs billets to graduate school and other kinds of specialized training. If we are going to post foreign service officers in capitals around the world and give them responsibility for the public diplomacy function, it’s time to find people with a talent for it, and give them some training.

Then there is the need to do something that hasn’t been done in the last decade or two because of the lack of money. Public diplomacy, as traditionally practiced, has a long term horizon: over time the broadcasts, the exchanges, the American studies programs, contacts with academics and journalists will bring about an awareness of American motives, values, democratic processes, and policies. Before the onset of the communications revolution and 24/7 news cycles and the Internet, American cultural centers and libraries were very effective in providing objective information. And so was the cultural programming - - the touring orchestras, dancers, singers, art exhibits, and even world champion boxers. We need to restore some of these activities. It seems to me it’s the only way we can bring balance to the steady commercial messages emanating from our country in violent movies, music about sex and Calvin Klein jeans.

But public diplomacy is no longer just long-term. In the past 10 years it has meant getting the message out rapidly. And it has meant reaching the masses with the messages, rather than just elite opinion makers. Because of the communications revolution, we need to invest in new approaches to broadcasting - - to reach foreign mass audiences, not just elites, who now constitute the most powerful public opinion blocs. Practically no one in the Middle East listens to Voice of America. We don’t spend much on Middle East VOA programming - - about $5 million. And even that appears to be wasted money. The Middle East broadcasts emanate from an old out-of-date 1950’s transmitter on the Island of Rhodes. In fact-finding trips to Jordan, Syria and the Palestinian Territory, I found that most opinion leaders looked to the BBC for objective news coverage. Few could even pick up the Voice of America broadcasts.

Since 9/11 the VOA has initiated a new Middle East Radio Network for which an additional $30 million (six times more than VOA spends in the Middle East) has been allocated to build and equip three AM radio transmitters and eleven FM transmitters which will be spread across the Middle East. Several transmitters are in place, and the network is broadcasting. The stations bring state-of-the-art programming to what the VOA calls “the new young mainstream” of educated Arabs under 30 and the “emerging Arab leadership.” Music, news, call-in programs and features on American life are broadcast 24 hours a day. Market research shows the Sawa is one of most popular stations in the Middle East. The most popular station in Lebanon and Jordan, and in the Gulf State and popular in Iraq, too.

Television is the medium of choice in many, many Middle Eastern countries. That was not the case ten years ago. However, the majority of our broadcasting resources are, as I just described, devoted to short wave and AM/FM radio. So establishment of a U.S. satellite television station in the Middle East is necessary and planned. [I would like to show you a short video on this.]

Finally, I would like to briefly comment on the changing role of U.S. ambassadors. In the striped suit days of diplomacy, our representatives abroad met with and delivered messages to government officials of the host country. And they wrote reports back to Washington.  The information revolution has changed all of that. Now the President of the United States picks up the phone and calls the Prime Minister. Governments exchange information between capitols in real time. And CNN allows governments to send rapid messages to the whole world in an instant.

So, are our ambassadors and political officers outmoded? No, but their role has changed. Those same government officials the striped suiters used to visit are no longer determining policy secretly behind closed doors. More often than not they are reacting to informed public opinion - - even in relatively closed societies with authoritarian governments.

So ambassadors better be good at outreach. They need to have good language and presentation skills. And they better be regulars on local television and radio, including call-in shows. Because this has become the essence of their job.
The old diplomacy has given way to the new diplomacy - - the diplomacy of the Information Age.

Released on December 4, 2002

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