There is wide agreement that American public diplomacy has experienced a great fall since the end of the Cold War, and particularly since the U.S. Information Agency was abolished in a 1999 reorganization. Agreement, however, has not produced a remedy. In this essay, a retired senior USIA officer provides analysis and offers a structural solution, in hopes that the time for action may be at hand. Ed.
In my November 2003 American Diplomacy, article Can Humpty Dumpty be Saved? I noted:
Regrettably for our nation, in the nearly five years since nothing has changed to alter that statement no fundamental changes in American public diplomacy have taken place; no meaningful alterations to a flawed structure to provide a chain of command; no significant increases in budget or staffing; no systemic correction of the lack of understanding of the nature of public diplomacy; and no real integration of public diplomacy into the heart of American foreign policy.
There have been, at last count, some 33 separate studies, reports, and findings about America's public diplomacy issued by governmental and non-governmental boards, commissions, associations, and ad hoc groups.(2) All of them repeat the mantra that American public diplomacy is failing; all note that there are systemic failures; all call for change. It is no less true today than it was in 2003 that: America's recent public diplomacy failures have come not from lack of expertise nor because of flawed technique, but rather because of an absence of the will and the resources to pursue the effort. (1)
Changes must be made and the time to make these changes is now. With a new administration in January 2009 there will be a narrow window to make fundamental changes to undo the damage that the absorption of USIA into the State Department and the spin-off of international broadcasting into a dysfunctional independent entity have caused. (3)
A New Model USIA
The new structure for public diplomacy must have adequate funding and staffing to sustain and accomplish its mission over the long term. Like America's values and interests, the role of our nation's public diplomacy is not confined to a single issue, a single region, or a single administration. The necessity for the United States to reach the hearts and minds of the world to reach out and engage the world in a dialogue will remain just as long as traditional diplomacy and our armed forces will remain. We must recognize that public diplomacy is a key national security component. If we recognize this obvious fact, we can create a blueprint that will serve the nation for the ages.
Public diplomacy may be defined in various ways. The website of the Public Diplomacy Alumni Association (formerly the USIA Alumni Association) lists the most common definitions (See: http://www.publicdiplomacy.org/1.htm). Often called strategic communication, public diplomacy must be separated from any other executive department and serve in a coordinated way all agencies of the executive branch. Indeed, its mandate goes beyond government to interface with the corporate and private sector, non-governmental organizations, academia, and individual citizen diplomats in a variety of ways. All of these components of American society have a role in shaping the world's perceptions of America and our perceptions of the world.
In on the Take-Offs
Working in close relationship with the existing National Security Council and with a new independent agency that would be responsible for operational international information, broadcasting, and educational and cultural exchanges, the OSC would report directly to and take its instructions directly from the President and his NSC. The extensive existing international information and exchange programs of State, Defense, USAID and other cabinet departments would constitute the staff and provide the initial financial support and resources to create both the OSC and the new independent operational agency. Thus, little if any new funding would be needed.
Public diplomacy in any case costs a fraction of the most common alternative means of national influence military force. No one knows this better than America's men and women in uniform who have consistently called for strengthening our strategic communication efforts. Indeed one of the strongest proponents of increased emphasis on the soft power of public diplomacy has been Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who noted in his Landon Lecture at Kansas State University in November 2007 just how essential public diplomacy is to national security. (5)
The OSC and Interagency Relationships
The operational agency (call it the Public Diplomacy Agency) would pull together the tools that served the USIA so well for nearly five decades but would also utilize the latest tools available to today's public diplomacy. Thus educational and cultural exchanges, international civilian broadcasting, print publications, and the all-important person to person contact work by public diplomacy officers in the field would be augmented by state of the art new technologies including the internet, podcasts, virtual reality, desktop video conferencing, texting, and others only now in the imagination of our creative technologists.
It is not the purpose of this essay to provide a detailed blueprint of how this new agency would be structured, but a look at that framework I proposed back in 2003 would not be too far from the mark. The key differences are, of course, that the public diplomacy operational agency would be an independent agency reporting to the President (through the OSC), and the creation of the OSC itself to coordinate all executive branch strategic information activities.
The Public Diplomacy Agency
In order to accomplish its ambitious mission, the new Public Diplomacy Agency should be funded at a minimum of $3.5 billion and staffed at the level of some 12,000 full time employees, about one half of whom would be Foreign National Employees abroad. This is actually fewer employees than were working for USIA and a budget in constant dollars less than USIA's in the late 1960s. Recognizing that winning hearts and minds is done overseas and not in the United States, of the 6,000 U.S. citizen employees no less than one-third should be serving abroad worldwide at any time.
Already, international broadcasting through the BBG and public diplomacy programs of the Department of State account for about $1.7 billion. International Military Exchange and Training Programs and other peacetime military programs could effectively contribute to these civilian programs as could most of the public diplomacy efforts of USAID and the more than 60 federal departments, agencies, and bureaus that conduct some exchange programs abroad.
When I wrote Humpty Dumpty nearly five years ago I did not expect to see so little progress in renewing American public diplomacy nor did I expect that America's standing in the world would sink to the level that it has. There is an even greater urgency today, and so I will repeat much of my concluding remarks in that long-ago essay in the hope that this time perhaps policy-makers will be listening and something will be accomplished.
Let us hope that a new administration and a new Congress at last will take a critical look at our public diplomacy structure and act to reverse the trends of the past decade. It is not yet too late to restore American public diplomacy and secure America's standing in the world.