Strategic Assessment Banner


Public Diplomacy

Instruments: Public Statements
Embassies and Field Personnel
Broadcasting and Electronic Media
Educational and Cultural Exchanges and Events
High-Level Visits
Democracy Promotion
Wartime Media Relations


The post-Cold War world is made more complex by rapid and pervasive information flows and expanding experiments in democratization. Foreign decision-making evolves less and less from tiny ruling elites and is increasingly influenced by public opinion when considering whether national interests coincide with those of the United States. Even in limited democracies, decisions by governments incorporate the input of academics, interest groups, political parties, and world public opinion. New technologies quickly convey masses of undifferentiated information reflecting global images heretofore only imagined, unimpeded by anything other than individual willingness to pay attention to it. In this atmosphere, in which fast exchanges of data drive decision making, the requirement for the United States to speak clearly, coherently, quickly, and persuasively to key foreign publics and leaders has never been greater.

The United States cannot assume that the opinions of these foreign audiences are based on a clear understanding of U.S. interests, actions, and intentions just because they have access to satellite dishes and on-line newsletters. Nor can the United States assure that its policies will be understood just by issuing a statement and hoping for good news play. The media may carry the President's speech or a report on a U.S. military action, but they may not explain the underlying history, culture, viewpoints, values, and intentions that enhance understanding and acceptance. Media reports may be laden with commentary that is inaccurate or distorted. Even upon hearing unbiased reports, different foreign audiences may require different explanations of U.S. policies and actions. For example, a proposition such as "supporting democracy" can mean different things in London, Singapore, Beijing, and Mexico City; the words used to describe the concept to U.S. audiences may not have the same meaning or connotations for other audiences. Lastly, beyond programmers' loosely defined standards of newsworthiness, no formula governs what will be covered by the media.

If the interpretation of U.S. policies is left to such reports, it may remain incomplete, distorted, misunderstood, and hardly persuasive. And when foreign audiences misinterpret U.S. policy, political costs escalate. Beijing may not find U.S. emphasis on human rights more palatable for understanding U.S. traditional values, but it might at least understand that criticism of China is not arbitrarily hostile.

The U.S. government will be more effective at influencing events abroad to the extent that foreign audiences understand U.S. actions and policy. That requires not only information about stated policy but also comprehension of such basics as the U.S. constitutional framework, the character of U.S. society, and contemporary U.S. politics. Creating that comprehension is the job of public diplomacy. This chapter examines the instruments for conducting public diplomacy and the implications of its practice in a world where political and economic centers of power are multiplying, where information is available as never before, and where publics are developing viewpoints that guide their nations' choices. The Department of Defense Web Page. http://www.dtic.dla.m il/defenselink/


Public Statements

Public statements from anywhere within the U.S. federal bureaucracy can affect global audiences. Some departments--such as Treasury and Commerce--are obvious objects of the world's attention, but even statements from such departments as Education or Housing and Urban Development can have international ramifications. A panoply of topics, such as population control, pollution, or food supplies, blur the lines between what is a domestic issue and what is international. However, most foreign attention is naturally fixed on the White House, the Department of State, and the Department of Defense.

The Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Kenneth H. Bacon conducted his first press briefing on October 27, 1994.

Every day, the major parts of the executive branch consult with one another to ensure uniformity in understanding of policies and how they will be represented to the public. Ideally, policymakers will weigh public acceptance when the particular issue is discussed. During Desert Shield and Desert Storm, an interagency committee on public diplomacy fed advice into the decision process with respect to shaping decisions that would have maximum acceptance by coalition supporters and would be properly understood by Baghdad and its supporters. But in noncrisis situations, perceptions may not be considered until after policy formulation. In the worst of all worlds, discussion of damage control is the first time public reactions are considered.

By midday, spokesmen appear at podia in Washington to address a range of issues encompassing anything that might attract media attention. The world watches, but the process is not primarily designed for international audiences. Rather, the executive branch directs its explanations first at the U.S. public, Congress, and domestic special-interest groups. It is always possible that some statement or policy will arouse reactions abroad, which may lead to a protest at a U.S. embassy or even a phone call to the President or to a Secretary from a foreign counterpart. But foreign opinion is usually felt indirectly and has a weight different from domestic opinion. In certain cases--as when a head of state visits or when a message is intended to affect international negotiations--a statement may be specifically designed for a foreign audience, but even those statements are measured for their impact in the United States as well. That is as it should be. The U.S. audience gets first consideration, but it should not get the only consideration.

Of course, the media briefings at the White House, State, or Defense are not the only window into the policy world. Administration figures appear on talk shows; give exclusive interviews, sometimes to the foreign press; and speak at events. Their voices and the ideas they represent are, most importantly for global understanding, amplified and explained officially through U.S. public-diplomacy mechanisms. From roots in the wartime agencies of World Wars I and II, the U.S. Information Agency (USIA) and its overseas arm, the U.S. Information Service (USIS), has been charged with carrying out America's public diplomacy. Reflecting, as public affairs must, the policies of the government it represents, USIA and USIS have been caught up in the Cold War tensions, from presenting to the world the U.S. case on the shooting down of Korean Air Lines Flight 007 to countering Soviet disinformation. But the unique role of USIA/USIS has been in its commitment to developing deep understanding abroad of U.S. society and culture as well as the policies and attitudes that flow from these.

Countering Disinformation and Misinformation

Although the Soviet Union has passed into history, its campaign of misinformation, disinformation, and other efforts to discredit the West in general and the United States in particular survives. AIDS as a deliberate American attempt to depopulate the developing world, the Jonestown (Guyana) suicides as a CIA plot, and assorted assassination conspiracies are just a few of the stories that have proven more durable than the regime that concocted them. Other groups hostile to the United States, such as terrorist groups and rogue states, continue to use the same techniques. The best weapons against such campaigns are early identification and emphatic refutation--part of the work of public diplomacy.

No misinformation campaign has been so persistent or damaging as the so-called "baby parts" story--the story that the rich West has children in underdeveloped countries killed to provide organs for transplants. Entirely without foundation, this myth has been perpetuated by major media first in hostile nations and then around the world, and has been accepted by gullible publics conditioned to think the worst about the United States. The myth accelerated in 1987, after Honduran official referring to the rumor was misquoted in a way that made it seem he was endorsing it. Cuban media and Pravda both published accounts citing the Honduran official as authority, leaving out his immediate retractions and the other authoritative voices dismissing the assertions. Subsequently, other anti-U.S. groups and media knowing a sensational story when they saw it kept it alive.

The USIA report to the United Nations of December 1994 provides the most thorough analysis of the baby parts story. It details the unusual willingness, in some quarters, of even sophisticated people to accept wild assertions as fact. The report further illustrates how the body of documentation for this myth is built on misrepresentations and cross-citations among unreliable sources. This report to the United Nations is used repeatedly by U.S. public-affairs officers abroad to counter further attempts to perpetuate this misrepresentation. Unfortunately, the very outrageousness of such stories plays on the public's interest in the sensational and makes countering these myths a permanent item on the public diplomat's list of duties.

USIS Mexico dealt with many different perceptions of U.S. actions and motivation in the Gulf crisis. This cartoon--"Extermination in the Gulf" by Monsi--appeared in the Mexico City daily El Universal. The balloon caption says, "The Iraqis will do what the Border Patrol could not." The cover of the booklet reads, "76,000 U.S. soldiers in the Persian Gulf are of Mexican origin."

Embassies and Field Personnel

While departments and agencies are agreeing on what can be said publicly at their U.S. briefings, 263 U.S. embassies, consulates, and missions around the world are striving to explain U.S. policies and actions in the nations where they are stationed in a way that advances U.S. interests. Clearly, Washington cannot be contradicted. But at some point, Washington's vetting of the policy must end, and the U.S. spokesman abroad must make a statement. He must decide how to present the U.S. line to foreign audiences as positively as possible while still conforming to Washington's guidance. How best to do this must come from USIS professionals who speak the local language and understand the local public as well as the details of U.S. policy, so as to convey the U.S. position in clear, persuasive terms.

After a U.S. policy is announced to a foreign audience, the local media report, pundits ponder, analysts interpret, government bureaus and private companies inquire, and scholars are called on to explain, "What did the Ambassador (or President or Congressman) mean when he said...?" All of these commentaries and inquires are examined as well as answered and subsequently reported as representing foreign public opinion--which may affect how the original policy is altered, or at least how it is presented in the next cycle of information exchange. Such authoritative and timely feedback provides Washington with a critical perspective on the consequences of its policies. These daily reports are supplemented by polling and surveys that measure attitudes more broadly and over the longer term.

Every embassy has assets for maintaining communications with the public, but USIS staff are required to get the most out of these assets. A trade specialist, the military attaché, or a Drug Enforcement Administration representative at the U.S. embassy can give background briefings to key media, academics, or others in anticipation of rising issues. The public appearances of the ambassador and his deputy can be orchestrated to give added weight to explanations in speeches, statements, and interviews. Cultural exchanges can help close the communications gap in a less direct way. A local official whose passion is music can become more approachable through an introduction to the conductor of a visiting American orchestra. Fulbright exchanges can fill scholarly gaps, and useful relationships can develop between people sitting on joint Fulbright boards. U.S. professional, political, and academic groups can be put together with counterparts who influence policy direction in the host country. In addition, outside authorities, academics, visiting administration representatives, artists, and experts can be called on to exemplify U.S. society and explain the country's policies. Fulbright Participants, 1985-94

The U.S. government could, of course, simply trust foreign audiences to soak up news from CNN and other worldwide news services, and then make their own best guesses about U.S. motivations and intentions based on available analyses. But the U.S. government is more likely to get its viewpoint across if it makes specific and tailored efforts to promote public understanding of U.S. government positions. Resources are being cut: USIA lost 600 positions in FY 1994-95 and is likely to lose a similar number in FY 1996, as well as the closing of five missions and eleven branch posts. The challenge will be to use new means to accomplish this task more efficiently.

Broadcasting and Electronic Media

Instant news coverage is not a substitute for a calculated presentation of U.S. positions, although it lends urgency to this task. The combination of an increasingly pervasive electronic media and an audience that has grown in size and become more important to decision makers presents a particular challenge to electronic public diplomacy.

CNN and rival news services strive to provide nearly instant coverage of events around the world. There is no question that CNN, particularly as an American enterprise, provides an important dimension to communication exchanges. But CNN broadcasts almost entirely in English. And it only tenuously reaches places such as Chechnya, Rwanda, Iraq, Iran, North Korea, and China.

Neither CNN nor any of its rivals is an official voice of the U.S. government, and the sound bite approach leaves out context. As news organizations, they pay attention to U.S. official positions, so if these positions are articulated well and presented at the right moment in unfolding events, there is an even chance that the public will get the outlines of official views by commercial means. But the chances decrease somewhat with a news network of another country, which will feel more compunction to give time to voices in its country of origin and whose commentators may have viewpoints less well informed in terms of American motives. And this is less apt to occur in a story that is not a major or
continuing one. CNN may want a camera permanently at the Pentagon briefing room during a military crisis or even at USTR during major trade negotiations. But they will not have covered so thoroughly the lower-profile processes leading to other initiatives, and their output tends to be generalized for a global audience. Source: USIA

To complement commercial electronic media, the U.S. government employs its own broadcasting. Western research has shown that 90-100 million listeners tune in the Voice of America (VOA), the radio-broadcasting arm of USIA, each week. The Open Media Research Institute commissioned a series of studies of elites in the former USSR in the fall of 1994. Seventy percent of the leaders in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia use the Voice of America as a news source. As audiences in some countries turn away from shortwave, the Voice of America is utilizing new channels for its material. In January 1994, VOA became the pioneer international broadcaster to use the Internet. In late 1995, between 80,000 and 90,000 files are sent from VOA each week to computer users in sixty-eight countries. VOA broadcasts are sent to listeners throughout the world over thirteen wholly owned relay stations and fifteen shared facilities. The system is complemented by 1,250 AM and FM affiliated networks and stations, making VOA "local" in key places like the former Yugoslavia.

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) have a long history as surrogate voices in the countries of Eastern Europe, where government radio prevented people from getting complete and accurate information. Radio and TV Marti have fulfilled the same role for Cuba. Whether such efforts are still required is arguable, but they continue, and there is a proposal for a Radio Free Asia. These are funded by the U.S. government but differ from VOA insofar as they present news of the target countries exclusively. By late 1995, RFE/RL was down from 1,700 employees in Prague to 300, broadcasting mostly to the former Soviet Union. Radio Marti broadcasts almost twenty-four hours a day, reaching an audience that can only be estimated (because of the inability to poll audiences) at about 16 percent.

For more than ten years, USIA has developed "Worldnet," a twenty-four-hour direct television service from Washington reaching three hundred embassies and USIS information centers around the world via satellite to its own receiving equipment, as well as to interested foreign parties. Worldnet's "Newsfile" is seen by viewers in eighty countries and is produced in English, Spanish, Arabic, French, Russian, and Serbian. In 1994, Worldnet produced 550 of the new "Dialogue" show, which gives listeners overseas a chance to hear the views and ask on-line questions of American leaders. Vice President Al Gore, Secretary of State Warren Christopher, and Trade Representative Mickey Kantor have been guests.

Public Diplomacy in the Former Communist World

The Voice of America has affiliation agreements with both private and state-owned broadcasters in Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Kyrgystan, Armenia, and the Baltic Republics. Near Volgograd, stations that jammed VOA in the past have switched to broadcasting its signals. In a national poll conducted by the Sociology Center of the National Academy of Sciences in Armenia, VOA was rated the most trusted news source by 35.2 percent of respondents. Russian radio/TV received 32.5 percent, Radio Liberty 22.1 percent, and the BBC 18.3 percent. Forty-two U.S. Fulbright scholars are studying in Eastern Europe this year, and Fulbright commissions exist in Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic. More than forty Vietnamese Fulbright graduate students attend U.S. universities in the mid-1990s, mostly studying economics. One-man USIS operations have opened in Laos, Cambodia, and Mongolia in 1994-95. In Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, in 1989, USIA had branches in fifteen cities in eight countries; in mid-1995, there are posts in twenty-seven cities in twenty-six countries. The parliamentary deputies and ministerial staffs in Riga routinely use the American Library on-line services for real-time information on U.S. congressional actions. USIS Budapest, working with the International Media Fund and the University of Maryland, has established the American Journalism Center as part of the prestigious ELTE Lorans University. Cooperative programs have been undertaken with Albanian TV on private business development, with Romanian TV on service industries, with Russian and Latvian TV on tourism, and with Hungarian TV on the U.S. banking and financial systems.

Foreign Students in the U.S.: Totals by Region

Source: Open Doors. Note: Percent change in 1994-95 compared to 1993- 94.

The same interactive technique is used for nonbroadcast-quality (and cheaper) programs, such as a series of U.S. history classes for Russian university students, with a professor in Washington leading a class of students in Moscow. As Worldnet and technology have developed together, it has become a valued and unique direct satellite broadcast service to broadcasters and other audiences, where local receiving technology and laws allow.

Modern on-line technologies are an invaluable aid for conveying U.S. positions to a foreign audience. For example, during the NAFTA debate, President Carlos Salinas of Mexico contacted USIS daily for statements by congressional leaders and the resulting commentary. Potential foreign users are, on the whole, less plugged-in than Americans, and those who are share the problem of a bewildering number of information nodes available. USIS World Wide Web Home Page.

There are over 1,000 U.S. government sites on the World Wide Web, among 30,000 as of the end of 1995. Cultivating a reputation as a reliable source of information on any subject increases the chances that U.S. government sources will be consulted when questions arise on important issues. Even though certain items of information might be used against U.S. interests in specific instances, overall, U.S. diplomats find more advantage in being a source than in allowing someone else to be.

Where the information highway intersects with educational and cultural activities stands the traditional USIS library. Although books and journals are not denigrated, rooms of books have become too expensive to maintain and are being down-sized or eliminated in favor of information or reference centers, except in particularly information poor countries or where they are important symbolically, as in the reading room in Soweto in South Africa.

Educational and Cultural Exchanges and Events

Educational and cultural exchanges, while only indirectly related to immediate foreign-policy initiatives, can advance national interests in several ways. Understanding by key persons of why the U.S. government is doing this or saying that, is either adamant or flexible on a certain issue, may be promoted by a U.S. history course taken with a Fulbright scholar, a USIS-sponsored speech on free trade, a delegation of U.S. visitors meeting with their professional counterparts, or personal contacts with U.S. opinion molders during a USIA exchange program. A recognition of the role played by such experience in developing personal predispositions drives the modest U.S. investment in educational and cultural exchanges to reach a future generation of overseas opinion molders, agenda setters, and decision makers.

The United States has much to gain from validating its image as a place where ideas flourish. Officially extending an invitation to foreign scholars through prestigious USIA-managed programs, such as the Fulbright Scholarship Program and Humphrey Fellowship Program, confirms U.S. higher education as a seed bed of ideas. That reputation has led to extraordinary demand by private foreign students, an export that the Department of Commerce has calculated as worth $6.8 billion dollars a year. USIS acts as expediter for student exchanges through counseling services, and even more specifically as agent for exchanges among legislators, think tanks, youth groups, professionals, and similar groups reaching out for contact and helping to promote formal American Studies programs in foreign universities.

According to the Institute for International Education, 76,302 American students studied abroad for academic credit in the year 1993-94 (the latest year for which figures are available), which is only one-half of one percent of all American students in higher education. Of this group, only 16 percent spent an academic year or more overseas. In the early 1990s, 1,200 Americans were studying in Japan--more than 40,000 Japanese were studying in the United States. In 1992-93, almost 20 percent of the foreign students in the U.S. were from mainland China and Taiwan.

U.S. cultural, artistic, and sporting events staged overseas are increasingly common, organized on a commercial basis. The challenge for the U.S. government is to cooperate with business to make these events a celebration of the broad range of U.S. accomplishments, as well as to organize direct exchanges in areas that offer little commercial rationale. Under special circumstances, cultural exchanges can even become the principal medium for diplomatic relations. This was given a special name when developing relations with China were dubbed "Ping-Pong Diplomacy" because exchanges of table-tennis teams paved the way for further relationships.

The most targeted of the exchanges are short-term visits to the United States for rising leaders, such as those sent under the U.S. government's International Visitors Program. These can provide a better understanding of U.S. society and correct inaccurate views held even by foreign elites. In most cases, alumni of U.S. government-sponsored exchanges are predisposed to give the United States a fair hearing and the benefit of the doubt, sometimes with direct or indirect ramifications for national security. For example, even in the midst of one of the United States's nettling trade rows with Japan, then Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone was moved to tears during a speech in which he recalled his daughter's experience as an exchange student in the United States. This hardly made him a less vigorous proponent of Japan's national self-interest. But it did indicate his belief that the ongoing U.S.-Japanese relationship was too important to let it founder over a single transient issue.

The International Visitors Program

Margaret Thatcher wrote in her biography, The Path to Power:

I had made my first visit to the USA in 1967 on one of the 'Leadership' programs run by the American Government to bring rising young leaders from politics and business over to the U.S. For six weeks, I travelled the length and breadth of the United States. The excitement which I felt has never really subsided. At each stop-over I was met and accommodated by friendly, open, generous people who took me into their homes and lives and showed me their cities and townships with evident pride. The high point was my visit to the NASA Space Center at Houston. I saw the astronaut training program which would just two years later help put a man on the moon. As a living example of the 'brain drain' from which over-regulated, high-taxed Britain was suffering, I met someone from my constituency of Finchley who had gone to NASA to make full use of his talents. I saw nothing wrong with that, and indeed was glad that a British scientist was making such an important contribution. But there was no way Britain could hope to compete even in more modest areas of technology if we did not learn the lessons of an enterprise economy.

High-Level Visits

All of this framework for public diplomacy serves a special purpose when the President, Vice President, departmental secretaries, and certain other high-level government spokesmen travel. Nothing will focus an issue more quickly and sharply than to have this level of government take it as part of the agenda for a foreign trip. USIS public diplomats play critical roles in making the most of these special occasions. Management of even the most basic public appearances by such principals in a foreign setting, taking into consideration local sensitivities and practices, ensuring that traveling press can get their story out, and providing local reference points for comments and statements is considered critical to maximizing the public impact of such visits. In addition to well-run press conferences and media interviews, public diplomats can make possible special, meaningful appearances, such as President Ronald Reagan's at the tombs at Xian in China; Vice President Dan Quayle's shooting hoops with Japanese school boys; and President Bill Clinton's itinerary in Russia. These are the events that provide the lingering visual images important to public appreciation of the United States, and they require the expertise that is the province of the public diplomat.

Democracy Promotion

During the Cold War, the United States discovered that its traditional democratic beliefs offered an effective counter to the spread of the communist ideology. With the collapse of communism, the U.S. continues to promotes democracy because experience has shown that democratic states are less likely to threaten U.S. interests and more likely to cooperate with the U.S. on security and trade issues. In most instances, democratic states resolve their conflicts in ways that allow continued cooperation afterward. Also, a larger pool of states committed to democratic ideals increases the potential to form coalitions for political, economic, and security interests.Presidents Clinton and Yeltsin greet USIA exchange program students during Yeltsin's visit to the U.S.

Promoting democracy broadens the range of national power instruments that can be used to influence relations with the transitioning state. For example, when Eastern European states were ruled by communist governments, the instruments of national power available to the United States to influence those countries were limited to coercive (or at best non-cooperative) instruments such as economic sanctions and demonstrations of military readiness. Now that these states have more democratic systems of governance, the U.S. is more able to employ instruments such as military-to-military interaction, trade, foreign economic assistance, and heightened public diplomacy.

The National Endowment for Democracy is a non-profit, bipartisan, grantmaking organization created during President Reagan's first term as a way of helping democratically-minded groups in foreign countries build more effective organizations and carry out programs in democratic education, human rights, and respect for the rule of law. Although it is a private agency, its funding is part of the USIA Budget and is used to provide grants to other private organizations. NED channels about 70% of its available grant money through four member institutes: the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, the International Republican Institute, the Free Trade Union Institute of the AFL-CIO, and the Center for International Private Enterprise of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Those groups in turn decide which foreign groups will receive grants. The remaining 30 percent of the NED's available grant money is distributed directly to programs and groups. Although modestly funded (the budget request for FY 1996 was $34 million), NED's ability to react quickly to support emerging democratic movements is one of its major strengths. Some of NED's most notable and recent success stories include support for human rights and labor groups in China, support for independent media in the former Yugoslavia, political party training in South Africa, assistance to election monitors in Mexico, support for human rights activists and the circulation of newsletters in Cuba, and training of pollwatchers in Ukraine.

A variety of programs discussed under Public Diplomacy and in other chapters of this volume support democracy abroad. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is the largest spender on country-specific programs to support broadening of political participation, improving accountability of government officials and enhancing government legitimacy, as well as conducting elections. USIA estimates that as much as twenty percent of its $1.4 billion dollar budget is spent on democratization initiatives in educational exchange, speaker programs, university support, radio and TV operations and general information exchanges.

The Department of Defense has used the International Military Education and Training (IMET) program to teach foreign militaries about the role of a military in a democratic society and the Expanded IMET (E-IMET) program to educate foreign civilians in some defense-related subjects thus enhancing civilian control of the military. The role of the military in a democratic society is the central focus of the Marshall Center, a separate DOD program aimed at helping the militaries of central and eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union transition to democratic systems.

The U.S. government also works with, and in some cases supports financially, the myriad of private voluntary organizations (PVOs) supporting democratization. Former President Jimmy Carter and the Carter Center in Atlanta have been instrumental in many initiatives to promote peace and democracy, including election-monitoring efforts and persuading Haitian military dictators to surrender power to democratically elected leaders. PVOs such as the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES)) have been leaders in providing election assistance to countries in transition, and in monitoring elections to help ensure fairness. IFES maintains a resource center in Washington, D.C. which is a tremendous storehouse of information on technical election issues, political problems, and election failures.

Important as it is, democratization is not panacea for all social problems. In countries with strong ethical, racial, or religious tensions, long-smoldering tensions, previously held in check by superpower confrontation or authoritarian governments, can burst into flame if democratization occurs without the proper foundation and preparation. Conflicts in Burundi, Rwanda, and the former Yugoslavia were stimulated in some degree by poorly planned democratization without adequate protection for minority interests. Elections sometimes heighten expectations among the populace that western-style elections will result in western-style economic prosperity. The resulting disappointment when the elected government is not able to fulfill economic expectations complicates the democratization process, and sometimes results in calls for a return to the old way. While elections are critical to a functioning democracy, haphazardly rushing to hold elections without adequate foundations can exacerbate existing problems and slow, rather than speed, the transition to democracy.Camera crews already on the beaches when U.S. Marines landed in Somalia

To provide international financial and technical assistance to achieve one free and fair election, and then to expect a nascent democracy to replicate the result on its own the next time is unrealistic. Continued engagement by the U.S., both unilaterally and multilaterally, makes more likely success at an enduring and far-reaching democratization. At the same time, the U.S. may lack the resources and the will to become involved in every situation. U.S. involvement is most likely, and most likely to succeed, where U.S. interests weigh greatly in the he balance and where democratization may take root with enough assistance.

Wartime Media Relations

Media-military relationships were at a high point during World War II, when correspondents like Ernie Pyle thought of themselves first and foremost as patriots. Vietnam, by contrast, represents the dark days, when the media were characterized as actively undercutting the war effort. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, many in the military had a low opinion of the media. However, in the early 1980s, a system was instituted to promote better cooperation; under it a pool of reporters would be able to cover military operations in the field. The first use during actual combat was the 1984 Grenada invasion, when the press pool was denied access to communication facilities and to frontline troops for forty-eight hours. Cuba reported to its people the details of the operation before the U.S. public heard them. That precipitated serious, policy-level efforts to develop a modus operandi for the military and the media. Under advice from a panel of news and public-affairs people chaired by General Winant Sidle, Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger announced a policy of access and positive accommodation in return for respect for the demands of combat. The 1989 test of the system, the U.S. invasion of Panama, was a flop. The conclusion afterwards by the military and the media was that the system had to work, because the military and the media needed each other.

In Desert Shield and Desert Storm, the pool system was not the principal form of coverage because thousands of journalists flocked to cover the story. The media had unprecedented access, but there still were problems. There are journalists who will never be satisfied with their access to either the action or a means of getting the story out. And there are military officers whose negative attitudes toward the press will overpower commitment to policy. But the relationship has developed into a less adversarial one than during the post-Vietnam days. Indeed, journalists have demonstrated a willingness to sit on stories when the security need is evident, as seen at the start of Desert Storm, when the planes
taking off from Saudi bases were evident hours before they reached their targets.

A continuing challenge is the information revolution, because it means instantaneous coverage by large groups of reporters who flock to the most obscure parts of the globe in the event of a crisis. Television lights on a landing zone and satellite phone uplinks pose obvious problems for the military. So too does the problem of security for journalists, who want to be free to move at will but expect U.S. forces will rescue them if they get into trouble. On the other hand, the information revolution can be a powerful force multiplier for the military, with the media carrying to hostile forces the message about U.S. might and determination.


Two fundamental changes have taken place that alter dramatically the environment in which the United States conducts its public diplomacy. First, the message of individual freedom, democracy, and free market economy that the United States worked to spread during the cold War has borne fruit. Most former communist nations, military dictatorships, and other totalitarian societies have been opened up, due in no small measure to the success of our public diplomacy. Second, private news organizations, taking advantage of rapid advances in telecommunications technologies, are providing prompt, extensive coverage of global affairs and distributing it to all corners of the globe.

The challenge for the U.S. government and its public diplomacy has changed accordingly. It no longer need be concerned about the battle of the ideologies. U.S. public diplomacy can now concentrate on the twin tasks of promoting understanding of U.S. society and encouraging support for the positions of the U.S. government on more immediate issues.

Moreover, the role of the USIA and other U.S. government agencies is shifting: they are less sources of information and more organizers of information. That is, they are changing from generating the news to organizing and providing an appropriate context for news. CNN and other news organizations now move rapidly and efficiently togather and disseminate news and that news is available for the most part throughout the globe. There is much less need for the United States to take unilateral action to ensure that news and information penetrate a closed totalitarian society. It is not necessary nor is it appropriate for the U.S. to compete head to head with private news organizations even if the U.S. government could do so effectively.

The role for USIA is evolving into ensuring that the U.S. position on a current issue or, when appropriate, the broader U.S. policy toward a region is presented fairly and well understood. As news organizations develop stories on issues in which the U.S. has a stake, it is important that the U.S. government be aware of the information that is reaching the publics. As required, USIA can provide the appropriate context, background, and information, to convey a clear understanding of U.S. policy.

The information revolution also demands competence and involvement in more media. in the last two decades, television has passed radio and the printed media as the primary source of news that reaches the global public. Increasingly, the elites of advanced nations are getting their information via electronic media, including via the Internet. As this and other media become more heavily utilized, it is important to provide the same ability to organize and provide appropriate context to the news.

Other aspects public diplomacy have changed as well. Resources have declined for government sponsored tours, student and cultural exchanges with foreign nations. On the other hand, there has been a rapid growth and expanded opportunity for travel and exchanges in the private sector. This provides an opportunity for USIA to work with private groups in ensuring a constructive opportunity for a greater understanding of the U.S. government and society on the part of participants.

What has not changed is that the communication of U.S. policy works best when a conscious effort is made at all levels of planning to co-ordinate U.S. public diplomacy. The continued investment of resources and close attention to public diplomacy will pay important dividends in a consistent and credible voice that communicates clearly the positions policies of the U.S. government to the publics throughout the globe.

Next Chapter

Previous Chapter

Table of Contents