Thursday, June 28, 2012

Improvements to US Public Diplomacy

-          Given the lessons learned from practice abroad and from conceptual/theoretical proposals, how should the United States respond to the challenges facing its public diplomacy?

One of the biggest concerns in U.S. public diplomacy is consistency.   As Nakamura states in the 2009 article on Current issues in public diplomacy, there are some people that are concerned that touting American values is ineffective.  Many of the values such as human rights that America supports are also things that foreign publics either don’t agree with or think that the U.S. doesn’t uphold.  Political incidents like Stuxnet and Guantanamo make the U.S. appear deceptive.  When people are able to cite specific examples of the U.S. violating its own principles they question everything that is said.  Using these American values, while effective in the past, can create more mistrust.
                I think a greater focus on how individual Americans can shape public diplomacy would be much more effective.  It can be difficult when people generalize a whole population’s attitudes and actions based on one individual that they meet.  However this can also be beneficial when they meet someone they really like.  With globalization and new technologies more and more people are affecting public diplomacy.  I think that one of the best ways to improve our public diplomacy is by educating Americans on other people.  Having a greater understanding of the people and cultures that we interact with online, and visit on vacation will make it much easier to make a good impression.  People all over the world view American movies, but when it comes to foreign audiences Americans are clueless.  I think a greater effort could be made to make people more aware of the impressions they make on others when they are abroad and how this affects the overall American image.  Even doing something like partnering with airlines, so that when someone books a ticket somewhere they receive an email with information on the cultural background, history, current events, maybe even a video with how to say the five most important phrases in x language.  Informing people will make them better able to present the U.S abroad.  Since information people receive from an unofficial source is often seen as more trustworthy.
                Most importantly I think work can be done to improve the programs in place.  Ensuring that student and professionals that come here leave with a positive image of the U.S.  Being abroad away from your support network can be very difficult. Leaving the transition up to a certain company or organization can have hazard results. Doing things like organizing fun events with people from their home country and Americans interested in learning about that place could help people feel more engaged.  Even trying to pair someone with an American with similar interests that is trying to learn their native tounge, but who also serves as an insider into navigating a new place.  Having insider advice on places to visit in a city, or someone you know immediately who you can grab coffee with on a bad day, can really make a different when going through culture shock.  I think greater efforts can be made to make those living here from abroad feel apart of a community, which will improve their opinion of the U.S.


  1. Hi Denise,

    You make a very good argument at the beginning of your solution to the United States' public diplomacy. It is an entirely big problem that the U.S. says one thing and then does another. And I agree entirely that the first step to making foreign publics more amiable to the U.S. is to educate the people of the U.S. The rest of the world knows our story and policies, we should not be ignorant to the stories and policies of the rest of the world. I also think that the idea of engaging the American public to help with public diplomacy is a brilliant idea. If you want people to understand the true face of America, the public is the first place to look.

    However, you bring up the point that "[i]t can be difficult when people generalize a whole population’s attitudes and actions based on one individual that they meet", and I would agree with this except that you give it such a negative connotation. From all of my time abroad, what I found is that most people tend to like Americans and American culture, but they do not like our policies and what our government is doing.

    While I think that utilizing the American public is definitely a step in the right direction, it cannot be the end all be all to fix the state of American public diplomacy. We need to find a better way to present our policies to foreign publics. Or we should better align our policies with our values. I know this is a lot to ask, but in terms of America's public diplomacy problems I think it has less to do with the American public and more to do with the policies, though the public is not blameless.

  2. I agree with you that the United States has issues of consistency as their actions in the realm of foreign policy do not always adhere with the strict ethical standards they preach to other countries.However, in the case of the United States, their public diplomacy efforts (soft power) are also rooted in hard power as stated by Joseph Nye. There is a fine line between soft power and hard power and the United States blurs it when using it as a negotiating tactic for their foreign policy objectives. Until the United States makes a conscious change in the way that they negotiate their foreign policy objectives, that ethical line will continue to be blurred.

    I agree that there is a lack of focus on cross-cultural awareness in the United States and that the education system lacks the proper programs to implement that change in international curriculum. However, I believe that the best way to strengthen the United States' public diplomacy problem is by engaging the younger generation through large scale communication (social media). One of the challenges that the United States faces with its public diplomacy efforts is the apathetic attitude toward public diplomacy. This non-interventionist attitude at the individual level is a societal norm that needs to be changed. But this is an issue that needs to happen internally rather than externally.

    In regards to international students, most have a better sense of the US public diplomacy efforts than some Americans themselves. Their core reason for coming to the United States is rooted in an interest to form those people-to-people exchanges that helps them to engage the citizenry on a local level. Though there is a clear separation among those from international backgrounds to those born in the US, I agree that the root of the problem is structural.

  3. Great post! I'd like to extrapolate on your thoughts about the US incorporating more American voices into its public diplomacy efforts as well as projecting American culture abroad. I would agree that there are many misconceptions about the reality of US culture that have stemmed from non-state actions that have translated as public diplomacy. An example could be the US entertainment industry, which has consistently been adopted as popular and attractive by other nations.

    I'd like to highlight one way in which the US is actually trying to represent candid voices to the foreign public. Jumping off of an idea that Sweden implemented originally, the US has created a Twitter account targeted towards foreign publics that presents the tweets of a different US citizen every week - you can follow it at @TweetWeekUSA.

    This is a great way to get US citizens to present their stories to a wide audience, and I think is the beginning of many actions the US will take to try and present a different view of US culture. I think it will be a rocky road, however, because the US is not necessarily defined by distinct cultural characteristics, but rather 'being a US citizen' as a whole. There is no Department of Culture specifically for the US, while other countries have robust areas of their government dedicated to this topic.