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Lessons from the U.S. Experience
by Bruce Gregory, Small Wars Journal
Calls to build greater civilian capacity in national security are well founded, and public diplomacy is high on the list of essential capabilities that must be strengthened. U.S. public diplomacy's principles and methods are rooted in 20th century models of communication, governance, and armed conflict, which contribute to an inability to learn from recent experience and foster real change. This article defines public diplomacy, describes forces shaping the context of 21st century public diplomacy, and identifies five lessons from recent experience that point the way to change: abandon message influence dominance; drop the war on terror narrative; leverage knowledge, skills, and creativity in civil society; emphasize net-centric actors and actions; rethink government broadcasting and adapt to new media.
Ask most strategists today about national security reform and one answer is assured: strengthen civilian capabilities to meet 21st century challenges and relieve an overburdened military. High on the list of capabilities to be strengthened is what variously is called public diplomacy, strategic communication, and "winning the war of ideas." The Defense Department's 2008 National Defense Strategy laments that the U.S. is unable to communicate to the world what it stands for as a society. The State Department calls for new public diplomacy approaches and getting the "war of ideas right" in the battle against today's terrorist threat. Seven years after 9/11, the nation's leaders agree. Public diplomacy is crucial to national security and must be improved.
These calls for change sound strikingly familiar. The 2002 U.S. National Security Strategy also urged "effective public diplomacy" -- "a different and more comprehensive approach" in "a war of ideas to win the battle against international terrorism." Lawmakers, cabinet secretaries, and the 9/11 Commission were in early agreement on the same diagnosis, inadequate public diplomacy in an ideological struggle, and the same solution, transform tools designed for a different era and use them more effectively.
Why then has there been no real change? It's not that U.S. leaders lack for advice. Experts in and out of government wrote more than thirty reports on public diplomacy during the past seven years. Failure to turn report recommendations into business plans and action is part of the answer. But much of the challenge lies in learning from experience.
What is public diplomacy? What can be learned? And how might it change for the better?