Friday, June 29, 2012

US Public Diplomacy: The Future Is Now

For United States diplomats and civil society actors alike, the future is most certainly now. We're beyond feelings of resistance to public diplomacy, or even conceiving of public diplomacy as something separate from diplomacy, as Bruce Gregory indicated in his work, American Public Diplomacy: Enduring Characteristics, Elusive Transformation. Although traditional government-to-government and diplomat-to-diplomat high level communications are still occurring every day, it is the outreach to public that solidifies power and influence of one state "over" another or "with" another.

Public diplomacy is the diplomacy of both the current age and of the future for not only the US, but for the world.

With heightened world presence, other powers such as China, Japan, India, Brazil and South Korea are progressing in their own public diplomacy strategies, which puts the US in an interesting position. More or less the primary source of political, economic and informational influence in the world following WWII, the US is now coming to terms as other nations, many of which have received assistance from the US for development purposes, innovate and develop in sectors that the US does not have the capacity to manage as succinctly. Some of the Scandinavian countries as well as South Korea have better Internet penetration. Education systems are competing to be internationally accredited and attract US students to their countries. Nations are banding together in regional coalitions to gain multilateral power and authority able to coincide with international bodies.

Appropriately enough, this message came through in a meme shared by non-profit organization The Other 98%:

The question becomes: how does the US reposition itself in the international arena? This is where some of the initiatives of the Obama administration have come in, such as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Senior Adviser for Innovation Alec Ross' notion of 21st Century Statecraft. This strategy utilizes public diplomacy and information communication technology as a central driver to maintaining a foothold in the world. By being the world's largest and most powerful advocate for the right to 'connect,' the US has been able to improve its international image, but even this has had some cracks.

State Department stance on Internet freedom, for example, has been influential in countries like Egypt, Iran and Burma, but while this stance is projected, the battle over intellectual property rights online sees the US seizing both onshore and offshore websites engaging in "questionable activity". In this instance, there needs to be a consistency in message and action, a strategy the US must utilize given we are in an age where information is so free-flowing and transparent.

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