Keith Boyea's Blog

Notes & Commentary on National Security, Current Affairs and Bourbon

Public Diplomacy of the Deed: Revitalizing Public Diplomacy

Thesis: Public diplomacy, or “communicating with foreign publics to inform and influence,” works best when the communication is an action.*

For the past several years the United States has become less popular with foreign publics.  One mild antidote to our unpopularity is public diplomacy (PD).  When PD works best, it is active, rather than a passive communication of information.   Below are ten active things the United States could do in the field of PD.

(A couple of caveats: Becoming popular around the world shouldn’t be our primary consideration when designing policy.  The PD approach has to be balanced between foreign policy interests and the desire for popularity.  Additionally, this list assumes infinite amounts of money, political will, and foreign support for the initiatives.  Lastly, some of these are easier than others.)

10.) Wind down the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya.  The quicker the better.

9.) Make a sustained push for a real Israeli-Palestine peace agreement, and if one cannot be reached, leave the parties to themselves.

8.) Speak with foreigners in their own language.  (Further suggestion: Start a two-year State Department Language Academy that would train 2,000 students a year in strategic languages.   Give the top graduates immediate access to the Foreign Service.  Pay the students a small salary while at the institute.)

7.) Radically increase the size of the Foreign Service.  Push FSOs out to foreign communities whenever possible.

6.) Stop building fortress embassies. Make them more accessible to the general public.

5.) Provide free English classes to the local public as facilities allow.

4.) Open consulates in as many medium-sized cities as possible.  The more people we are close to, the better.

3.) Create lending libraries in said consulates.

2.) Be wary of easy answers like social media, twitter and blogs.  There is no substitute for face to face exchanges.

1.) Dramatically increase the number of available visas, especially for highly skilled workers and college graduates.  If we are so sure of our righteousness, we should not hesitate to invite others to share in it.  This communicates to the entire world that we want to help the realize their dreams.

*This post is based on a paper I wrote for graduate school.


Written by keithboyea

August 2, 2011 at 11:05 am

Posted in Uncategorized

3 Responses

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  1. A couple of quick reactions: I’m not sure that winding down Iraq and Afghanistan constitutes public diplomacy. Those are policy decisions. It’s true that those are unpopular policy decisions and would help in making the world like us again, but I’m pretty sure PD practitioners work with the policies they have, not the policies they want.

    Foreign Language: The State Department already trains their FSOs in target languages. The problem is it usually takes longer than a year, or two years (or, ahem, four years) to gain the required skill in a language in order to use it on the job.

    Free English Classes: Awesome idea. Seriously.

    Fortress Embassy and Pushing Out: I agree, but this is where the real radical change has to come. But, do we really want a more expeditionary foreign service? As a friend once said to me, do we really want to recreate the British Colonial Service?


    August 2, 2011 at 11:33 am

  2. Don,

    Your first point is well taken. PD can’t overcome bad policy…lipstick on a pig and all that.

    My Foreign Language Institute idea can be a four year thing for the tougher languages. I’m sort of thinking a post-graduate institution with the military academies as a structure. Competitive applications, free tuition and a small salary with a promise to repay it by spending 5 or so years in government service. I’d envision most of the grads going into the State department, but I suppose DoD and other agencies could take some too. After ten years of war in Afghanistan and eight in Iraq, we are still short of language expertise. Whatever we are doing, it isn’t working. FP-types constantly bemoan our incapability to speak to locals in the local languages. Well, let’s do something about it.

    As to your last point, I think we can push out a bit without becoming the Brits, and I’m willing to worry about that later.

    I should also point out that I don’t have any State Department experience so they might already be doing some of these things. I know that we used to have libraries, but I’m not sure they still exist. I love the idea of foreign citizens viewing the US Embassy as a reflection of our more liberal values, not our more militaristic tendencies.


    August 2, 2011 at 11:46 am

  3. No doubt Public Diplomacy work best when it comes with actions. Words are just a support for them. Words and actions must be perfectly aligned to succeed.

    Marta Vallejo Arenaz

    Marta Vallejo Arenaz

    October 16, 2011 at 9:11 am

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