Friday, March 28, 2008

What is Public Diplomacy?

MountainRunner has a good piece on what Public Diplomacy is (and isn't).

What is Public Diplomacy?
By MountainRunner

Not too long ago, Marc Lynch and I had a back and forth on the utility and purposes of Smith-Mundt, a law that today is used not to give America a voice in a global informational struggle -- the purpose for which it was passed -- but to impose artificial constraints that is unique among our peers and our adversaries.

That discussion included an interesting (and incredible) statement that public diplomacy was not about advocacy. I completely disagree, as I wrote in Understanding the Purpose of Public Diplomacy. Crucial to understanding the purpose of public diplomacy is understanding what it is.

So, What is Public Diplomacy?

While the term itself originated as an alternative to "propaganda," by 1965, when Edmund Gullion coined it, public diplomacy was already well on its way to be something much different than propaganda. The definition of public diplomacy back then is virtually indistinguishable from what today we call information operations, propaganda, or even psychological operations.

More recent American definitions of public diplomacy, when they exist, tend to ignore the purpose of the communication, leaving open the possibility that all political communications of a state (or non-state actor) is public diplomacy simply by virtue of the target, a foreign public. That may have been implied by Gullion, but it isn't what it is today and very much why the term "strategic communications" has come into fashion.

If public diplomacy was simply the conveyance of information to influence a group of people, it would be indistinguishable from information operations or even psychological operations. So what is it?

In a timely post on the State Department's blog, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy Colleen Graffy captured a key element of what differentiates public diplomacy:

"Hmm... Now what exactly is public diplomacy"? That is the question I am often asked.

I describe public diplomacy as the art of communicating a country's policies, values and culture to other peoples. It is an attempt to explain why we have decided on certain measures, and beyond that, to explain who we are.

Public diplomacy is many things, but what differentiates it from information operations, the now traditional definition of propaganda, and political warfare, is an effort to create an understanding based on conveying a point of view.

You can read the entire post here.

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