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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Promote International Understanding


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FY 2004-2009 Department of State and USAID Strategic Plan

Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs

Increase understanding for American values, policies, and initiatives to create a receptive international environment.

Throughout the world, the public face of the United States generates strong opinions, positive and negative. These public attitudes directly affect our ability to achieve our foreign policy and development assistance objectives. The Department leads the effort to shape these U.S. perceptions by relating this public face to our values as a nation and our history as a people.

U.S. values and interests drive our policies. Moreover, the values we espouse of political and economic freedom and the nonnegotiable demands of humanity are increasingly recognized as universal rather than culturally specified. Successful public diplomacy will need to communicate and translate this intersection of values, interests, and policy while listening carefully to international publics. To this end, we must maintain a continuous dialog, mindful of regional context and cultural traditions, on the substance of U.S. ideals and their relationship to specific policies. Through this dialog, the Department and USAID will work to paint a realistic picture of the United States, one that enables audiences to make informed judgments about our policies, our society, and the relationship of both to their own interests.

To reach this vision, the Department and USAID must enhance our public diplomacy and public affairs efforts along three dimensions. The first dimension is regional. A majority of our public diplomacy assets are deployed by country; yet many issues transcend national borders. Many issues are shaped by cultures and media networks that function regionally rather than nationally. Middle East peace, terrorism, and HIV/AIDS are but three examples. In addition to bilateral outreach efforts at our Missions, the Department and USAID must develop regional and transregional programs to address the cultural and media influences that reach across borders. Equally as important, we must constantly take the national and regional pulse to understand whether our program messages resonate. We must understand regional environments and their openness to U.S. policies and initiatives.

The second dimension is to maintain the dialog and build support at home. We must inform and engage the American public on the importance of relations with other nations and share the lessons that come from interacting in diverse country cultures, and tell our successful stories of development assistance. Since the American people and civil society are the broadest and most vital assets we have to engage the people of other nations, we must make domestic public affairs efforts all the more vigorous.

The third dimension is outreach to both younger and wider audiences. While harnessing the modern technologies of television and the Internet, we must make broader and deeper use of life transforming exchanges - people-to-people contacts - that can change hearts and minds. Ultimately, public diplomacy depends on practitioners who have a deep understanding of foreign countries and cultures, are proficient in host country languages, and possess the skills needed to connect with audiences on the substance of our policy.

To put this three dimensional strategy in place, the Department and USAID will:

  • Communicate with younger audiences through content and means tailored to their context. The Department and USAID must tap into younger audiences' hopes and aspirations for freedom. The content of the message must explicitly express U.S. commitment to stability and development that will ensure aspirations of freedom can be reached. The strongest vehicle to communicate this positive message is not from U.S. policy-makers, but via testimonials that current Department diplomacy and USAID development assistance provide. We will particularly focus on the Muslim and Arab worlds.
  • Quickly counter propaganda and disinformation. We will alert senior officials and Embassies to hostile propaganda and disinformation and offer counterstrategies through both public statements and diplomatic intervention with media and governments. We also will sensitize our diplomats in the field to watch for skewed portrayals of the United States and proactively seek to clarify the truth. To better communicate U.S. positive involvement in the world, we also will use positive foreign citizen testimonials that share successful development and humanitarian assistance stories.
  • Listen to the foreign audiences. In addition to pushing information out to foreign audiences, the Department and USAID must improve our ability to hear the messages being returned. We will inform the policy process through accurate readings of public opinions in foreign countries. We will continue to analyze public opinion, identifying what foreign publics care most deeply about and how our diplomacy can speak to those issues while remaining constant to our interests and values. Exchanges, foreign polling, public affairs focus groups, and dialog with foreign press will hone our explanation of our interests and policies.
  • Use advances in communications technology, while continuing to employ effective tools and techniques. We will deploy content management and an improved search engine on Department and USAID Web sites, enabling Embassies and Missions to reach and distribute electronic media about the United States more effectively. Furthermore, we will maintain and broaden our private-sector media and advisory links to ensure that our public diplomacy efforts leverage these partnerships in distributing our message. Advancing communications technology only resonates where modern technology is widespread and easily accessible. To this end, we will share our know-how and technologies with our international partners deriving universal access and benefit.
  • Promote international educational exchanges and professional exchanges. By bringing emerging foreign leaders, younger influentials from communities at risk, and students to the United States, and by sending our emerging leaders, experts, students, and scholars abroad, we will communicate the authenticity of our pluralistic society and the ways in which it harnesses the potential of a free people to satisfy universal non-negotiable demands for human dignity. In doing so, the Department and USAID will build enduring relationships with influential foreign citizens that will persist despite disagreements over policies. Programs such as the Fulbright as well as other academic, professional, and cultural exchanges can change institutional behavior and shape the view of the United States and the civic ideals of a rising generation. We will particularly focus on expanding English-teaching initiatives and seeking partners to promote English-language study globally as a means of reaching wider and younger audiences, utilizing the Department's Regional English-Language Officers and USAID's provision of basic education and English-language programming.
USG Partners and Cross-Cutting Programs
The following are key USG partners with whom we will coordinate to achieve this goal:
  • White House Office of Global Communication: The White House and the Department coordinate the dissemination of accurate and up-to-date information to foreign audiences.
  • Broadcasting Board of Governors: Provides media support for U.S. policy objectives and programs abroad.
External Factors
The following are key factors, external to the Department and USAID, which could significantly affect the achievement of the goal:
  • Cultural and social receptivity of foreign audiences to Department's message.
  • Policies of foreign governments on dissemination of information and use of media, especially relating to the unrestricted use of communication technologies.
  • Technological development of communications as well as media competition in targeted areas.
  • Conduct and policies of U.S. and allied governments amenable to foreign audiences.
  • Security concerns affecting the free exchange of visitors.
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