Remarks at Quarterly Meeting of the U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy
Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs
As Prepared for Delivery
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for the kind welcoming remarks. I appreciate the Commission’s invitation to speak today, and the opportunity to frame today’s discussion on the future of Public Diplomacy training.
The effectiveness of the way we train our Public Diplomacy corps is critical to improving our ability to engage communities abroad. Equipping our personnel to achieve this mission is a priority for me.
I believe that Public Diplomacy activities are a core feature of America’s diplomatic capacity around the world. Strategic public engagement – both online and offline – is essential for the United States to strengthen our ties with local populations and exert influence in societies in which our core interests are at stake.
The record of Public Diplomacy programs advancing America’s values and interests is long and distinguished. After the Second World War, the Marshall Plan helped to rebuild Europe not simply through aid, but also by convincing local communities of the virtue of a society grounded in free markets and democratic institutions. The legal, political, and economic systems that emerged helped align European and American strategic interests and continue to serve our interests today.
During the Cold War, the U.S. Information Agency oversaw a multi-pronged effort to confront Communism by promoting the virtues of free-market and democratic systems. Exchanges, radio programming, and publications exposed communities behind the Iron Curtain to Western institutions and values, which helped erode the legitimacy of the Soviet Union. It is precisely these efforts that President Ronald Reagan referred to, speaking at an Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy meeting in 1987, when he said, “Our Public Diplomacy represents a powerful force, perhaps the most powerful force at our disposal for shaping the history of the world.”
Today, PD practitioners need to build on this accomplished past by taking advantage of the opportunities offered by today’s information and communication technologies. In addition to embracing new social media platforms as a means of engaging new audiences, capitalizing on advancements in research techniques allow us to improve our understanding of key foreign audiences, sharpen our messaging, and think more strategically about allocating resources. Each of these steps improves the effectiveness of our PD programs. Our mission – to advance U.S. foreign policy interests through the use of all existing tools – remains the same. But the tools we have at our disposal to accomplish this mission have changed dramatically through the years.
To succeed in this environment with these new tools, we have a first-class training effort in support of our Public Diplomacy practitioners in the field. The Foreign Service Institute’s PD curriculum is adapting to reflect the need for training to enable our PD officers to better exploit emerging technologies and the evolving information ecosystem in which they are operating.
I believe that strengthening this capacity is crucial. But we could go further. We also need to support a culture in the State Department that encourages PD practitioners to constantly learn and update their skills, to specifically dedicate time for professional development, and to reward those who use their new skills in particularly effective and innovative ways.
Focusing on changes in technology and the way in which news and information circulate is critically important, but there is a more fundamental component of the training process that demands our attention. We need to improve our ability to define our diplomatic goals and design effective programs capable of achieving these goals. This planning process requires us to define our objectives in concrete ways, conduct the necessary research, and monitor the effectiveness of our efforts from beginning to end. Success will require the integration of these tools into our Public Diplomacy courses. Going forward, I hope every PD training experience will include practical guidance on how to execute this strategic planning framework.
One final challenge that I aim to help overcome is the need for improved training of all our colleagues around the Department on the utility of Public Diplomacy in achieving U.S. foreign policy goals. The value and proper role of Public Diplomacy are not universally understood. Crucial to our effectiveness in achieving U.S. interests is developing leadership that brings Public Diplomacy into the policy making process early and fully appreciates the strategic value of the PD toolkit and tradecraft.
Progress toward this goal depends upon the training efforts that is the focus of today’s event.
With this, I want to say thank you, again, for the invitation, and I look forward to getting to know the important group of Public Diplomacy stakeholders assembled here during my tenure.