06 Mar Public Diplomacy, the Magazine
Public diplomacy’s rise among both policymakers and academics has been pretty dramatic. In the government, what used to be a backwater, both in main State’s public affairs bureau and in the now defunct US Information Agency, was elevated in 1999 to an under secretary-ship that has attracted some relative heavyweights, including Bush confidantes Margaret Tutwiler and Karen Hughes and most recently the Washington-savvy — though perhaps not market-savvy, he of Dow 36,000 fame — Jim Glassman. One proposal calls for a freestanding “US Agency for Strategic Communications” (any chairs left in the Cabinet Room?). Among social scientists, public diplomacy fits squarely in soft power theories of national projection as well as (in the IR cosmos) constructivist notions that ideas matter more than muscle.
But in another respect the development is puzzling. In the vastly expanded universe of media channels, the government’s voice seems so much less central and authoritative. It’s not as if you have to listen to the VOA to get your news any more. The very concept of “propaganda” seems anachronistic. The new context demotes the government’s communications activities to something like corporate equivalents, a matter more of branding than diplomacy. Perhaps that requires more nuance and sensitivity than in the old world, but would also suggest that a marketing background might be just as useful as one in public affairs.