Friday, 20 May 2011

Review of Report: "Voices of America: US Public Diplomacy for the 21st Century"

The report I have chosen to write a brief review on is entitled Voices of America: US Public Diplomacy for the 21st Century by Kristin M. Lord. According to Lord anti-American sentiment in the international community is hindering national interests thus it is important that America engage, persuade and attract more cooperation overseas through public diplomacy. Not only that, but it must do so in a world that has changed noticeably since American public diplomacy institutions were established. These days, public opinion matters more than ever before as technology becomes increasingly accessible and affordable. NGO’s, social movements and privately owned companies have seen increasing power of influence in terms relative to governance. Moreover, she mentions the existence of dangerous ideologies that encourage hostility towards the US and their allies. As a result she suggests that America needs new tactics, sturdier institutions, and modern approaches.

She remains very optimistic, and believes that the American government is ‘built on sound and appealing principals’ envied by many, despite the unpopularity of some of their policies. Furthermore, according to Lord the nation has overcome many obstacles in the past through ‘adaptation, ingenuity and effort’ and is rich in resources. These resources exist in the form of US businesses, educational institutions, charities, and technology which reach every corner of the world. In brief, in her opinion America is ‘well equipped’ to overcome any convoluted challenges of the present and future, however to do so, America must ‘rediscover and marshal existing strengths’, both internally and externally.

The report suggests some solid steps to help America’s efforts to connect, sway, and draw the support of the international community. In order to improve US public diplomacy, it proposes the establishment of a new efficient, public/private NGO, The USA-World Trust. By drawing on the support, inspiration, knowledge, and skill of US citizens and international partners alike, the USA-World Trust aims to:

  • Present a more favourable perception of America to counterbalance the views sometimes promulgated by popular culture and foreign media
  • contribute to an environment of mutual trust, respect, and understanding in which cooperation is more feasible
  • promote shared values and their champions
  • Guide and sustain the American government’s public diplomacy efforts via the sharing of knowledge.
All of the above will be carried out the following ways:

  • · Carrying out research and analysis
  • · Engage corporations, NGOs, and educational institutions to work on innovative initiatives
  • · Provide grants and venture capital to endeavours that advance its objectives
  • · Experiment with new technologies and media products, and
  • · Organize gatherings of government practitioners, academics, and experts from private and non-profit sectors to address “public diplomacy and strategic communication challenges.”

Expert opinions stressed that this new organisation will not reach its full potential “if it is not part of a comprehensive effort to strengthen the government’s efforts to engage the world”. In response to expert criticisms, the report offers a few recommendations which can be seen by clicking on the image below:

Lord is aware that the above recommendations may not resolve all of America’s public diplomacy problems once and for all. However, she hopes that they represent a first and vital step towards constructing stronger relations with foreigners in order to serve American interests.

Aside from a couple of overstatements made, I found the report to be informative and the idea of establishing a USA-World Trust is rather innovative, it might just be what America needs to improve its image and public diplomacy. It definitely puts across the increasing importance of public diplomacy today, and it’s easier and more efficient when the government, the public and private sector, civil servants etc. work closely together. Public Diplomacy needs to be better co-ordinated and structured if it is to be resourceful and successful. Public opinion matters a lot, and without positive public opinion any country would face numerous difficulties and possible security threats and in this case, it is certainly what’s best for American national interests.

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