Week 2 – The US Military involvement in PD

After the USIA dissolved in 1999 the agency was consolidated under the US State Department. The US government believed it wasn’t as necessary to have an entire agency dedicated to public diplomacy work as the Cold War had come to an end; The US was on top in terms of the spreading of democracy and opening markets. The US has rested on their laurels when it comes to public diplomacy because it is seen as a nefarious act. Historically, the US has not necessitated diplomatic efforts in order to sustain good will with other nations, rather only when there is a crisis situation or when the US hopes to gain good will. As a result of the small US domestic staff as well as the Public Diplomacy Officials around the world in embassies, the workload is overwhelming. The Department of Defense (DOD) has taken it upon themselves to act as PDOs when necessary, however their execution of such tactics does not bode well as their military role overpowers their ability to think and interact on a civilian level with foreign publics.

As the Bush administration clearly marked the US presence in the Middle East as a “war on terrorism”, he deemed the situation as primarily militaristic in nature. Thus, the military have been the most funded and primary points of contact in these conflict areas. This is a result of their concern for US citizens’ safety in these areas. Although the DOD has no designated communication spending per say, their work is much more likely to yield significant funding than the international information programs to carry out public diplomacy initiatives. Although most recently the DOD has honed in on strategic communication and engagement, their downfalls in carrying out PD work is that the military tends to be narrowly focused, has short time frames for “operations”, utilizes mostly media as an outreach tool which tends to have unilateral messaging, and plans inflexibly in advance. It is evident that the uniform image is also a barrier to dialogue with foreign publics as military personnel come off as intimidating to civilians. There is a significant power dynamic that cannot be overlooked when considering the execution of PD work. It is essential for the foreign public to feel as though they are on a mutual playing field in order to actively engage.

-Samantha Sobash

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One thought on “Week 2 – The US Military involvement in PD

  1. Great post Samantha! I agree with your comments: the inclusion of the Department of Defense (DOD) in public diplomacy-like missions does not bode well with others who are fully involved in public diplomacy.

    Former President George W. Bush expanded the DOD’s communication efforts thanks to the Global War on Terrorism because he saw it as a “military function”. After all, the intended purpose of public diplomacy was not quite socialistic as much as it was nationalistic (i.e. to spread nationalism and American interests). Throughout the years of US presence in Iraq and Afghanistan, DOD personnel learned lessons that were familiar to civilian public diplomacy leaders (i.e. Diplomats) such as cultural awareness, the importance of using surrogates (countryman), and decentralization of DOD’s procedures. However, there are many fundamental differences between DOD’s PDOs and the State Department’s Diplomats.

    As you stated in your blog, DOD is military-based and military-minded: many outreach efforts have been deemed as counterproductive, the focus has not been on diplomacy (as it has been on state interests), and the information is disseminated solely through the media (and not other forms of communication). Both in the Bush and Obama Administrations, the situation has changed very little. While US military involvement has slowed down in the Middle East, the communication strategies used by DOD has not changed. The threat of terrorism constantly pushes our diplomatic agenda to be more defensive instead of offensive; our underscored mission of foreign outreach continues to be subdued as our mission for understanding and weeding out threats continues to rise.

    – Taryn Jones

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