3 June 1999
02 June 1999
(Panels cite growing importance of public diplomacy)(750) By Phillip Kurata USIA Staff Writer Washington -- U.S. diplomacy faces the prospect of becoming irrelevant in the 21st century if U.S. diplomats do not become adept at influencing public opinion, two advisory panels have concluded. In a report called "Reinventing Diplomacy in the Information Age," the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) said that the "public dimension is becoming the central element of the new diplomacy and a critical influence on foreign policy." The dominant issues of the coming decade will include democracy and human rights, weapons of mass destruction, terrorism, drugs, international crime, pollution, population, refugees, migration, disease and famine, CSIS said. "Diplomacy in the 21st century must overturn its culture of secrecy and its penchant for exclusivity" to deal effectively with these issues, the influential Washington think-tank said. A second report on reforming U.S. diplomacy echoed the CSIS call for greater emphasis on public diplomacy and recommended organizational changes to make embassies more responsive to the Information Age. "The means and methods used by U.S. diplomats to advocate our interests abroad are barely out of the quill-and-scroll stage," said a report called "Equipped for the Future" issued by the Henry L. Stimson Center. Fourteen retired statesmen, including three former secretaries of state, former Senator Sam Nunn and retired General Colin Powell drafted the report. "Tens of millions of Americans now interact overseas on a daily basis for both business and pleasure. Certainly business leaders are equipping themselves for the future; so are military leaders; but diplomats -- our first line of defense -- are handcuffed by outdated structures and outmoded tools," the Stimson Center report said. The Academy for Educational Development, the Fulbright International Center and the University of Maryland organized a seminar, "Reinventing Diplomacy," to discuss the findings of the reports on June 1. Ambassador William Itoh, the Executive Secretary of the State Department's Overseas Presence Advisory Panel, said the department concurs on the need for diplomatic reforms and is acting to implement many of the recommendations in the reports. He welcomed the integration of the U.S. Information Agency (USIA) into the State Department, a move he said that would help the State Department improve its handling of public diplomacy. "With the full integration of USIA into the State Department, we hope that we can buy into a little bit more of the public diplomacy culture so that it can be more and more part of the way we operate overseas quite naturally instead of relying on another agency to it for us," Itoh said. The two reports were drafted after the bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 that killed hundreds of people. Itoh said the need for increased security vigilance must not prevent U.S. diplomats from active engagement in the countries where they are assigned. "I, for one, certainly don't want to be hunkered down behind huge barricades because in that sense you might as well be doing things by remote control. We've got to be on the streets communicating with the people wherever we are," Itoh said. USIA's Associate Director for Cultural and Educational Affairs, William Bader, spoke at the seminar of USIA's success of reconciling the demands of advocating U.S. foreign policy while promoting educational and cultural exchanges between the United States and the rest of the world. Ellen Frost, a former senior official in the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, said U.S. officials, both abroad and in the United States, are ineffective in explaining the value of U.S. global policies because they are muzzled by fear of making mistakes and being punished for them. As long as U.S. officials are afraid to engage in public discourse, she said the U.S. government will not fare well in public diplomacy. Lauri Fitz-Pegado, a vice president for Global Gateway Management and a former Director General of the U.S. Foreign Commercial Service, spoke of ways that embassy personnel could help U.S. businesses abroad. For example, she said embassy press officers could make their daily summaries of the local media available to the U.S. business people. Barry Zorthian, a retired vice president of Time Inc. and a former senior Foreign Service officer, said he found it scandalous that the Foreign Service Institute has no courses on public diplomacy. He also called for reforming the selection process of U.S. ambassadors to reduce the embarrassments caused by unskilled political appointees.