Public Diplomacy in the Twenty-First Century


Rick Ruth

Public diplomacy is an official expression of a fundamental part of the American character — a desire to share with the world our values, our experience and our commitment to freedom and democracy. Whether at the time of the American revolution, or now more than two centuries later when we have all the burdens and privileges of a great power, the true force that America wields in the world is the force of ideas.

The United States Information Agency is proud of the role it has played in the years since World War II in advancing America's national interest and national security, proud of the role it played in helping to bring about at the close of this century and millennium a global democratic revolution.

American foreign policy in the twenty-first century must continue to be a beacon for freedom and democracy. This policy must be accompanied and reinforced by a vigorous, open public diplomacy which works with and speaks directly to the peoples of the world.

It is this vision of American leadership in the next millennium that led the President and the Secretary of State to propose, and Congress to endorse, an historic reorganization of the U.S. government's foreign policy community that would bring the people and programs responsible for the mission of public diplomacy into the Department of State.

There are issues facing the United States in the world today which are rooted deeply in people's attitudes and opinions, in the values and ideals of other cultures. Public diplomacy is uniquely able to address such complex and tenaciously difficult issues as conflict resolution, the rule of law and the protection of the rights of the individual. Through personal contact with key audiences and individuals, through broadcasting and the agile use of information technology, and by promoting mutual understanding through exchange programs, we can instill democratic values and assist in the creation and preservation of open and civil societies. Public diplomacy programs convey the values and show the benefits of free markets and free trade. They raise global awareness and provide practical information on combating the scourge of drugs, protecting the environment and halting the spread of weapons of mass destruction.

When Winston Churchill addressed the students and faculty of Harvard University in 1943, he prophesied that "the empires of the future are empires of the mind." The seemingly undiminished role (and rule) of arms and violence around the globe may mean that Churchill's remark will always be a utopian dream. More than 50 years later, however, we may be coming a little closer to making his prophesy true.

If the falling away of totalitarian influence around the world allows long-silent people to speak their own minds, if the end of the Cold War emboldens nations to chart their own courses, if smaller voices are no longer drowned out by the clash of ideologies and if the explosion in means of communications amplifies the power of the individual in the world (and these are very large "ifs"), then we may be permitted to look ahead to a world where words and thoughts, ideas and inspirations will play a greater role than arms and duress.

U.S. engagement in the world—political and economic, intellectual and moral—will remain indispensable. Our success in this engagement, and our success when called upon to lead, will rest firmly on our ability to communicate to the world the reasons for our actions and the values which lie behind them. With the assets of public diplomacy merged into and throughout the Department of State, the United States of America and its leaders will have a foreign affairs structure ready and able to meet the opportunities, the crises and the challenges of the future.

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