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WORLD FOCUS: Is public diplomacy still relevant?

February 2, 2017
By FRANK SHATZ , Lake Placid News

Is public diplomacy still relevant? This is a question often asked nowadays.

To get an expert's answer, William & Mary's Institute for the Theory and Practice of International Relations invited Major Gregory M. Tomlin, chief of targeting doctrine and policy, Directorate for Intelligence, the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon, to give a talk on the subject.

Major Tomlin, a graduate of William & Mary, is the author of "Murrow's Cold War: Public Diplomacy for the Kennedy Administration." He is now collaborating on a white paper on public diplomacy for the Trump Administration.

In international relations, public diplomacy or people's diplomacy is considered to be a form of communication with foreign public that establishes a dialog designed to inform and influence.

"Today's myriad of international journalism outlets makes it increasingly challenging for U.S. government public diplomacy programs to capture global attention," said Major Tomlin in an interview with the Virginia Gazette and the Lake Placid News. "Consider that in 1963, 600 million people in 104 countries viewed U.S. Information Agency films each month, and the Voice of America provided 2,000 hours of broadcast a day in nearly 40 languages. Compare this to 2016, where foreigners wondering about U.S. policies are more likely to read a tweet on their smartphone - which may or may not be credible - than they are to access VOA's online stream to gain their news."

Tomlin explained that this should not mean that we dismiss the potential of engaging the world through public diplomacy, rather the need to look for dynamic ways to leverage technology and social media to build global relationships and counter violent extremism.

"In 1962, the launch of the Telstar satellite introduced the world to satellite television and the U.S. Information Agency had to determine how to best utilize this medium as a tool for public diplomacy. So historically, adapting to technological innovation remains a reoccurring challenge," Tomlin said.

According to Tomlin, Murrow concentrated on the "art of moving information the last three feet in face to face conversation." During his tenure, as director of the U.S. Information Agency, Murrow ensured that the Kennedy Administration considered public diplomacy as it formulated policy and to respond to international crises.

I asked Tomlin about his recommendations to the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

He has formulated his recommendations in an article published in the Joint Forces Quarterly. He urged senior military leaders to use online methods to reach the widest audience targeted by their information campaign. Although the State Department remains best suited to conduct public diplomacy, the Defense Department remains engaged whenever it deploys troops around the world.

"Headquarters from brigade to combatant command levels must understand how to establish credibility and gain popularity through social media if they are effectively shape the information environment during modern military operations and counter the propaganda presented by others," he wrote.

He noted that the incoming administration is certainly Twitter-savvy. But the new leadership at the National Security Council and the State Department must continue to invest in a variety of public diplomacy mediums.

They need to understand that public diplomacy messaging will never be the "magic bullet," to convince the rest of the world to like the United States or its foreign policies. But just as Murrow recognized a half a century ago, the White House must develop long-term diplomatic strategies that integrate public diplomacy with human rights initiatives, and development aid.

Professor Michael Tierney, director of the Institute for the Theory and Practice of International Relations at the College of William & Mary, said, "Greg Tomlin was a great student and a pleasure to have in the classroom. But my strongest memory comes from a student-faculty trip to Washington, to learn more about war crimes. Greg engaged in the historical and empirical portions of the conversation. I remember thinking this is exactly the kind of person we want serving as a leader in our military."

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Frank Shatz's, column was reprinted with permission from the Virginia Gazette. Shatz is a Lake Placid seasonal resident. He is the author of "Report from a Distant Place," a compilation of his selected columns.

 
 

 

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