Public Diplomacy and the Road to Reputational Security: Analogue Lessons from US History for a Digital Age
Nov 25, 2022
Nicholas J. Cull
Cull, N. (2022). Public Diplomacy and the Road to Reputational Security: Analogue Lessons from US History for a Digital Age. Williamsburg, VA: AidData at William & Mary.
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This paper argues that public diplomacy is not an optional extra for foreign policy but a necessary component of sound national defense. It advances the notion of “reputational security” as a component of national security and looks to the history of public diplomacy for pointers on how this can be achieved. It cautions against quick judgements based on received wisdom but examines first the operational lessons emerging from the history of US public diplomacy and especially the work of the United States Information Agency (USIA). It looks at the range of public diplomacy activity, beginning with how USIA countered disinformation and the institutional arrangements supporting US public diplomacy. Emphasis is placed on the role of leadership, the interagency and coordination processes, and finally the domestic dimension (which includes a widespread mistrust of information work). The paper concludes that while the past does not provide a convenient ideal model of the kind encapsulated in the slogan “bring back USIA,” history does provide both guidance and warning. Above all, reputational security requires not only investing in public diplomacy to promote a better image, but also working to promote a better reality.
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