REVIEW: Article

Needed: A United States Policy for "Soft Power"

In any campaign, winning the war is always the prime objective, but now we are reminded once again that winning the peace is of equal importance.

However, to paraphrase Joseph S. Nye, Jr., the Dean of the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, we have mastered the art of “hard power,” but we are weak in the implementation of “soft power.”

In many recent instances, the current administration has given the impression that we are “carrying a big stick, and are not interested in negotiations.”

Many of our nation’s critics cite, for example, our back-of-the-hand dismissals of the Kyoto Protocol, various anti-missile treaties, and other cases in which we have appeared to convey the impression that “it is my way or the highway.”

In the course of pursuing what too often appears to be a policy of unilateralism, the White House seems to have forgotten that one of the many definitions of diplomacy is “the art of letting someone have it your way.”

To put it succinctly: Those of us, who have had the honor to serve our country, know how caring and humanitarian the United States (US) is. However, we have a long way to go in explaining what the US stands for, and how we propose to coexist and continue to contribute to peace in this hostile world.

This is true despite the fact that our country has a reputation—because of our free press, movies, etc.—for being the communications’ capital of the world. Yet it appears that only in times of crisis, such as in Serbia and Iraq, that we marshal our technological resources and techniques to attempt to “reason” with the enemy. (Examples are the dropping of leaflets and the use of low flying planes to send a strong radio signal.).

Some halting progress has been made. One major breakthrough has been the creation of Radio SAWA, under the aegis of the US Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG).

This new service owes its existence to an experienced US broadcaster, Norman Pattiz, a Governor of the BBG, who lobbied Congress to get the necessary funding and clearance for this successful venture.

It is a 24-hour, seven-days a week Arabic-language radio network. It uses a music-driven format and appeals to young people in the Middle East, where 60 percent of the population—estimated at 300 million—is under 30 years of age. The secondary audience is news seekers of all ages.

A second positive development was the conference held in April at the Columbia University School of Journalism in New York. It was entitled, “Arts and Minds,” and dealt with the too-long-neglected specialty of “Cultural Diplomacy and Global Tensions.”

Another work in progress is the eventual creation of Layalina Productions (“Our Nights”) in Arabic, which was formally called Al-Haqiqa (“The Truth”). This entity, which is headed by Richard Fairbanks, is seeking funding to carry out its mission, which is to develop and produce Arabic language programming to “counter misconceptions about America.” It also is seeking to affiliate with existing organizations in an attempt to speed its launch.

Much more of a continuing nature must be done. I still believe, as I wrote in the fall 2001 issue of The REVIEW, that the government should create “A Manhattan Project for Public Diplomacy.”

And, since any US president is both the megaphone and the bully pulpit for our nation’s messages, the Director of Public Diplomacy should be a cabinet position, just as we now have a new cabinet-level head of Homeland Security, and should be filled by a person with the credibility and gravitas of a Walter Cronkite, not some political appointee.

The public diplomacy function is of vital importance, but has been neglected for much too long. And, we are now paying the price in the world’s opinion of us for this neglect.*


* Editor’s Note: Ambassador Spielvogel was a reporter and columnist for The New York Times and the Chief Executive Officer of a worldwide communications company that does business in 54 countries.

Issue Date

Author(s)

United States Ambassador to the Slovak Republic, 2000-2001;
Governor, United States Broadcasting Board of Governors, 1995-2000