Thursday, September 15, 2005

Beacon No. 65: Public Goods and Public Diplomacy


By far the most interesting thing I've read on public diplomacy lately is Charles Wolf, Jr. and Brian Rosen's 2004 paper "Public Diplomacy: How to Think About and Improve It." (Download the PDF here.)

Wolf and Rosen jump over misunderstandings of public diplomacy ("We need a rapid response team to counter bad press about America!") and nods to past glories of counterinsurgency ("The British did it in Malaya!") to a theory of public diplomacy grounded in what RAND does best: number-crunching.

Skip the beginning of the paper, unless you really want to read the ritual acknowledgements that America's poll numbers are down in the Middle East, that public diplomacy is tough to define, and that marketing soda pop isn't like marketing democracy. Turn to page eight, where the first number is three. That's how many groups Wolf and Rosen contend are out there waiting to be persuaded (or not) by public diplomacy efforts:

Potential opposition to U.S. policies can be divided into three discrete groups: those who accept that the values America seeks are goods; those who may believe that the values America seeks are not goods, but who nonetheless see them as a means to achieve other core goals (such as personal or family betterment; improvements in health, education, and skills; and the assurance of personal dignity) that are associated with the preceding values; and those who believe that the goals America seeks, as well as the associated core goals, are "bads" and would therefore reject the entire package.

This is where Wolf, an economist, and Rosen, an attorney at law, start rolling up their sleeves.

Those in the first category will be most receptive to the contention that U.S. policies are beneficial. Because they already believe that the values and policies [the U.S. seeks] are "goods," they need be convinced only that the policies really do engender those values. Convincing those in the second category requires the antecedent step of convincing the members that the values themselves are associated with goals that are valued by those in this category (e.g., opportunities for personal or family betterment, improvements in health and education, etc.).

These two categories compose what we have referred to as public diplomacy's "constituency." Those in the third category are presumed to be beyond persuasion; they compose public diplomacy's "adversary."

Thus, two tasks emerge. One is to convey and contend that U.S. policies are pursued because they seek to further values that are already accepted by the audience, including Muslims in the Middle East and elsewhere. The second is to show that the values themselves have other derivative effects that are accepted as goods.

Already the authors moving away from a simplistic "welcome the first group, persuade the second and ignore the third" model. Since you're reading a RAND paper—by a lawyer and an economist, no less—you know more numbers are on the horizon, and the authors don't disappoint.

They discuss how two men who had little more than the power of speech at their disposal—Martin Luther King, Jr. and Nelson Mandela—expanded their constituencies and neutralized their adversaries. Wolf and Rosen break down a sample of the two civil rights giants' speeches and hunt for patterns in whether they called for peaceful or violent action, how positive or negative they were, and how they addressed or ignored their adversaries. Pages of tables follow, which are helpfully translated back to English:

King made substantially more positive than negative references. In contrast, before Mandela was in prison, his negative references always equaled or exceeded the positive ones. After imprisonment, his speeches were markedly different. In each of them, positive references substantially exceeded negative ones. ...

With few exceptions, King gave little attention to the adversary, averaging only one adversary reference per speech, or to the adversary's activities. This contrasts markedly with Mandela who, before prison, made an average of three or four references in each speech to the identified adversaries and their activities. However, after release from prison, Mandela's emphasis was sharply reversed; his attention focused instead on positive references and on the constituency, while rarely making negative references or even mentioning the adversary.

King realized he needed the assistance of white America, while Mandela realized that South African blacks needed help from the entire world. The two men tailored their messages accordingly, but King's example is particularly useful to the authors' idea of persuading the second type of "constituency" group—those who want the benefits of American ideals without wanting the ideals themselves.

... King did not speak merely of black civil rights for its own sake. He linked black civil rights as [sic] beneficial, indeed essential, for America as a whole. He portrayed attaining black rights as inextricably linked to fulfilling America's purpose and promise as a nation predicated on freedom and democracy.

Wolf and Rosen don't hesitate to link King's and Mandela's successes to the U.S. quest for a public-diplomacy strategy,

specifically for affecting positively the behavior and attitudes of those who believe that the values America seeks are "bads" but nonetheless desire core goals such as personal or family betterment with which these American values are linked. This group should be among the constituencies targeted by American public diplomacy. To enlist their support requires convincing them that U.S. goals, which this group may currently oppose, are inextricably linked to other goals—family and personal betterment and improvements in health, education, and opportunity—that this group favors.

The authors go on to make finer points about how messages should be framed to broaden the U.S. constituency and sideline its adversaries—but their central message remains one of linking readily understood material, personal and spiritual goods with more abstract and often poorly understood concepts that the U.S. advocates.

This is a more complex, granular form of "accentuating the positive" than the U.S. generally engages in, but one that is well within its reach with some additional investment in understanding how Wolf and Rosen's two constituency groups (and one adversary group) see both themselves and the United States.

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