Despite virtual invisibility outside the diplomatic community and antipathy on the part of many within, public diplomacy-the dissemination of America's message abroad-may become Washington's major growth industry over the coming four years. A neat congruence of personality, technology and history makes this a reasonable prospect.

The personality is that of Ronald Reagan, a gifted professional communicator who has spent much of his adult life in radio, on the lecture circuit, in syndicated column-writing, or along the campaign trail. Public diplomacy is the component of international affairs he knows best and does best. It has the makings of becoming a hallmark of the Reagan Administration's foreign policy.

The technology is the evolving global communications network which has made public diplomacy a more powerful instrument. And the historical component is the rise after the twin Iranian-Afghan crises of a fiery pro-Americanism which may burn as the political flame of the coming years. The American mood is one of pride, not shame. The national desire is to exalt America's virtues, not to veil them. Gone is the self-deprecating temper of the 1960s and 1970s, when many Americans, particularly in the intellectual establishment, shrunk from advocacy of what they deemed a flawed, even sick society.

Today's temper may appear a little chauvinistic, even jingoistic, but it is not more so than that felt by the Founding Fathers. Even before our independence, John Adams wrote in 1765 that the settlement of America constituted "the opening of a grand design in Providence for illumination of the ignorant, and the emancipation of the slavish part of mankind all over the earth." Before our political system was established, Alexander Hamilton wrote in 1784 that America's liberty "has occasioned a kind of revolution in human sentiment. The influence of our example has penetrated the gloomy regions of despotism." The idea of America as primarily an idea is hence an old one. And it is still a captivating one. More than a million people around the world have applied for immigration visas to come to these shores. Some will have to wait 11 years or more for permission to enter, if it is granted and if they can leave their countries at all.

With such a captivating message to convey, one would expect that America would be eager to convey it. But for some time the contrary has been more the case. Public diplomacy has long floundered, simultaneously misunderstood and mistrusted. It lacks a domestic constituency in part because it conjures up Orwellian images of a "Ministry of Truth." Walter Lippmann in his columns in 1947 and 1948 mocked government broadcasts "heard round the world singing songs, cracking jokes, entertaining the kiddies. This country, being a truly free country, does not have any such thing as an official ideology, an official doctrine, and an official set of opinions." His words reflect a fear that America would have propagandists-which literally would be true since these people would propagate ideas and information.

Such fear has prompted Congress since 1948 to prohibit domestic dissemination of materials produced for overseas information programs. This has left the product of public diplomacy unknown within the United States. Moreover, Americans cannot realize the impact of truthful radio broadcasts since they never lack multiple sources of news. The norm here is information overload. The norm elsewhere is information sparsity; indeed, central control of information is the rule throughout most of the world. Moreover, few Americans realize that radio, not television or the printed media, is the main means of communications abroad. Despite the gap in standards of living, there are ten times more shortwave radio sets in the U.S.S.R. than in the United States. The number of radios there soared from 3.5 million in 1950 to more than 60 million in the mid-1970s.

Awakening Americans to the potency of beaming truth demands a Nobel laureate such as Andrei Sakharov telling from internal exile in Gorky (as he did last year) how important such broadcasts truly are; he obtains news of the outside world from Western broadcasts on a transistor radio he carries on walks to avoid the jamming done around his house. Or Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn telling of "the mighty non-military force which resides in the air waves and whose kindling power in the midst of communist darkness cannot even be grasped by the Western imagination."

Public diplomacy reaches the masses as well as elites such as these. And for better or worse, the masses are the subjects and no longer merely the objects of historic change. The current thrust of opposition in Poland comes from manual laborers and farmers; there the intelligentsia and labor hierarchy pant to keep pace. Similarly, the thrust of opposition to the Shah came from the streets rather than the parlors. A dramatic instance of public diplomacy's power was the spreading of one idea in November 1979 among the masses in Pakistan, namely that Americans and Israelis were responsible for the attack on the Grand Mosque in Mecca. This line, reportedly put out over an international broadcasting service, provoked a swift attack which reduced the American Embassy in Karachi to rubble. How to tap this staggering power and how to channel it along constructive rather than destructive paths is the challenge of public diplomacy. How have we done, what are we doing, and how can we meet that challenge better?


Torn between Hamiltonian urgings to penetrate gloomy despotism and Lippmannesque strictures against propagating official opinions, the U.S. government has been unable to decide how to manage public diplomacy. Since the 1950s, more than 30 reorganization studies on it have been conducted by executive, legislative and "blue-ribbon" groups.

Today the main organization is the International Communication Agency (ICA), whose roots go back to the 1948 Smith-Mundt Act and the 1961 Fulbright-Hays Act. The ICA came into being in 1978 as a merger of the United States Information Agency (USIA) and the State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. This placed under one roof the information output, such as the Voice of America (VOA) radios, and the exchange efforts in the Fulbright and other such programs. The information side has the image of a more confrontational posture while the exchange activities evoke more cooperative sentiments. The tilt recently has been toward the latter; the Carter Administration removed the motto "Telling America's story abroad" from the ICA building (aptly located at 1776 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington) in order to highlight two-way understanding. The tilt in coming years will no doubt be toward the former; the Reagan Administration will want a vigorous telling of America's story abroad to promote its values and interests.

ICA balances disparate missions, including the nearly impossible task of providing "foreign peoples the best possible understanding of our policies and our intentions" so they can "comprehend why we have chosen certain policies over others."1 Such comprehension is difficult enough for Americans, let alone foreigners. How does one explain in simple terms the myriad of political, strategic, psychological, and international events which coalesced to delay and eventually doom SALT II? Add on a foreigner's difficulty in comprehending our political system, different from all others in that a legislative body can and will thwart an international agreement negotiated and wholly supported by the executive branch.

But despite such inherent difficulties, the ICA officials who staff 203 foreign posts do explain American politics, culture and society to policymakers and opinion-molders in 126 countries. They also maintain libraries stocked primarily with Americana, distribute ICA's 11 magazines in 19 languages, organize exchange programs, arrange 30 exhibits yearly, and show superb ICA-made films such as "John F. Kennedy: Years of Lightning-Day of Drums" and "Czechoslovakia: 1918-1968."

Such services are squeezed by declining resources. Today, ICA's real budget and the number of its personnel are each one-third less than they were in the mid-1960s. Were it currently operating at its mid-1960s level, ICA's budget would approach $750 million rather than its current $450 million. As it is, ICA spends less on the U.S. government's information and cultural programs than a single American soap producer spends on its advertising. ICA's operating costs have unfortunately risen much higher (194 percent since 1969) than the overall price rise (125 percent) due to the fall of the dollar and the fast-rising costs of international travel, education and overseas rentals.

America's disengagement in the late 1960s and 1970s, which included a drawing down of American consulates and bases as well as information outlets, was penny wise and pound foolish. While America's real interests abroad were steadily growing, its representation to protect those interests was steadily declining. There were 1,040 American information officers in 1969; there are now only 661.

In Western Europe alone, the number has fallen 80 percent since 1954. This sharp decline has been justified on two grounds: that Europeans have an abundance of information about America from the private media (which has something to it), and that American friendship with Western Europe is so unshakable as to obviate the need for many U.S. government information programs there (which has little to it). Such arguments ignore the fact that much of the developing world's climate of opinion comes from European cultural and intellectual centers; Europe is still the world's grand salon of respected opinion. And in Europe the generation now assuming power has had little direct contact with Americans and was raised in the anti-American mood of Vietnam and Watergate. In part as a consequence, American and West European views of the world diverge on such critical topics as Middle East diplomacy and the scope and nature of the Soviet threat.

Past ICA-sponsored opinion surveys of Europeans demonstrate this divergence, and indicate problems which future ICA programs could help redress. Obviously, NATO functions best when American and European leaders work off the same set of facts. These facts could be conveyed through an orchestrated information program supplemented by ICA activities. Briefings which present satellite photographs of Warsaw Pact forces poised at the NATO border could prove as effective with European political and opinion leaders in coming years as they proved with American leaders in the mid-1970s. This would necessitate some declassification of material for ICA use, but the benefits of doing so would outweigh the risks and the bother.

ICA's budget crunch has dropped the U.S. level of effort still further below that of other countries. The Soviet Union-inspired by the words of the professional propagandist Lenin that "ideas are more fatal than guns"-spends at least five times what the United States does on its information and cultural ventures. France spends twice as much and West Germany 70 percent more in absolute terms, and every major nation spends a substantially higher percentage of its national budget on this account. Other nations' programs are expanding in real terms: Japan's by 73 percent since 1976 and West Germany's by 32 percent, while America's were declining, by 11 percent.

Unequal inputs lead to unequal outputs. This is most easily gauged in international broadcasting. The VOA broadcasts 891 hours per week in 39 languages and some of its signals are quite faint. Meanwhile, the Soviet Union broadcasts around 2,000 hours per week in 82 languages and most of its signals are strong. On the air even more than VOA are China with 1,373 hours per week and Egypt with 1,065. Like most others, the Soviets are expanding radio services across the board-through their official stations (Radio Moscow's world service in English recently went from 19 to 24 hours a day), "semi-official" services (Radio Peace and Progress), and clandestine stations (e.g., Voice of Free Turkey, National Voice of Iran, etc.).

Granted, straight bean-counting is scarcely a measure of effectiveness. Were it so, Albania would be at the forefront of world consciousness; Radio Tirana broadcasts hundreds of hours weekly in nearly 60 languages. International broadcasting must be a major export, albeit an uncompensated one, of that impoverished nation.

More consequential than the level of effort is its product. How has the United States done in this regard?


On the quality and audibility of its programs, VOA has received from mixed to favorable reviews since going on the air two months after Pearl Harbor with a pledge: "Daily at this time, we shall speak to you about America and the war. The news may be good or bad. We shall tell you the truth." VOA now presents an objective and balanced presentation of the truth to a weekly audience roughly estimated at upward of 100 million around the globe.

Since 1942, VOA's news service, and its correspondents, have tried to operate as much like commercial journalists as possible. On rare occasions, their activities have had to yield to considerations of diplomacy: during the 1975 evacuation from Saigon, for example, VOA was confined to official statements lest full news coverage quicken the panic, as such coverage had done during the prior evacuation of Danang. And VOA correspondents are not allowed official contacts or interviews with groups shunned under U.S. government policy, such as the leaders of the Palestine Liberation Organization.

But the thrust has been toward more journalism and less diplomacy. Under recent regulations VOA correspondents travel on non-diplomatic passports, enter countries on journalistic visas and work from offices outside of U.S. embassies or consulates. American diplomats abroad must treat VOA correspondents no better or worse than other American journalists. Still, anomalies linger: VOA correspondents are barred from congressional press galleries open to "journalists" from the Soviet Union and East Germany. In fact, the U.S. Congress is the only legislature in a free country that bars VOA correspondents.

Political pressures have been strong to push VOA even further from diplomacy, i.e., from the State Department and ICA. Former Senate Foreign Relations Chairman William Fulbright and current Chairman Charles Percy have argued for VOA independence to better assure its legal mandate that VOA news be reliable, authoritative, accurate and comprehensive.

On the face of things, VOA credibility is imperative, for most listeners also tune in other international services. Over time, they can easily detect any slant, since 25 to 50 percent of international newscasts dwell on the same topics. Besides, VOA does the most good in societies where polemics and distortions fill the home airwaves. To beam its own polemics and distortions on the news-albeit from the opposite ideological vantagepoint-would cripple VOA's stature.

Yet there is, of course, no escaping the fact that VOA is an American medium, with all the cultural and political baggage that carries. It is bound to reflect the priorities and concerns felt in this country. Moreover, its listeners, especially those less sophisticated, are bound to regard it as the actual "voice of America," i.e., of the American government. And, at the deepest level, any selection and presentation of information material is bound to be subjective to some degree; total objectivity is never possible.

Given these necessary qualifications, though, VOA has gained and deserved a high reputation for presenting the news fairly, regardless of whether it puts U.S. policy in a favorable light. It has been credible. Rather, its main problems lie in areas less scrutinized, namely in the timeliness of its news and the value of its commentaries. Compared to Deutsche Welle, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and Radio Liberty, VOA presents the most daily news, but in the least timely manner.2 More worrisome are the critiques of VOA's "commentaries." Though clearly identified as opinion and not news, they have been less the former than the latter, lacking as they do any clear and crisp viewpoint. VOA editors may bend over so far to prove objectivity that they dampen any U.S. government perspective, even if so identified. During the twin Iranian traumas of the fall of the Shah and the capture of the American hostages, VOA seemed void of clear themes. The result can be the worst possible combination: a VOA frequently (though unfairly) dubbed a U.S. government propaganda arm without propagating the government's message, even when it is expected and proper to do so.

This criticism has been leveled most often against the Voice's Russian programs, and most prominently by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in these pages: "It is clear that the directors of the Voice of America are constantly trying not to arouse the anger of the Soviet leadership. In their zeal to serve détente, they remove everything from their programs which might irritate the communists in power."3 Solzhenitsyn cited examples from his personal experience and concluded that at times VOA "dances to the tune called by the communist regime or indeed becomes indistinguishable from a Moscow radio station." Even before his outcry, two independent American researchers arrived at a similar conclusion-that VOA's Russian programs allot only five percent of total broadcast time to interpretation or explanation, and that this material lacks clear American views-or for that matter a clear presentation of any views.4 A study comparing the programs to those of the three other major Western broadcasting services found that VOA's "broadcasts contain the least amount of negative material about the Soviet Union" and that VOA's coverage of domestic Soviet matters contains less "material related to shortcomings and conflict than those presented" by Deutsche Welle, BBC, or Radio Liberty.5

Such criticism goes to the very heart of VOA's operations, for VOA naturally has as a primary target the "denied areas" of Eastern Europe, China and particularly the Soviet Union. VOA broadcasts 164 hours a week in Russian and seven other Soviet languages to an estimated 40 to 50 million listeners weekly. The potential is even greater, with up to one half of Soviet adults thought to tune in a foreign broadcast (primarily VOA) during a major international event.

Even during normal times, VOA news broadcasts offer timely information to the public and to Kremlin leaders themselves. In 1971 VOA announced the death (and analyzed the life) of Nikita Khrushchev, who had ruled the Soviet Union for a decade, a full two days before his passing was noted in Pravda and on Radio Moscow. In 1977 VOA delved into the causes behind the ousting of Soviet President Nikolai Podgorny, while Pravda relegated the matter to one sentence.

Important as such nuggets are, VOA's main impact is surely the steady stream of material whose dissemination would be inconceivable in a closed society. American international broadcasting reflects democratic principles in action. The inescapable difference between the way totalitarian governments and free governments inform and trust their people sends the most powerful message of all-far more important than any particular message sent.

Nonetheless, VOA can send better messages. To be more effective, it should elevate the sophistication of its broadcasts. The quality of VOA roughly equals that of most Western commercial stations. But VOA's target population-the Soviet intelligentsia, young managers, scientists, and cultural and political leaders-is of a markedly higher caliber than the average Western radio audience. VOA could also improve its timeliness, not only in terms of news breaks but also of audience interest. Its Russian programs should respond sooner and more broadly to Soviet press campaigns. When TASS harps upon an issue with demonstrably anti-American distortions or prevarications, the need to respond-still objectively-should be self-evident. Finally, VOA could allocate slightly less time to Western economic woes, crimes and racial unrest-not because these put America in an unfavorable light but simply because the Soviet press already gives them sufficient if not inordinate play. Western services should deal with these realities, discuss and analyze them frankly, but they need not focus upon them to the extent proper for an American audience.

Complementing VOA's work in these regions are Radio Liberty (RL), beamed into the Soviet Union, and Radio Free Europe (RFE), into Eastern Europe. VOA stands clearly as an American voice while RL and RFE serve as surrogate home services-that is, they have less news of or from the United States, but rather deal primarily with accurate news of the countries they serve. Started in the early 1950s with CIA funding, their ties with the CIA were severed in 1971. Three years later they were placed under a new Board for International Broadcasting, most of whose members are appointed by the President to oversee the two radio services. RFE and RL's combined budgets equal that of VOA, around $90 million, and their greatest success lies in Eastern Europe. Radio Free Europe's broadcasts, even when jammed, reach more people than VOA unjammed in this area.6 For the past two years, an impressive 55 percent of adults in Poland and Romania-and a third to a half in Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Bulgaria-tuned in RFE at least once a week. During a crisis, the listenership may soar to a staggering 80 percent of those over 14 years old.

In Poland, the present scene of an ongoing crisis, the people have been tuning in. Leaders of the Solidarity union have attributed a measure of their success to RFE's Polish service, as it alone provides reliable information on events throughout that nation. When asked why the Polish domestic media became more informative after the labor strikes, a Communist Party spokesman replied, "We want the people of Poland to know not only from Radio Free Europe what is going on."7 The Kremlin understandably resents such pressure from RFE, as it resents RFE itself. When Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei A. Gromyko wrote Secretary of State Alexander Haig, Jr. last January, he specifically mentioned "the provocative and instigatory" VOA and other U.S.-supported broadcasts to Poland which, he claimed, were "aimed at generating among the Polish population unfriendly sentiments with regard to the Soviet Union." Mr. Gromyko wrote this even though Polish sentiments were hardly friendly with regard to the Soviet Union before VOA and the home stations were ever established.

Like RFE, Radio Liberty's broadcasts in 15 Soviet languages harshly criticize the communist system, but warmly embrace the anguished people. RL particularly targets the narrow but politically important Soviet dissident community, which has become its clearest audience. Dissidents welcome the frequent readings from samizdat literature. Unfortunately, too often it is only they who muster the persistence and patience during off-hours to pick up RL's usually faint signal. Recently some 80 percent of RL's listeners described its audibility as "poor to impossible"; its signal strength now ranges between 25 and 35 percent of the minimum standard set by a 1977 White House Report.8

This has been a deepening problem since 1973, when the Milton Eisenhower Commission urged modernization of RFE's and RL's transmitters, lest listenership decline. The recommendation was not effectively implemented and listenership did drop-from an estimated 14.2 million for RL in 1974-75 to less than half that, or 6.9 million, in 1976-77. RFE and RL have such financial constraints this year that their transmitters may have to be powered at less than full capacity. Expansion and even modernization have been interminably delayed despite glaring needs: RFE's only medium-wave transmitter, which beams to over half of its Polish listeners, was acquired secondhand in 1949 and now operates at considerably less than its modest power capacity. New transmitters would enable Radio Liberty to double its audience and markedly enhance its audibility to current listeners.

Even with completion of modest ongoing improvements, RL will reach only half of the minimum standard. Consequently only a small fraction of its prime audience-the 190 million people in the western U.S.S.R.-will receive clear broadcasts. Its audibility east of the Urals will be, as it is, practically nonexistent.

Radio Liberty has won political battles, but some victories have proved illusory. In 1979, President Carter approved funds for more audible RL signals to eastern Siberia and Soviet Central Asia, where the Soviet Muslims should be interested in reports on Moscow's invasion of Islamic Afghanistan and should be told. Such funds were never forthcoming because the proposal was never pushed.

Clearly the political climate has improved since then. Mr. Reagan has pledged "to strengthen" RFE and RL as well as the ICA and VOA. "Compared with other costs of our national security, the dollar amounts involved in this area are small. What is needed most is a sense of conviction," he told the nation last October. This is now politically possible. It no longer would face the opposition of a Chairman Fulbright who at one point wanted RFE and RL abolished as "relics of the cold war." Should the Administration truly wish to strengthen these services, it has been handed opportunities galore-not only on needed funding but on needed leadership. Three of the five presidentially appointed seats on the Board for International Broadcasting are open to nominees of Mr. Reagan, including designation of the Chair.

If undertaken, technical improvements should not be confined to RFE and RL. VOA similarly suffers. In each of the services, nearly every added program or language necessitates an equivalent reduction elsewhere, since the three are stretched to their very limits. The equipment in VOA's main control room dates back to 1954. VOA lacks funds to convert from vacuum tube equipment to more reliable and cost-effective solid-state systems. Necessary technical improvements have been avoided for a host of reasons: few policymakers understand or care much about the technology, outside political backing is slight, lead times are long-from survey to start-up, some five years-and top leadership has been transient. The unusually high rate of change in U.S. Administrations, six in the past 18 years, has proven detrimental to long-range programs, while research has been shortchanged for pressing program needs.

Sharing radio facilities would help in the near term. European allies could be asked to share excess transmitter time for American broadcasting. If this were deemed too ambitious or impossible, at least the U.S.-sponsored services should share facilities. For example, RFE's Polish service could be transmitted during prime time over VOA's medium-wave transmitter in Munich with three times the signal power. RL could beam into Soviet Central Asia with unused VOA transmitter capability in Greece. Audibility could be enhanced markedly by rearranging VOA's British-based and RFE and RL's Portuguese-based transmissions.

VOA has shied away from such joint ventures for fear of being somehow "contaminated" by the RFE and RL home radios. The Soviets, it is said, would then fight VOA as fiercely as they do RFE and RL. This argument persists even though the Soviets already jam VOA and even though they make no distinction between VOA and RFE and RL, as Mr. Gromyko's letter to Secretary Haig makes apparent.

Similar timidity-along with inadequate funds and bureaucratic inertia-caused appalling delays in VOA broadcasts to Afghanistan. While the Soviets had long been broadcasting to Afghanistan and Iran 13 hours a day in all the main languages (Farsi, Dari, Pashto), VOA did not begin effective broadcasts into Afghanistan until 29 months after Marxists seized power in April 1978 and nine months after the December 1979 invasion. When it finally began, VOA broadcasting was confined to half an hour per day in Dari, not in Pashto (the most common language of the Afghan resistance movement), with a signal so weak as to be barely audible in parts of Afghanistan. To muster even this minimal effort, VOA had to divert resources from other programs, including those which had just begun in Iran.

A splendid opportunity was thereby lost for America's information services to tell the Afghan people how the Soviets had reduced at least 60 Afghan villages to rubble and slaughtered their inhabitants, crushed student revolts in the capital, and committed a host of other atrocities. Lost was an opportunity to inform Soviet Muslims in Central Asia of their government's actions against their fellow believers. And lost was an opportunity to tell the Afghan people how Americans sympathized with their plight.

Russian citizens themselves should be informed of such matters, as many were before Moscow resumed jamming VOA last summer at the outset of the Polish workers' strikes. Jamming of VOA had previously occurred-throughout the 1950s into the early 1960s and again in the late 1960s with the invasion of Czechoslovakia. While it is disturbing that the Soviet Union would so blatantly violate agreements to which it is a signatory-the 1975 Helsinki Accords and before that the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights which unequivocally grants every person the right "to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers"-it is somewhat consoling that Soviet jamming faces serious problems. A widely dispersed Soviet population, in a vast area spanning 11 time zones, makes jamming technically difficult and exceedingly costly. In the early 1970s, Moscow spent around six times as much jamming other nations' international broadcasts as it did beaming its own. To be effective today, the U.S.S.R. must jam the four major Western services and some others such as Radio Peking, Radio Tirana, and Kol Israel.

That it wages such a massive effort reveals Moscow's appreciation of the potency of international broadcasting, especially that directed at its own peoples. This fear rose to the surface in 1972 when Moscow threatened to boycott the Munich Olympics unless RFE and RL stopped broadcasts from their Munich headquarters. And it is evidently deepening; the Soviet media are now waging a propaganda assault against the U.S. radios unprecedented in both scope and viciousness.9 And this fear is entirely justified; as the Marquis de Custine remarked 150 years ago after visiting there, "One word of truth hurled into Russia is like a spark in a keg of powder."


While the broadcasting side of the ICA house has had the most publicity and endured the most controversy, the cultural exchange side has gained a growing share of the ICA budget. This side handles overseas tours for American experts in public affairs, culture and technology, and American tours for foreign experts and leaders in culture and politics. Approximately 35 presidents and prime ministers in office today came to the United States at some point in their careers on an American exchange program. Future figures are not likely to be as impressive; for here too ICA has been in decline. The total number of U.S.-funded exchange grantees has been nearly halved, from 9,800 in 1967 to around 5,200 this year.

Even the best known and most highly regarded program, the Fulbright, has fallen sharply. Its real budget is but 60 percent of what it was in 1965, although the number of participating countries has risen by 30 to 120. In the program's first year, 250 Americans sailed to France on a single ship; today there are but six Fulbright students in France. Declining funds have stretched the expanding program far too thin, which in turn has led to declining quality. As the living standard for Fulbright participants has dropped, so has the number of scholars with an international reputation. In their place are younger teachers with a yearning to live abroad, even in austerity.

Undoubtedly the Fulbright Program has benefited its 45,000 American participants in learning the tools of international affairs. These tools, so evidently lacking in Americans, are no longer being supplied by the educational establishment. Today less than ten percent of American colleges and universities require foreign language training, compared to 34 percent in 1966 and 85 percent in 1915. There are reportedly more teachers of English in the Soviet Union now than there are students of Russian in the United States. The President's Commission on Foreign Language and International Studies deplored the "moat mentality" in which foreign language proficiency has nearly vanished: "Americans' incompetence in foreign languages is nothing short of scandalous." This leads to scandalous incidents, as when a Soviet soldier seeking asylum at the American Embassy in Kabul was turned away last year without proper deliberation since the Embassy had no Russian-speaking officer.

Undoubtedly the Fulbright Program has likewise benefited the 85,000 foreign students, teachers and scholars it has brought to the United States. For this reason, foreign governments have come to contribute nearly one-fifth of the program's $50 million yearly costs. They realize that one of the things the United States does best is higher education. Thousands of young persons around the world are willing to undergo real sacrifices for an American education.

In this manner, the exchange programs do have political spinoffs. Americans almost uniformly return from exchange ventures higher on their country than ever. To many the experience gives a surge of patriotism. Though surely unintended, this must be a prime benefit of the program.

On the other hand, the programs' underlying assumption-that better understanding leads to better cooperation-may or may not be the case. Greater exposure to another society may make its failings stand out more, and reveal greater differences with one's own society. This is occasionally the situation with American programs; attending an American university apparently made Kwame Nkrumah more hostile toward the United States than he had previously been. But it is often true with Soviet programs. American Fulbright participants told me in Moscow in 1971 that they had all become increasingly hostile to the Soviet system the longer they remained under it and the more they saw of it. During travels throughout Africa between 1972 and 1975, I found that African students who had attended Patrice Lumumba University in Moscow frequently spoke of Russian racism and oppression that molded them into more conservative Africans. Historically the true African revolutionaries seem to have studied in the West-at Berkeley, Columbia, the Sorbonne, or the London School of Economics-as did such non-African revolutionaries as Ho Chi Minh and Chou En-lai.


What then is the proper role of public diplomacy? What can be expected of it? As a practical matter, might not the Reagan Administration's initial high expectations for its promise lead to later disappointment?

It is safest and perhaps truest to view public diplomacy as a long-term foreign policy asset, one designed to present foreigners with a mosaic impression of America's mosaic society and to incline them favorably toward American values. It also helps create a climate of opinion in which American policies can be successfully formulated, executed and accepted. In a way, public diplomacy is analogous to most journals of opinion; rarely are their products applicable in a short-term policy formulation but often they do contribute to the intellectual and cultural environment from which policy flows. Other informational tools of U.S. foreign policy-presidential and cabinet-level press conferences or addresses, ambassadorial speeches in the United Nations or abroad, congressional or lower level executive statements-are usually sporadic and frequently inconsistent.

ICA's output, in contrast, should be steady and easily understandable. It can present a few basic themes (more cannot be absorbed) and these themes must be consistent; human beings yearn for consistency in beliefs as in life. The Soviet Union and China suffered immensely when their information organs, after years of proclaiming undying admiration and unbending affection for the other, began proclaiming unending antipathy.

In its grandest sense, public diplomacy is preventive diplomacy. It can help prevent the peoples and leaders of friendly countries from drifting away, and the peoples of adversary countries from losing all touch with freedom or with America. In this light, it is appalling that VOA did not broadcast into Iran for the last 20 years the Shah sat on the Peacock Throne. Such broadcasting resumed only after the Ayatollah Khomeini assumed power. When the American hostages were seized, VOA was broadcasting a paltry half hour a day there.

In the developing world, ICA's primary goal is to convey the United States' commitment to individual liberty and cultural diversity, stressing in the process our strong cultural ties to Africa, Asia and Latin America. Radio broadcasts best convey this over-arching message there since illiteracy rates are high (over half of adult Iranians and nearly 90 percent of adult Afghans). The Soviets are well aware of the opportunity, broadcasting to the Third World more than twice the weekly program hours that the United States does.

Western broadcasts there may assume even greater importance if some Third World countries succeed in establishing a "new world information order," which would extend the principle of prior governmental consent to all news outlets within that country. This enhanced governmental control over the media would make international broadcasting-which most states could not block-that much more critical.

More controversial is a shorter term use of public diplomacy. Radio can be contributory but never causal in a particular situation; it can help propel events along their current path but cannot lead them into a new one. In this way, public diplomacy can help destabilize a regime, the most obvious example being Iran. At the close of 1978, as the Shah was teetering, the Soviet-based National Voice of Iran was blaring anti-Shah diatribes and describing how U.S. imperialism had ordered "bloodbaths" in Iran so that Americans could "plunder" Iranian oil. Later these same stations cheered the seizure of the American hostages.

Whether and how much these broadcasts envenomed that situation will never be precisely known, but knowledgeable people believe they did. The U.S. Ambassador in Iran at the time, William H. Sullivan, has stated that two forces of public diplomacy stirred the pot. Surprisingly, he believed that BBC broadcasts helped bring down the Shah; apparently the BBC employed staunchly anti-Shah reporters and sources in Iran who frequently exaggerated the extent of early opposition and the velocity of change thereafter. And, not surprisingly, he accused the Soviets of helping convert the revolution into an anti-American spectacle. This they have continued to do. As the U.S.-Iranian negotiations on the hostages' release entered their final stage, Radio Moscow beamed to Iranians that the United States "has put forth demands which are insulting to your country and are therefore totally unacceptable."

Whatever their precise potency, the anti-Shah and anti-American diatribes had the airwaves to themselves. No accounts presented opposing arguments or even some balance. VOA did not resume broadcasts in Iran until after the Shah's exile. Even then, it offered timid rebuttals despite pressure to do more. State Department officials urged the ICA and VOA to counter the Islamic clerics' and Soviets' line that all evils in Iran sprang from America. The proposal was simply to have VOA correspondents interview American academics and development experts on U.S. assistance in Iran and for Iranians (e.g., the enormous education program in the United States). The goal was to show that American involvement was by no means confined to "plundering." Nothing came of this proposal.

After the seizure of the hostages, the State Department proposed that ICA and VOA orchestrate a campaign on the agony of the hostage families, Iran's clear violation of Islamic and international law, the diplomatic and economic isolation which resulted, etc. Little came of this proposal either, again due to an amalgam of reluctance and administrative inertia.

In stage three of the Iranian drama, following the hostages' release, the instruments of U.S. public diplomacy could have hammered away at the squalid treatment of the captive diplomats, the perpetration of such deeds by those brought to political power on the basis of their religious credentials, the unawareness of the Iranian people that such acts were being committed in their name, and the consequent shame they must feel for their leadership. VOA and the other instruments in effect could have preempted and then reinforced the 38 Iranian academics, writers and attorneys who last February publicly blasted the clerics for severe political repression and economic chaos.

Such a campaign could have been waged during slots identified as "commentary" if U.S. policymakers determined that power was slipping from the clerics in any case, that their continued hold on power was truly detrimental, that the probable leadership replacement would be no worse and might be better, and that this type of campaign had some chance of success. Even with all conditions met, this would have been a most exceptional exercise of U.S. public diplomacy in the Third World. Then again, the U.S.-Iran relationship of late has been most exceptional.

Public diplomacy vis-à-vis the Soviet bloc raises other, more vexing questions, that go to the heart of U.S.-Soviet relations. Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty and VOA broadcasts to the communist bloc may presume that "the truth shall make you free," but the reality is trickier. One thinks of Hungary in 1956, when RFE broadcasts brought the truth but also suggested the possibility of more concrete U.S. assistance to the people-assistance which was not forthcoming when the Hungarians rose up to make themselves free.

What is in question is the larger issue of U.S. strategy toward the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe and whether we can or should act to destabilize regimes there. In theory, one could envisage a passive strategy that simply accepted the present Soviet regime and its control over the East European nations. And to fit with such a strategy, any information policy would avoid arousing dormant or repressed forces of instability within the bloc. On the other hand, we could choose a more activist strategy, affirmatively seeking a devolution of the Soviet empire into free states at some point in the future. This would be consistent with an information policy that stressed outright attacks on the regimes and actively encouraged change.

In practice, of course, American policy toward the Soviet bloc has never been defined in such neat terms. Public diplomacy has been on both sides of the dichotomy and no doubt will continue to be. While refraining from advocating overthrowing the regimes, it serves to build up informed publics which act as a restraint on their communist rulers. This process is palpably underway across Eastern Europe, which may be a harbinger of things to come in the U.S.S.R. itself. Foreign broadcasts to non-Russian nationalities in their own languages telling about their own cultures and histories invariably reinforce the separate identity of these peoples. RFE's and RL's criticisms of the communist systems and commendations of their citizens invariably arouse destabilizing sentiments. VOA, as mentioned, has trod more gingerly in its Soviet-bloc programming.

But in their Soviet dealings officials in U.S. public diplomacy occasionally suffer more from naïveté than timidity. In 1977, for example, the ICA sponsored a project whose goal was laudable, for American and Soviet scholars to clean up distortions in their educational material. An American team of private scholars held a number of conferences with Soviet educational bureaucrats to evaluate each other's high school textbooks. Its spirit was good-hearted; the Russians objected to the use of "Nikolai Lenin" in one textbook since their patriarch signed his name "N. Lenin" only once, while the Americans demurred at the way the standard Soviet textbook treated the Cuban missile crisis: "The U.S. created a crisis which pushed the world to the brink of thermonuclear war," one narrowly averted "thanks only to the hardline and decisive measures of the Soviet Union." The U.S. team leader was all too good-hearted when explaining. "In many ways, the book is factually correct. The only thing missing is any mention of the Soviet missiles."10 The project leader's and in fact the project's naïveté are unsettling.

Equally unsettling was the offer on the part of the Chairman of the Board for International Broadcasting in 1978 for RFE or RL to give air time to any Soviet-bloc government wishing to register a complaint or make corrections of RFE or RL broadcasts. This was offered as if the communist regimes lacked sufficient means of their own to air slogans and diatribes. The objective of RFE and RL is to break the listeners' total immersion in communist misinformation, not to add to it.

These two cases reveal the chimerical assumption that the Soviets use educational and informational material as Americans do, namely to seek truth regardless of political effect. Friedrich A. Hayek argued in 1944 that "the main cause of the ineffectiveness" of the British information effort as a whole was "that those directing it seem to have lost their own belief in the peculiar values of English civilization or to be completely ignorant of the main points on which it differs from that of other people."11 Such instances also make one wonder how well these leaders of agencies mandated to foster international understanding actually do understand other nations.

With greater understanding of the Soviet Union, leaders of public diplomacy could proceed on a middle ground between the approaches sketched above. Here the focus would be less on ideological anti-communism than on Soviet expansionism. The devolution of the Soviet Union or perhaps of its empire in Eastern Europe would be deemed too ambitious or provocative a goal. Hence the spotlight would be turned upon distant members or associates of the Soviet empire who are embarked on their own aggression and are vulnerable in some manner.

Two examples spring to mind. The first is Vietnam-a country of declining economic fortunes, politically close solely to Moscow, and culturally quarantined. It is bent on expansionism in Laos and especially Cambodia, where it now has 200,000 troops. Foreign broadcasts could dwell upon such facts and highlight the increasing use of Vietnamese ports by Soviet ships and planes for Moscow's power-projection and intelligence-gathering purposes. Such a major Soviet presence evidently rankles the Vietnamese, though they can do little about it now. Harping on this topic, including a dose of quotations from Ho Chi Minh stating that Vietnam will never become a staging ground for either superpower, could rub already tender sores raw. The long-term consequences of so using VOA's three hours a day of Vietnamese broadcasts (and of increasing this program) could advance American interests and those of our Asian allies.

The second example is Cuba. Broadcasts could target the Cubans stationed across Africa and those back home. Cubans in both places seem increasingly uninspired by Fidel Castro. Today Cuba receives five and a half hours a day of standard VOA fare to Latin America. Were it given its own VOA program, as it was between 1962 and 1974, special emphasis could be devoted to the casualty rates of Cuban troops in Africa and their discontent at being there, and the declining fortunes of Cuban citizens at home. Interviews with some among the one million of Cuba's citizens who became refugees would point up Castro's political repression. (ICA has done some of this, but not enough.) On the economic side, VOA could do no better than to repeat Castro's lamentations (in December 1979) that Cuba was "sailing in a sea of difficulties" surrounded by problems that could last "20 years or who knows how long." World Bank statistics could be cited which show Cuba's per capita gross national product declining by 0.2 percent per year since 1960, making it unique in having such a consistent decline despite enormous outside assistance. In 1959, Cuba had the third highest per capita income in the hemisphere; today it has one of the lowest. Twenty years after the revolution, stringent rationing continues, the economy is declining and unemployment is on the rise. In sum, there is grist enough for a public diplomacy campaign toward Cuba, should policymakers adopt a more confrontational approach.


Changes in ICA's missions have moved it in the opposite direction. In 1978, President Carter gave the ICA what has come to be called its "second mandate"-to learn about other cultures as well as tell others of ours.12 While noble in intent, the second mandate runs into practical problems. There are legal restrictions on ICA activities within the United States and financial restrictions on the ICA taking up a second mandate when its budget does not allow fulfillment of its first.

As commonly interpreted, the second mandate should be phased out for more pressing ICA needs. But as written, parts of it should be phased in vigorously. ICA should better "insure that our Government adequately understands foreign public opinion and culture for policy-making purposes." This has not been effectively done since the Eisenhower and Kennedy eras.

President Eisenhower conferred with the USIA leadership at least once a month; he felt that U.S. information programs had shortened World War II and saved countless lives. Eisenhower strongly believed in what he dubbed "the P factor," the psychological dimension of foreign affairs.13 Often during National Security Council meetings he would ask the USIA Director how alternative U.S. moves would be perceived abroad. President Kennedy likewise invited his USIA Director, Edward R. Murrow, to sit in on NSC meetings so as to be "in on the takeoffs as well as the crashes."

Since those days, information agencies have had less direct effect on policy formulation. Their contributions could again become valuable were they given more top-level attention, for ICA and RFE/RL studies on foreign public opinion are usually of high quality and of direct policy relevance. One recent ICA study revealed that 70 high Japanese security experts, both in government and in academia, thought that the Soviets would hold the military edge in this decade and that the U.S. capability to protect Japan was increasingly dubious. Yet these Japanese expressed no support for a U.S.-Japan-China security pact and scant support for major increases in Japan's own forces. A recent RFE/RL study found that "if a serious conflict should develop between the U.S. and U.S.S.R.," the "sympathies" of East Europeans would lie with the United States (over half of respondents) rather than with the Soviet Union (less than one-tenth). This finding should affect NATO planning, as it deals with the largest unknown factor: the reliability of other Warsaw Pact members in the event of an East-West conflict. A third study, also by RFE/RL and later corroborated by French researchers, shows that a majority of Poles say they would offer resistance to a Soviet invasion.14

ICA officers abroad could contribute more to policy formulation were they heeded more, for they routinely interact with foreign students and educators, journalists and artists, cultural and intellectual leaders-groups infrequently contacted by State Department political and economic officers. ICA representatives abroad should more fully report the moods and opinions prevailing in these critical quarters. Finally, they can often provide useful judgments on probable social and cultural effects of political and economic events in their country, an area of ever-mounting significance-as the Iranian Revolution again indicates.

None of this has been adequately done lately. In part this is because ICA officers, who frequently come from the academic or cultural communities, resist any major reporting function. In part it is also due to State Department resistance. Regular diplomats assert that such insights are either of secondary importance or, if primary, can be gleaned from their own reporting. This tension has prevailed between normal diplomacy and public diplomacy, and has thwarted U.S. information services over the years.


Traditional diplomacy is formal and official; public diplomacy is usually informal and engages non-officials. Traditional diplomacy is private and quiet, while public diplomacy is open and can be noisy. Traditional diplomacy seeks to avoid controversy, to smooth out differences, whereas public diplomacy tends to expose and stimulate controversy, whether artistic or intellectual or political. The most fervent proponents of traditional diplomacy, such as Henry Kissinger, are among those least inclined toward public diplomacy.

This attitude on the part of the State Department leads to the downgrading of the ICA and those who serve there. Along with political appointees, career Foreign Service officers staff virtually all the top ICA positions. But the fast track for young officers has been in the political and economic realms. Career information officers rarely receive an equivalent number of ambassadorships. The best and the brightest thus tend to avoid an ICA assignment and this, over time, means a lower caliber of ICA officers and lower morale in ICA offices.

This sad state could be turned around slowly but steadily were public diplomacy given the kind of financial and institutional backing anticipated by the Reagan Administration. To fulfill its role, the ICA must be reintegrated into the highest councils of foreign policy making. To fulfill their role, ICA leaders must grasp the nuances, goals, conflicts and opportunities of major foreign policy decisions. Otherwise they would be as handicapped as a White House press secretary solely dependent upon official policy statements for his information.

Working relationships within the government have to be refashioned accordingly. At present, the Secretary of State is supposed to direct ICA's general policy even though he lacks control over its budget, management, personnel and day-to-day functions. If the Secretary is to be the main spokesman and adviser on U.S. foreign policy, as Mr. Reagan has pledged, then he needs effective control over public diplomacy.

How this is done is less important than that it be done. The 1975 Stanton Panel recommended formation of a new State Department Office of Policy Information, headed by a Deputy Under Secretary, to centralize international communications policy, including instruments of public diplomacy (except VOA). This new office may be desirable, or policysetting for such programs could be handled by an existing State Department office if given sufficient responsibility and personnel. Over the past four years, the Deputy Secretary of State assumed a coordinating function though he had neither the time nor the separate staff to fulfill it.

Regardless of the institutional arrangement, ICA needs to become truly responsive to a Secretary of State eager to use and guide this instrument. Then the interpretation and advocacy of U.S. foreign policy would be, as it should be, folded into the formulation of U.S. foreign policy.15

This folding-in must encompass the Voice of America, even though the Stanton Panel and others recommended handing it greater independence. VOA's commentaries should be molded to the contours of U.S. foreign policy and become expressions of clear positions (as they exist) rather than extensions of general news reports or analyses (as they are). Commentaries could then be modulated, varying as U.S. relations with a particular country vary from time to time.

The other 90 percent or more of VOA's broadcasting-the regular news, cultural and Americana features-can best be handled by VOA without interference from State or even ICA. Most VOA directors seem to have either resigned in bitterness or have been let go because they lacked sufficient control over their personnel, budget, research, and congressional relations. For the sake of its morale, its essential reputation for credibility, and simple managerial efficiency, these standard VOA operations should be handled in-house.


Alexander Hamilton may have been correct in the 1780s that the influence of our example had penetrated the gloomy regions of despotism. But in the 1980s, this penetration must be more active, even spirited. A war of ideas is being waged around the world, and the believers in liberty had best act or risk losing by default. The essential quality of human life is a factor, not so much of how one lives, but of why. It is values, rather than structures or laws, which govern human existence. In essence, what people think and what they believe constitute the core of their lives. All else constitutes the cloakings.

As a means of conveying human values and as an instrument of U.S. foreign policy, public diplomacy has been squandered in the past. It can and should advance U.S. national interests before friend and foe alike and, more vitally, bring the message of freedom to today's gloomy regions of despotism. The personalities, technologies, and international conditions now seem ripe for the effort.

1 "USICA Mission," Memorandum from the President to the Director of USICA, March 13, 1978.

3 Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, "Misconceptions About Russia Are a Threat to America," Foreign Affairs, Spring 1980, p. 823.

5 Oliver, op. cit.

6 And RFE has been recurrently jammed, though with varying degrees of effectiveness. It continues to be jammed severely in Czechoslovakia and Bulgaria and less severely or effectively in Poland. RFE broadcasts to Romania and Hungary have been free from interference since the early 1960s. Radio Liberty in the Soviet Union has been continuously jammed since it began in 1953 though, as will be discussed, this is not entirely effective either.

7 The Board for International Broadcasting, Seventh Annual Report (1981), p. 2.

8 This minimum standard is a signal of 1.0 millivolts per meter on three frequencies in unjammed service areas or 2.5 mv on four frequencies in jammed areas.

9 Those responsible have not been identified but on February 21, 1981 a 22-pound bomb exploded in RFE's headquarters, injuring eight people and causing several million dollars in damage.

10 Kenneth L. Adelman, "Telling America's Story Abroad," The Washington Post, July 6, 1980, p. D5.

12 The President's March 13, 1978 memorandum instructs ICA "to insure that our Government adequately understands foreign public opinion and culture for policy-making purposes, and assist individual Americans and institutions in learning about other nations and cultures."

13 Eisenhower was quite correct. To take a more recent example: no matter how logical President Carter's 1977 proposal to withdraw U.S. ground troops from Korea may have been in terms of the balance of forces on that particular peninsula, the psychological impact was devastating throughout Asia.

14 These three studies are: "Japanese Perceptions of Defense Issues: A Study of 'Defense Influentials,'" International Communication Agency study R-381, January 30, 1981; "Second Preliminary Report on East European Public Opinion in a Conflict Situation Between the U.S. and the Soviet Union," RFE/RL, Inc. Memorandum, 30 September 1980; and "The 'Inside Poland Poll' of Early November 1980," RFE/RL, Inc. Memorandum, November 1980.

15 This is not to exclude a role for outsiders, for there is such a role. It is important, though it has yet to be properly fulfilled. When ICA was established, an advisory group was also established by law-the U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy. Unfortunately, it took a year and a half for the seven members to be named by the President and then another year for its first report to be issued (1980). More unfortunate still, the Commission has thus far functioned merely as an adoring advocate of the ICA rather than serving to probe, prod and formulate new approaches.



You are reading a free article.

Subscribe to Foreign Affairs to get unlimited access.

  • Paywall-free reading of new articles and a century of archives
  • Unlock access to iOS/Android apps to save editions for offline reading
  • Six issues a year in print, online, and audio editions
Subscribe Now
  • Kenneth L. Adelman is with the Strategic Studies Center of SRI International (formerly the Stanford Research Institute). He served as Assistant to the Secretary of Defense in 1976-77, and was a member of the Reagan Administration's foreign affairs transition team. He is the author of African Realities.
  • More By Kenneth L. Adelman