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Surrogate Broadcasting as a Tool of U.S. Soft Power

Courtesy Reuters

In the Obama administration, soft power is coming of age. Today, U.S. military officials and diplomats talk of a "political surge" to match the military surge in Afghanistan. Many in the Pentagon now say that R.B.s ("relationships built") are just as important as body counts of enemy dead in achieving victory. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has called for the greater application of soft power, including more money for development and reconstruction aid and strategic communications.

Any soft-power strategy should include a focus on surrogate broadcasting -- government-sponsored broadcasts that provide accurate and reliable news to countries where independent media do not exist. Surrogate broadcasting grew up during the Cold War, when the United States sought to penetrate the Iron Curtain with radio broadcasts to Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. These broadcasts -- first clandestinely funded by the CIA and then openly by Congress -- were designed to provide the people of communist nations with the domestic news and information that their own governments denied them.

Today, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) broadcasts to 20 countries, from Russia and the Caucasus to Central Asia and the Middle East. RFE/RL's broadcast region encompasses Afghanistan, Iran, and Iraq, and will soon include Pakistan. Its sister company, Radio Free Asia, reaches nine countries, including Burma, China, and North Korea. Traditional radio programming is augmented with content delivered online, by video, and on television. Although the technology has changed, the mission of surrogate broadcasting is still the same. It remains one of the most effective and cost-efficient programs the United States can support in order to promote democracy and advance U.S. national security interests.

Such efforts are especially valuable in countries where the United States faces a hostile and authoritarian government but a potentially friendly population, such as Iran. RFE/RL's Persian language station, known as Radio Farda, broadcasts news, talk shows, commentary, and music around the clock. The Iranian government jams radio signals, blocks Radio Farda's Web

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