Showing posts with label United States. Show all posts
Showing posts with label United States. Show all posts


A communication approach for the United States in the Middle East

Reuters today filed a story with the headline: “Western embassies on alert as Muslim anger simmers over film”. As I read the news, picked up by all major newspapers of the world, my thoughts go back to the Arab Spring when it started. With the fall of dictators, there was hope all around. Finally, the Middle East seems to be opening up to newer possibilities. I remembered my college history lessons and felt that newer possibilities may not necessarily be what we think or want them to be. A year later, the mood has changed indeed, in US and also in the newly liberated and fledgling ‘democracies’ of Tunisia, Libya and Egypt.

The recent crisis has actually increased the importance of communications for the United States. It’s a new reality, an uncertain environment. The luxury of stable dictatorships to engage with is no longer there. Unpredictability will reign.

I believe communication and engagement efforts of United States should just focus on 3 things:

  1. Institutionalize internal ‘dialogue’ on foreign policy: Sun Tzu said, “Know your enemy and know yourself and you can fight a hundred battles without disaster”. Americans, for the power and influence they wield over the world, are surprisingly ill informed and inward looking. Maybe it results in situations where responsible exercise of influence becomes difficult. Maybe it’s time to institutionalise a process by which Americans realise the depth and breadth of their engagement across the world and what it means for the average American. It’s time the West learns to ‘make a point without making an enemy’.
  2. Do not roll back ‘engagement’: Policymakers should not operate under the premise that being democratic doesn’t mean a natural affinity to American values and way of life. Political systems are reflective of local milieu, and democracy in Middle East will look radically different from, say, in India or US. For example, India and US differ strongly on their approach to 'Freedom of Expression' but both are successful democracies and free societies. This calls for consistent monitoring of conversations and constant engagement The bad news is that in person engagement becomes tougher. The good news is that social media seems to work very well in the Middle East as demonstrated again by the crisis!
  3. Communicate ‘Access’ and ‘Proximity’: Explain to audiences how an open society enable access to free societies abroad, be it the West or United States, where Muslims have lived and done well. Create narratives for the ‘indivual’ and not ‘sermons’ for their ‘societies’ on how a partnership with the United States can better their lives.
What do you think?

Suggestions/Critiques welcome.

-- Madhur


Public Diplomacy vs Nation Branding

We often tend to use Public Diplomacy (PD) interchangeably with Nation Branding. While there are definitely certain overlaps, a clear distinction does exist between both the practice areas. That's why I found Daryl Copeland recent post on the CPD Blog: PUBLIC DIPLOMACY, BRANDING, AND THE IMAGE OF NATIONS, PART II: MORE OF THE SAME, OR DIFFERENT? very interesting. In this very well written post, Daryl explains some fundamental distinctions between PD and nation branding and aptly states that,
"If public diplomacy is thought of as a nations’ book, then a nation’s brand is something like its cover, designed to appeal viscerally to the consumers of international policy by encouraging potential buyers to open the book (or visit the country, buy the product, or support the international policy objective). But because the market evolves quickly, the cover’s design may need attention even before the book requires revision and a new edition can be released."
He explains that PD is characterized by meaningful dialogue and relationship building and not based on "information dominance" or "message dumping." An alternative policy instrument in the hands of governments today, PD is central to managing international issues through consistent engagement, in which, communicating a point of view is as important as listening to a point of view. PD can be one of the approaches for nation branding and consists within itself  host of activities focused on communications, stakeholder engagement, collaboration and influencing public opinion. With such an approach PD seems to be the application of public affairs and strategic communications to the practice of international relations (as I always maintained in this blog). Daryl also tends to agree when he says that PD has more in common with public relations as a practice. This was also underlined in the Report of the Defense Science Board (US Department of Defense, 2004) in which it clearly stated that,

"In an age of global media, the internet revolution and powerful non-state actors - an age in which almost everything governments do and say is understood through mediating filters of news frames, culture, memory, and language - no major strategy, policy, or diplomatic initiative can succeed without public support. Fulbright scholarships, youth exchanges, embassy press briefings, official websites in language versions, and televised interviews with ambassadors and military commanders are examples of public diplomacy."
To cite an example in the context of India, "Incredible India" , is more of a nation branding campaign while the distinguished lecture series organized by the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) is more of a PD exercise. PD as a practice has recently been growing and one of the primary reason is the media proliferation and information revolution (This was however was overlooked in the reasons given for a PD resurgence in the above mentioned blog post.).That's the reason why strategic communications form the core of PD.

Suggestions/Critiques welcome.

-- Madhur


US Educational Exchange programs in India

The role of educational exchanges in Public Diplomacy caught my interest since the discussion on Australia-India relations in April. When it comes to educational exchange, the United States has a strong recall in India (Nearly 100,000 Indians study in the US every year). It also contributed to building strong ‘generational bonds’ between both countries with a promise to deepen the strategic partnership further.

To explore educational exchanges between India and United States, I thought it worthwhile to meet with Ms Stephanie F. Morimura, Cultural Attaché for Exchanges, Embassy of United States of America, in New Delhi. Stephanie helped me understand the ‘policy connection’ behind educational exchanges between India and United States better. Stephanie received me at the American Centre and what followed was a stimulating discussion on the role of education in Indo-US relations.

Stephanie Morimura at the American Centre in New Delhi
Stephanie believes that educational exchange has a significant role to play in strengthening public diplomacy initiatives and furthering strategic goals. In the larger scheme of things, US educational exchange programs are congressionally-funded programs and very much a part of overall strategy of furthering U.S. national interests abroad.
 “Every country has strategic goals,” said Stephanie and for United States, exchange programs promote better understanding and cooperation among people of both countries. Eventually, Stephanie said it helps “cooperating better on a range of issues, including security issues, especially regional security.” It’s the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, under the Department of State that is the nodal body administering these programs worldwide. The money that is spent worldwide varies from mission to mission in support of specific goals of every mission.

Most of us who are familiar with Fulbright programs only, Stephanie said the depth and extent of engagement of United States in educational exchange is actually quite comprehensive. For a list of programs that are operational worldwide see the following link: Exchange Programs.
Stephanie talked at length about the International Visitor’s Leadership Program with India. “India has one of the largest programs,” she said. This is actually a demonstration of the deepening ties between both countries at the strategic level. The department’s website describes this program as, “The International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) is the U.S. Department of State’s premier professional exchange program.  Launched in 1940, the IVLP is a professional exchange program that seeks to build mutual understanding between the U.S. and other nations through carefully designed short-term visits to the U.S. for current and emerging foreign leaders.” 

“Ms Indira Gandhi and President Pratibha Patil have been IVLP fellows,” said Stephanie.

The focus of current exchange programs with India is to build networks and sustain those to create an enduring relationship between both countries. This is a paradigm shift from earlier times where it just ended with facilitating an exchange. Stephanie talked passionately about newer domains that her department is moving into like social developmental projects. There are programs for youth from underprivileged sections (who otherwise do not have the means to travel to US) that give opportunities to them to visit the US for summer and year-long study programs. They are supported with a mentorship program when they are back in India and connected with other alums of various programs so that their development is continuous. “We do not want them to flounder when they are back,” said Stephanie of the mentorship program demonstrating a commitment for a long term involvement in the lives of these people and also an appreciation of their need for joining the mainstream once back from United States.

While the number of visitors from India is huge one of the challenges is the relatively smaller number of Americans who come to India to study. On an average, only 2800 students come to India from United States annually. Most of these come for short term programs. This is a significant barrier for both countries to overcome. “There are infrastructure constraints on Indian campuses and the support system for international visitors needs to be built up.,” said Stephanie.
However the potential for this partnership to grow is huge. “There is also a huge interest in U.S. Universities for partnership with Indian educational institutions and we are actively encouraging that.” She said that the US and India hope to hold a higher education summit in the Fall this year to build ties between educational institutions of both countries.
I asked Stephanie if educational ties contributed to India being listed as among the few countries where US has high positive mindshare according to a Pew Survey last year. “Mutual understanding is the key,” said Stephanie and agrees that educational exchanges enable a better appreciation of U.S. society, values and culture. Educational exchanges are focused on experiential learning and she said, “Nothing beats personal experience.”

Study of United States Institutes (SUSI) alumni

Suggestions/Critiques welcome.

-- Madhur

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