As coined in the mid-1960s by former U.S. diplomat Edmund Gullion, public diplomacy was developed partly to distance overseas American governmental information activities from the term propaganda, which had acquired pejorative connotations. Over the years, public diplomacy has also developed a different meaning from public affairs, which refers to a government’s activities and programs designed to communicate policy messages to its own domestic audiences.
In the past few decades, public diplomacy has been widely seen as the transparent means by which a sovereign country communicates with publics in other countries aimed at informing and influencing audiences overseas for the purpose of promoting the national interest and advancing its foreign policy goals. In this traditional view, public diplomacy is seen as an integral part of state-to-state diplomacy, by which is meant the conduct of official relations, typically in private, between official representatives (leaders and diplomats) representing sovereign states. In this sense, public diplomacy includes such activities as educational exchange programs for scholars and students; visitor programs; language training; cultural events and exchanges; and radio and television broadcasting. Such activities usually focused on improving the “sending” country’s image or reputation as a way to shape the wider policy environment in the “receiving” country.
Recently, and notably since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington DC, public diplomacy has attracted increased attention from both practitioners and scholars from many parts of the world.
This new diplomacy will not in the short term displace traditional state-to-state diplomacy as practiced by foreign ministries, but it will impact the way those ministries do business. More than ever before, foreign ministries and diplomats will need to go beyond bilateral and multilateral diplomacy and to construct and conduct relations with new global actors.
The increased interest in public diplomacy in recent years has been facilitated by conceptual developments in other fields. Marketing and public relations notions such as branding have been incorporated by public diplomacy scholars to great effect to cover countries, regions, and cities. Similarly, the concept of soft power coined by international relations scholar Joseph Nye has, for many, become a core concept in public diplomacy studies. Nye defines soft power as “the ability to get what you want through attraction rather than coercion or payments.”
The debate about a new public diplomacy promises to be global in nature, rather than a debate about U.S. foreign relations, as important as they are. The USC Center on Public Diplomacy at the Annenberg School (CPD) (see below) endorses this global approach and encourages a worldwide set of perspectives in its scholarly research, policy analysis and professional training activities. Moreover, the debate is taking on a multi-disciplinary character, with no single discipline determining public diplomacy’s intellectual agenda. Thus, CPD sees public diplomacy as an emerging, multi-disciplinary field with theoretical, conceptual and methodological links to several academic disciplines – communication, history, international relations, media studies, public relations, and regional studies, to name but a few.
The study of public diplomacy is a new and expanding field. There is no single agreed-upon definition of the term; this lack of definitional consensus may well prove to be a good thing.
The USC Center on Public Diplomacy (CPD) was established in 2003 as a partnership between the Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism and the School of International Relations at the University of Southern California. It is a research, analysis and professional training organization dedicated to furthering the study and practice of global public diplomacy.
Since its inception, the Center has become a productive and recognized leader in the public diplomacy research and scholarship community.
USC received the 2008 Benjamin Franklin Award for Public Diplomacy in recognition of the university’s teaching, training and research in public diplomacy. The award was one of four inaugural awards from the U.S. State Department.
The USC Center on Public Diplomacy seeks to advance and enrich the study and practice of public diplomacy through its research and publication programs, professional training and public events.