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Public Diplomacy and its Impact on Foreign Policies Research Paper

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Updated: Sep 9th, 2019


Public diplomacy entails the impact of public attitudes on the compilation and implementation of foreign policies. Public diplomacy includes the execution of public opinion by a government to a foreign country. Public diplomacy can also be viewed as the process of communicating foreign affairs and its influence on policy as well as the system of inter-cultural interactions (Melissen, Lee, & Sharp, 2009).

This report will first offer a brief background detail on the U.S. public diplomacy, its legal underpinnings, and the evolution of the current U.S. public diplomacy. Public diplomacy will be viewed as a fundamental tool for facilitating security, liberty, and economic sustainability across the globe.

This paper will look at the events that ensued after the September 11, 2001 terrorist’s attacks, to show how the United States public diplomacy has changed to mitigate further threats to the U.S. security. This paper will also examine the application of hard power and soft power, according to the U.S. public diplomacy.


This section offers an analysis of various platforms that the U.S. government initiated to promote its public diplomacy across the world. In this case, public diplomacy will be defined as the advancement of the U.S. interests, culture, and ideologies via sensitizing and manipulating foreign populations. The U.S. government, under the leadership of President Woodrow Wilson reckoned its application of public diplomacy practices in the wake of the 20th Century (Nye, 2005).

This legislative platform explains the historical context of the U.S. citizen-oriented public diplomacy as it evolved since World War I. The current organization of the U.S. public policy can be linked to the following legal foundations. The United States Information and Educational Exchange Act of 1948, the State Department Basic Authorities Act of 1956, the Mutual Educational and Cultural Exchange Act of 1961, the U.S. International Broadcasting Act of 1994.

The U.S. Information and Education Exchange Act was designed after the World War II to serve as a platform for peacemaking programs outside the U.S. by using education services. The primary purpose of this Act was to bring forth the mutual understanding between the citizens of the U.S. and other people across the world.

This Act provides the office of the Secretary of the state with authority to formulate and spread information concerning the people of the U.S., their policies, and values via the media and lecturers working abroad. The State Department Basic Authorities Act of 1956 gave the Secretary of the State the mandate to design and implement public diplomacy guidelines. This Act requires the Secretary to collaborate with both public and private organizations to promote dissemination of information regarding the United States public policy.

The Mutual and Cultural Exchange Act of 1961 was formulated to maximize tolerance between the citizens of the U.S. and other people across the world via educational and cultural exchanges. The Act also sought to facilitate global cooperation for cultural and educational development. Consequently, this would help in the growth of friendly and peaceful interrelations between the U.S. and the international community.

The United States International Broadcasting Act of 1994 serves the purpose of enlightening the international community about the U.S. concerning promotion of integration, peace, and democracy (Nye, 2011).

This Act ensures a concise projection of the U.S. opinion and institutions, manifesting the U.S. cultural values and beliefs. This Act was employed after the 9/11 attacks to introduce the Voice of America broadcasts in Afghanistan. These four legislative Acts form the foundations of the U.S. public policy defining how the U.S. relates with the world today.

Statement of the problem

Following the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks, an international debate escalated concerning the U.S. public diplomacy. Most public policy reforms in the U.S. have been created because of necessity rather than out of goodwill to promote international peace and security. Due to the increasing attacks on the U.S., and its allies across the globe, a consensus is growing that the U.S. public diplomacy needs to be revisited to create new policy directives and systems.

New policies need to be developed to show why the U.S. is engaging the war against terrorism and why facilitating it is in the interests of the international community. Since terrorism has now grown to be an imminent threat to U.S. security, it is now in the national interest that American government has to devise and implement its public diplomacy in a manner that it attracts substantial support from the foreign countries.

Thus, more importantly, the U.S. requires to improve the foreign policies not necessarily to increase its popularity in the international community, but because it has become a necessity in combating the state of insecurity facing its borders. A more elaborate approach and modernized structure are needed to initiate a firm standing of public diplomacy in the U.S. international policy.

To address these issues, the U.S. government needs critical reforms that will trigger strategic planning and collaboration among all involved entities. Therefore, this report will emphasize the burgeoning discussions about public diplomacy between the U.S. and the Islamic states.

Despite the essence attached to soft power as a tool for developing public diplomacy, most people have termed its application by the U.S. as an instrument for persuasion towards achieving self-interests (Atkinson, 2010). Therefore, this study will evaluate the concept of soft power and show how it can help nurture admirable public diplomacy.

If used for selfish agendas, this paper will show that soft power has the potential to cause long-term conflicts between states. For instance, the case of the ongoing conflicts between the U.S. and some countries in the Islam society such as Iraq and Afghanistan indicates failed approaches of soft power and the resultant response using hard power. Nevertheless, soft power strategies will be viewed as a modern approach that the U.S. can employ to bolster its public diplomacy across the world.

The 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks

More than a decade past the attacks, the events that ensued that day hold in Americans minds. The large part of the U.S. population still holds the perception that the anti-terrorism policies that were put in place after the attacks indicate that the U.S. poor policies before 9/11 might have fueled the attacks.

The U.S. involvement in activities against terrorism facilitated change in attitudes and demands regarding safety and surveillance. This event introduced a new bunch of policies such as the USA Patriot Act that emphasized national safety at the peril of civil democracies. These changes made a huge impact on the international community, most notably in the Muslim nations in the Middle East.

The U.S. public diplomacy was seen, as a factor contributing to the changing attitudes of other nations towards the U.S. (Osgood & Etheridge, 2010). Anti-Americanism became a common belief among many people, thus affecting the U.S. image abroad. Consequently, various major rapid transformations were put in place to address this issue.


The 9/11 attacks served as an awakening call to the Bush administration. The Bush administration awakened and introduced many initiatives that sought to rebrand the U.S. from an international bully to a compassionate partner. To reach the ordinary population of Muslims living in the U.S. and the citizens of the Middle East nations, public diplomacy is viewed as a fundamental tool to steer the U.S.’ soft power approach.

Currently, thousands of ordinary people, particularly from the Muslim communities, are yet to see the U.S. as a compassionate hegemony, but rather they view it as a hostile and bully nation. This negative perception has led to the development of a young generation of extremists willing to retaliate towards the U.S. through terror threats.

In this light, the U.S. public policy towards Muslim fraternity is rooted in the perception that these negative connotations must be combated and replaced by genuine efforts of public diplomacy (Zaharna, 2014). However, the approach to neutralizing terror and extremism activities matters a lot since the U.S. has competing interests in promoting its image as an epitome of global peace and ensuring safety for its nation.

From the onset of the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the Bush administration had to raise its recognition for public diplomacy to win support in the war on terror. Initially, the U.S. public diplomacy aimed at harnessing support on the war against Iraq, arguing that this fight was inevitable. For a long time after the attacks, public reaction remained mixed (Richmond, 2008). Leaders from the Islamic militant groups condemned the U.S. for its bullying practices against the weak states in the world.

Similarly, many people across the world expressed their concerns that the attacks were retaliation against the U.S. political and cultural interference in the Middle East and international affairs. Most Islamic communities condemned the U.S. for being an enemy of peace in the Middle East, and some went ahead to celebrate the attacks. However, people across the globe, even those who believed the U.S. contributed to the attacks still expressed concerns and disappointment for the killing of innocent lives.

Barely a week after the attacks, the ambassadors of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) declared that the attacks on any of its members were an attack on all the members of NATO. Even though NATO did not allow military retaliation, this statement reflected the U.S. public diplomacy and its support from other quarters. Similarly, immediately after the attacks, the United Nations Security Council urged all countries to triple their efforts towards curbing terrorist threats.

It also encouraged all States to combat the financing of terrorism and participate in all anti-terrorism activities. In other words, these utterances by independent bodies were a clear reflection of the fight the U.S. had always campaigned to gain support. These events manifested an opportunity for the U.S. to sell its public diplomacy to the world on its campaign against terrorist’s heinous activities.

However, these expressions of support and oneness did not indicate that other nations offered the U.S. the green light to respond as they wish or to any target. Just as it is inscribed in the U.S. foreign policies declarations, the U.S. allies and rivals expressed similar concerns for the U.S. to take caution and avoid biased retaliation that could threaten alienation of Muslims around the globe.

As an act of solidarity and in support of the American fight on extremism and terrorism, more than 30 states authorized military support to the U.S. and continued cooperation. Eventually, most leaders across the globe came to terms with George Bush’s argument that the war on terrorism was a global endeavor. In this light, it can be argued that the world was eventually coming into terms to aid America to eradicate anti-American sentiments.

In response to the issue of border porosity, the U.S. government then led by President George W. Bush made advancements on the policies regarding immigration and deportation. The Bush administration developed the Department of Homeland Security in 2002 to oversee the merging of government agencies concerned with immigration and registration services. This aspect led to the formation of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Since its inception, ICE has led a tremendous rise in deportations. Even though the deportations were meant to improving the border security, this policy was met with huge criticism from the Middle East countries. Anti-American attitudes and its policies are hugely protested against among the Middle East countries.

Following the advent of the attacks, several travel policies changed dramatically. The airport rules, security, and procedures experienced significant overhauls. The security services were transferred to the Transportation Security Administration to formulate new security guidelines as well as to conduct screening at all commercial airport checkpoints in the U.S.

Even though these procedures improved air travel safety, they breached on privacy rights. In various instances, these new rules heightened scrutiny of minority groups. For example, travelers with a Middle East descent felt and believed they were prime targets of these new policies. Moreover, many people did not share the belief that the U.S. missions abroad were credible.

What does the example demonstrate?

While the 9/11 attacks attracted unimaginable global support for the U.S., they also brought to light that a huge number of people combine efforts against the U.S. missions abroad. Before the 9/11 attacks, the Congress and several administrators undermined the essence of funding public diplomacy practices across the world. Public diplomacy was seen as less critical compared to other government activities such as military functions.

This diminished belief in the essence of public diplomacy was further crippled by sentiments from Muslim communities that the U.S. misused public diplomacy to avoid issuing honest explanations on its agenda in foreign countries. The deteriorating support for the US-orchestrated fight against extremism hugely compromises the significance of its public diplomacy.

However, U.S. should consider diverse opinions, political ideologies, values, and cultural beliefs of other nations when designing and spreading its public policies. This approach is better placed towards making the U.S. actions better acknowledged and more effective in the international community.

The mixed reactions expressed by the public following the attacks symbolize that the U.S. might have missed the point in the process of selling its public diplomacy across the globe. Some people felt that the U.S. cultural hegemony and values were meant to Americanize the world. This feeling of Americanization is highly seen as a way of disrespect to cultures of the weak states and a target to the Islam community.

Even though the education and cultural exchange programs were meant to nurture a better understanding of the U.S. to the international community, the whole process is seen to ignore the values of other cultures. The U.S. tends to perceive its culture as standard and seeks to market its beliefs with no regards for other nation’s culture. The lack of mutual understanding is what causes retaliation by states who feel that the U.S. is meddling in their internal affairs for its malicious benefits.

Additionally, the events of 9/11 manifested that the concept of public diplomacy is interdependent in the sense that nations have to learn other nation’s policies and appreciate them to build trust. The U.S. is seen to have overlooked the concept of interdependence in promoting its public diplomacy abroad.

Besides, the promotion of public diplomacy in some cases is linked with unintended consequences. Some people who lead these programs abroad have met unforeseeable challenges such as responding to inaccurate stories and meddling of facts concerning the U.S.

Lessons Learned

The U.S., as well as the world, learned many things from the terrorist attacks of 9/11. One major lesson from this example is that America is vulnerable to terrorist activities. Before the events of 9/11, most Americans never imagined an attack on the American soil. Every American believed that the countries public diplomacy was sound enough to offer an acceptable representation of its values across the world.

However, these events served as an awakening call and caught everyone unaware. Initially, Americans thought they had allies all over the world, and the few adversaries were not aggravated to the extent of retaliating with terror attacks. Unfortunately, terrorism caught up with Americans, and it is increasingly evident that more adversaries are planning retaliation at the U.S.

Second, even though hard power has worked in the past, the time has come for the U.S. to re-evaluate its stance on hard power and try other means such as soft power to minimize anti-Americanism. Soft power is more effective and flexible procedure in modern international relations because of its tolerance and sustainability.

Contrary, hard power has deteriorated and has become less efficient today as the international system evolves through negotiations. To get others to do what one wants, in this case, the U.S. against the world, hard power has been viewed as a coercive tool and undesirable in the modern society.

Following the attacks, those who felt that the U.S. was responsible for its misfortune argued that before the events, the U.S. had applied coercive diplomacy and economic sanctions to undermine cultures and political organizations of other nations. For instance, countries in the Middle East perceived these invasions as a threat to their independence and peace.

Third, many U.S. policymakers realized the necessity of how its public diplomacy is perceived by other nations. Following the 9/11 attacks, a former Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy downplayed previous sentiments by a section of the Congress that money spends on public diplomacy could be redirected to other important affairs such as the military.

The Under Secretary insisted that public diplomacy instruments are as crucial in the fight against terrorism as military instruments and they should be accorded similar recognition.

Third, the tenets of soft power must not be used to serve malicious agendas. Soft power strategies have the capacity to engage or persuade other states or actors to do what one wishes. Persuasive power relies on intangible power avenues that include educational and cultural exchanges, ideology, and institutions. However, the Middle East countries have always questioned the legitimacy of the U.S. use of soft power.

The U.S. activities in the Middle East and most parts of the world have been seen as lacking legitimacy and focusing on advancing American interests at the expense of others. The U.S.’ use of persuasion is viewed as a tool to punish, compel, and attract support for the US-led agendas. This world’s view of the U.S. public diplomacy will further expose it to more adversaries and despite the preparedness, pressure for fresh attacks will continue to mount.

Apparently, there is a widespread recognition that the increasingly negative public views concerning the U.S. might influence how supportive countries will respond in the fight on terrorism. The anti-American opinions create a flourishing environment for terrorist activities such as recruitment and funding.

However, as America wishes to spread its influence abroad, it is necessary to abide by their traditions that require honesty and credibility. Failure to act honestly will place the U.S. in a more risky position and threaten the safety of its citizens both locally and abroad.

The events that befell the U.S. in 9/11 serve as an example of the uncertainty of public diplomacy consequences within other nations. Many countries have learned from this event that any nation is susceptible to retaliation by groups who fail to comprehend their public diplomacy abroad. Many countries have increased emphasis on credible public diplomacy and even encourage open criticism on issues that are deemed coercive or targeting certain communities (Fitzpatrick, 2009).

Besides the bilateral relationships, many countries have engaged in international broadcasting to project their image and values abroad. For instance, immediately after the 9/11 attacks, the Voice of America launched its broadcasts to Afghanistan and within other Muslim societies. VOA targeted featuring a mix of events happening in both the U.S. and the host nation.

The effectiveness of soft and hard power in nurturing public diplomacy

Just before the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the U.S. public diplomacy on foreign issues had highly relied on soft power. Since the end of World Wars and the subsequent U.N. economic sanctions against Iraq in 1991 due to the first Gulf War, use of hard power declined. Nations started buying to the idea of soft power. The highly modernizing states expressed an increasing need to end the coercive retaliations and inducement of threats.

To build a better picture of its values, the U.S. used the media, educational exchanges, sports, and envoys among other institutions to market its public diplomacy across the world (Sharp, 2009). Many commentators viewed this move as an alternative way of persuading other nations and actors to support the missions of the U.S.

In this light, most nations felt cheated by the U.S. in the sense that it did not appreciate the underlying values of the cultures of other nations. Soft power approach turned out as a means of attraction and persuasion towards supporting the US-led ideologies. Failure to tolerate other people ideologies and beliefs triggered concerns over the legitimacy of the U.S. soft power approach.

Following the events of 9/11, the U.S. sought to utilize hard power since its high national income and large armed forces enabled it to put terrorist-linked states such as Iraq under economic pressure. This move was geared towards suppressing funding for terror activities. Besides, the U.S. felt that it had no time to start negotiations and using hard power was relatively less time consuming and yielded results in a short time.

However, this approach was not the best in addressing public diplomacy issues. Even though hard power tends to bring an immediate response, its effect is short-lived, but soft power has the potential to influence long-term change. Attraction and persuasions that are well-intentioned could have served as a better way to advance the U.S. image across the globe.

The use of soft power has the potential to change one’s response since one act willingly but in a way, different to their normal behavior. Contrary, coercion and economic sanctions compel an actor to respond in an expected way but different to one’s normal behavior.

Coercion results to further conflicts and negotiations to consensus. For example, the repressive measures employed by the U.S. against the Afghanistan since the 9/11 attacks have left Afghanistan in a series of civil wars and unrest worse than before the U.S. engagement (Golan, Yang, & Kinsey, 2014).

Comparing this case to the soft power tactics used to form the European Union that has resulted in decades of peace, it indicates the importance of persuasion in advancing public diplomacy in other nations.

Furthermore, the tenets of the modern world order undermine the efficiency of hard power models. These characteristics include the spread of information technology, the spirit of nationalism in most states, economic interdependence, and the triumph of democracy. For instance, in 2003, the U.S. invaded Iraq to neutralize the terrorist groups.

The U.S. failed to understand the key principles of soft power. First, Bush administration undermined the U.S.’s dependence on their allies’ support and international public support. Second, the legitimacy of the action was not approved for its significance. This action failed and in the long term, the U.S. public diplomacy has been dented as the event undermined the U.S. international standing.

Due to the many shortcomings degrading the efficiency of hard power, it is difficult to enhance the success of public diplomacy based on hard power strategies (Rugh, 2011). However, this does not guarantee that soft power resources are always successful in creating a better image for a state in the global stage.

Some soft power resources are questionable and at other times, misinterpreted. For instance, the US Africa Command is an example of bloated soft power models. The U.S. agenda in Africa mirrored three key aspects that included oil exploration, terrorist threats and the China’s escalating effect in Africa. AFRICOM ideas were shared as a soft power model, but African leaders, among other political spectators perceived the move as imperialist motives the U.S. intended to partake in Africa.

AFRICOM agenda together with the recurrent Iraq invasions tampered with the U.S. soft power intentions. Nonetheless, such unsuccessful soft power strategies are occasionally expected. Various events stand out to offer cases in which soft power resources have flourished in advancing public diplomacy for actors involved.

The European Union has consistently depicted the potential of soft power strategies in ensuring peace and integration of different cultures. The attractiveness of E.U. participation promotes its image at the international level. The same image is reflected about its member states; thus, serving as a useful platform for selling off public diplomacy for individual states.

Educational and cultural exchanges, as well as volunteering, are strategies of soft power that assists substantially to the safety and well-being of American citizens locally and overseas. Volunteering and training add to the organizational capacity building, respect for democracy and honor for human rights, all of which are principles that help shape the American image abroad.

Therefore, such events promote mutual understanding and intercultural appreciation and thus minimizing chances of conflicts. For a long period in the history of the U.S., public diplomacy has been shaped by the activities it conducts abroad. The countries in the Middle East feel that they have been a target for misappropriation of soft power by the U.S. This notion is highly attributed to the continuing heated relationship between the U.S. and a section of the Islamic states.

However, this is changing over time some states such as Cuba is coming to good terms with the U.S. over years of application of soft power strategies. Recently Cuba and the U.S. have re-established bilateral relationships giving a chance to both states to sell their public diplomacy.

Another case of effective soft power strategy is the U.S. effort to bolster its influence in Africa by using various institutions that include the African Growth and Opportunity Act that seeks to promote bilateral trade agreements tied to defined socio-economic and political reforms. Second is the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, which is a global health initiative offering financial solutions to facilitate national reforms to prevent AIDS/HIV.

The third approach is the Millennium Challenge Corporation formed on the basis the aid and grants are better utilized when they advance democracy, good governance, economic interdependence, and investments in people empowerment. These programs target to alleviate negative connotations held about the U.S. imperialist interests in Africa and elsewhere.

In the process, the U.S. is building its reputation, thus increasing its influence in global affairs through allies. The eligibility criteria for these programs are compelling and a strong persuasive instrument. The attractiveness of the U.S. humanitarian assistance in Africa and elsewhere in the world enhances world’s perception about the U.S.


Many people see the U.S. public diplomacy as a foreign public relations tool used to propagate its interests abroad. The public has expressed mixed reactions with some perceiving public diplomacy as a fundamental foreign policy tool while others disregard it as a government program full of uncertain long-term benefits.

Following the 9/11 attacks, policymakers have called for a rise in public diplomacy support to win the attitudes and minds of anti-Americans and assist combat terrorism. However, all actors must recognize that public diplomacy is only effective if the message it bears is credible and legitimate. Current surveys continue to indicate that vast majority of world’s population view the U.S. activities abroad with skepticism. When the message fails to match with what it purports to convey, then public diplomacy is ineffective.

Public diplomacy must now serve as a platform for negotiations aiming to achieve a better understanding of societies as well as create genuine interrelationships between countries. If dialogue cannot lead to long-term relationships between the U.S. and the rest of the world, it will be hard to build trust.

Without trust, public diplomacy is ineffective and meaningless. The U.S. should increase funding for public diplomacy activities, particularly among the Muslim populations and clearly communicate what it stands for through exchanges, volunteering, and broadcasting overseas.

Since the vast majority of Muslim population agree to what the U.S. advocates and do not subscribe to violence practices, the U.S. via public diplomacy must find means to draw a line between those who advocate for peace and those who use violence and terror as their way to air their grievances. Therefore, the U.S. can benefit if it employs public diplomacy more assertively to highlight its actions abroad legitimately.


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