The Cold War was a political conflict characterized by military tension between the Soviet Union and the United States and its political allies that occurred between 1946 and 1991. The conflict did not involve direct military confrontations; nevertheless, propaganda, espionage, and nuclear threats were common. During the Cold War, the U.S. was engaged in public diplomacy by promoting its ideals and national interests.
The U.S. promoted the ideals of democratic governance and respect of basic human rights through its public diplomacy strategy. President Jimmy Carter (1977-1981), at the height of the Cold War, following the invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union, declared that the U.S. would use public diplomacy and if need be, military force to protect the oil rich Persian Gulf. This doctrine was appropriate and calmed tensions in international relations between the US and the Soviet Union.
The U.S. Foreign Policy
The hallmark of President Carter’s rule was his human rights public diplomacy in all nations. Upon taking office, Jimmy Carter undertook to streamline domestic policy by pardoning an estimated 10,000 draft men who refused to fight in the Vietnam War of 1959-1975 (Ross, 2003, p.21). This move, although opposed by war veterans, aimed at unifying gesture as far as the U.S. foreign policy was concerned since the war was over. Additionally, this move implied the unwillingness to pursue the Cold War rivalry with the Soviet Union.
Among the situations that called for America’s diplomacy during the Cold War include the deliberate efforts to improve relations with the Soviet Union and ease the hostilities between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. The easing of tensions between the two nations, termed détente, began in 1969 to 1972, and needed America’s diplomatic efforts.
The public diplomacy efforts during the Cold War were led by the United States Information Agency (USIA), which had the primary role of preventing the spread of communism and combating propaganda from the Soviet Union (Wilson, 2004, p.147). However, Carter’s approach was more of an activist and involved the assessment of foreign opinion before policy formulation.
The Hostage Crisis in Iran
President Jimmy Carter’s doctrine was occasioned by the hostage crisis in Iran. At the time, the U.S. had little intelligence information on events taking place in Iran. Carter attempted to develop cordial relations with Iran’s military government to secure the release of 52 U.S hostages held in Iran.
However in 1979, the relations between the two countries worsened following the admission of Shah, who was suffering from cancer, into the U.S. for treatment. This action caused a diplomatic row as the Tehran military government sought Shah to stand trial for criminal charges. It sparked violent protests and an angry mob raided the U.S. embassy in Tehran to push the U.S. to return Shah to Iran. Following these events, the public diplomacy collapsed, and the U.S. hostages remained captive in Iran.
President Carter invested great personal efforts in resolving the crisis. He immediately suspended all oil imports originating from Iran, and froze assets owned by Iranian military government in the U.S. as an economic sanction to secure the release of the U.S. hostages. He also deployed a military rescue unit to Iran to secure the release of the hostages.
However, the raid failed, and the negotiations reached a stalemate. In 1980, the Iranian government agreed to free the hostages on condition that the U.S. unfreezes Iranian assets in the U.S and stops interfering in Iranian affairs.
The Effects of Public Diplomacy
According to Wilson (2004), the approach of public diplomacy used by President Carter turned to be effective during the Cold War in many respects; firstly, it gave confidence to the dissidents including artists, politicians, and intellectuals from the Eastern bloc, who favored policies of the West (p.142). It also helped to spread the ideals of democracy eventually leading to the collapse of communism. It was clear, after the war in Vietnam, that the US image had been politically damaged.
As Lacquer writes, “Due to public diplomacy, America had to give propositions to other countries as opposed to commanding or military intervention in other countries” (1994, p.25). Recognizing this, Jimmy Carter embarked on promoting foreign exchange programs to promote cultural understanding. Additionally, he undertook to promote access of foreigners into American institutions to ensure a good cross-cultural understanding.
Through public diplomacy, the communist propaganda was disseminated leading to the collapse of communism from within. Additionally, public diplomacy ensures stable relations between countries thereby reducing their chances of going into war. Through continued dialogue such as the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) II talks, better relations between the US and the Soviet Union were ensured even though government-to-government relations were not persuasive (Brinkley, 1995, p.782).
The diplomacy also promoted the recognition of human rights and increased economic interdependence between the nations. The sanctions imposed against the Soviet Union affected its economy. Likewise, the shortage of oil occasioned by the Cold War affected the US economy. The public diplomacy, therefore, enhanced cultural and economic interdependence between the nations.
The public diplomacy approach used by President Jimmy Carter served to ease strained international relations between the US and the Soviet Union. It allowed dissidents, within the Eastern bloc, to understand the ideologies, human rights, and values of the West, which contributed to the collapse of communism.
The diplomacy also contributed to the ratification of the SALT II treaty that prevented arms war between the US and Soviet Union. However, the sanctions that accompanied public diplomacy affected the economies of many countries and created a shortage of oil.
Brinkley, D. (1995). Jimmy Carter’s Modest Quest for Global Peace. Foreign Affairs, 17, 782-8.
Lacquer, W. (1994). Save Public Diplomacy. Foreign Affairs, 73, 25-30.
Ross, C. (2003). The pillars of Public Diplomacy. Harvard international review, 25, 21-26.
Wilson, P. (2004). Inventing Public Diplomacy: The Story of the U.S. Information Agency. Boulder, Cologne: Lynne Rienner.