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Revolutionizing Public Diplomacy: U.S. Embassy Tokyo in the 1970s

The goal of public diplomacy (PD) is defined as supporting the achievement of U.S. foreign policy goals and objectives, advancing national interests, and enhancing national security. It is done by informing and influencing foreign publics and strengthening the relationship between the people of the U.S. and citizens of the rest of the world. In Washington, the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs is in charge of the bureaus of Educational and Cultural Affairs, Public Affairs, and International Information Programs.

There has been an evolution in the practice of public diplomacy over the years since the State Department created the Office of International Information and Cultural Affairs in 1946. This office was replaced in 1953 by a separate foreign affairs agency, the United States Information Agency (USIA), whose officers managed press, cultural relations and exchanges at U.S. embassies and consulates. USIA’s offices overseas were called the U.S. Information Service (USIS).

The continuing changes in Public Diplomacy are the subject of academic scrutiny, with advanced courses notably at the University of Southern California, George Washington and Syracuse. This marks a transformation from the days when communicating with foreign audiences was done in a rigidly structured way. One of the first U.S. embassies to revolutionize its approach was in Japan. In the mid-1970s, under the leadership of Alan Carter, Public Affairs Officer in Tokyo, programming in Japan shifted away from historical lectures toward two-way discussions on contemporary issues with targeted audiences. Read more

Looking at the War in the Falklands/Malvinas from Both Sides Now

In 1982 a long-simmering dispute between the United Kingdom and Argentina over a small group of islands – the Falklands for the British, the Malvinas for the Argentinians – erupted into war. The disagreement arose from a dispute that goes back to the 1700’s when France, Spain, and Britain all tried to claim and settle the islands (with France selling her claim to Spain). Britain and Spain almost went to war over the archipelago before coming to a compromise that while neither recognized the claims of the other, they would not interfere in each other’s settlement activity. Eventually both sides abandoned their outposts due to the economic pressure of supporting the distant, windswept islands.

Businessman Louis Vernet began a settlement in 1829 as a business venture with the permission of the new Argentine government, which had inherited the Spanish claim. After a series of disagreements and violent incidents among several parties that involved the near destruction of  Vernet’s settlement by an American warship (the U.S. did not recognize the claim of any country over the islands at the time) the British reestablished authority in 1833 and brought in settlers whose descendants make up most of the current Falklanders.

During the post-WWII populism of Juan Peron, Argentina began to raise the issue again. Britain told Argentina that there was no hope of an eventual transfer. Seeing no diplomatic way forward, the Argentine military junta launched a surprises attack on the Islands in April, 1982. Within three months the British retook the islands. Read more

Picturing the “War of Ideas”: Wartime Film-Making in Korea

Throughout the Cold War, democratic and communist nations waged a “war of ideas.” The United States, seeking to expose the disadvantages of communism and to encourage democracy, engaged in numerous media campaigns targeted at influencing peoples in zones of Cold War conflict. The U.S. State Department, along with branches of the American military and other government agencies, published leaflets, newsreels, films, articles, and cartoons in numerous languages around the world.

During the Korean War (1950-1953), this use of soft power was intended, in the words of Public Affairs Officer James L. Stewart, “to create democratic-minded people in Korea friendly to the United States.” For much of the war, the State Department’s domestic film-making campaign in Korea was headed by a single American, William G. Ridgeway, and staffed by dozens of South Koreans who had reinvented themselves as film industry workers.

Ridgeway played a key role in sharing American ideas and shifting South Korean sentiment against communists as the Motion Picture Officer in Korea from 1950-1958. It was far from an easy task; he contended with an evacuation from Seoul, a severe dearth of equipment, and local cultural norms. Read more

Between Iraq and a Hard Place: Declared Persona Non Grata by Saddam

Iraq expelled an American diplomat stationed in Baghdad on November 17, 1988 for having contacts with Iraq’s Kurdish minority. Haywood Rankin, head of the American Embassy’s political section, was forced to leave the country after he and a British diplomat returned to Baghdad from a trip to Kurdistan that had been approved by Iraqi authorities. Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was infuriated by U.S. charges that his forces used chemical weapons against Kurdish rebels in far northern Iraq, repeatedly denying the allegations and saying they are part of a “Zionist plot” to defame Iraq in the wake of its military victory against Iran.

Upon Rankin’s return from his visit to the north, he sent detailed cables to Washington documenting his strong suspicion that chemical weapons had been used by the Iraqi military against Kurdish villages. Soon afterward, the Iraqis informed the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad that Rankin would be expelled for ”talking to Kurds” and ”contact with Kurds.”  Despite attempts to overturn the expulsion order, Rankin and the British diplomat were declared persona non grata and told to leave. Read more

Soft Power in a Cold War: Challenges of Reaching out to the Soviets

The “Iron Curtain” was a term used to denote the efforts of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics to block its citizens from contact with the West. It persisted from the end of World War II until the end of the Cold War. Throughout those decades, the U.S. endeavored to breach the Curtain and reach out to Soviet society through radio, exchanges, exhibits and other forms of public diplomacy.

The U.S. Voice of America (VOA), launched during the Second World War as a radio program to explain America’s policies and raise the morale of U.S. allies, continued after the Allied Victory to make information available to listeners throughout the world. VOA began its first Russian-language radio broadcasts into the Soviet Union on February 17, 1947 with the words: “Hello! This is New York calling,” The programs contained news, entertainment, educational features and music. A Harvard University study estimated that 28 million people in the Soviet Union tuned in at least once a week. Read more

Grapes of Wrath and Strained Relations with Chile

Grocery stores throughout the United States pulled tons of grapes from their shelves when traces of cyanide were found in two grapes shipped from Chile to Philadelphia on March 13, 1989. The Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration advised Americans to get rid of all fruit in their homes unless they were certain it was not from Chile.

Hundreds of inspectors from the food agency and the Agriculture Department checked Chilean fruit stopped by the U.S. Government at ports of entry. The inspections began after an agitated anonymous caller to the U.S. Embassy in Santiago revealed he had poisoned grapes bound for the U.S. The ban on Chilean produce led to angry demonstrations in Chile and posed another setback to bilateral relations, which had been struggling to return to normalcy after the dark days of the Pinochet regime. Read more

A Sketch in Time: Cape Verde from an Ambassador’s View

The nation of Cape Verde, now known as Cabo Verde, is a group of islands located off the western coast of Africa. Its total territory is slightly larger than Rhode Island, and its citizens number just over 550,000 inhabitants. The United States and Cape Verde have deep historic links. Cape Verdeans have long been known as skillful sailors. As early as the 1740’s New England whaling ships began recruiting crews from the islands. Many of these sailors later settled in the United States. Today, over 95,000 members of the Cape Verde diaspora live in the United States, primarily in Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

The first U.S. consulate in sub-Saharan Africa was established in Cape Verde in 1818. The United States established diplomatic relations with Cabo Verde in 1975, following its independence on July 5 from Portugal. Cape Verde and Guinea-Bissau – 900 kilometers south-east of Cape Verde on the west coast of Africa — were both Portuguese colonies which campaigned together for independence with a plan for unification, but the countries separated after 1980. Cabo Verde was under one-party rule from independence until 1990; the first multiparty elections were held in 1991. American Foreign Service Officers stationed in Praia have witnessed the nation’s transition to democracy, the expansion of its economy, the evolution of its social practices, and American commitment to the region. Read more