Encouraged by the leadership of the Obama administration, there is hope that soft power and consensus may pervade the thinking of ‘Western’ foreign policy. We may, at last, see the ideology of Joseph Nye (Paradox of American Power, Powers to Lead) seeping through the US administration, and percolating throughout ‘Western’ foreign policy (although, some already claim to embrace it, eg, the European Union). As PR Week (Opinion, 16 Jan) proclaimed, as this wind of change blows through, the PR profession may reap rewards.
However, when it comes to strategic communications and public diplomacy, senior leaderships of the West have all too often failed to ‘get it’. Despite a general recognition that, in a globalised world, domestic and foreign policy are inextricably linked, government interest and expenditure in communications wane dramatically once publics fall outside domestic borders. This problem exists in national management structures and within multilateral organisations as well, as many practitioners in foreign policy communications will attest.
The problem, in CB3’s humble opinion (but based on experience and research), is often due to a lack of understanding, at senior, strategic level, of communications in the foreign policy and development contexts, despite the sterling work of many in public information, public diplomacy, influence activity and information operations. This results in underfunded, ill-planned and outmoded ideas in campaigns that often lack strategic guidance. ‘Hearts and minds’ is a tired cliché, but to nurture effective soft power and consensus in this age of dialogue, the most crucial battle for ‘hearts and minds’ should first be fought not on the global stage but in the corridors of power of government offices, foreign ministries, defence departments and development agencies.