‘And finally, there is much in our own life, here in this country, that needs
early containment. It could, in fact, be said that the first thing we Americans
need to learn to contain is, in some ways, ourselves’.
Containment, as has been noted, can be both strategic and tactical. It is
positional but also processual. It is both long-term and short-term. The basic
idea of it is classically expressed in Kennan’s famous observation—and
prescription—of 1947 that ‘Soviet pressure against the free institutions of the
Western world is something that can be contained by the adroit and vigilant
application of counter-force at a series of constantly shifting geographical and
political points, corresponding to the shifts and maneuvers of Soviet policy,
but which cannot be charmed or talked out of existence’—or, one might add,
simply overcome militarily.
Professor Kennan was later at pains to explain
that ‘containment’, as he intended it, was not primarily a military concept.
was political, and economic. And, he might have added, public-diplomatic as
Containment via public diplomacy, like containment by military action or
economic measures, also can be strategic and tactical. To stop the spread of
terror ‘with a global reach’ is now what might be considered a new grand
strategy for the United States, and perhaps even for certain of its allies,
notably the United Kingdom. In that remarkable document, The National
Security Strategy of the United States of America, the statement is made: ‘We
will cooperate with other nations to deny, contain, and curtail our enemies’
efforts to acquire dangerous technologies. And, as a matter of common sense
and self-defense, America will act against such emerging threats before they
are fully formed.’
This early-reactive, even pre-emptive, approach would have an
informational and ideological aspect as well. The character of much of the
current communications effort is, frankly, propagandistic—and reminiscent of
‘informational’ programs carried out by the U.S. government in the 1950s.
The National Security Strategy states: ‘We will also wage a war of ideas to win
41) Kennan, ‘The Origins of Containment’, 30.
42) George F. Kennan, American Diplomacy, 1900-1950 (New York: Mentor Books,
43) Kennan, ‘The Origins of Containment’, 26: ‘So when I used the word containment
with respect to that country [Soviet Russia] in 1946, what I had in mind was not at all
the averting of the sort of military threat people are talking about today.’ See also
George F. Kennan, Memoirs, 1925-1950 (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1967),
chap. 15 ‘The X-Article’.
44) The National Security Strategy of the United States of America, The White House, 17
September 2002, http://www.whitehouse.gov/nsc/nss.html.
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the battle against terrorism.’ This would include ‘using effective public
diplomacy to promote the free flow of information and ideas to kindle the
hopes and aspirations of freedom of those in societies ruled by the sponsors of
At the purely tactical level, some controversial measures are being taken.
Some of this informational activity is largely just reactive, aimed at containing
rumors rather than spreading truth of a higher order. The machinery that has
been set up for this is impressive. ‘They call themselves a rapid reaction
force’, rather dramatically began an article about it in Der Spiegel:
At 4:30 every morning, they report for work in a windowless room on the second
floor of the State Department in Washington. The televisions in the room are all
set to Arab broadcasters—part of the daily search for reports coming out of the
Islamic world that could spell danger for the United States.
The team’s job is to correct false reports and wild myths as fast as possible—
corrections which are then posted on the State Department Web site. And some
of the conspiracy theories are whoppers—like the one claiming the US knew
about the catastrophic tsunami in Asia but didn’t put out a warning in time, or
the one about US troops in Iraq selling the organs of dead Iraqis.
‘But correcting urban myths’, the Spiegel article went on to say, ‘is just a tiny
cog in that part of Washington’s massive PR apparatus aimed at improving
the US image in the Muslim world.’ Its author lists, among other activities,
the financing of radio and television stations, providing help to build Islamic
centers, and giving payments to spiritual leaders. ‘Friendly contact with the
Islamic world’, is the secret marching order Bush has given the State
Department, the Pentagon and the CIA in carrying out the largest
propaganda offensive since the end of the Cold War.’ The program is
estimated to be costing ‘billions of dollars’.
Much of this money is being spent, directly and also indirectly, by the
Pentagon and the U.S. military under the name of ‘information operations’.
In 2003 Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld approved an ‘Information Operations
Roadmap’, now declassified. This came after the Department of Defense’s
Office of Strategic Influence was dismantled following news reports that it
would plant false news items in the foreign press. A portion of that effort has
46) Georg Mascolo, ‘US Dollars for Islamic Goodwill’, Spiegel Online, 21 February 2006,
http://www.spiegel.de/international/spiegel/0,1518,402130,00.html. See also David W.
Cloud and Jeff Gerth, ‘Muslim Scholars Were Paid to Aid U.S. Propaganda’, The New
York Times, 2 January 2006.
been outsourced to a private firm, the Lincoln Group, which has been
reported to have a dozen U.S. government contracts totaling 130 million
dollars. The firm works in Iraq, Afghanistan, the United Arab Emirates, and
Jordan, and employs about two hundred persons. What it does, according to
Lincoln Group president Paige Craig, is not propaganda. ‘We call it
“influence”’, he said.
Secretary Rumsfeld testily defends the ‘use of
nontraditional means to provide accurate information to the Iraqi people’ in
the face of an ‘aggressive campaign of disinformation’. He protests:
Yet this has been portrayed as inappropriate; for example, the allegations of
someone in the military hiring a contractor, and the contractor allegedly paying
someone to print a story—a true story—but paying to print a story. The effect is
that ‘the resulting explosion of critical press stories then causes everything, all
activity, all initiative, to stop, just frozen. Even worse, it leads to a chilling effect
for those who are asked to serve in the military public affairs field. The
conclusion to be drawn, logically, for anyone in the military who is asked to do
something involving public affairs is that there is no tolerance for innovation,
much less for human error that could conceivably be seized upon by a press that
seems to demand perfection from the government, but does not apply the same
standard to the enemy or even sometimes to themselves.
European governments, in part because their policies are for the most
part less challenging than are the attitudes, actions, and actors of the United
States, have been able to use public diplomatic methods in their containment
efforts that are more open, and more reliant on the structures and forms of
conventional diplomacy. Their responses are also becoming more multilateral.
For instance, in responding to the Danish cartoon crisis, Prime Minister
Rasmussen in early February, rather belatedly to be sure, invited the foreign
ambassadors in Denmark, including those from Muslim countries, to meet
with him to discuss the controversy. This followed his refusal in October of
last year to meet representatives from ten majority member Muslim countries
47) Lynne Duke, ‘The Word at War: Propaganda? Nah, Here’s the Scoop, Say the Guys
Who Planted Stories in Iraqi Papers’, Washington Post, 26 March 2006.
48) Rumsfeld, ‘New Realities in the Media Age’. The use of the Lincoln Group, and other
private firms, in its informational efforts clearly has put the U.S. military on the
defensive, causing it to have to insist that no ‘law’ has been violated in planting articles
in Iraqi newspapers while concealing their source. Thom Shanker, ‘No Breach Seen in
Iraq on Propaganda’, The New York Times, 21 March 2006. There obviously is
concern among the military leadership that U.S. communications, in general, risk
being ‘discredited’ by the reports of planted articles.
who objected to publication of the drawings.
Two weeks later, Danish
Foreign Minister Per Stig Møller and Bishop Steen Skovsgaard of the Danish
People’s Church in Lolland-Falster met in Vienna with Grand Mufti of Syria
Ahmed Bader Eddin Hassoun and Grand Mufti Reis-ul-Ulema Mustafa Ceric
of Bosnia-Herzegovina with Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik,
representing the Austrian EU Presidency. The success of this Austrian effort
to offer leadership at the European level was limited. The Muslim visitors,
perhaps reluctant to appear ‘instrumentalized’ or to seem to be part of a mere
‘containment’ exercise, declined to participate in a press conference following
the meeting. A statement by EU foreign ministers soon afterward backed the
promotion of ‘dialogue’ with Muslim countries, principally through the
existing Euro-Mediterranean—Barcelona—process as well as through the Asia
Europe Meetings (ASEM). The EU also threw its weight behind an earlier
Turkish-Spanish initiative for an ‘Alliance of Civilizations’, in part an
evolution of the United Nations’ 2001 Year of Dialogue among Civilizations
that then-President, Seyed Mohamed Khatami of Iran had initiated at a UN
General Assembly session in 1998.
The Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, called for a
roundtable of influential Muslim-country political and religious figures and
other international dignitaries, using an already existing group he had recently
formed, the High-Level Group for Alliance of Civilizations.
of Qatar offered to host the AOC meeting, which took place in Doha on 26
February 2006. At the event Secretary-General Annan, expressed a strong
sense of urgency as well as some frustration at the ineffectiveness of
49) ‘Danish PM tries to ease a cartoon row’, AlJazeera.Net, 2 February 2006. Anders
Fogh Rasmussen’s refusal prompted twenty-two former Danish diplomats, including
some who had served in Muslim countries, publicly to criticize the Prime Minister for
‘snubbing’ the eleven Arab and Muslim country ambassadors who had requested a
meeting with him to discuss the cartoons. ‘Danish Diplomats Bash PM Over Anti-
50) Former President Khatami himself, however, stressed that the ‘Alliance of
Civilizations’ was different from his concept of ‘Dialogue among Civilizations’,
although he participated personally in the latter effort as well. ‘An alliance of
civilizations will be meaningless without dialogue among civilizations’, he said.
‘Khatami: Alliance of Civilizations Meaningless Without Dialogue’, Payvand’s Iran
News, 30 November 2005, http://www.payvand.com/news/05/nov/1283.html.
51) ‘Secretary-General Announces Composition of High-level Group for Alliance of
Civilizations’, Secretary-General, SG/SM/10073/Rev.1*, News and Media Division,
traditional forms of diplomacy. He hoped that the High-Level Group
members would come up with suggestions that would ‘really catch the
popular imagination, so that we are not just a nice group of people agreeing
with each other, but people with a message that can echo round the world’.
He therefore said: ‘We need to engage in dialogue not only scholars, or
diplomats or politicians but also artists, entertainers, sports champions—
people who command respect and attention right across society, and
especially among young people, because it is very important to reach young
people before their ideas and attitudes have fully crystallized.’
This Doha meeting, and other gestures like it including a joint statement
by UN Secretary-General Annan, the Organization of the Islamic
Conference’s Secretary-General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, and the European
Union’s High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier
Solana, all were efforts to ‘calm’—essentially, to contain—the situation.
‘solid plan of action’ yet has resulted. While sympathetic with short-term and
also longer-term purposes of the AOC initiative, one can nonetheless to a
degree understand the skeptical thinking behind the Fox News description of
the Alliance of Civilizations as a ‘daisy-chain’.
It was no arc of containment.
52) ‘Annan envisions popular dialogue: Entertainers, athletes called on to speak to east-
53) ‘Joint Statement by Kofi A. Annan, Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, and Javier Solana, 8
http://www.iht.com/articles/2006/02/08/asia/web.0208.islamstatement.php. A balanced
expression of sensitivity to religious belief, affirmation of free speech, condemnation of
protesters’ violence, and call for protection of all diplomatic premises and foreign
citizens, the statement of the three secretaries-general ended with an ‘appeal for
restraint and calm, in the spirit of friendship and mutual respect’.
54) Claudia Rosett and George Russell, ‘New U.N. Scheme: Alliance of Civilizations’, 22
http://www.foxnews.com/printer_friendly_story/0,3566,176362,00.html. The full
phrase was ‘a daisy-chain of dubious associations that cast serious doubt both on the
project itself and on the U.N.’s ability to cut loose from the scandals of the past
decade’, with reference to two of the former UN Secretariat officials involved in the
AOC, Iqbal Riza and Giandomenico Picco.
A third policy-based strategic concept of public diplomacy, sometimes
combined with containment, is penetration, or the attempt to reach target
audiences and even to form relationships with selected persons or groups deep
inside a target territory. This can be and has been done through the work of
intelligence services, of course, but it also can be done through such public-
diplomatic means as radio programming and educational and cultural
exchanges as well as, of course, exploratory trade and business relationships.
The use of this term in the business world is suggestive of its meaning in
international relations as well.
Market penetration occurs when a company enters, or ‘penetrates’, a
market with its current products or services by either gaining customers from
competitors (a company or even the government of the country whose
territory is entered), attracting non-users of the product or service, or
convincing current clients to use more of what it has to offer. This general
idea can be seen, for instance, in an article by the writer on public diplomacy,
Mark Leonard, titled ‘The Great Firewall of China Will Fall’. Despite the
Beijing-ordered operation by Chinese computer scientists of an electronic
‘firewall with a least four different kinds of filter’, and even the acceptance of
a degree of self-censorship by Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, and some other
Western companies, most outside information still will get through and most
internal messages still will get around—with the resulting likelihood that ‘the
dream of a democratic China has not been deferred’.
If the society or bloc of countries being addressed is relatively ‘closed’,
such penetration may be as difficult to achieve as it can be important—as a
generator of current ‘inside’ information and as a builder of ‘bridges’ for
future collaboration. Contacts that may be established thereby, with
dissidents (perhaps including persons with ethnic, religious, or other ties to
the sending country) as well as with potential alternative political, economic,
and scientific leaders, do exert pressure on the existing authorities of the
receiving country. Such contacts thus can be risky, in ‘downside’ as well as
‘upside’ ways. Sometimes, of course, provocation resulting from penetrative
diplomacy is intentional, and it can gain an advantage for one side. But it can
55) Mark Leonard, ‘The Great Firewall of China Will Fall’, The Daily Telegraph, 26
also occur entirely unexpectedly, and disadvantageously. It can result, for
instance, from relatively innocent and benign activities such as scholarly
research or journalistic reporting, if the government of the host state considers
them to be improper ‘interference’ in its domestic affairs, or even ‘espionage’.
The charge of espionage can be a ploy to gain bargaining leverage for a spy
exchange. That, too, has happened. Famous ‘incidents’ from the Cold War
era are the 1963 Barghoorn case and the 1986 Daniloff case.
however, as with the educational relationships that the British Council
developed with Soviet institutions during that period relationships proceeded
without notable incident, as long as ‘reciprocity’ carefully was maintained.
Penetration through exchanges, whether government-organized or
entirely private in initiative, is a subtle business. It is unlikely therefore to have
major consequences, at least in the short run. Excessive claims have been
made for the effectiveness of these and related programs. That ‘public
diplomacy’ brought about—or even was an important factor in bringing
about—the ‘collapse of communism’ may be, as Martin Rose has pointed out,
‘an exaggerated case of post hoc ergo propter hoc’.
A good (or bad) example is
a University of Pennsylvania Press blurb announcing a book by a former U.S.
foreign service officer, Yale Richmond, titled, Cultural Exchange and the Cold
War: Raising the Iron Curtain. ‘Some fifty thousand Soviets visited the United
States under various exchange programs between 1958 and 1988’, it said.
‘They came as scholars and students, scientists and engineers, writers and
journalists, government and party officials, musicians, dancers, and athletes—
and among them were more than a few KGB officers. They came, they saw,
they were conquered, and the Soviet Union would never again be the same.’
One of the Soviet students who came to the United States in 1958 was
Mikhail Gorbachev’s adviser, Alexander Yakovlev, considered by many to be
the author of the ‘glasnost’ policy. However, when he was a student at
Columbia University in New York that year, as Yakovlev later recalled, he
had ‘a very ambivalent impression’. He recognized, of course, America’s
56) Professor Frederick C. Barghoorn of Yale University was briefly held by the Soviet
government under a charge of espionage in 1963 and the U.S. News & World Report
writer Nicholas Daniloff was similarly accused and held in 1986.
57) Martin Rose, ‘Supporting the Acrobat: Public Diplomacy & Trust’, address delivered
at the Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania,
Philadelphia, 27 January 2006.
58) ‘New Book Demonstrates How Cultural Exchange Programs Helped to Raise the Iron
wealth but he was ‘terribly irritated by the primitive criticism’ of his
country by Americans. The kind of propaganda he encountered ‘pushed me
toward more conservative attitudes’, he said. ‘This was not a matter of
intelligence or reason, it was just a matter of emotions. It caused negative
The longer-term effect of Yakovlev’s sojourn at Columbia,
however, presumably was more positive and liberalizing, but it is difficult
really to know the balance of it. The publisher’s description of Cultural
Exchange and the Cold War also noted parenthetically that these exchange
programs ‘brought an even larger number of Americans to the Soviet
It would not be even plausible, however, to suggest that, as a result
of the Americans’ exposure then, the United States ‘would never again be the
The post-Cold War world has seen ‘a major shift from ideological to
cultural engagement’, and this is a much more complex process than the
generally propagandistic efforts of the Cold War era. ‘Where once public
diplomacy was a crowbar that could usefully be inserted in the cracks of the
other ideological position to break it down’, as Martin Rose emphasizes, ‘it is
now a much more elusive and ambiguous instrument.’
It is an instrument
that has been called, however, the ‘linchpin’ of public diplomacy. That
argument, and title, is used by the authors of the Report of the Advisory
Committee on Cultural Diplomacy recently carried out for the U.S.
Department of State. Part of the point the authors of the Report make is that
‘when our nation is at war, every tool in the diplomatic kit bag is employed,
including the promotion of cultural activities’. However, ‘when peace returns,
culture gets short shrift’. A peacetime emphasis on cultural promotion and
exchange could, the Advisory Committee’s proposition seems to be, ‘create
enduring structures’. Cultural diplomacy could create ‘a foundation of trust’
59) ‘Shaping Russia’s Transformation: A Leader of Perestroika Looks Back—
Conversation with Alexander Yakovlev’, by Harry Kreisler, Institute of International
University of California, Berkeley, 21 November
60) ‘New Book Demonstrates How Cultural Exchange Programs Helped to Raise the Iron
61) One cannot help but think, however, of the impact on the course of American history
of a non-exchange-student adventurer who found his way from the United States to
Russia for a period, and returned, disastrously: Lee Harvey Oswald, the assassin of
President John F. Kennedy on 22 November 1963.
62) Rose, ‘Supporting the Acrobat’.
with other peoples, on which policy makers could build ‘to reach political,
economic, and military agreements’.
Exploitation of peacetime opportunities also would facilitate creating
‘relationships with peoples’, which endure beyond changes in government. It
would, more specifically, ‘reach influential members of foreign societies, who
cannot be reached through traditional embassy functions’.
could develop into a network, a root system of familiarity and trust. The logic
is explained metaphorically by former Secretary of State George P. Shultz,
who analogized diplomacy in general to gardening. ‘You get the weeds out
when they are small. You also build confidence and understanding. Then,
when a crisis arises, you have a solid base from which to work.’ The role of
cultural diplomacy thus would seem to be ‘to plant seeds’.
For this to
happen, a certain amount of early, organized, and penetrative, spade work is
With regard to Iran today, the U.S. government is newly conducting a
two-track approach, recently outlined by Secretary Rice before the Senate
Committee on Foreign Relations. This was reported as being, first, ‘concerted
international pressure to deter Tehran from building a bomb’—in a sense,
though the word is not used, containment. Then there is something new: ‘a
newly robust attempt to seed democratic change inside the country with $75
million for broadcasts and aid to dissidents’—in a word, penetration. This
money would go to aid dissidents and scholars and also to fund Farsi
language radio and satellite programming ‘in the mold of the old Radio Free
Europe’, as an Associated Press reporter understood it. Secretary Rice herself
stated: ‘The United States wishes to reach out to the Iranian people and
support their desire to realize their own freedom and to secure their own
democratic and human rights. The Iranian people should know that the
United States fully supports their aspirations for a freer, better future.’
Another State Department official, understandably speaking on condition of
anonymity, ‘refused to say whether the money is intended to help an eventual
63) Cultural Diplomacy: The Linchpin of Public Diplomacy, Report of the Advisory
Committee on Cultural Diplomacy, U.S. Department of State, September 2005.
65) The Shultz diplomacy/gardening comparison quoted in the Report of the Advisory
Committee on Cultural Diplomacy is from George P. Shultz, ‘Diplomacy in the
Information Age’, paper presented at the Conference on Virtual Diplomacy, U.S.
Institute of Peace, Washington, DC, 1 April 1997, 9.
overthrow of the mullah-led government’—that is, to bring about regime
The Department’s newly created Office of Iranian Affairs, headed by the
Vice President’s daughter Elizabeth Cheney as a Deputy Assistant Secretary
of State, is currently examining applications for financial support in an
expanding program aimed at changing the political process inside Iran. In this
competition for funding, according to a State Department website
announcement, applicants ‘must outline activities linked to reform and
demonstrate how the proposed approach would achieve sustainable impact on
Iran’. A Department official acknowledged that activists inside Iran who apply
for funds do so at ‘considerable personal risk’. Other experts said these might
not be the best ones to get the money. As result of these considerations, the
New York Times reported, ‘State Department officials and various advocates
for change consulted by the department said that for now the money would
probably be concentrated on groups seeking to document human rights
abuses and promote women’s and labor rights, rather than groups seeking
direct political change.’
A fourth general strategy, in this case directly associated with a policy term, is
enlargement, or expansion of the ideological, economic, and also political and
cultural sphere of a country and its allies on a very broad front, rather than to
prise open a beachhead of influence within a particular country. Perhaps the
most graphic expression of the ‘enlargement’ idea was that of the National
Security Adviser in the first Clinton administration, Anthony Lake, when he
said: ‘During the Cold War, even children understood America’s security
mission; as they looked at those maps on their schoolroom walls, they knew
we were trying to contain the creeping expansion of that big, red blob. Today,
at great risk of oversimplification, we might visualize our security mission as
promoting the enlargement of the “blue areas” of market democracies.’ He
66) Anne Gearan, ‘Senate Republicans Criticize Rice on Iraq’, The Associated Press, 15
67) Steven R. Weisman, ‘U.S. Program Is Directed at Altering Iran’s Politics’, The New
York Times, 15 April 2006.
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