Friday, November 14, 2008

Editorial: The Obama administration should embrace UNESCO in its public diplomacy

Applying this successful Cold War “war of ideas” model to the present national security challenge in the Middle East could effectively drive out extremist ideology that may give rise to terrorist behavior while strengthening the United States’ stature in the international community.

The U.S. Marine Corps Small Wars manual, which details tactics and strategies for operations combining military force and diplomatic pressure, and on which the “Global War on Terror” is based, famously notes that such “wars are battles of ideas and battles for the perceptions and attitudes of target populations."

Winning the war of ideas and creating better relations with the Muslim world require more than tired tactics, immobility, and budgetary pocket change (the current $50-million cost is less than 1/10,000th of our Iraq-related expenditures). The next president should designate this effort as a matter of the highest national security importance. The campaign as a whole should be self-critical, regularly evaluating its own performance and ready and willing to change in response to evaluation results.

Simply put, there is a glaring need for the United States to undertake a proactive strategy aimed at restoring long-term security through the presentation of our principles as part of U.S. foreign policy. The tools of public diplomacy and strategic communications are the most valuable weapons in America’s arsenal. It is not too late to wield them.

Hady Amr and Peter W. Singer
"Engaging the Muslim World: How to Win the War of Idea"
American Constitution Society for Law and Policy
The quotations shown above are from a paper provided for the Obama administration as it takes office, published by a think tank with close ties to the Democratic party. The authors make a number of very good points and the paper is worth reading by anyone interested in public diplomacy. They stress the need to complement our military actions with a far more effective program of public diplomacy. They emphasize that the effort must be sincere, and that we must work to better implement our ideals at home and abroad if our public representations are to be believed.

The new administration should realize that UNESCO is an important venue in which the United States can wage "the war of ideas", and that UNESCO has considerable influence in Muslim countries. The Bush administration has helped reestablish U.S. prestige in the halls of UNESCO, and the new administration can build on that start.
  • UNESCO's education programs can help to build understanding among cultures;
  • Its social science programs can help develop valid information on which such understanding can be built;
  • Its natural science programs not only provide means to encourage cooperation among scientists in Islamic countries and the United States, but can help to defuse potential conflict over natural resources;
  • Its cultural programs can promote a peaceful dialog among cultures, and help people to learn to respect cultures other than their own;
  • Its information and communications programs can help to improve the quality of media in the Muslim world.
The United States should of course provide its assessed contributions to UNESCO in a timely fashion, and encourage our best professionals to seek positions in UNESCO. The government should seek opportunities to make voluntary contributions to UNESCO where they can promote projects that contribute to our public diplomacy. Importantly, the U.S. Government should revitalize the U.S. National Commission for UNESCO, using it to empower our educational, scientific and cultural communities to work more actively and effectively with UNESCO.

John Daly
(The opinions expressed above are those of the author, and don't necessarily reflect those of Americans for UNESCO or other organizations.)

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