Public Diplomacy's Role at Various Stages of Conflict Resolution

"...Public diplomacy is critical in extending civilian-military power. It combines soft and hard power to make the kind of “smart power” that is necessary to succeed." 
-Tara Sonenshine, U.S. Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs

The above quote is from Under Secretary Sonenshine's remarks she made recently and I think it resonates well with the work everyone does in conflict resolution- ranging from being a volunteer mediator to engaging in negotiations of seven-figure sum disputes or multi-nation treaties, and everything in between.

Photo of Tara Sonenshine
Tara Sonenshine, U.S. Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs

Sonenshine's words also reiterates what her co-worker, U.S. Department of State's Special Representative to Muslim Communities Farah Pandith (who happens to be giving the keynote at this year's ACR-GNY Conference later this week), states when she shares that her role and the U.S. Department of State as a whole is seeking to do when engaging others- change the narrative.  

This means working collaboratively to move from an "us and them" or even worse an "us versus them" perspective to creating a situation that does not always mean agreeing but rather communicating that creates understanding and mutual trust.  There is no wonder the word "empathy" constantly comes up and is pervasive (it is also comforting for lack of a better word) with the work of the State Department's employees- utilizing it demonstrates with those they engage that it is a genuine outreach looking to develop sustainable and meaningful relationships. 

It is also notable to look at the positions held by both Sonenshine and Pandith- they both have accomplished much in global diplomacy in their careers using these effective communication skills and currently have prestigious positions where they possess considerable influence. 

Have a read of Soneshine's remarks below and take a moment to reflect on how it applies to your practice as someone who engages conflict.

Public Diplomacy's Role at Various Stages of Conflict Resolution


Tara Sonenshine

Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs 

The Stimson Center

Washington, DC

June 6, 2013

It is an honor and a pleasure to be here today, with a good friend and colleague, Ellen Laipson, who has done so much to advance international affairs, not only through The Stimson Center, but from the White House to the Foreign Policy Advisory Board to countless other boards. Thank you, Ellen, for your friendship and your contributions to American foreign policy and for this unique opportunity to talk about the civilian-military space and its relationship to public diplomacy.

This is not an easy subject but it is a timely subject, as you will soon hear about in the panel discussion later this morning. Russ Rumbaugh, who directs your Budgeting for Foreign Affairs and Defense, will talk about the interaction between DOD and our civilian corps and Alison Giffen, who often collaborates with our own Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations, will discuss ways we can enhance our civilian-military capabilities to support conflict resolution.

My thesis today is that public diplomacy is critical in extending civilian-military power. It combines soft and hard power to make the kind of “smart power” that is necessary to succeed. Public diplomacy is inextricably linked to key U.S. foreign policy goals of preventing deadly conflict, managing conflict when it occurs, and building civil societies out of the ashes of conflict.

Before I go any further, allow me just a bit of history.

At the State Department, I sit in the office once occupied by George Marshall—a man who understood a thing or two about strengthening our civilian-military continuum and about how to repurpose the aftermath of war into the new math of peace and prosperity.

The Marshall Plan set the precedent for a kind of transformative and collaborative capability. As former Secretary of State Clinton put it so well, and I quote, “The allies won the war with guts and valor, and the Marshall Plan won the peace with bricks and mortar.”

But the Marshall Plan went much further than bridges and buildings. It created an infrastructure for economic growth, which helped to create an alternative scenario to the biggest threat to our mutual freedom at the time: communism. The proof of success is in the story of the post-Marshall Plan era and how we, and our allies, came to choose paths that led to periods of peace and prosperity and alternatives to the communist system.

This theory of change that we can create alternatives to violence — that is the crux of the challenge of the military-civilian, civilian-military hyphen, in conflict prevention and post-conflict settings: How to create an alternative scenario to violence, destruction, division, hostility, and the danger of more deadly conflict.

It is also the challenge of public diplomacy—creating alternative scenarios using a variety of tools and approaches that have immediate and sometimes not so immediate impact.

Read the full remarks [here]
Read about Under Secretary Sonenshine [here]

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