Revamping American "Soft Power": The Case for Centralizing America's Messages to the World

Haroro Ingram, Alexander Guittard

    Research output: Book/ReportCommissioned report

    Abstract

    The threat to American influence from the propaganda and disinformation activities of a range of actors—from powers like the People's Republic of China and the Russian Federation to non-state actors like violent extremists—is one of the most pressing challenges to U.S. foreign policy and national security interests. Yet, the U.S. government is poorly postured to effectively compete in this vital theater of 21st century statecraft, and has been for some time, with the resources, authority, and personnel for contesting malign influence scattered across the interagency. Amidst a simultaneous global democratic recession and an authoritarian resurgence now into its second decade, America's public messaging efforts have too often faltered, while high-profile malign influence campaigns, especially Russian government interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and, most recently, Chinese Communist Party efforts to exploit the coronavirus pandemic, have further exposed U.S. government vulnerabilities. The crisis in American "soft power" was laid bare recently by former Defense Secretary Robert Gates who argued, "Unlike China and Russia, the United States now lacks an effective strategy for communicating its message and countering those of its competitors." He suggested that the U.S. "will have to overhaul its public messaging" with "a new top-level organization . . . to enable consistent strategic communication using all available venues." Having spent our professional careers working in a range of national security and foreign policy roles concerned with influence and public messaging, we build on Gates' call to argue the case for why a central agency for American public messaging is urgently needed and how such a mechanism could recalibrate American influence efforts. As the United States and its allies face a torrent of anti-democratic malign influence activities, American leadership (or lack of it) will be decisive in the global struggle between liberal democracy and authoritarianism.
    Original languageEnglish
    Commissioning bodyForeign Policy Research Institute, United States
    Publication statusPublished - 2020

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