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American Public Diplomacy: Enduring Characteristics, Elusive Transformation

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Understanding, planning, engagement and advocacy are core concepts of public diplomacy. They are not unique to the American experience. There is, however, an American public diplomacy modus operandi with enduring characteristics that are rooted in the nation’s history and political culture. These include episodic resolve correlated with war and surges of zeal, systemic trade-offs in American politics, competitive practitioner communities and powerful civil society actors, and late adoption of communication technologies. This article examines these concepts and characteristics in the context of US President Barack Obama’s strategy of global public engagement. It argues that as US public diplomacy becomes a multi-stakeholder instrument and central to diplomatic practice, its institutions, methods and priorities require transformation rather than adaptation. The article explores three illustrative issues: a culture of understanding; social media; and multiple diplomatic actors. It concludes that the characteristics shaping the US public diplomacy continue to place significant constraints on its capacity for transformational change.

Affiliations: 1: Institute of Public Diplomacy and Global Communication, George Washington University 805 21st St NW, Suite 400, Washington, DC 20052 United States, Email:


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