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Center on Public Diplomacy: Public Diplomacy, New Media, and Counterterrorism

Author: Philip Seib
May 5, 2011


Philip Seib writes that public diplomacy may serve as a great counterterrorism tool.

Public diplomacy tends to be underrated as a counterterrorism tool. As a preventive measure, it offers an alternative to military or police force because it seeks to reduce the level of enmity between those who might commit such acts and their potential victims. Dealing with terrorism tends to be left primarily to exponents of hard power. That approach makes sense in some instances, but defeating terrorism will require more complex and carefully crafted measures that address the mass publics from which terrorists draw their recruits and support. These publics may be exposed to increasingly sophisticated media messages from terrorist groups, and such messages must be countered.

Public diplomacy should be at the heart of such efforts. This paper addresses how governments—particularly the government of the United States—have approached this task since the attacks on New York and Washington in 2001, and why some methods have been more successful than others. It also examines successful non-governmental programs that offer best practices examples that governments might adopt.

Among the issues and strategies worth examining are the role of international broadcasting, use of new media technologies, the roles of virtual states and diasporic populations, and the importance of linking public diplomacy efforts to specific policy initiatives. Terrorists' use of soft power is also analyzed.

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