Public Diplomacy

I joined the NATO International Staff in Brussels in 2005 and served in the Public Diplomacy Division as an Information Officer until 2011.   When I first started my primary work involved reaching out to university students, civil society, academics and opinion leaders in the United States on behalf of the organization, but my portfolio quickly expanded.  When I left I was reaching out to the U.S., Norway, Denmark, Canada, and Iceland.  (Denmark was the most active Ally in my entire division, sending more than 3,000 visitors to headquarters in 2010.)

Most of my work involved meeting and talking to visitors at Headquarters and around Brussels.  Roughly speaking in any given year I could meet 6,000 visitors to Headquarters.  This was real, face-to-face, last-three-feet public diplomacy and I loved it. I traveled occasionally to other countries throughout Europe to attend conferences to do the same thing.  I still believe there is nothing like meeting people in person and talking to them. This privilege can be easily abused and I worked hard and constantly tried to improve my ability to meet the needs of the various audiences I met and connect with the public. I’m proud of my consistent record in being ranked among the best speakers on the International Staff. My proudest moment came when I was invited to participate in the U.S. Military Academy’s Senior Conference on public diplomacy.  I couldn’t attend the final conference but I contributed to the initial research which ended up in their final report.

I contributed to the 60th Anniversary Summit in Strasbourg/Kehl with a support campaign I designed and implemented for the Washington, D.C., Metrorail system. Alarmed by the skepticism I had encountered among elites in Washington I wanted to promote Allied contributions to the effort in Afghanistan. For the first NATO effectively took out advertising space, which set a precedent of sorts.  The project took months to put together and it ran two weeks prior to the Summit and two weeks afterwards — with some change, because Metro left up a few of the ads to cover spaces they hadn’t sold additional ads for!  The campaign drove up traffic to NATO’s web site and attracted attention from USC’s Public Diplomacy Magazine, for which I gave a short interview.

The following year, I worked with the U.S. Mission to NATO to send six NATO ambassadors (in addition to the Chairman of the Military Committee, a four-star Italian Admiral) to the United States, flying them to five U.S. cities in four days.  This had been something we’d meant to do for a long time, and the Ambassadors loved it. They were welcomed and feted everywhere they went — especially in Texas — and made a pretty good media splash. More importantly, the experience we gained from this project set us up for what came next.

Easily the most ambitious project I was ever a part of was also my last endeavor at NATO.  I led an intradepartmental team to send the Secretary General to the United States in May 2011.  We planned the visit for six months and it went off virtually without a problem, garnering tremendous press (mostly but not exclusively because of the Libya campaign at the time). Our innovations included meeting National Guard troops, visiting wounded warriors at the National Naval Medical Center, a Univision interview, and speaking at the World War II Memorial on the anniversary of V/E Day. We had live social media feeds and same-day video and photo feeds to our web site.  It was an extraordinary effort on the part of more than 40 people, almost around the clock, for weeks.  And within days of its execution, I left NATO and Brussels to return to the United States.

Three years later I joined the U.S. State Department as an economics officer in the Foreign Service. While I don’t expect to work closely in public diplomacy over the course of my career, public diplomacy and public affairs assignments will no doubt occur in future assignments.

Speaking to attendees at an Estonian Atlantic Treaty Association conference in Tallinn, February 2009. (Thanks to the ATA for taking this picture.)

In March 2014 I was interviewed by the Public Diplomacy Council about my recent book.

In February 2014 I gave the co-keynote at the International Model NATO hosted by Howard University in Washington, D.C.

In December 2013 I was interviewed for The Public Diplomat’s PDCast at Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Communications.

In October 2013 Palgrave Macmillan USA published my book, The United States and the Challenge of Public Diplomacy.

In August 2013 I wrote about public diplomacy practice for Small War Journal.

In May 2013 I wrote about public diplomacy practice for Public Diplomacy Magazine.

In October 2012 I challenged the prevailing thinking about Western-Islamic relations in an article in Small Wars Journal.

Earlier in 2012 I wrote a critical essay for Foreign Policy on the use of images of children in conflict zones for political communications. I had become disturbed by how easily my colleagues and counterparts in NATO, the UN, and the U.S. Defense and State departments had come to use pictures of children (mostly with soldiers) to communicate what we are doing in very difficult and dangerous places. Knowing the history of the use of children for propaganda purposes by regimes far less disposed for children’s welfare, I propose a code of conduct governing how we use these images so that we are more transparent, straight-forward, and rigorous when communicating how we help children in some of the worst places in the world.

From November 2011 through June 2012, I was project leader on a  “A More Perfect Alliance,” a video support campaign for the NATO Chicago Summit in May 2012, working through the National Defense University Center for Transatlantic Security Studies.

As noted above, I’ve contributed to the literature on public diplomacy as well.  A colleague from the Danish Delegation at NATO, Jakob Damsholt, interviewed me for the Danish publication Ræson, about my experience talking to Danes (the title is unfortunately misquoted as “the people are the price” — it should be “the people are the prize.”).  The article is in Danish but you can get the gist by using Google translator.

I was asked to write about American leadership for JASON, the magazine of the Dutch Atlantic Committee.  While not about public diplomacy per se, it revolves around themes of America’s perception in the world and how that has come about.

Finally, I proposed in the International Herald Tribune that the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award both introduce a new award (in the case of the National Book Award, reintroduce) for literary translations. Again this is not about public diplomacy specifically, but it is entirely about America’s cultural relationship with the world.


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