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Sonenshine on public diplomacy today – Ukraine

Case Study: Ukraine Russian propaganda v. the American approach in Ukraine. Fmr. Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs of the US Tara Sonenshine in conversation with Charlie Firestone of The Aspen Institute.

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Video transcript

I'm Charlie Firestone with the Aspen Institute here with Tara Sun and shine former Under Secretary of State for public diplomacy and public affairs of the u.s. Department of State let's talk about some of the examples of how public diplomacy is being used around the world today and let's start with the Ukraine we talked about Russia and how Russia has a very effective apparently propaganda machine going on in Ukraine and maybe you could contrast another foreign government and the American approach in Ukraine and let's go some other places as well the Cold War we talked about the Eastern Bloc and East Berlin and Eastern satellite parts of the Soviet Union that were in play if you will they were up for grabs as to whose storyline worked Ukraine becomes the new playground of Russia and the West where the story lines a little up for grabs so right away we're all rushing in and the West is saying free Ukraine help Ukraine give Ukrainian people the right to determine their own future and the Russian media and public diplomacy machine is geared up to say exactly the opposite this is a Western totalitarian expansion of its orbit so you have now this argument the Russians are doing it one with their Russian television and their Russian media they are also doing what we now think of as internet trolling they're moving around the web planting stories we in the meantime are trying to use authentic upfront vehicles of being clear that this is hashtag for Ukraine where they are using the sort of subterfuge approach and citizens are going to be getting this stuff from lots of different places and are going to have to sort out these competing neck and it goes back to this question of will the marketplace of ideas work today the americans still believe in it and still believe that that if we get our message out that people will be able to sit through and find the truth but it's really a challenge been a challenge not only in the Ukraine but in the Middle East and the challenge you're pointing to is the tell me your story versus show me the results public diplomacy for a long time was about talbi it then shifted to share with me as the medium became more of a share it now is also at a point where it's what does this deliver for me foreign assistance is a tool in the toolbox in some ways when we deliver aid or build something or give the Ukrainians weapons or create a clinic that is a form of persuasion and some might argue even more powerful than just telling me you believe in individual initiative show me a job give me food you also have to factor in the other tools we're using whether they're military or sanctions or foreign assistance again it's complicated because the public diplomacy is running alongside troops coming in bases opening arms flowing weapons coming television reporting and into all this a citizen has to create a story so you would think that the American diplomacy would incorporate in a more comprehensive a comprehensive manner economics military media and other tools in the toolbox in a kind of coordinated way that's hard in the United States isn't what's very hard is to have everybody on the take off and everybody on the landing public diplomacy is often the PS the 0 while we're at it let's tell the right story as opposed to let's start out with an integrated whole of government approach but I think people come to understand that we're a very big government and in a way public diplomacy needs to be their first that I mean it has to have laid the groundwork almost like advanced troops because then people will be more receptive to the other elements public diplomacy has to set the table and has to stay at the table and has to clean up after everyone's done at the table it has to have a short-term focus on the immediate story of the day it needs a medium term focus on those people who still want to see something and then it has to have a very long-term focus if you're going to send someone on an exchange program you want to know when they got to know America what did they do with that 20 years later and one fact that I think people can relate to is we sent lots of people on Fulbright programs in the 50s and 60s and 70s now when we look back if you look at the Nobel Prize winners 53 of the people who've won Nobel Prizes were on Fulbright's decades before that should tell us something about the long-term proposition that you're buying into with public diplomacy you want to be there on day one you want to be there when everybody goes home and you want to be there all the way through when these change agents adopt your view of a more peaceful less divided more tolerant world