Perceptions Abroad

 A large portion of PD is about branding or what kind of messages we send out about ourselves. Hayden linked PD to the idea of “soft power” or “affecting others to obtain the outcomes you want” (6). One of the three major characteristics of soft power as Hayden describes it is the “attractiveness” of an actors culture and institutions” (6).

This article from the Huffington post _b_3937024.html?utm_source=Daily+Media+Digest&utm_campaign=8907ea41ec-Media_Digest_9_23_13&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_e87ea75dce-8907ea41ec-215172549 written by Mario Machado highlights some of  images that the US tends to portray of itself, in particular those that come from the military and of the Peace Corps. Unfortunately, as Machado describes, the most powerful  and lasting image of the two is that of the US military. The US  as it is pictured abroad is not necessarily seen a peaceful, despite the efforts of  the  Peace Corps or other organizations who offer humanitarian aid to developing nations.

To a large extent, both the Peace Corps and the military are the face of US  around the world, and all to often that face or image is conflicting. As Machado explains the “first function of the Peace Corpse Volunteers is that of cultural ambassadors.” Despite the Peace Corps efforts, there is limit to what can be done to improve the US’ image abroad, particularly because of our tendency to get involved militarily.

 If the US wants to make the Peace Corp mandate something people abroad associates more with the US ( ie 1.Help meet the needs of developing nations for trained personnel 2) Provide a better understanding of Americans on the behalf of other peoples, and 3) Provide a better understanding of other peoples on the behalf of Americans ), then the US should make an effort to pursue and promote  values that don’t necessitate military force. Or at the very least the US should recognize what kind of influence certain  perceptions of the US have abroad and whether or not it undermines the US’s PD efforts.

-Stacey Massuda

5 thoughts on “Perceptions Abroad”

  1. Thank you for this post. The Peace Corps is a well respected organization and has made huge strides in creating understanding between the United States and citizens of other nations all over the world since it’s inception. It is unfortunate that the military sometimes overshadows the efforts of PCVs(Peace Corps Volunteers). However, these two entities are often present in mostly poor nations or those who are currently and/or have experienced some sort of civil unrest. Our PD efforts should not be restricted to countries in these categories alone.

    When the military and the PC are present in a country abroad, the presence of the military will probably always be felt more by that nation’s citizens because of size and influence alone. PCVs are often in small, isolated communities across the country and unfortunately, their efforts are not what’s going to make the 6 o clock news. The wonderful public diplomacy efforts of our PCVs are shared with a much smaller audience than that in which our armed forces come into contact with.

    With that being said, the world is steadily changing. Many of the world’s poorest countries are slowly growing their GDP. In my opinion, the private sector, now more than ever has the opportunity to really finesse some PD efforts of their own. Private U.S. companies of all kinds have foreign markets. Coke, McDonald’s, Google and dozens of others sell their products and their “American” values to foreign publics everyday. These are the organizations that truly have the opportunity to shape U.S. perceptions abroad.

    Before I end, I would also like to mention the men and women of the Department of State and all of the U.S. embassy personnel abroad who work tirelessly in their public diplomacy efforts in all countries– rich, poor, war-torn, etc. Idealistically speaking, once the final U.S. troops leave Afghanistan and other nations and the Peace Corp does all they can for the nations in which it exists, the U.S. embassy will still be there…and a Starbucks down the street.

  2. Stacey,

    Thanks for posting this. I thought it was an interesting article, however, I do take umbrage with the naive viewpoint of the author. Let me explain.

    The U.S. military is branded as the “more machine than human” soldier in most cases because that is what the media often covers. The combat operations are sexy to Western media outlets and therefore the American soldier is branded as a cog in the American military industrial machine. However, very similar to Peace Corps volunteers, most U.S. military operations are humanitarian and disaster assistance operations.

    The Philippines, Haiti, throughout Africa, and South America are just a few places where troops have deployed recently to help out native populations. I’ve been deployed to South America for months at a time to help build wells, schools and clinics for struggling people. The role of the military is multi-faceted to provide a rapidly deployable assistance force to global citizens. Though the military is trained to fight, they are also given hours upon hours of cultural training because the realization bullets can’t solve every problem. Each troop realizes that the first impression they make on a villager could be potentially deadly. If the troop doesn’t attempt to be diplomatic and make a friend, then the villager could later be an enemy down the line.

    His article is a little short-sighted, though it does bring up a few good points to debate. The disparity in economic value for a Peace Corps volunteer and a soldier is crazy. The military budget is out of hand and more money needs to be spent on programs like the Peace Corps. However, when the stuff hits the fan, more expensive Peace Corps volunteers aren’t going to be able to defend a nation. On the other hand, if there were more public diplomacy efforts like the Peace Corps, the U.S. might not be put in the position to defend itself. So the debate continues…

  3. Thanks for sharing this article Stacey and very interesting comments already. The naive viewpoint of the author, as pointed out by Mark, in itself makes a point about a limitation of the military’s potential soft power when it takes on development projects: if even an experienced Peace Corps volunteer has such a view of the US military, it seems that the US is missing out on a public diplomacy potential that it is apparently very heavily investing in but isn’t heard of much.
    The proportion of military budget spent on development/humanitarian relief etc could perhaps be publicized more, or at least communicated to the Peace Corps volunteers to give them some information material to draw from when they are being questioned about their country’s interventionist policies. This would make them more convincing/effective as cultural ambassadors if that is what they are really sent for.

    After reading Stacey’s post, I read the new Clinendael report on internal and external dilemmas of peacebuilding in Africa (here is the link again: and I think you will find interesting and deep reflections to be made in terms of this discussion on Peace Corps and US military strategies.
    Space here is limited to go into it in depth, but to connect it more directly to the comments above we could discuss the point made by Miranda about growing GDP in a number of countries: if coupled with growing inequality (as it most often seems to be the case), it may increase risks of conflict rather than the opposite. We could also advance that if, resulting from this inequality, only a minority is benefiting from American private sector consumer goods, then in the end that the impact on public opinion may not be such a positive perception.
    This is just a detail though, I do recommend reading the whole paper (pretty short), really interesting. What I got from it, essentially, is that it’s about how the current dominant approaches to peacebuilding, focused on security and state-building, may be reinforcing current asymmetrical and power-dynamics significantly rather than preparing the terrain for positive change, which, to put it back in this context, ultimately isn’t a good recipe for lasting soft-power/constructive public diplomacy either.

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