Remarks to Vilnius University

Judith A. McHale
Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs 
Vilnius, Lithuania
December 11, 2009

As prepared

Thank you for that kind introduction. Good morning. It is an honor for me to be here with you today. I am delighted to have this chance to speak with you, the future leaders of Lithuania. I’d like to thank the Rector and Vice Rector for inviting me here and providing us the chance to discuss issues that I believe are of interest and importance to us all.

This is my first visit to your remarkable nation, but I hope it won’t be my last. You have an extraordinary history – and such a promising future.

As I am sure you are aware, during the Cold War, the United States always represented Lithuania on all of our official documents and maps as an independent nation. We hosted Embassies from Lithuania and your Baltic neighbors in Washington. Americans admired and supported your struggle for political and cultural freedom. We marveled at the bravery of those who, formed the Chain of Freedom.

As the Berlin Wall and Iron Curtain were torn down, and as Lithuania became the first Baltic nation to realize its long dream of freedom, we redefined and reinforced our relationship.

Today we are joined together not by a common threat, but by common values. Our partnership rests not so much on a shared history, but on a future defined by a common determination to promote democracy, uphold the rule of law, encourage broad-based economic prosperity, and collective security within the framework of NATO and the United Nations.

Commenting on the fact that this year marks the 1,000th anniversary of Lithuania’s name, our Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, observed that (quote) “we in the United States cannot claim such a lengthy history . . . I am convinced that our strong relationship, cooperation, and shared values can last just as long.”

Lithuania stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the United States in the fight against extremism. Your nation deployed troops to Iraq for over five years, and sent troops to Afghanistan even before joining NATO and remains an important partner there. Lithuania operates its own Provincial Reconstruction Team in Ghor Province, one of the most remote and isolated parts of Afghanistan.

And, in our diverse nation, Lithuanian-Americans have helped to make our nation a more interesting, dynamic, and better place. The strong personal and family ties between so many of my fellow citizens and their ancestral home form the bedrock of our strong bilateral relations.

As we look to history and imagine the future, it is worth bearing in mind that our two countries offer the world remarkable examples of the power and promise of citizen engagement to turn imagination into a better world.

Just as millions of citizens of Lithuania and the other Baltic States once joined hands to hasten change for the better, millions of Americans over the years have come together to advocate for myriad causes such as women’s suffrage, the expansion of civil rights, and many others.

Today, the internet and connective technologies allow us to harness the democratic values and energies of our societies for good, in new and exciting ways. Each of you here in this room has the ability – and, I would say, the responsibility – to help lead this process.

Your generation’s creativity and innovation has led your nation to become one of the most wired on earth. In my country, tens of millions of citizens of all ages have discovered the power of new media to empower them to make a difference in our society.

President Barack Obama – who accepted the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize just yesterday— built a powerful movement for change and captured the imagination of many around the world. By leveraging the power of technology he is bringing people together, emphasizing common interests, and promoting collective action for positive change.

In announcing the prize in October, the Nobel Committee stated that President Obama was being awarded for his efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.

I believe that this is a reflection of the undeniable desire of people around the world for better understanding among nations, a desire to work together to find solutions to the challenges we face in every region and every country of the world, and a genuine wish to see a revival of leadership based on the values of partnership and respect.

The Nobel Peace Prize has always recognized and celebrated the power of inspiration--the goal, in the words of another Peace Prize Laureate, Dr. Martin Luther King, to bend “the moral arc of the universe” toward justice.

The brave Lithuanians who joined hands in 1989 didn’t need YouTube and Twitter to come together – but imagine what they could have done with these tools! In fact, I wonder how long foreign occupation of your country would have lasted had Facebook and ONE.LT existed in 1945.

And just as these new technologies have changed the way Europeans and Americans debate domestic policies and conduct domestic politics, so too have they changed how we carry out international relations.

Until recently, as Secretary Clinton has observed, “diplomacy was the domain of privileged men working behind closed doors.” Today, however, the image of diplomacy confined to government-to-government relations is as antiquated as using quill pens and parchment to do your research papers.

And I don’t think I have to tell Lithuanians – where women leaders have shattered what we call the “glass ceiling” to hold the positions of President, Ministers of Finance and Defense, and Speaker of Parliament – that affairs of state are no longer the sole preserve of men.

Indeed, the spread of communications and connective technologies and changes in social mores accelerated by these technologies mean that the world, in the phrase of the American commentator Tom Friedman, has become “flat.”

This means that the old hierarchies and barriers to communication are melting away. No one holds a monopoly on information. Those who try to control it can never be successful in the long run, as the young people of Iran have so powerfully demonstrated.

People across the world, in all cultures, are no longer willing to be passive consumers of information. They are seeking out the information they want, when and how they want it, and they expect to participate actively in shaping their information environment.

In the current news environment, consumers get their information from user-generated content, social networking, blogs, vlogs and twitter, and not simply from established media outlets.

The network of citizen journalists is growing and thriving. And I believe this is an exciting development.

There are those who fear that this cacophony of voices will threaten the integrity of journalism and that traditional news gathering organizations will be pushed to the margins.

I am more optimistic about the future, because I believe that like people, businesses adapt. The best among them -- the most innovative -- are already doing that.

I recently visited South Korea, which, like Lithuania, has among the fastest and most reliable broadband connections in the world. While there, I met with and toured the offices of one of the leading daily newspapers. These days, though, they define themselves not just as a newspaper, but rather as a content provider.

They are platform neutral, which means that no matter how their consumers seek information, whether on paper, on-line, on mobile devices, through an e-book, e-paper, or interactive television screens, they are delivering it. Media companies which are either adapting or are innovating in this new environment are thriving.

I am optimistic about a future in which so many voices contribute to the global dialogue. To those who argue that the integrity of journalism in this environment is in peril, my response is that trust is as fundamental to the news business as it is for all human interaction.

When accessing and sharing information on platforms like Facebook and Youtube, you link to posts by your friends and associates--people you trust. And you critically evaluate the blogs that you read for their accuracy, and if they lose your trust, they lose their relevance. Similarly, media organizations which embrace the highest professional standards will preserve the trust they have earned and continue to thrive in a changing media environment.

Finally, for all of us who have been supporting and advocating for democracy, we should regard this development, where so many voices are a part of the dialogue, where individuals are being heard and are shaping the debate, as a triumph.

This rapid evolution – or, more accurately, revolution – in global communications has thrust what we call public diplomacy to the center of international relations. We have moved from a paradigm of diplomacy as government-to-government interactions, to one of government-to-people and people-to-people.

We are fortunate in the United States that we have a President and Secretary of State who are committed to engagement with the people of the world, and restoring the kind of leadership based on the democratic values and two-way communication that has made the United States a force for global progress for so much of our history. They recognize public diplomacy as an essential ingredient of 21st century statecraft.

Whether we are strengthening old alliances such as our relationship with your country, forging new partnerships to meet complex global challenges, engaging with citizens and civil society, or charting new strategies in Afghanistan and Pakistan, we know our national interests depend on effective engagement and innovative public diplomacy.

Today, our ability to build and sustain the kind of partnerships we need to address the challenges of this century and seize its opportunities will depend on bolstering our credibility with the people of the world and forging an ethic of common purpose.

There is perhaps no better example of this need than that of climate change, where we as a global community must move forward together, people leading their governments. We are committed to building enduring structures of engagement on this critical issue, using web-based connective technologies, old-fashioned people-to-people exchanges, increased cooperation in science and technology, and educational efforts oriented to young leaders such as yourselves.

What I find inspiring about President Obama and Secretary Clinton’s approach to communication is that they do not presume to know what is on the minds of people they talk to – they ask. The result, I believe, is increased mutual understanding and a basis for continuing dialogue and--even more importantly--partnership and collaboration on addressing issues such as economic development, democracy, and corruption.

The goal of this kind of person-to-person engagement is to form lasting relationships. In a crowded media environment, our relationships offer a way to break through the clutter.

I learned this lesson in my private sector life before government. I was privileged to lead the expansion of Discovery Communications into 170 countries. We knew that developing relationships with people across countries and cultures required understanding how they saw the world, offering them information they wanted and valued.

In private enterprise, if you’re successful, you make profits. In diplomacy, if you do this right, you win influence and establish leadership for your nation. And in doing so you also forge partnerships with people – collaborative relationships based on shared values, needs and perceptions – that can translate into concrete constructive action on the pressing issues of the day.

What does this mean for you? I believe that Lithuania and Lithuanians are extremely well positioned to flourish in this new global communications environment. You merely need to recall your recent past to understand the power of an engaged citizenry to transform the lives of individuals, and of nations. And as an imaginative people with one of the most-wired countries on the planet, you are placed to help lead the globe toward solutions to our most vexing problems.

The biggest challenges we face today will be solved by the 60 percent of the world’s population under the age of 30.

That is why I’m here addressing you today. I see before me a group of people who will help to define the fate of their country, the fate of Europe, and the fate of the world in the century to come. Those of us who lived through the Cold War, like your professors and me, can impart lessons from our experience through difficult times and periods of hope and change. But ultimately it will be up to you to interpret, influence, and experience this rapidly changing world. I am confident that you are up to the challenge.

Thank you all very much for listening. As much as I enjoy talking to you, I’m much more interested in hearing from you. I mentioned earlier that this is my first trip to Lithuania, so I’m especially eager to hear your perspectives on how we can continue to build on the already strong relationship between our countries.