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Afghanistan After 2014: Combating the Taliban without Weapons

As the United States begins to prepare for its withdrawal of forces from Afghanistan in 2014, it has begun to address one of Afghanistan’s largest narcotics operations with no force at all. Opium production and trade is one of the main sources of funding for the Taliban, not to mention it has contributed to political instability and a breakdown in the rule of law.

The latest survey by the Bureau of Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs shows that 5% of Afghanis living in urban areas are addicted to opium, compared to .03% in the U.S.  Additionally, the percentage of the population addicted to opium in rural areas is projected to be in the double digits. This makes Afghanistan the country with the highest addiction to opiates worldwide. Further, Helmand and Kandahar, two of the most instable provinces in Afghanistan, are also the largest producers of opium. This linkage between opium production and corruption illuminates the importance of tackling the production of poppy.

Relative peace and stability following the withdrawal of U.S. forces is predicated on the subjugation of the Taliban insurgency, making efforts to stem their funding ever more important. Initiatives by the U.S. government to combat the production of opiates involve enforcing and strengthening the rule of law and the criminal justice system.  However, the popularity of informal law at the tribal level, coupled with the paradoxical meshing of Shariah Law with common law, make the establishment of a transparent legal system extremely challenging.

Amy Schimisseur, Team Lead for the Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, Afghanistan Counter-narcotics, spoke at an event held at Georgetown University called Afghanistan 2014 and Beyond, about initiatives in place to change attitudes and behaviors regarding the production and trafficking of opium.  One initiative is the Counternarcotics Public Information Initiative (CNPI), which disseminates public information and awareness through Afghan media outlets, NGOs and government agencies regarding the effects of the poppy crop.  Local leaders are being trained to hold community councils on the dangers of drug use and Preventative Drug Education initiatives within public schools have also sought to stem drug use at an early age.

Economic aid also acts as an important tool to encourage the destruction of opium crops and to provide opportunities for development. A widely successful initiative is the Good Performers Initiative (GPI). The program involves incentivizing provinces to eradicate opium production in return for development assistance ($1 million USD/year) for sustainable infrastructure projects such as schools, roads and sports stadiums.  The project ideas come from local villages within the given province and the contracts are awarded to Afghan companies.  This not only incentivizes governments to eradicate poppy production, it also employs local Afghans and builds capacity.

Even though troop withdrawals will take place, the U.S. plans to continue its war with the Taliban nonviolently on both the governmental and civil society fronts.  It is essential that the rule of law provide citizens with security, consistency of expectations, and protection by and from government.  With the prospect of the Taliban trying to make a move after the majority of U.S. troops have left, the capacity of civil society and the government, as well as economic development and market opportunities, will be necessary to combat insurgency movements.


Targeting America and Beyond: China’s Soft Power Initiatives

One of the biggest spenders in the worldwide information space has made the U.S. population a prime target in its attempts to secure a more flattering image of itself on the international stage: China.   The country’s efforts to reach Americans and overcome its general lack of credibility come with a significant price tag.  The Communist Party of China has spent around $6 billion  in the past few years on media campaigns in the U.S.

China’s efforts put an interesting twist on the U.S.’s own public diplomacy attempts to reach international audiences in an attempt to bolster U.S. objectives abroad, whether through Twitter diplomacy, education exchanges or other similar efforts.

As China becomes both an economic and political power, the threat it poses to U.S. supremacy has given China a global image problem. To thwart this perception, China has leveraged showcase events like the 2008 Beijing Winter Olympic Games and the Shanghai World Expo in 2010, in addition to more traditional methods of strengthening Chinese soft power.

Chinese diplomatic efforts in the U.S. have focused primarily on advertising campaigns and other soft power initiatives to drive positive public opinion of China. Notably, the government-run Xinhua News (with an office in NYC) has a national broadcasting station in the U.S. as well as online resources.  Other efforts include the Confucius Institutes which aim to promote cross-cultural exchanges, although they are sometimes viewed as “Chinese foreign propagandists.”

The Chinese government’s soft power initiatives also help to satisfy the country’s seemingly insatiable demand for natural resources.  The Chinese government’s work in Africa trade infrastructure development for access to the continent’s natural resources. However, rumors of human rights violations and lack of adherence to democratic principles in general make diplomatic efforts essential for China in this region. The expansion of China’s state news agency Xinhua to Nairobi, Kenya, is meant to thwart biased Western views of China. Particularly in countries where China takes an investment-for-resource approach to foreign policy, effective public diplomacy efforts are vital.

Generating credibility is at the root of public diplomacy efforts and China’s “peaceful rise’ is contingent on its ability to effectively target and influence audiences in the U.S. and abroad. With billions invested so far, will China improve its image among Americans and even best American influence in diplomacy efforts in Africa and worldwide?


Combating Violent Extremism in Pakistan with Soft Power

As the U.S. withdrawal of forces in Afghanistan nears, the question of how to combat violent extremism using non-violent methods has come to the fore. Given Pakistan’s cultural and geographic ties to Afghanistan, not to mention the network of Taliban fighters consistently crossing in and out of the two countries, de-radicalization in Pakistan has become ever more important. A recent study by Dr. Hedieh Mirahmadi, Medhreen Farooq and Waleed Ziad of the World Organization for Resource Development and Education (WORDE) argues that engaging with faith-based organizations is the most effective way to do this.

In Pakistan, madrassas, or Muslim seminary schools, are often funded by Saudi Arabia and Pakistani extremist groups acting under the umbrella of charity organizations, or more moderate groups supported by the government’s limited and less-than-successful attempts at restructuring public education. Religion plays an integral role in developing positive social networks, especially in low-income areas such as the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), Khyber, and Southern Punjab, as many citizens rely on madrassas as their most legitimate source of education, employment, and humanitarian aid. Unfortunately, this has also turned educational centers into prime recruiting ground for well-funded extremist groups that can offer educational/humanitarian aid and employment in exchange for adhesion to extremist ideals.

Though these madrassas have been successful, WORDE’s study has shown that with proper funding and support, moderate faith-based civil society organizations (CSO) can be very effective in combating militant jihadi networks as their perceived legitimacy is already higher than that of an international organization or even the government, itself.

Coordinating with senior community leaders, one could reach Pakistanis at grass-roots levels and promote peace the same way extremists promote violence: advocating for social cohesion, non-violent conflict resolution, and interethnic and interfaith dialogue justified by Islam through public awareness campaigns, issued Fatwas /public statements and public debates against extremism or rallies that increase exposure in the traditional and social media spaces.

The U.S. has a tradition of pulling funding and assistance from countries after it disengages from them militarily. Although the U.S. has no combat boots on the ground in Pakistan, a centerpiece of foreign policy between the two countries must include continuing civilian assistance to Pakistan, public diplomacy efforts and partnerships with moderate CSOs.


Twitter Feuds: Digital Diplomacy on the Fritz

Thanks to digital diplomacy, it’s possible to reach and engage domestic and foreign constituencies using the Internet. This form of virtual communication presents an opportunity for the U.S. to reveal and defend its foreign policy (as has been the case with the U.S. embassies in Afghanistan and Pakistan).

However, diplomats have often found themselves in hot water after the real-time nature of social media allows their misstatements or gaffes to be quickly leveraged against the U.S. As diplomats begin to engage more and more with local populations, they face the difficult task of  figuring out the terrain and making sure they use it to improve the image of the U.S. Otherwise, direct engagement with international audiences via Twitter and similar services can set American diplomats up for disaster.

In our third installment on U.S. digital diplomacy efforts, Strategic Social examines the Twitter feud between U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul and the Russian government. McFaul is among a number of U.S. diplomats who have taken to Twitter as the State Department attempts to harness social media to deliver the U.S. government’s message. But the plain-spoken envoy’s tweets have sparked controversy that could be detrimental to the already troubled “reset” in U.S.-Russian relations.

Since assuming his post in Moscow in January, McFaul has made an overt effort to open a Twitter dialogue with the Russian people. However, Russians have taken issue with his chosen diction and syntax on several occasions. In March, McFaul used his Twitter account to voice his concerns that diplomatic protocols had been breached when it appeared his schedule had been leaked to journalists at NTV, one of three major government-controlled television networks. When NTV aired his interaction with their journalists, the state-run broadcaster emphasized McFaul’s use of the word “wild” when describing Russia. McFaul tried to soften his remarks, writing on Twitter “I misspoke in bad Russian. Did not mean to say ‘wild country.’ Meant to say NTV’s actions ‘wild.’ I greatly respect Russia.”

Also in March, McFaul expressed concern on Twitter regarding the detention of protesters who challenged Putin’s election victory. In response, the Russian Foreign Ministry tweeted that the U.S. had been less humane in dispersing Occupy Wall Street protesters. After McFaul suggested the Russians tried to bribe the Kyrgyz government to evict U.S. forces from an airbase in May, the foreign ministry slammed McFaul for being unprofessional and for criticizing Russian media.

McFaul reacted in several tweets, trying to point out to the foreign ministry Twitter account that he in fact was giving a talk based on improved U.S.-Russian relations in recent years. To dial back some of his remarks he also tweeted: “Still learning the craft of speaking more diplomatically” after one tweeter noted that his HSE talk was a “manifestation of incompetence.”

Ambassador McFaul has had a tumultuous first six months in office and his online presence, though positively enhanced by Russian-language tweets espousing U.S.-Russian unity, has reflected the real-life defense he’s had to play in response to his unorthodoxly frank diplomacy. Though McFaul may not be able to engage as directly with Russians as he may like, Twitter provides one more outlet for the ambassador to get his message across, even if that message is sometimes an apology.


Digital Diplomacy and the Asia Pivot

After more than a decade of war, the U.S. is shifting the strategic balance of its military forces from the Middle East and Central Asia and toward the Asia-Pacific region. The goal of the new defense strategy is to promote U.S. interests by helping to shape the norms and rules of the Asia-Pacific, particularly as China emerges as an ever-more influential regional power. In addition to a “pivot” of its defense resources, Washington is strengthening U.S. alliances and building deeper relationships with emerging partners through digital diplomacy.

Perhaps the strongest military aspect of the Asia-Pacific “strategic pivot” involves Australia and  U.S. digital diplomacy efforts have followed. Twitter use by the U.S. Embassy in Canberra and other U.S. consulates in Australia demonstrates an effort to reinforce diplomatic and military ties with Australia and, moreover its key Asian partners. The embassy regularly tweets about U.S.-Australia maritime cooperation and often retweets posts related to maritime security from the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Fleet and others.


Australia is not the only partner to which the U.S. has been reaching out; India has been tapped as a potential counter to China’s economic and military rise in the region. Prior to hosting the third U.S.-India strategic dialogue, the embassy reposted this statement from the U.S. Pacific Command:

Tweets also focused on relations with adversaries. In light of North Korea’s missile launch plans in early April, the embassy retweeted the following message from the State Department:

The U.S. Embassy in Manila employs Twitter to create a better sense of legitimacy for U.S. military objectives but to a lesser extent than the U.S. embassy in Canberra. Most content on its Twitter page focuses on cultural and business activities in the U.S. and the Philippines as well as environmental initiatives in the host country. The embassy also spends time interacting with its impressive 24,789 followers and responding to visa inquiries. But at the same time, it makes sure to use Twitter as a platform to strengthen its security and strategic partnership with the Philippines. It frequently tweets and retweets messages related to deepening military ties between the two nations, especially after the U.S. announced its “pivot” toward the Asia-Pacific.









Despite these positive interactions, U.S. Twitter diplomacy efforts in the region have not always been well received. Perhaps irked by the U.S.’s Pacific “pivot,” the Chinese government recently told the U.S. to stop tweeting about poor air quality in the country. China has long taken issue with the popular U.S. Embassy Twitter feed that tracks pollution in Beijing, but its past objections were raised quietly until the U.S. announced it intends to maintain and strengthen its military presence in region. In April 2012, a rotation of 200 U.S. Marines arrived in Darwin. The size of the rotation will gradually be expanded into a force of around 2,500 Marine Corps personnel. There also are plans for greater access by U.S. military aircraft to Royal Australian Air Force facilities and for the U.S. Navy to have greater access to Australia’s Indian Ocean navy base HMAS Sterling. Additionally, the Philippines and the U.S. are discussing new military cooperation options, including rotating U.S. troops more frequently into the country and staging more joint exercises.

Chinese censure of the U.S. Embassy’s Twitter feed does not come as a surprise, but it signals a growing diplomatic row that could be damaging to an already precarious U.S.-China relationship. The U.S. move toward the Asia-Pacific could reinforce China’s fear of encirclement and prompt further militarization of the region. Fears and misperceptions linger on both sides of the Pacific, but Twitter use can provide some transparency in diplomatic relations. If U.S. embassies across the Asia-Pacific can harness Twitter to build mutual trust and to promote active efforts in global problem-solving, it would encourage constructive Chinese behavior and provide confidence to regional leaders who wish to resist potential Chinese regional hegemony: a win-win solution.