Exchange Matters / September 29, 2020

Expos: Bringing the U.S. National Security Strategy to Life

Interview with Jim Core, Director, International Expositions Unit, U.S. Department of State

Editor’s note: This is an edited interview with Jim Core on the public diplomacy value of Expos. Global Ties U.S. is recruiting Youth Ambassadors and Cultural Performers for the USA Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai. Visit to learn more. 

Attendees at the U.S Pavilion at Expo 2017 Astana. Credit: International Expositions Unit, U.S. Department of State

Attendees at the U.S Pavilion at Expo 2017 Astana. Credit: International Expositions Unit, U.S. Department of State

How do Expos align with the United States national security strategy?

When people think of Expos, they may envision the dramatic pavilions of past World’s Fairs showcasing the latest and greatest American technology and innovation. In all the excitement of World’s Fairs, people may not necessarily think about how USA pavilions at Expos dynamically support four elements of the national security strategy: U.S. economic prosperity, U.S. values, bilateral relationships with friends and allies, and countering rival narratives about our nation.

Our participation at Expos promotes U.S. economic prosperity by featuring U.S. technology, facilitating U.S. business and study abroad opportunities, and supporting trade delegations seeking investments. The exhibition and programs champion American values by showcasing our history, culture, and vision for the future. An Expo pavilion shows support for friends and allies hosting and participating in them, and provides us the opportunity to tell our story and counter alternative narratives put forth by our competitors. Expos also play a critical role in solidifying and reaffirming the U.S. bilateral relationship with the host country.


What role do Expos play in fostering cultural diplomacy and U.S. diplomacy overall?

Expos are fantastic public diplomacy opportunities. We aim to promote a deeper understanding about U.S. values, history, and culture by engaging people from around the world with exciting programs. In addition to the exhibition, we host performances, fine arts, and expert speakers, and our Youth Ambassadors – dozens of the brightest American college students and youth fluent in foreign languages – to connect foreign visitors with Americans.

Displaying the cultural richness of our 50 states and U.S. territories at Expo allows us to surprise people by going beyond perceptions of the United States presented in international media. For example, at the 2010 Expo in Shanghai, Native American dancers showcased a part of our country rarely seen in China. In Yeosu 2012, visits from Korean-American actors like Daniel Dae Kim showed the common bonds between our people. In Astana, a Youth Ambassador who mastered a traditional Kazakh instrument performed around the city and was featured in national media.


What role do international exchanges have in Expos?

Just as Expos are an exciting  platform for arts and cultural performances, they provide unique and broad people-to-people engagement. Youth Ambassadors, artists, and expert guest speakers are the soul of a pavilion; they provide a personal connection to complement the exhibition and are essential to providing the citizen-to-citizen connection. Youth Ambassadors are especially important; they are often the first Americans our guests have ever met – and for some they will be the only Americans they ever meet. A warm, friendly, diverse, and engaging cohort of Youth Ambassadors is essential to the success of a USA pavilion – and will leave a positive impression on millions of foreign visitors.


What are your hopes for Expo 2020 Dubai?

In the short term, I hope our visitors learn about the United States, our values and culture; in particular, I hope visitors will better understand our efforts to make the world safer, healthier, and more prosperous. For the longer term, I hope our guests are inspired to learn more about who we are as a people, study in the U.S., do business with American companies, and plan a trip to our beautiful country. I also hope more Americans travel to the UAE to experience everything the country has to offer.


What about Expo 2020 most excites you?

Expo is an unprecedented opportunity to guide the relatively large population of young people in the Middle East to form a positive opinion of the United States. The USA Pavilion team is working to inspire and excite people, promote international understanding, and encourage guests to study in, invest in, and tour the United States.


What do you wish Americans knew about Expos?

These are not trade shows! Think back to the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair and Expo 1962 Seattle and the 1964-65 World’s Fair. These are cultural touchpoints for generations and huge nation branding events that are wildly inclusive, entertaining, and informative. There is something for everyone – arts,  technology, commerce, food, sports, and symposia, and an abiding sense of optimism that when the citizens of the world gather we can address the challenges facing humanity – and have a good time, too.

Americans should also know that U.S. participation is not guaranteed after Expo 2020; the United States is the only nation that relies entirely on donations for our pavilion at a World’s Fair.  We see Expo 2020 as an opportunity to show Americans, too, how important Expos are to meeting our diplomatic and national security goals.