Cultural diplomacy

Cultural diplomacy
The Institute for Cultural Diplomacy conference:
„International Symposium on Cultural Diplomacy 2009“

Cultural diplomacy (the science of diplomacy between cultures) has existed as a practice for centuries. Explorers, travelers, teachers and artists can be all considered examples of informal ambassadors or early cultural diplomats. The establishment of regular trade routes enables a frequent exchange of information and cultural gifts between traders and government representatives.

Such deliberate efforts of cultural exchange can be identified as early examples of cultural diplomacy. Indeed, any person interacting with different cultures, in the past as today, facilitates an important form of cultural exchange. The practices that this individual implements are an integral part of the science of cultural diplomacy. 

A starting definition of Cultural Diplomacy is offered by the American political scientist and author, Milton C. Cummings, in his description of cultural diplomacy as:

“the exchange of ideas, information, values, systems, traditions, beliefs, and other aspects of culture, with the intention of fostering mutual understanding”. 

This cultural exchange can take place in fields including art, sport, literature, music, science and the economy. Such exchange implies communication and respect between the cultures involved, based on a sounder understanding of respective values and a reduced susceptibility to stereotypes. The potential of such an improved knowledge is to enable improved interaction and cooperation.

Cultural diplomacy is the initiation or facilitation of such exchanges with an aim to yielding long-term benefits, whether they promote national interests, build relationships, enhance socio-cultural understanding or promote trade and foreign investments.


Prescriptions of cultural diplomacy


Statement about Cultural Diplomacy by the Hon. Yasar Yakis (Former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Turkey and the Institute for Cultural Diplomacy Advisory Board Member)[1]

The initial prescription of cultural diplomacy requires each party to recognise the distinct cultural dynamics of the other; this recognition affords equal human rights on equal terms.


Parties are also prescribed the study of foreign cultural dynamics in order to gain an understanding of the traditions, history, language and general way of life, pertinent to the engaging party.

During this process, parties may discover aspects of a foreign culture which they fundamentally disagree with or find abhorrent. These prescriptions do not require agreement with all aspects of a foreign culture, only for recognition and understanding. However, they are seen around the world.


A universal tenet of basic dialogue requires one party to listen while the other speaks and vice versa. Cultural diplomacy prescribes the observance of this tenet and for parties to draw on their accrued cultural understanding when engaging in dialogue. This dynamic facilitates a dialogue that easily lends to collaboration. Parties may choose to conduct this dialogue through an interpreter or by using a common language.

Non-verbal communication also plays an important role in this process; foreign interpretations of body language and other forms of non-verbal communication must be observed to avoid ambiguity during a dialogue.

There is another side to cultural diplomacy which lends to aggressive or unusual forms of dialogue, such as excessive intonation or decision to remain silent for long periods during a meeting. This form of cultural diplomacy shares a common platform with the collaborative form as its use is premised on a cultural understanding that calculates the likely effect of its employment.

Non-cultural diplomacy

The antithesis of cultural diplomacy occurs when one party fails to observe its prescriptions.

An example of this was demonstrated in the foreign relations dispute between Russia and the United Kingdom over extradition requests that resulted in the expulsion of diplomats by both countries.

In an interview with Russia Today News on 24 July 2007, at Zavidovo, the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, attributed the source of this dispute to a failure by the UK to adequately recognise Russian cultural dynamics and afford it equal rights on the same terms that it hoped to receive from Russia. Putin explained that the United Kingdom had failed to accede to Russian extradition requests on 30 previous occasions but could not accept the decision by Russia to refuse a single request, which was in line with the Russian constitution.


The purpose of cultural diplomacy is essentially determined by the parties involved. The following segments present examples of various purposes by various parties:

  • Union of nations: i.e., United Nations, African Union, League of Arab States, European Union. Cultural diplomacy plays an essential role in the operational integrity of these unions as they thrive on consensus through voting systems that determine a cause of action. The absence of consensus often leads to deadlock. Cultural diplomacy is often used to influence voting decisions that cover such matters as military action, border disputes and trade.
  • Individual nations: commonly use cultural diplomacy to improve international relations and secure agreements that cover issues like trade, investment, immigration and security.
  • Private and public enterprises: often employ cultural diplomacy to secure mergers and acquisitions or to resolve customer complaints. Institutional cultural dynamics are epitomised by corporate ethos, practices and conventions.
  • Non-governmental organisations (NGOs): often employ cultural diplomacy to influence government policy for the benefit of a given cause. Humanitarian aid agencies may use cultural diplomacy to influence traditions and practices that work against efforts to reduce poverty and illness in local communities. This ensures that their work is sustainable.
  • Individuals: often use cultural diplomacy to build friendships or in discussions to influence opinion about a particular subject. The cultural dynamics of an individual are represented by personal beliefs, values and general way on life.


Comment on Cultural Diplomacy
Dr. Erkki Tuomioja ( Finnish Foreign Minister and the Institute for Cultural Diplomacy Advisory Board Member) [2]

Cultural diplomacy can be practised by any number or combination of adherents. Owing to this nature, the roots of cultural diplomacy can be traced back to the very beginnings of human exchanges in dialogue. However, cultural diplomacy conducted by governments and rulers of nations often have the greatest effects on the lives of ordinary citizens and provide the most comprehensive records of its use.

Perhaps the most remarkable practice of cultural diplomacy to date was displayed by William Wilberforce MP in his associations with a campaign for the abolition of slavery. His campaign was spearheaded by a famous speech in the British House of Commons on 12 May 1789.

Wilberforce engaged members of parliament and all who would listen in debates over the abolition of slavery, through a dialogue that recognised the distinct culture of a people who possessed an inherent human right to freedom, on the same terms as the rest of humanity. His understanding of the miserable nature of the slave trade and the cultural dynamics pertinent to African slaves was used to sow the seeds for a groundbreaking consensus in the Parliament of the United Kingdom which led to the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833.

Today, cultural diplomacy is practised within the context of general diplomacy and alongside other generic forms. The art has grown to become a global industry with legal foundations and a comprehensive set of conventions, epitomised by the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations and Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.

Most governments enshrine their approach to cultural diplomacy within a foreign policy document and appoint a foreign minister to lead its implementation. The foreign minister is normally supported by a network of ambassadors and full body of diplomatic staff.

The continued evolution of cultural diplomacy is dependent on the behavioural economics of its adherents, as people develop better understandings of each other and new mediums of dialogue.

The development of new technologies has arguably had the most profound effect on the conduct of cultural diplomacy. The advent of multimedia technologies including telecommunication, electronic mail, VoIP and audio video conferencing has made it possible for adherents to conduct cultural diplomacy without ever meeting, in a physical sense.

Cultural Exchanges

Cultural Exchanges play a critical role in the cultural diplomacy of a government. For example, in the United States, the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the United States Department of State sponsors in whole or in part many exchange programs, such as the Fulbright Program and the International Visitor Leadership Program. Exchange Programs such as these seek to develop cultural understanding between citizens of different countries[3].

The Uses of Cultural Diplomacy

Cultural Diplomacy can be employed in many ways and for various purposes:

  • The Public Sector: 
By Governments or other politically motivated organizations for the promotion of national or regional interest; providing information regarding the country or region of origin, specifically its people and culture, the organization has a clear intent to promote its native values and culture. 

  • Civil Society:
 By non-governmental organizations and individuals, motivated by the opportunity to develop and encourage platforms for mutual cultural exchange. Their activity could take the form of cooperation through the sharing of valuable professional information and networks, for example in the context of academic exchanges, international forums and tourism. 

  • The Private Sector:
 By private companies interested in the development of intercultural communication. Global businesses are not only an important conduit through which cultural exchange takes place, but are also increasingly interested in intercultural communication and cross- cultural learning as a means of improving their own effectiveness and practices.

Prevalent cultures

The level at which cultural diplomacy is practised can have a bearing on its quality and integrity.

National governments often are formed from a prevalent culture and caste group among a wider group of sub cultures within a state. They carry the potential of marginalising some cultures when conducting cultural diplomacy on behalf of citizens. Furthermore, decisions that follow from cultural diplomacy are often the responsibility of one individual, i.e., a president or chancellor, whose values and belief set come into play during a decision making process.

Governments and rulers that fail to conduct cultural diplomacy in a manner that represents all cultures within a state, carry the danger of fostering civil unrest which can lead to civil war.

Globalisation is another factor that has a bearing on the integrity of cultural diplomacy. The emergence of globalisation carries with it the emergence of what can be described as a prevalent global-culture which has the potential of eroding the cultures it comes into contact with. The adoption of United Nations Resolution 49/214 and 59/174, regarding the International Decades of the World's Indigenous People, are a direct response to this cultural erosion.

Cultural erosion directly affects the relevance of cultural diplomacy, as the establishment of a prevalent culture would remove the need for cultural recognition and understanding, if all people identified with a common culture.

Case study: African Union

The African Union (AU) was formed as a result of a declaration by African heads of state in Sirte, Libya, on 9 September 1999, to succeed the Organisation of African Unity; this declaration is commonly referred to as the Sirte Declaration. The inaugural assembly of the AU was convened at Durban in July 2002.

The African Union is an ambitious undertaking to integrate the cultural, political and economic streams of an entire continent into a body that functions to secure peace and stability for the advancement of sustainable development. The AU functions more or less along the lines of the European Union, but, is a far more ambitious undertaking as it aims to integrate a membership spanning 53 nations.

The African Union fosters designs on a United Federation of African States that would confer a single currency, free movement of goods, people and services, amongst other features.

The endeavour of working to realise a fully functional Federation that integrates the multifarious assets and facets of 53 diverse nations is closely tied to the success of cultural recognition, understanding and dialogue among member states.

The achievement of every milestone along the path to a United Federation of African States requires the skilful use of cultural diplomacy between member states, to secure agreements, and between member states and citizens, to gain support for actions like a referendum to transfer sovereign powers.

Recognition of the importance that cultural diplomacy plays in this ambitious undertaking is set out under Mission 4 in the Strategic Plan of the African Union Commission Volume 1; the primary blueprint for achieving its mandate.

Examples of Cultural Diplomacy

Cultural diplomacy can be used in a number of forms, and with a range of different intentions, to help improve intercultural dialogue.

Whereas in the past state-sponsored cultural diplomacy has been associated with the intention to impose one way of life onto another, in recent times the focus has shifted dramatically. Within the context of state-sponsored cultural diplomacy, the common focus has moved from aggressive and imposing practices to a transparent and unselfish offering of culture. This can be seen for example in the so called Ping-Pong Diplomacy'; the exchange of ping-pong players between the US and China during the 1970s. Whilst there may have been economic and political advantages for the USA, the initiative was conducted in a transparent manner and was beneficial to both countries.

Nevertheless, in examples of state-sponsored cultural diplomacy programs there is a relatively clear intention. Each source nation is interested in the relaying of information regarding its values and way of life, with a view to fostering sympathy or acceptance thereof. The result is better economic or political connections with other countries. National culture is thus utilized for the ultimate intention of promoting that nation's standing on an international stage.

The practices of independent or semi- independent institutions of cultural diplomacy, such as the British Council and the Goethe Institute, offer prime examples of the modern informative and exchange - based approach to national cultural diplomacy strategies. This type of exchange is on a considerably larger scale than individual exchange programs, and facilitates the mobility of individuals from both the cultural and academic sectors. Prime examples of this are the Erasmus/Socrates program or bilateral artist-exchange programs.

The initiatives of independent organizations such as those by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra travelling to North Korea have further demonstrated the potential of cultural diplomacy to transcend national borders and enable mutually beneficial cross-cultural exchanges. 

For the individual artists, academics or professionals involved in these direct exchanges of culture, their motivation is the opportunity to show their work and abilities and to learn about the other. The motivation is purely personal, without necessarily any political or economic goal.

Corporations and businesses, through the constantly evolving field of Corporate Social Responsibility and Socially Responsible Investing, are developing many initiatives that assist in strengthening the dialogue, understanding and trust between nations and cultures. Indeed, companies are increasingly important as a channel of cultural exchange. On any occasion that an individual is sent abroad to work in a foreign office, they have the potential to act as an unofficial cultural diplomat, and in the context of international conferences can even be accepted as 'official' representatives of their country of origin, especially with regards to corporate culture and standard working practices.

Private sector foundations operate in an ever increasing number of countries and regions around the globe. In many cases they are funded and owned by private sector firms, but, at least officially, work independently of them for non-commercial purposes. By supporting projects and events in local communities in both domestic and international contexts, they offer another means of contact between different cultures, and by definition therefore are important agents of cultural exchange.

Cultural diplomacy can be used by different groups for different purposes. As demonstrated above, this can be by governments for a distinct political purpose, by academic institutions for the purpose of developing a greater knowledge base through academic exchange, or by independent organizations for the sole benefit of demonstrating their work and ideas to a new audience.

In addition, in an increasingly globalised international environment, companies and foundations are becoming ever more central as forums of international dialogue and cooperation. Although by diverse methods and with different motivations, all of these examples ensure that cultural diplomacy, as defined by M. C. Cummings, takes place.

Cultural diplomacy has acted as a peace keeping force in a number of situations throughout history. With increased social exchange and the platforms in place to promote it, the future potential for cultural diplomacy to improve mutual understanding on all levels is highly significant.

Cultural Diplomacy Outlook Report 2011


The Outlook is a compilation of the research undertaken by the Institute for Cultural Diplomacy during the year 2011. The Outlook takes both a vertical approach by analysing cultural diplomacy involvement through different sectors, such as public, private, and civil society, and a horizontal approach of how that involvement is carried out in different geographical regions and within various cultural diplomacy themes, such as nation branding, inter-religious dialogue, sports and the arts.

  • Cultural Diplomacy in the Public Sector: Country Ranking Report [4]
  • Cultural Diplomacy Regional Focus [5]
  • Cultural Diplomacy Individual Country Focus [6]
  • Nation Branding: Country-Specific Evaluations [7]
  • Cultural Diplomacy Initiatives in Civil Society [8]
  • Global Governance Cultural Diplomacy [9]
  • Cultural Diplomacy in the Private Sector: Company Ranking Report [10]
  • Cultural Diplomacy in Practice [11]

Other definitions

  • Cultural diplomacy is a concept in political science describing the use and transfer of cultural ideas between different group to achieve rapport and understanding.
  • "Cultural diplomacy is a prime example of "soft power" or the ability to persuade through culture, value, and ideas opposed to "hard power" which conquers or coerces through military might." - Joseph Nye
  • Cultural diplomacy alludes to the official practice of governments conducting international relations (negotiating treaties, alliances, shaping policy, etc.) using soft power. For thousands of years, the use of violence has been the basis and ultimate sanction of power politics - the endpoint being war. Cultural diplomacy, by stressing soft power in politics, offers a potentially life-saving alternative.

Studies in Cultural Diplomacy

With growing importance of cultural diplomacy in contemporary world, a need for studies in cultural diplomacy arises. It is important for today’s students to gain access to an expert faculty with experience in international politics and diplomacy, and acquire the knowledge and skills needed to work in a complex global order. Thus, starting in October 2011, Dubrovnik International University [12] in cooperation with the Institute for Cultural Diplomacy [13] launched a BA program and graduate Master of Arts program in International Relations and Cultural Diplomacy. The programs combine the traditional academic components of international relations with a focus on the role of soft power and cultural diplomacy in contemporary global affairs.

The key objectives of the BA & MA in International Relations and Cultural Diplomacy programs are to leave students with a strong foundation in international relations theory and contemporary diplomatic strategies, allow them to explore and examine an area of particular interest, and help them gain practical experience through internships and research studies in relevant international institutions.

The program allows students to study with distinguished and renowned faculty from Croatia, Germany, Europe, and across the world, and enables contact with experts and organizations associated with international relations.

The current president of The ICD Academy for Cultural Diplomacy is Prof. Dr. Emil Constantinescu, former president of Romania (from 1996 to 2000).


Certain aspects of Cultural Diplomacy entail aspects of what is sometimes called Cultural Imperialism. In a relationship based upon Cultural Diplomacy there will always necessarily have to be an amount of asymmetry that can only be overcome by creating an artificial context for the encounter that adequately recognizes and addresses systemic problems based upon second-order cybernetics. Those issues not addressed, the allegation of Cultural Imperialism cannot be effectively unhinged.

See also


  • A diplomat’s handbook of international law and practice, by B. Sen. ISBN 90-247-3647-1
  • Losing hearts and minds? : public diplomacy and strategic influence in the age of terror, by Lord Carnes, 2006. ISBN 0-275-99082-6
  • The Soviet Cultural Offensive. The role of cultural diplomacy in Soviet foreign policy, by Frederick Charles, 1960
  • Diplomacy in the Middle East: the international relations of regional and outside powers, edited by L. Carl Brown. 2001. ISBN 1-86064-640-9
  • British Abolitionism and the Rhetoric of Sensibility: Writing, Sentiment, and Slavery, 1760-1807 by Brycchan Carey,2005
  • Strategic Plan of the African Union Commission Volume 1: Vision and Mission of the African Union, May 2004
  • The Holy Bible: King James Version, Collins Bible, 1957
  • Rana K.,(2002) "Bilateral Diplomacy" , DiploProjects, Mediterranean Academy of Diplomatic Studies, Malta ISBN 99909-55-16-6 See: Chapter 12, Cross-cultural sensitivity

External links

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