Comment on Cultural Diplomacy

By John Hemming (Member of the British Parliament)


We should start with the definition of Cultural Diplomacy by the American political scientist and author, Milton C. Cummings, as: “the exchange of ideas, information, values, systems, traditions, beliefs, and other aspects of culture, with the intention of fostering mutual understanding”.   This has at times been talked about as involving the use of soft power as opposed to hard power. 

Behind all of this is the objective of having a more peaceful world at ease with itself.  Recent years have seen a mix of outcomes from the use of hard power.  Those from the UN in the Balkans have been seen as positive whereas that in Iraq or Afghanistan has not been seen as so positive.

It is, however, key to develop mutual understanding.  Without this is it difficult to make progress.   A sphere of study that I believe is not given sufficient attention is that of political anthropology; that is the study of how political structures operate differently in different countries.  Many countries remain in the state of segmentation where different tribes are the predominant political structure.  That differs from a class based structure in that the tribes arise substantially from family links.   Whereas to some extent an individual can shift from one class to another it is not so easy to shift family allegiances.  If the main protection for an individual arises from their membership of a particular tribe or even gang (in UK inner cities amongst other places) then people who shift allegiances often are seen as a form of apostate.

A failure of sufficient cultural diplomacy results in the attempt to impose the western model of government on segmented societies.  The question in those societies is how the members of the minority tribes are to be protected.  This is why there is often substantial support for a form of constitutional hereditary monarchy where the monarch’s position is essentially unassailable, but the monarch has the duty to protect all citizens rather than just those who support the political grouping of which the monarch is a member.   The evolution from a society based entirely on the rule of person towards one driven by democracy and the rule of law does take time as it requires attitudinal shifts and the development of social capital.  If that is accompanied by a system which institutes a constitutional monarchy with a gradual reduction in the powers of the monarch then it becomes possible to avoid the tyranny of the majority that can otherwise arise from an immediate implementation of a western model of democracy.

In the same way that a lack of cultural diplomacy or indeed a lack of mutual understanding has resulted in many problems an increase in the striving towards mutual understanding and associated reduction in cultural arrogance has the potential to benefit the world.  Hence I am pleased to support the efforts of the ICD.