Prescriptions of cultural diplomacy


The American political scientist and author Dr. Milton C. Cummings offers a definition 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.” Cultural diplomacy may therefore best be described as the initiation or facilitation of the exchange of ideas, values, traditions, and other aspects of culture or identity, whether they promote national interests, build relationships, or enhance socio-cultural understanding. [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.

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.[2]

The Uses of Cultural Diplomacy

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

  • 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: As the move towards more socially responsible business practices gains momentum, the ability to understand and embrace the different values and needs of diverse cultures and societies becomes ever more important. There are many reasons why private companies need to be aware of the differences between cultures in their strategic decision-making process and adopt cultural diplomacy models into their agenda:
    • In the era of growing social awareness, corporations with culturally sensitive marketing plans and campaigns will enjoy a positive public opinion and good image, and thus financially perform better.
    • Companies with a national focus face a related challenge in ensuring that they are aware of and sensitive to national cultural minorities.
    • Companies seeking to expand abroad will encounter problems unless they conduct research into, and act according to the cultural differences with the host country.[3]

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.

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

External links

eo:Interpopola Kompreniĝo fr:Diplomatie culturelle

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