Comment on Cultural Diplomacy

By Dr. Nazar al Baharna (Former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Bahrain – ICD Advisory Board Member)


“Out beyond ideas of wrong-doing and right-doing, there is a field. I will meet you there.”
Jalal Ad-Din Rumi

For thousands of years, it was the nature of human beings to use violence to settle their ultimate differences. Likewise, violence has been the basis and ultimate rule of conduct of power politics - ultimately the endpoint being war. Cultural diplomacy, by stressing soft power in our daily activities whether in trading, competition or in political activities offer a viable alternative that enforces our human nature. The definition of Cultural Diplomacy is offered by the American 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”.

Travellers, traders, artists, scientists, and engineers practiced cultural diplomacy for centuries, they all can be considered as cultural diplomats. They have been instrumental in exchanging information, ideas, cultural habits, religious rituals, music, and other cultural forms, enabling more tolerance, and promoting wider understanding between different nations.

Nowadays, our world is becoming more complex, and diversified. The population is growing in numbers, and there are increasing demands on food and natural resources such as water and energy. This increases the pressure on the countries to fulfil these demands, and eventually wars could be prompted by countries fighting each other to get access to these resources. Also countries have to work with their people to meet their political and economical aspirations, and to bridge the gap between their government’s performance and the people's expectations. In addition, in an increasingly globalised international environment, and with the rapid advancement of communications, media and technologies, companies and foundations are becoming ever more central as forums of international dialogue and cooperation. 

Using cultural diplomacy through cultural exchange between countries, which implies respect and communication and based on better understanding of respective values and reduced vulnerability in fields such as art, sport, literature, music, science and the economy, more understanding will be achieved between these countries. The outcome of such an exchange would be an improved interaction and cooperation leading ultimately to peace and prosperity for all.

Also, using the soft power of cultural diplomacy to communicate, and to bridge the gap between Governments and their people rather than using the conventional power to crush the people, Governments would get the support of their people and thus getting them involved in their development programs, which will lead to empowering the people and the country at the same time, and establishing clear links between long-term development challenges faced by the Government and the requirements of their people.