“How can countries gain the affection and esteem of other nations?” asks Edward T. Hall in the introduction to The Silent Language (1959: ix). “Though the United States has spent billions of dollars on foreign aid programs, it has captured neither the affection nor esteem of the rest of the world,” asserted Hall, adding that “It is not my thesis that Americans should be universally loved. But I take no consolation in the remark of a government official who stated that ‘we don’t have to be liked just so long as we are respected.’ In most countries we are neither liked nor respected,” he concluded after a careful evaluation of the perceptions and miscommunications between American officials and foreign diplomats at the end of the 1950s. The context was not an easy one: the Cold War, the Korean War, and struggles within the Western world. However E.T. Hall, the diplomatic anthropologist had a point: Countries care about their reputations and how they are seen by others abroad – the way foreign nations care about domestic perceptions of their culture, policies, and intentions. Today, diplomats invest efforts and resources in trying to leave a mark for their countries in a congested world of information and, paradoxically, rampant simplifications. The lesson noted by most countries is that the ways in which their identities and intentions are constructed abroad count. More importantly, the way countries internalize cosmopolitan values such as tolerance, friendship and respect for each other, will ultimately determine how others look upon them. Foreign ministries across the world have sooner or later come to realize this: the construction of diplomatic cosmopolitan values matters.
The study of traditional and modern diplomatic theory has been permeated by the political logic of a great umbrella called Rationalism, which includes Realism and Liberal Institutionalism among its very different strands. As a response to the Rationalist approach, another umbrella called Reflectivism has emerged, including views from diverse camps such as Social Constructivism, Feminism, Environmentalism, and the study of ethics in diplomacy. Reflectivist theories seek to challenge the fundamental assumptions of Rationalism (for instance “power struggle,” the “selfish rational actor” or the “anarchy” of the international system) by introducing new relevant elements to the study of Diplomacy and International Relations (such as culture, identity, or feminism). In cultural and public diplomacy terms, these debates have spun off divergent theories such as Soft Power, the Clash of Civilizations and more recently Nation Branding.
As a consequence of the Reflectivist challenge, public and cultural diplomacies require deeper review to incorporate theoretical positions into the discussion; it is the same with Cosmopolitan Constructivism. Public and cultural diplomacies are constitutive camps that can help attain universalistic and normative foreign policy objectives, like befriending other nations, the building of sound communication channels with societies abroad, and the understanding and appreciation of cultures different from ours. I have referred to as Cosmopolitan Constructivism elsewhere (Villanueva 2007) as a theory philosophically based on multilateral diplomacy, cosmopolitan theory and constructivist politics. This approach belongs to the long tradition formulated by people interested in fostering peace, understanding and friendly relations among nations. One of them, the British diplomat Harold Nicolson, noted in Diplomacy that “the progress of diplomatic theory has been from the narrow conception of exclusive tribal rights to the wider conception of inclusive common interests” (Nicolson 1963: 17). What Nicolson intended was certainly a form of “moral diplomacy,” which is nothing but a reference to a world-citizen view of the nation, where the international common good makes for sound diplomacy. Cosmopolitan Constructivism is, to paraphrase Nicolson, the global establishment of inclusive common interests.
In constructivist terms, I primarily emphasize the work of Alexander Wendt, whose book Social Theory of International Politics (1999) is pivotal to my understanding of the “constructivist turn” in the field of cultural and public diplomacies. Wendt has expressed severe criticism of traditional IR approaches that fail to see the importance of identity, norms and culture in the field. Wendt takes identity to be part of cultural phenomena, or collective group beliefs where ideas are shared and “communally sustained,” thus becoming inherently a public phenomenon (1999: 164). In a broad philosophical consideration, Social Constructivism is about seeing human consciousness changing, adapting to, and participating in international (or global) life. Its foundations take into consideration the role of ideas in shaping our understanding of Self-and-Other, as well as the world-out-there. Social Constructivism rests on an irreducibly intersubjective dimension of human interaction: the capacity and will of people to take a deliberate action towards the world and to lend it significance. This capacity, in return, gives rise to social facts, or facts that depend on human agreement and typically require human institutions for their existence (money, human rights, sovereignty, for example). Cultural and public diplomacies can benefit from one of the most important social facts proposed by constructivist theory: collective identities. Constructivists contend that not only are identities and interests of actors “socially constructed,” but also that they must share the stage with a whole host of other ideational factors emanating from people as cultural beings. A core feature of cultural and public diplomacies may be precisely the construction of collective identities of peace, understanding and diversity at the international level. For the constructivist camp, values, norms, interests and behaviors are dependent on the collective identity a group assumes. In constructivist lenses, there is nothing more to the point than MacLeish’s UNESCO preamble, which reminds us that, “since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defenses of peace must be constructed.” Public and cultural diplomacies will play a role in shaping those ideas and identities accordingly.
Cosmopolitanism is traditionally associated with a straightforward idea: the willingness to be part of a society of nations and participate in its welfare, on material, institutional or moral grounds.1 This simple account is not self-evident for most nations, or for some types of diplomacies and diplomats.
Cosmopolitanism’s simple premise is to live and let live, understand and be understood, show respect and enjoy respect in return. Cosmopolitanism has three parts: multilateralism, pluralism and reflexivity. The first is based on principles stressing a common mechanism of cooperation in the field of communications, culture and international relations; it requires diplomacies willing to engage in conventions, declarations and to respect common decisions, beyond their own national agenda (cfr. Ruggie 1989 and 1993). The second assumes the world is to be complex, hosting diverse and multiple expressions of cultures, ideas and peoples. The third promotes an integrated and holistic view of global cultural encounters, whose main purpose is to address common problems (poverty, environment, racism, etc.) based on the mutual exploration of possibilities and responsibilities, resorting to the principles of listening to and respecting each other (cfr. Pérez de Cuellar, 1997). Many concrete examples of the cosmopolitan agenda can be found in conventions and declarations issued by international organizations such as the Declaration on Race and Racial Prejudice of 1978, the Declaration of Principles on Tolerance of 1995, or more recently the Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity of 2001, the UN Millennium Development Goals, or the forthcoming UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.
Cosmopolitan agendas may be led by non- official diplomatic actors like rock star Bono acting as a world citizen and attracting efforts towards direct greater attention to Africa, or NGO’s such as Amnesty International fighting for freedom of conscience and human rights on a global scale.
The Theory of Cosmopolitan Constructivism
The bottom-line of Cosmopolitan Constructivism is straightforward: people, cultures and states matter, and cultural and public diplomacies collaborate in the inter-subjective construction of ideas, norms and identities towards cooperation, welfare and understanding. The point is to construct durable friendly relations among states by addressing in their societies and cultures the construction of cosmopolitan ideas and identities. The theory celebrates cultural differences, societal exchanges, and peer-to-peer encounters fostering common understanding. Offices of Foreign Affairs and citizens are welcomed as agents to formulate programs that develop cosmopolitan values. Under this theoretical normative framework, cultural and public diplomacies can also be seen as societal cosmopolitan political arrangements conducive to the improvement of multilateral channels to reach common goals, the construction of global awareness about other people’s life conditions and lifestyles around the globe, and the spread of solidarity and peace in nations worldwide (cfr. Reus-Smit 1999).
Cosmopolitan Constructivism draws from the Ally-Friend Theory which sees nations from their best side, predisposed to cooperate and create long lasting peace (cfr. Mayor 2008). Rather than trying to summarize that rich and extensive body of work, let me just suggest some ideas around constructivist and cosmopolitan theories for its conclusiveness. To be an Other-Ally or Other-Friend in diplomacy usually implies a reciprocal recognition of the Other’s self as existentially similar or following/supporting similar goals without obstructing or challenging them. Wendt says that in friendship, states usually expect to observe two rules: “(1) disputes will be settled without war or the threat of war (the rule of non-violence); and (2) they will fight as a team if the security of any one is threatened by a third party (the rule of mutual aid)” (1999: 299). In cultural and public diplomatic terms, this would imply stressing the long-term foreign policy objectives, or “absolute gains” side of the equation, where countries do not expect to “become friends” overnight, actually trying to encourage their societies to join a process of common understanding and societal exchanges, step by step. Wendt distinguishes allies from friends, saying that the former “engage in the same basic behaviour as friends, but they do not expect their relationship to continue indefinitely,” as is usually the case with the latter (1999: 299). This description of the state’s calculations on Self and Other enters the realms of what Wendt categorizes as Kantian culture, or an international structure where “a new international political culture has emerged in the West within which non-violence and team-play are the norm” (1999: 297).
In Wendt’s analysis of Kantian Culture, the internalization process plays a major role in understanding why, for example, nations are willing to make cooperative moves by themselves, setting aside sanctions or selfishness. Wendt explains that beyond coercion (first-level degree, for example a treaty or a mandate), self-interest (second-level degree, for example fears of nuclear disaster or cultural clashes), legitimacy (third-level degree) lies the most developed of these actions pursued by states, since it emerges from the state’s principles and convictions. Wendt explains: in the “Third Degree case actors identify with other’s expectations, relating to them as part of themselves. The Other is now inside the cognitive boundary of the Self, constituting who it sees itself as in relation to the Other, its ‘Me’” (1999: 273). In other words, Self is not self-interested but rather it is interested in the Other. Cosmopolitanism draws much from this idea. Multilateral diplomacy, collective security “one for all, all for one” reciprocity, cooperation, and open, transparent political systems, help develop Other and Myself as riends. Wendt further argues that “International interests are now part of the national interest, not just interests that states have to advance in order to advance their separate national interest; friendship is a preference over an outcome, not just a preference over a strategy” (1999: 305).21 The cultivation of friendship in a global world among nations allows the achievement of the Kantian notion of a “perpetual peace order,” where the interests of humankind must prevail over those of the individual.
But this cosmopolitan view is not a given; countries must work hard against prejudice and blindness. John Tomlinson argues that the cosmopolitans should have a sense of commitment to belonging to the world as a whole, suggesting that a cosmopolitan agenda of human rights, environmental concerns, cultural integration and economic and political progressive demands, can be a link to the development of friendly relations among peoples and states in a challenging global culture (1999 and 2002). More interestingly, Tomlinson’s view reasserts that Cosmopolitanism is “first of all… a willingness to engage with the Other. It is an intellectual and aesthetic stance of openness toward divergent cultural experiences, a search for contrast rather than uniformity” (1999: 185).
A Program for Cosmopolitan Constructivism
In similar terms, friendship can be developed, according to Zygmunt Bauman, by looking at the universality of “ethical humanism” as an honorable aspiration, challenged by narrow economic and political views in a paradoxically global world. For Bauman, universality is a communicational capacity to achieve mutual understanding taking into consideration the other’s responses and moves, allowing for a conversation across domains of cultural difference (1995 and 1999).
In diplomacy, Raymond Cohen has questioned the legitimacy of this “cosmopolitan view,” saying that it is “right to reject ‘ridiculous stereotypes,’ such as ‘inscrutable orientals’ and ‘haggling Arabs.” No serious student of culture would really propose such travesties. But is not the image of the cosmopolitan diplomat, free of all narrow cultural limitations, an equally questionable stereotype? Is the impact of culture really so superficial that it can be removed by a few years of foreign travel?” (1991: 17). In fact, one pertinent observation may be the case: in today’s world, societies sometimes have to navigate against “parochial diplomats” who do not understand -or want to participate- in the complex cosmopolitan global sphere. Akira Iriye argues that the dangers of rampant nationalism in societies are more evident now than before, although it was assumed that a new spirit of internationalism might be fostered by means of better communication and information flows across nations. What he describes as “Cultural Internationalism” saw its first signs of life in the 19th century with the birth of the Universal Postal Union, the International Bureau of Weights and Measures, the Red Cross, etc. and later in the 20th century when some politicians, intellectuals and artists realized that one way of forging a stable and lasting international peace was to encourage international cultural exchange and cooperation. These are the seeds of the International Commission of Intellectual Cooperation under the League of Nations and then the all-well- known UNESCO. In Cultural Internationalism and World Order, Iriye shows how widespread and important this idea became for the development of a cultural diplomacy without the constraints of the “national interest” (1997: 142). He describes a surprising array of efforts to foster cooperation, from the creation of an international language to student exchange programs, international lecture circuits, and other cultural activities. Iriye concludes that the effort of “cultural internationalism” can only be appreciated in the context of world politics within a cosmopolitan framework. A lasting and stable world order cannot rely merely on governments and power politics, it also depends on the free exchange of cultures among peoples in pursuing common intellectual and cultural interests via openly cosmopolitan public and cultural diplomacies.
Under the cosmopolitan constructivist framework, one might define the mission of public and cultural diplomacies, following Paul Sharp, as a bottom-up representational activity where the focal point is “expressed as now having evolved to the point where states are authentic expressions of popular sovereignty and nations are authentic expressions of popular cultural identity” (1999: 51). For Sharp diplomacy should be seen as independent of the modern state system, because in this way it is unnecessary to restrict our analysis in determining who is and who is not a diplomatic player: “Once diplomacy is seen again in terms of representation rather than as an instrument of more substantive foreign policies, then it becomes possible to see how it expresses a human condition that precedes and transcends the experience of living in the sovereign, territorial states of the past few hundred years” (1999: 51). And a final feature of cultural and public diplomacies is visible when “Diplomats not only seek to represent their states to the world, but also seek to represent that world back to their respective states, with the objective of keeping the whole ensemble together” (1999: 53). This idea, obvious though it may seem, lies near the heart of diplomacy, and calls for an examination of the political values diplomats may hold. In other words, it is a self-reflexive issue. Diplomats have a mission to report the other states’ views and interests on global issues and cultural activities, an assignment laden with responsibility. The representation of the Other back to their countries is a diplomatic representational problem that keeps international relations in motion: “these situations may be examined as instances in which diplomats are engaged in the construction, maintenance, and representation of different identities to one another” (1999: 54). At the heart of this problem, then, is the fact that representations of foreign identities are also expressions of the condition of domestic national identities.
A minimalist program of Cosmopolitan Constructivism may include six aspects:
1) Making the creation of peace and friendly relations with other nations one of the most important goals of foreign policy and allocate resources to fulfill that purpose;
2) Investing in international educational exchanges targeting groups in foreign societies that have the talent but may not have the resources to study abroad. Ideally, create bilateral or regional institutions to administer and organize the exchanges such as the Fulbright-García Robles program (Mexico) or the NordForsk (Scandinavia);
3) Creating a solid infrastructure for international cooperation, in which money and human resources can flow together and address important and urgent common topics with other nations; for example, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, or the International Cooperation Agency of Japan;
4) Establishing institutions abroad as a platform for sharing knowledge about your own country, and engaging foreign publics in sharing your own national ideas about lifestyles, welfare, and the arts or to teach languages, but also to discuss domestic issues that may be relevant for the two parties such as human rights, life conditions of children, or popular culture. These institutions should operate with independence in the selection of their activities and policies. The British Council, the Swedish Institute, the Goethe Institute, or the Cultural Center of Spain in some countries, are good examples of such initiatives; 5) Building the necessary channels to communicate with foreign publics, to listen to their concerns, and to create mutual ways to involvement. If possible, establish a television or radio broadcast service, digital communication or web interaction to engage publics in dialogue and exchange. Well-established examples of these efforts are the BBC in the UK, TV5 Monde of France, or VOA, NPR and PBS in the US;
6) Educating young people in school programs related to international solidarity, mutual understanding and sensitivity for diversity and multiculturalism. Some of these programs can also be targeted to professionals, public officials, diplomats and teachers.
Cosmopolitan Constructivism: An Idealist Approach?
Is the theory pure idealism? Let me return to my comment on US diplomacy at the beginning of this article. A few years back, the diplomatic news from the US to the world was simplistic, black and white dichotomies or unilateral politics. Only a few years back, the mere prospect of listening to an American president arguing for ideas other than “the American interest” or the unilateral “promotion of American values” would have been hard to imagine. Today, the idea of an American president addressing the world from Cairo, quoting the Quran, acknowledging the need to do more for the developing world, and delivering a message of hope and change for the international community has caught us by surprise. In just a short time, the quality of discourse in world politics from the world’s superpower has undergone a major shift from a nationalist, parochial judgment to a refreshing cosmopolitanism.
After all, Cosmopolitan Constructivism is not new. Efforts to bring about peace among peoples, cities or nations have existed ever since the birth of civilization. In our times, the most solid international platform summarizing what we look for as a community of states, is the UN Charter: “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war… to reaffirm the faith in fundamental human rights…to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained… [and] to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom.” To my knowledge, no country has disowned these values, even if we think of them as goals, a desirable or idealistic umbrella. To Americans to adopt these values is a necessary stage in US history; but it is also a message to our own civilization that we must adapt if we are to reach anywhere.
Being aware that peoples and countries have economic, military or political interests that take precedence over being friends is the goal. The claim here is not for a single-minded cosmopolitan constructivist foreign policy. No one could reasonably advocate that all foreign policies must be only based on these universalistic principles. I issue this cautious warning because I see very little of cosmopolitanism in cultural and public diplomacies worldwide (cfr. Knudsen 2004). Yet I suggest and even urge that all foreign policies begin nurturing and developing the cosmopolitan and universalistic values already embedded deeply in their own diplomacies. In truth, a significant share of the activities called cultural and public diplomacies are addressed to persuasion, manipulation, winning hearts and minds, and the selling of images and national brands. These actions flow from the logic required by the security/military ethos, rather than as part of a citizen’s need for the promotion of diversity, exchanges and goodwill.
In sum, Cosmopolitan Constructivism can be defined as the recognition that the construction of a peaceful community of states matters as the highest goal for diplomacy, and that governments must make use of cultural and public diplomacies as mechanisms to collaborate in the common understanding of their own cultures, diversities and differences. Put simply, Cosmopolitan Constructivism aims at constructing long-lasting friendly relations among states by inviting their societies to learn from each other in the construction of cosmopolitan cultural attitudes. This discourse celebrates “cultural difference,” cultural exchange, civil societies’ diversity and face-to-face encounters in the struggle to foster common understanding. Cultural and public diplomacies are political arrangements conducive to the construction of a plurality of representations of cultures abroad via diplomatic institutions. It is time to take these ideas seriously, if we are to make a difference in the 21st century.
By Cesar Villanueva Rivas
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2 In fact, Wendt never uses the term “cosmopolitan” to refer to this or any other of his main proposals, but I find many coincidences with how Cosmopolitanism reasons about Other, particularly in friendly relations among parties.
1 There is a vast literature on the topic of Cosmopolitanism. This is not the place to discuss typologies and differences in conceptions. It is safe to say that in modern times the main point of reference for cosmopolitanism is Immanuel Kant’s book Perpetual Peace. In this sense, Cosmopolitanism is a way of building long-lasting peace beyond the State, paying attention to the “world’s citizen”.
César Villanueva received his Ph.D. in Political Science from Växjö University, Sweden. He is Professor of International Relations and Cultural Diplomacy at Universidad Iberoamericana, in Mexico City. He teaches courses in Foreign Policy and Culture, Public and Cultural Diplomacy, Theory of International Politics, and Contemporary Art. Most recently, his research interests have focused on arts diplomacy and cosmopolitan theory. He has authored three books and more than 20 scholarly and professional papers. In 2009 he was the guest editor for the Mexican Journal of Foreign Policy, No. 85 dedicated to public and cultural diplomacy.