Governments in the twenty-first century are faced with a variety of global security risks including terrorism, war and conflicts, stereotypes/ misconceptions and ideological conspiracies, to name but a few.
These risks have manifested themselves in a variety of different ways, by actual violent attacks on citizens (September 11th, 2001) or through “verbal attacks” expressed via social media.
These social media assaults work to create negative public opinion trends that, in turn, cause citizens to suspect and mistrust governments and institutions. The power of ideology is immense, and can reel in people that would normally never be attracted to terrorism, encouraging them to participate in destructive activities against their own as well as other countries. Osama bin Laden, to name the most prominent example, managed to attract individuals to subscribe to and glorify his ideology by demonizing the US and the West via verbal propaganda.
Any attempt to analyze how to prevent and tackle the many forms of global risks that plague our world today must review the primary causes and incentives for individual and group attraction to terrorism. Important factors to consider may arise from ideological reasons, lack of access to basic resources and rights, as well as the pervasive belief that individuals’ voices (no matter the values they espouse) are not being heard.
Therefore, it has become apparent in today’s interdependent world that the legitimacy of cause is of vital importance to both state and supranational governments. In establishing legitimacy in both the domestic and international spheres with the ultimate goal of reducing global risks and increasing security, a multi-level strategy is an absolute necessity. Despite its vital importance, the use of cultural diplomacy in addressing global risks remains largely underutilized. In many ways, the application of cultural diplomacy practices can complement other, more traditional ways of increasing security (military measures or increased access to intelligence), by means of exposing and challenging destructive ideologies.
By helping to educate, enhance and sustain relationships, the application of cultural diplomacy can assist in building and improving dialogue, understanding and trust between governments and citizens all over the world at the local, national and global levels. The stronger the relationship between citizens and government, the more trust will be fostered and the less ideological incentives there will be for citizens to resort to terrorism and violent activities. Bringing governments and citizens together into a constructive dialogue will profoundly increase mutual understanding. Cultural exchange programs and grass-roots community initiatives supported by governments can facilitate the formation of confidence and trust.
By engaging the fields of art, music, sports, religion and civil society and by working in partnership with representatives of those fields and other cultural diplomats, governments can more effectively communicate their messages within and beyond their borders and move closer to their citizens. This closeness will be sustained over time; however it can also immediately reduce major gaps or conflicts.
In addition, by endorsing cultural diplomacy, which is generally accepted as a positive and constructive activity throughout the world, governments can demonstrate their support for cultural diversity and multiculturalism and improve their image abroad.
The most notable benefit of including cultural diplomacy practices and tools into the national agenda, however, is that it is cost effective compared to alternatives such as military or police action. In addition, cultural diplomacy is inherently constructive in nature, rather than these destructive alternatives.
While cultural diplomacy as an international relations tool can be applied across the board, implementation of particular strategies and tactics of course need to be crafted on a case-by case basis, taking into account all relevant historical, political, economic and cultural factors.
After completing his undergraduate studies in European History and French at Columbia University, Mark Donfried then pursued graduate research at the Freie Universität Berlin and at the Institut des Études Politiques where he wrote his thesis on “la diplomatie du jazz.” In 2001 he founded the Institute for Cultural Diplomacy (ICD – www.culturaldiplomacy.org), a non-partisan, independent, international, and non-profit and non-governmental organization in New York City and then in 2002, he moved the International Headquarters of ICD to Berlin, Germany. Over the past decade the ICD has grown to become one of Europe’s leading cultural exchange organizations with programs extending to every continent of the world. Donfried is author of numerous articles as well as the recent book “Searching for a Cultural Diplomacy (co-edited with Prof. Jessica C. E. Gienow-Hecht, Berghahn Books, Nov 2010).