A growing element of international relations is in cultural diplomacy, defined by political scientist Milton Cummings as “the exchange of ideals, information, values, systems, traditions, beliefs and other aspects of culture, with the intention of fostering mutual understanding”.
Diplomatic relations of a cultural nature have been in existence ever since the earliest human tribes began to explore and travel. Today, nations keen to forge important links with each other adhere to five important principles of cultural diplomacy:
• Respect and recognition of cultural diversity and heritage
• Global intercultural dialogue
• Justice, equality and interdependence
• The protection of human rights
• Global peace and stability
In Europe, the diplomatic principles and practices of cultural promotion and exchange are gaining increasing currency with the European Parliament strengthening its role in the external policy of the European Union. To this end, the role of EU cultural ambassador is to be created to advance European culture and values around the world.
The values the EU is most keen on include democracy, human rights, conflict prevention and peace building, chiming with those five essential principles of diplomatic cultural exchange, and making cultural understanding as a form of international diplomacy more accessible to individuals.
Promoting culture and diversity
European nations have long established ways of promoting their own language and culture – for example, the British Council is the UK’s cultural exchange, while France looks to the Alliance Française to advance its cultural interests. Germany’s Goethe-Institut is that nation’s best-known proponent of promoting German culture.
The Institute for Cultural Diplomacy was established in Europe to strengthen relations both within and outside of Europe, and its Young Leaders Forums are international networks of like-minded young people brought together to develop and support inter-cultural relations.
While it could be argued that there is no defined European culture to speak of, the EU is taking the lead in advancing a common policy by reinforcing inter-cultural dialogue and promoting the diversity evident in European culture.
Culture through diplomacy in action in Europe
European culture is increasingly linked to liberal thinking, human rights, freedom of expression and the growth of democracy. The worldwide distribution of European films, literature and music, for example, has done more than anything else to promote European cultural than anything else.
On an individual level, cultural understanding is employed through student and teacher exchange programs, through festivals and conferences, and in sporting competitions. Meanwhile, EU development money is used to grow and promote culture and partnerships with developing nations.