Cultural Diplomacy v Public Diplomacy – or not?

In the Fall of 2005, the State Department released a report titled “Cultural Diplomacy: The Linchpin of Public Diplomacy”. The title of the report itself positions the conversation of the role of cultural diplomacy in overall US public diplomacy efforts. By definition – a linchpin is a pin that keeps a wheel from slipping off – or something that essentially keeps a complex structure in place. In the report, the Advisory Committee on Cultural Diplomacy make the case of the strong importance that cultural diplomacy plays in helping the United States influence public abroad. In his article, Jamming for Uncle Sam, Nicholas Cull supports the case that cultural diplomacy is one form of public diplomacy used to engage the foreign public and a method critical to helping a country conduct foreign policy.  

As the members of the Advisory Committee indicated, “Cultural diplomacy reveals the soul of a nation”, it can help create a foundation of trust between peoples, which helps our policy makers develop political, economic and military agreements, demonstrates our values, creates a relationship with people (which can be carried out beyond changes in US government), and creates a more neutral platform to develop a platform for person to person dialogues. But, as Dr. Cynsthia Schneider pointed out in her article “It’s the Culture Stupid”, cultural diplomacy is actually considered the “stepchild” of the State Department.

 Dr. Schneider argues for cultural diplomacy’s critical role in supporting exchanges and influencing foreign audiences abroad utilizing music like jazz and rock and roll to US films that portray positive values and perceptions of the US. Through our strongest exports like movies and music, we are able to spread the message of freedom. As Andras Simonyi (former Hungarian ambassador to the United States) put it, “Rock and roll was the internet of the ’60s and early ’70s. It was the carrier of the message of freedom”, it was part of the cultural diplomacy used by the US and other countries to help communist countries reach their freedom.

Countless examples exist of the positive influences of cultural diplomacy in healing relationships, building relationships and establishing a neutral platform separate from all government agendas to bring peoples together. But the debate will go on as to the role that cultural diplomacy will play – or at least the degree it will play in public diplomacy agendas in the future of the United States. As the report to the Department of State indicated, the US should use cultural diplomacy more heavily. But as Dr. Schneider points out, the cultural diplomacy team at DoS receives the least amount of resources (funding and personnel). Cultural diplomacy has its advantages, but it cannot be the be all end all driver of foreign policy. According to Robert Albro’s blog post “Aspiring to an Interest-Free Cultural Diplomacy”, cultural diplomacy tends to be “ineffective” or even fails when it is trying to push a policy agenda making the case for where cultural diplomacy fits a continued conversation.

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