At its core, diplomacy depends on achieving results and goals with the most flexible, least violent and low-cost methods that avoid security or military measures as much as possible.
In some cases, “hard power” is used diplomatically, as a means not an end in order to achieve goals that leaders cannot achieve through conventional means or through dialogue. Therefore, “force” is used as a quick and short-term option that has specific goals.
In this context, diplomacy has several aspects, one of which is “cultural diplomacy.” This was the focus of a discussion held in Manama last month, which was attended by UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed and a group of young diplomats.
Of course, “cultural diplomacy” doesn’t only depend on the culture of the individual – though this is definitely important – but it should also include a comprehensive program, an action plan and collective effortHassan Al Mustafa
Abdullah bin Zayed spoke about “cultural diplomacy” as “a gateway of cooperation aimed at spreading our high humanitarian mission and our common Arab culture”, as well as “sharing innovative ideas with regard to the development of future diplomatic work and foreseeing the prospects for diplomatic cooperation and coordination to address the rapid changes on the regional arenas and the international scene.” He added that this necessitates an unconventional approach to political action, development of old mechanisms and expansion of new areas of work in the departments of foreign ministries in the Gulf to focus on what can be called “complementary diplomacy,” of which culture is one of the key pillars.
Using culture as a bridge
A former diplomat once told me that while he was on a visit to an important and influential country for bilateral talks, the head of the delegation had to leave for a few minute. He told me: “I found myself alone with the president of that country, and wondered what I can talk to him about, instead of just being silent. Within a few seconds, I began talking about an important historical figure who had changed the policy of the country in question.
The president was happy to respond and started telling me about that figure’s character and explained how and why he loved and respected that person’s ideas. Even after the head of the delegation returned, we continued talking on the same subject; because the president was proud how his guest knew details of his country’s culture and history.”
This is a simple example of how culture can create a bridge between interlocutors, make minds meet, help solve problems and diffuse crises.
“Cultural diplomacy” is not an easy art to cultivate. It requires a person to have a great deal of knowledge and wisdom. A diplomat needs to be knowledgeable in the history and civilization of the country he visits, understand customs and the key traditions in addition to knowing the background of the people he meets and the topics that will be discussed so that he is able to read the mind of his interlocutor and negotiate with him, and this requires more training, knowledge and patience. It is not just a mechanical drill that easily delivers any political gain.
Of course, “cultural diplomacy” doesn’t only depend on the culture of the individual – though this is definitely important – but it should also include a comprehensive program, an action plan and collective effort, which will be discussed in the next article.
This article is also available in Arabic.
Hassan AlMustafa is Saudi journalist with interest in middle east and Gulf politics. His writing focuses on social media, Arab youth affairs and Middle Eastern societal matters. His twitter handle is @halmustafa.