Research studies

Diplomacy in a Changing World

 Prepared by the researcher Dr. Benaicha Mohamed EL Amine

Democratic Arab Center


Cultural Diplomacy is a term, which is quite new in the domain of Polish foreign policy. Although this term is used increasingly often by political scientists, communications experts as well as politicians it is still an area, which is relatively little known. Art and culture are in the forefront of many countries’ promotional efforts. These countries recognize that showing their cultural heritage provides them with an opportunity of showing who they are, creating a positive image, thus helping to achieve their political aims. With a debate currently under way on the subject of public diplomacy it is worth reflecting on the role that could be played by culture and art in Poland’s foreign policy. This is the aim I have before me in this article.

 To start with it is worth reflecting on the concept of culture, which will make it easier to analyze the concept of cultural diplomacy. The literature on this subject provides multiple definitions of culture.  .Kroeber and C.Kluckhohn in their work, “Culture. A Critical Review of Concepts and Definitions” collected 168 definitions and divided them into six types, which emphasize certain aspects in different definitions, rarely exclusively and autonomously- these aspects being, descriptive-listing (nominal), historical, normative, psychological, structural and genetic.

What is interesting from the point of view of cultural diplomacy are the definitions that define the historical aspect of culture. It is worth quoting S.Czarnowski here, who emphasizes the historical factor. As I will show in the further part of this article it is this aspect that governments in Poland emphasize in their conduct of cultural diplomacy. Their  understanding of culture is that it is, ‘the shared heritage, the fruit of the creative and processed effort of countless generations. It is the body of the objective elements of the communal assets, thus capable of being disseminated1.’ Such an understanding is close to that articulated by E.Labno-Falecka, who links the nominal and historical aspects and differentiates the following concepts of culture:

  • In the strict sense- culture is a value in itself (traditional forms such as painting, literature, music, sculpture, theatre, film).
  • In the wider sense- culture versus nature- everything that is not nature is culture. Culture is the civilization created by man. In this sense we all create culture.

According to A.Klosowska culture means defined classes of objects, phenomena and processes or certain types of behaviour. However in the philosophical sense culture is understood by everything which does not grow of itself from nature but comes about from the conscious effort of man, being the effect thought and human activity.

In continuing in this vein it is impossible not to mention the definition by R.Linton who in defining culture says that it constitutes a set of behaviours people have learned, elements of which are common for members of a certain society and communicated within it4. In linking these two concepts it can be said that culture is not only the behaviour within a certain society but also the material achievements of members and results of joint  undertakings.

  The main argument of this book is to examine whether cultural diplomacy could maintain, enhance and even create state trust or not. Based upon this argument, it is quite necessary to understand the general background in today’s international society. In recent decades, almost every state attempts to devote a significant amount of efforts to improving soft power. Joseph Nye emphasises that soft power of a state rests primarily on three resources: its culture (in places where it is attractive to others), its political values (when it lives up to them at home and abroad), and its foreign policies (when they are seen as legitimate and having moral authority).

The concept of cultural diplomacy lies at the heart of soft power. From the reciprocal gifts of ancient rulers to today’s Expos, various forms of culture have been used by state actors to exhibit who they are, assert their claim in the global governance, shape national image and build long-lasting relationships with others. Nye also argues that cultural diplomacy is considered as the ‘ability to persuade [others] through culture, values and ideas.

Therefore, along with the economic globalisation and closer interdependence regarding the national interest of each state, more and more states have gradually realised the importance of cultural diplomacy, especially its role in solving international conflicts and frictions to thereafter enhance international mutual understanding and trust building with other states. Besides that, cultural diplomacy seems to be diversified, which means that the practice of cultural diplomacy is not merely confined to the developed countries; developing countries can also take advantage of this concept to have practical applications in order to exhibit their unique culture. Just as the previous chairman of the Senate Foreign  Relations Committee of the USA, J. William Fulbright argues ‘in the long course of history, having people understand your thought is much greater security than another submarine’, Fulbright’s quote reminds us that cultural diplomacy is not only about the quest for image building but also is a matter of winning hearts and minds. In an increasingly interlinked global society, state actors attempt to communicate not only through traditional diplomacy but also beyond national borders under the name of cultural diplomacy. Culture is no longer as subordinate to politics, and it is the time to unlock the full potential of cultural diplomacy as offering the operational context in international relations.

Trust is a widely studied and acknowledged concept including diversified forms of operationalisation. In the academic area, Carsten Schultz argues that ‘researchers operationalise trust differently depending upon the focus and phases of trust studies’. To Wheeler, ‘the challenge of building trust between states that have a history of conflict and acrimony has attracted the attention of scholars in the field of International Relations for several decades’ (Wheeler, 2012, p.1). It can be seen that the term ‘state trust’ is not easily defined. The inspiration for conceptualising the notion of state trust comes from the concept of social capital, which was evoked in a book Bowling Alone written by Robert D. Putnam (2000). As an important category of social capital, social trust is applied as an analytical tool in the research of international relations. Therefore, when thinking about the term trust at the state level, I draw on the essence of social trust as well as take other scholars’ findings. For example, Aaron M. Hoffman did some studies in the area with regard to “trust in international relations”, and then coin the concept of state trust.

Additionally, since a lot of scholars and politicians have placed much emphasis on the role of cultural diplomacy in building trust among individuals and states, for example, Philip Seib argues that ‘nearly everyone likes cultural diplomacy in principle, but some remain sceptical about its value. Trust may seem to be an ephemeral quality, but it is at the heart of relations between states and is a principal goal of public  diplomacy.

 Cultural diplomacy can remove the mystery and debunk mythology about a country and its people, and by doing so, and it can allow that country’s policies to receive attention without distractions’, Scholars have documented differences and similarities in cultural  diplomacy behaviour and management across different states and elaborated why they occur. However, they have not developed theoretical frameworks for the comparative study concerning the relationship of cultural diplomacy and state trust between different states.

Cultural Diplomacy as a Concept

Since human civilisation evolves and develops, cultural elements start to be utilised in the global diplomatic arena. Cultural diplomacy, as the name implies, is the combination of culture and diplomacy: culture + diplomacy = cultural diplomacy. Culture is not a simple concept, and diplomacy is a rather tricky word in politics. Both of them are vague terms that can have different meanings with variable usages, which could spawn a string of contrasting associations with mixed fortunes as a result. The mix of culture and diplomacy generates the term “cultural  diplomacy”, with an increasingly sophisticated but distinctive meaning.

As the main component of soft power, culture is also regarded as one of the most important elements in diplomacy; this is particularly so in terms of the significance of cultural communications among international relations. When the word diplomacy is used, the first impression that springs to mind will likely be diplomatic representatives, heads of state visiting, foreign affairs or negotiations. Cultural diplomacy, which seems to be more of an abstract concept and will produce factors of an intangible nature, for instance, the statecraft of a country.

Firstly, in order to offer context, this chapter defines the two components of cultural diplomacy: culture and diplomacy. Secondly, based on a range of perspectives, this chapter defines and updates the conceptualisation of cultural diplomacy, and explores the possible roles it may play domestically and internationally; Thirdly, it distinguishes this term among other related concepts, including cultural soft power, public diplomacy, international cultural relations and intercultural  communication. Finally, this chapter offers the general background about the practices of cultural diplomacy in the global society.

1.1 What is Culture?

Culture is clearly important to human beings; however, using it as an analytical tool can be rather problematic. Culture is such a multifaceted concept embracing a range of topics, processes, differences and even paradoxes, and that it may only be possible to apply it in a vague and intuitive way. A large number of anthropologists and scholars from various disciplines have attempted to define it in different ways and emphasised the countless aspects of culture. Therefore, it is noted that the term culture varies with numerous changes, and can never actually be  described as a single entity. Furthermore, it is also considered to be a complicated matter with dynamic as well as evolving features.

Looking back to the origin of culture, from the aspect of etymology, both English and French use the same word “culture” deriving from the Latin expression “cultura”, which means to cultivate and tend to the earth and grow, or cultivation and nurture , Sir Edward Burnett Tylor, the founder of cultural anthropology, once argued that ‘culture is that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, law, morals, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society’. Since the era of Tylor, the concept of culture has become the central focus of anthropology. Moreover, it is also one of the reasons why political scientists of the period became interested in exploring cultural questions in the late 1950s, because they felt it necessary to limit their relevant cultural domain to “political culture”.

Additionally, to George Simmel, ‘culture, as it were, formed intentional subjectivity that emerges out of human life and its intentions and is created by human beings as objectified contents or entities in language, religion, normative orders, legal systems, traditions, artistic artefacts, and so on’. To Bound and Briggs, ‘culture stems from the wider, connective and human values. Culture is both the means by which we come to understand others, and an aspect of life with innate worth that we enjoy and seek out’, Furthermore, Franz Boas argued that ‘culture embraces all the manifestations of social habits of a community, the reactions of the individual as affected by the habits of the group in which he lives, and the product of human activities as determined by these habits’. To Kroeber and Kluckhohn, ‘culture consists of patterns, explicit and implicit, of and for behaviour acquired and transmitted by symbols, constituting the distinctive achievements of human groups, including their embodiment in artefacts; the essential core of culture consists of traditional (i.e., historically derived and selected) ideas and especially their attached values; culture systems may, on the one hand, be considered as products of action, on the other, as conditional elements of future action’. It is plenty of different views toward the concept of culture that provides a solid foundation for cultural studies now and in the future. Moreover, the presence of these perspectives on culture could be beneficial to creating an open and broad horizon for people who wish to understand and recognise other cultures. In this book, in accordance with the definitions of culture discussed above, I understand the concept of culture as follows:

  1. Cultures are an integrated and not an isolated concept. Integration means that a certain part of a specific culture is related to another culture in some way, which could be regarded as a set of mutually influential relationships among the different cultures.
  2. Cultures are products of history. Culture often takes a long time to develop and is generally transmitted across generations.
  3. Cultures can be changed and influenced, and they can cause changes and influences as well. On the one hand, with respect to the human beings, culture has the power to influence and change human beings; human behaviour would change and shape the culture as well. On the other hand, for consideration of culture itself, different cultures could have interactive effects with changes and influences on each other.
  4. Cultures are strengthened by the various social and cultural values. Cultural values play a major role in the development of human beings, and cultural values are a powerful determinant of human behaviour.

Therefore, in general terms, culture is considered as an integral part of human society. Although the above definitions of culture come from a number of disciplines, the characteristics of culture are stated in a similar fashion. This thesis has a firmly held assumption on the argument that culture is the important part of diplomacy. Based on the analysis of cultural components withmany different categories, this research combines the definition of Tylor towards culture with the summarised characteristics from other scholars as the primary definition.

  1. Public diplomacy and cultural diplomacy

The term public diplomacy was first coined in 1965 by E.Guillon. He felt that public diplomacy is concerned with the influence of social  standpoints have on the formulation and implementation of foreign policy. It covers aspects of international relations that fall outside traditional diplomacy such as influencing public opinion abroad, mutual impacting by private groups and pressure groups in one another’s countries, reporting on events abroad and their impact on politics, communicating between those whose work this is, between diplomats and foreign correspondents and the process of inter-cultural communication.

The term diplomacy has been used for a long period in history, and the concept of diplomacy is an agreed standard term without any further contentious debates. This part provides a clear concept of diplomacy to lay the foundation for the conceptual analysis of the parts that followed later on. One of the standard measurement methods to judge the legitimacy of a state is the capacity for diplomacy by this state in question, whether it can conduct foreign affairs in a proper and generally accepted way or not. For thousands of years, people of the states had already begun to engage in diplomacy to deal with foreign affairs. In a quite long period of human history, whenever it was needed, a diplomat would have been sent to another country so as to negotiate with the leader of that country on a particular issue. He then immediately returned to the country after the relevant talks. Diplomats were typically members of the general household of the ruler of that country or one of the senior officials appointed by the ruler, in order to be in an authoritative position to discuss and convey the essential elements in the actual negotiations, and be able to agree on the results of these negotiations with other countries. Hence the personal link of this diplomat with the ruler, and the high-ranking official post of this diplomat gave the impression of authority and legitimacy as well.

In the current era, the subject of diplomacy is the sovereign state. International organisations, authorised by sovereign states, have increasingly played an active role on the world stage and have gradually become important participants. For example, the United Nations’ activities have close relations with other sovereign states and have a very significant functional effect upon a number of diplomatic coordination. The purposes of diplomacy include many issues, but the main theme is the use of peaceful means in order to achieve the goals of its foreign policy, to safeguard the interests of the country, to expand its sphere of influence internationally and develop an acceptable relationship with other countries. Accordingly, “diplomacy concerns as much the promotion of political, economic, cultural or scientific relations as it does international commitment to defend human rights or the peaceful settlement of disputes, the aim of such international diplomacy is primarily to strike a balance between state interests. Thus, diplomacy as a critical process of communication and negotiation in world politics and as an important foreign policy instrument used by global actors There are internationally accepted guidelines for diplomats’ interaction. Among the guidelines, the best example is the United Nations Charter, which illustrates  the main purposes and principles of the diplomatic behaviours of sovereign states. It mentions ‘the mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, mutual non-aggression, mutual non-interference in internal affairs, equality and mutual benefit, and peaceful coexistence. Settle all disputes by peaceful means, without resorting to force and threats of force. The diplomacy on this basis is with equality and justice, otherwise will become inequality and injustice. Equitable new international political order and a new international economic order would be possible to build if the premise is keeping peace and development as the main objective.

In order to ensure the main subject of cultural diplomacy, it is entirely necessary to clarify the characteristics of contemporary diplomacy in the international society. Besides the guidelines of the UN Charter, in accordance with Lu Yi’s analysis regarding the features of diplomacy, contemporary diplomacy has the following characteristics:

Independent diplomatic power is one of the hallmarks of sovereign states, and it is also the guiding principle of the equality of diplomacy with respect to each sovereign state.

  1. “Limited diplomatic authorisation”, diplomacy involves the highest national interest, diplomatic decision-making is at the highest national organs for policy-making, diplomatic executive authority is the decision-making organ, which can have flexibility in operation but only within certain limits and it must consult the organs of policy-making in case of major problems.
  2. Heads of State and government have gradually and directly been involved in a variety of diplomatic situations; the roles they play tend to become a lot more active as well as having been placed in a significant and prominent position.
  3. Comprehensive and diversified participation in diplomatic activities is the developmental trend of modern diplomacy. Foreign Affairs are subjected to their own political and economic systems as well as the relevant domestic policy and the national necessity/requirements.

For those people who are not quite familiar with the concept and characteristics of diplomacy, they usually use the term ‘diplomacy’ without thinking about the meanings in a logical way and sometimes, even to the degree of being a little bit too farfetched. It is quite often to find some references which are examples of the incorrect application of the term diplomacy, such as Celebrity Diplomacy, Electronic Games Diplomacy, Media Diplomacy, Digital Diplomacy and other similar terms are being linked with the wording of diplomacy. Additionally, the public also appears to have confusion on the meaning of diplomacy and foreign policy.

The term diplomacy is not necessarily synonymous with foreign policy. Whereas foreign policy can be described as the substance, aims, and attitudes of a state’s relations with others, diplomacy is one of the instruments employed to put these into effect. Diplomacy is concerned with dialogue and negotiations, and in this sense, it is not merely an instrument of the state, it is also an instrument of the state-system itself (Evans, 1998). This study takes as a point of departure that states or departments, organisations, and institutions authorised by states are the main subjects of diplomacy. The case studies in the following chapters should be considered with this position in mind.


(1.) David Stringer, ‘Letters reveal candid views of British diplomats’, Globe and Mail (Toronto), 18 October 2009.

(2.) Standard works on diplomacy include R. P. Barston, Modern Diplomacy, 3rd ed. (New York: Longman, 2006); G. R. Berridge, Diplomacy: Theory and Practice, 3rd ed. (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005); G. R. Berridge and Alan James, A Dictionary of Diplomacy, 2nd ed. (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004); Christer Jönsson and Martin Hall, Essence of Diplomacy (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005); Christer Jönsson and Richard Langhorne (eds), Diplomacy. 3 vols. 1: Theory of Diplomacy. 2: History of Diplomacy. 3: Problems and Issues in Contemporary Diplomacy (London: Sage, 2004); Harold Nicolson, Diplomacy (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988); and Adam Watson, Diplomacy: The Dialogue Between States (New York: Routledge, 2004).

(3.) Quoted in The Oxford English Dictionary (OED), 2nd ed., vol. IV (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989), 696.

(4.) OED, vol. IV, 696.

(5.) Ivor Roberts (ed.), Satow’s Diplomatic Practice, 6th ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 4.

(6.) The term ‘diplomatic body’ first emerged in Vienna around the mid-18th century; Roberts, Satow’s Diplomatic Practice, 5.

(7.) OED, vol. I, 382.

(8.) Roberts, Satow’s Diplomatic Practice, 7.

(9.) An excellent overview of the history of diplomacy in antiquity is provided in Jean-Robert Leguey-Feilleux, The Dynamics of Diplomacy (Boulder: Lynne Rienner, 2009), ch. 2.

(10.) Leguey-Feilleux, Dynamics of Diplomacy, 33.

(11.) Roger Boesche, The First Great Political Realist: Kautilya and His Arthashastra (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2002); L.N. Rangarajan (editor, re-arranger, and translator), Kautilya: The Arthashastra (Delhi: Penguin Classics India, 1992).

(12.) Roberts, Satow’s Diplomatic Practice, 9.

(13.) See Matthew S. Anderson, The Rise of Modern Diplomacy, 1450–1919 (New York: Longman, 1993), and Donald E. Queller, The Office of Ambassador in the Middle Ages (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1967).

(14.) Raymond Aron, Peace and War: A Theory of International Relations, translated from the French by Richard Howard and Annette Baker Fox (New York: Frederick A. Praeger, 1967), 5; emphasis in original.

(15.) Stephen D. Krasner, Sovereignty: Organized Hypocrisy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999).

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