Diplomats have always tried to find ways to ease the painful side of politics, either because they believe they can make the world a better place to live or because they serve certain interests.
In the international political arena, diplomats and scholars have used the terms ‘hard’ and ‘soft power’ to portray the way nation-states exercise politics.
With a brief look at current global politics one would dismiss the term ‘soft power’. It is a term introduced by Joseph Nye, one of the most influential scholars in International Relations and policy makers in the United States. The term refers to the ability to persuade through culture, values and ideas; it is also the capacity to achieve goals through co-option. This is in contrast to ‘hard power’, which we can apply to the latest developments in Libya and the power politics demonstrated between Turkey and Israel, whose diplomatic relations have been bitter of late. Also, American foreign policy is mainly based on hard power, as for several years U.S. was the key global actor. ‘Hard power’ refers to the use of instruments like military force, coercive diplomacy and economic sanctions.
On the other side there are countries which employ cultural diplomacy and ‘soft power’ practices, in order to overcome diplomatic problems through productive intercultural dialogue. Cultural diplomacy is a methodical use of a country’s cultural characteristics in international relations. It is also a way to continue exercising foreign policy affairs in a less traditional manner, either because hard power is not enough or because of special problematic situations. An example of cultural diplomacy was the letters that Frederic II sent to Cairo’s sultan Al-Kamil in the 12th century AD. Frederic asked Al-Kamil’s opinion of mathematics, medicine, etc. His interest for the Arab culture together with his peaceful stance helped the bilateral relations at that time. Cultural diplomacy is a form of ‘soft power’ which is not controlled necessarily by governments and can result via social interaction. This process can be guided by governments and various social agents, for example non-governmental organisations, private corporations, social networks.
For some countries the use of ‘soft power’ is the easiest way for achieving long-term and investment goals. This is one of China’s main tools for strengthening its relations with Africa. The construction of infrastructure, like roads, hospitals and water works in Africa is proceeding quickly with China on its side as a strategic partner. Chinese are winning more ground in Africa, as they respect the diversity of Africa’s people. Culture, political values and diplomacy construct a successful model of this new form of power. Additionally, the Chinese interest in the United National peacekeeping operations coupled with forceful economic strategies in sectors like trade and banking (e.g. cheap loans to Africa) and the low profile demands in international politics make them a global ‘winner’. In his book on China’s soft power, J. Nye says that “success depends not only on whose army wins, but also on whose story wins”.
One of the important aspects in exercising ‘soft power’ is to understand the importance of culture. Culture is at the epicentre of global relations, particularly with geopolitical developments in the last two decades and with revolutionary changes in information technology. Firstly, because international relations have become transnational – there are a plethora of actors playing an important role besides nation-states. This change in the social norms and processes underlines the importance of culture. Secondly, increased global interdependence means not only financial interdependence (look at current financial crisis), but also social and cultural. Commitment to multilateralism desired by most states in the world cannot be achieved, unless culture is taken under consideration. The Preamble to the EU’s treaty on the European Union – Lisbon Treaty clearly states ‘drawing inspiration from the cultural, religious and humanist inheritance of Europe, from which have developed the universal values of the inviolable and inalienable rights of the human person, freedom, democracy, equality and the rule of law, have decided to establish a European Union’. Thirdly, successful strategies in the sector of international communications are all about cross-cultural strategies in the time of globalisation, off-shoring and rise of new political and commercial powers.
A third way between ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ power is the so-called ‘smart power’, a term again coined by Joseph Nye, who wrote that it is “the ability to combine the hard power of coercion or payment with the softer power of attraction into a successful strategy”. This term has been used several times by the Obama Administration. For example Hilary Clinton in her appearance at a Senate hearing spoke about the restoration of American leadership through ‘smart power’. Realpolitik failures especially in the Middle East offer a strong incentive to the U.S to reconsider the values of diplomacy and ‘smart power’.
It is not an easy task for states to leave behind ‘hard power’ and re-evaluate the gravity of democracy, culture and human rights. However, the potential of being a strong actor in the current altered international arena by achieving goals through dialogue is tempting. The results might not be imminent when exercising ‘soft power’ as this kind of strategy is a long-term one. Patience though is the most important virtue for diplomats.
Potentials of cultural diplomacy in Iran- Belgium relations
Term ‘Diplomacy’ stands for guiding of relations between individuals, groups, and nations and it is one of political terms used in the field of international ties. Under current conditions in the world, rather than the subjects which have proposed on diplomatic discussion between various countries such as commercial relations and cultural and scientific ties, this concept plays important role in improvement of world peace and international security. Basically, diplomacy is an important tool for realization of national interests within political, economic, and cultural relations between nations and diplomacy requires for adaption of special and professional forms of interaction between agents of nations in various fields e.g. politics, trade, and cultural ties etc. so that it is discussed about political diplomacy, economic diplomacy, cultural diplomacy, and public diplomacy and the like.
The cultural diplomacy is deemed as one of the efficient and important techniques in relations between nations that aim to improve cultural, scientific and educational relations which will be consequently led to enhancement of political and economic relations as well. This type of diplomacy looks for deepening of cultural relations among the countries and improvement of relation and interdependence between them and upgrading of level of recognition and perception of various international environments and it is implemented through different tools such as educational and academic relations and holding of various conferences and academic communications, exchange of teacher and students, educational and researching cooperation, artistic exchanges (cinema and theatre etc.), games and sports, festivals and holding of book fair etc. and currently this type of diplomacy has devoted high capacity at the international arenas.
Principally, Iran and Belgium are two important and influential countries in both Asian and European continents and improvement of communication between these two countries may lead to strengthening of relations among Europe and Asia and the Middle East.
Due to geographic situation, high population (over 75 million), wide economic market, cultural and civilization potentials, and power for influence in Islamic world, Iran enjoys high potential effect in Asia, the Middle East, and Islamic world and at the same time Belgium is a country with approximately 11million peoples is also deemed highly important in Europe for the following reasons: Firstly, the presence of several wide road arteries, great ports and significant airports has converted Belgium into a transit hub at Europe; furthermore, this country enjoys the annual volume of foreign trade up to 700 billion Euros and possesses advanced industries including in the field of transportation etc. secondly, this country is the headquarter of European Union (EU) and the related institutes and for this reason it is called as European capital ‘ therefore, it highly influences in Europe EU. At third place, Belgium is presently the fifth trading partners for Iran among EU countries where the existing potentials can be developed.
The scientific and cultural cooperation is the complementary dimension for these potentials which may have synergic effect on relations between two countries and cultural diplomacy id the foremost tool in such communications. One of important examples of these potentials is the educational and researching relations between two countries as well as holding of joint meetings, conferences and workshops and exchanges of cultural and artistic products for which this diplomacy may prepare the ground for improvement of relations other cooperation fields. Accordingly, in addition to contribution to interests of both countries, such diplomacy can pave the way for more extensive relations among Europe and Iran and even under current conditions when the world suffers from insecurity, extremism, and terrorism, such scientific and cultural relations and interaction and communications between elites of two nations can contribute to creation of common perception of threats to which the world peace and symbiosis is exposed in order to strengthen moderate and peaceful discourses among Islamic world and the west.
First published in our partner Mehr News Agency
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