The Foreign Service Journal - May 2014 - page 65

MAY 2014
Navigating Two-Way
Searching for a Cultural Diplomacy
Jessica C.E. Gienow-Hecht and Mark C.
Donfried, editors, Berghahn Books, 2013,
paperback/$34.95, Kindle Edition/$19.22,
278 pages.
Reviewed by Ken Moskowitz
In her introduction to this collection of
case studies (Volume 6 in an ongoing
series of “Explorations in Culture and
International History”), Jessica Gienow-
Hecht correctly avers that “the more
interactive the structure of the cultural
diplomacy program is, the more likely it is
to be successful.”
While that principle has gained new
prominence thanks to social media,
two-way dialogues have rarely, if ever,
been absent from successful public
diplomacy. For instance, the principle of
mutual understanding was spelled out in
the 1946 law establishing the Fulbright
Scholar program, which has always aimed
to educate the American public as much
as overseas audiences.
Gienow-Hecht and her co-editor, Mark
Donfried, are on less firm ground, how-
ever, in declaring that cultural diplomacy
must always be delinked from politi-
cal messages, with the Cold War as the
best-known example. A cultural program
entirely devoid of political content might
draw big audiences, no doubt—but to
what end?
If your post’s public diplomacy
program centers on organizing concert
tours by American musicians even as
local extremists are plotting to attack the
embassy, why should U.S. taxpayers sup-
port it, no matter how well attended those
performances are?
Similarly, one could enjoy a Confucius
Institute seminar on, say, Chinese archi-
tecture, but still disapprove strongly of
Beijing’s human rights record or foreign
policy. In such cases, appeals to mutual
understanding have a hollow ring.
While the editors deserve credit for
assembling so many varied perspectives
on cultural diplomacy, the results are
uneven. The profile of Nitobe Inazô, a for-
mer under-secretary general for Japan
at the League of Nations,
who spent a year teach-
ing in the U.S. and then
wrote in English about
Meiji Japan, is interesting
enough, but adds little to
our understanding of the
Even more baffling is the
chapter about the Bens-
berger Memorandum, a 1968
document by a West German
Catholic lay group proposing
improved relations with com-
munist Poland. This example of efforts by
non-state actors, which we convention-
ally label people-to-people diplomacy,
can hardly inform diplomats about best
practices given official constraints.
More instructively, the repeated
failures of Soviet diplomats and corre-
spondents to engage Americans during
the Cold War cited in the book serve as
excellent negative examples of public
diplomacy. As one Russian journalist
warned at the time, the fear of deviation
from prepared texts only “indulges anti-
Soviet lore.”
Yet while the task of trying to sell
Soviet culture and society while on the
losing side of history is a fascinating story,
we current practitioners of PD should
not be smug. At one time or another, all
public diplomacy officers are tasked with
making a silk purse out of the sow’s ear of
bad policy.
Proponents of English teaching as a
public diplomacy tool could benefit from
the chapter recounting the challenges
French diplomats confronted in their
Syria and Lebanon mandates between the
world wars. The prevalence of the French
language in so much of the world, includ-
ing Russia and West Africa, convinced
them it was an “international instrument”
that went hand-in-hand with
their superior culture and
“civilizing mission.” American
diplomats should be careful
never to give the impression
that we feel the same way
about the English language
or our own culture.
While this is a useful
and varied collection of
case studies, the editors
could have benefited
from collaboration with
a ruthless wordsmith.
Readers will struggle with some of the
contributions by foreign writers, but even
the essays by Americans have not been
closely edited.
For example, one U.S. ambassador’s
information officer is called his “press
agent,” while another essay refers to
“Soviet impression management.” But
my favorite example of gobbledygook
discusses two governments that “tried to
promote interactive cultural programs
and cooperative cultural policymaking
to promote mutuality among regional
On balance, however,
Searching for a
Cultural Diplomacy
is well worth the time
of anyone interested in this important
Ken Moskowitz, a Foreign Service officer
with USIA and State since 1986, currently
serves in the Office of the Inspector General.
His overseas assignments include Budapest,
Tokyo (twice), Sofia and Kyiv.
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