September 27, 2012

The European Union (EU) has long been one of the leading international actors in recognizing the potential of cities as agents of global governance. Fostering a variety of initiatives through the Committee of Regions, which acts as the EU’s assembly of regional and local representatives, Europe has promoted the participation of cities in regional and international governance since its early days.

Nearly everyone likes cultural diplomacy in principle, but some remain skeptical about its value. It is seen by many as soft power at its softest, safe and fuzzy, with more aesthetic rewards than diplomatic ones.

For those of us committed to using cultural diplomacy as a significant force in advancing the national interest, that kind of condescending view is aggravating and we always welcome solid evidence that it is wrong.

If we do not highlight it often enough, cultural diplomacy promotes the creation of transnational social spaces of engagement and interaction. And, even as they are often identified with particular cultures or countries, cultural diplomatic interventions are also unavoidably cosmopolitan in nature, insofar as they move between, confront, and conjoin multiple social worlds. In this way and even when carried away by the worst excesses of national chauvinisms, cultural diplomacy is inherently a transnationalist project of sorts.

Author’s Note: This blog is the edited version of a speech I gave at the recent NATO conference on The Power of Soft Power.

When Joseph Nye first coined the term soft power over 20 years ago, the United States and Europe were in a different place than they are today.

One of the defining attributes of being in a center of global commerce and culture is the feeling you get when walking down the sidewalks. In London, I found the experience of strolling a few blocks from where I was staying to the downtown campus of UEA London, in large part along the fabled Brick Lane, to be a source of energy and inspiration.

BRUSSELS --- Since its founding in 1949, NATO has been a bastion of hard power, first as an alliance arrayed against the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact allies, and more recently as a manifestation of Western muscle in conflicts such as Kosovo in 1999 and Libya in 2011. Coming off its decisive performance in helping to end the rule of Muammar Qaddafi, NATO seems to be happily basking in macho glory.

APDS Blogger: Molly Krasnodebska

Throughout the last decade, no message was promoted stronger in the European Union than the idea of a new Europe, which has overcome its past of war and totalitarianism, and has emerged as a normative power standing for international cooperation, democracy, and human rights.

And yet when it comes to the recent events in Ukraine, discussed below, European soft power appears rather meager.