Advanced International Relations and Advanced Global Politics 2: Copyright R. James Ferguson 2000, 2001

INTR13-310 & INTR71/72-310, The Department of International Relations, SHSS, Bond University, Queensland, Australia

4: The Controversial Role of Culture in International Relations

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Topics: -
1. Types of Cultures: Political, Economic and Strategic Cultures
2. The Pervasive Influence of World-View
3. Culture and Foreign Policy
4. The Issue of Culture Diversity
5. Cultures: Sources of Conflict, Sources of Cooperation
6. The New Cultural Internationalism
7. Bibliography, Resources and Further Reading
1. Types of Cultures: Political, Strategic and Organisational Cultures

'Culture' is difficult to define but an easily understood and important concept in international affairs. At the basic level culture is 'the human made part of the environment' which can be communicated, and which provides the patterns, meanings and knowledge of human activity socially and in relation to the world (See Hudson 1997b, pp2-4 for some further definitions). Part of the problem with culture is that it is so inclusive that it is hard to know what to exclude (Hudson 197b, p2), and therefore it is very hard to 'operationalise' the concept and make exact behavioural experiments about it. It tends to be a fuzzy concept that is hard to usefully define.

Rather than try to cover all the meanings of 'culture', we can start this discussion by briefly outlining three areas where culture is often found useful in discussing international affairs. They are the related areas of political, strategic and organisational cultures, suggesting that different societies may structure these three areas of human activity in different ways.

A technical definition of political culture can be given: 'Political culture is all of the discourses, values, and implicit rules that express and shape political action and intentions, determine the claims groups may and may not make upon one another, and ultimately provide a logic of political action' (Hudson 1977b, p10). However, as Valerie Hudson has noted, this is very hard to distinguish from general notions of culture (Hudson 1997b, p10), since politics is deeply concerned about power and human relationships.

There is no denying that leaders can often be empowered when they seem to embody or symbolise deeply help cultural beliefs of a nation (Hudson 1997b, p13). Numerous individuals or groups have staked a place on the world stage through linking cultural aspirations with political action, e.g. the desire for a 'proper place under heaven' in modern China, on which Deng Xiaoping based many of his policies, the current aspirations of India to be recognised as an advanced technological power, France's claim to be both a cultural and military power (under several Presidents including President Chirac), the aspirations for German unification which became a major features of former Chancellor Kohl's leadership from 1989, were all based in part on cultural claims.

Strategic culture overlaps with many of the features of political culture. Strategic culture essentially concerns the methods nations and other groups choose to achieve their goals, and the cultural factors which affect the way they seek cooperation or competition in the international scene. As you saw last week, several thinkers have argued that China tends to have a very strong strategic tradition which influences political activity, foreign affairs and defence activities (see Fairbanks & Kierman 1974; Zhang & Yao 1996; Dellios 1994; Dellios 1997; Ferguson 1998a). From this perspective, in times of warfare or intense conflict, certain cultural trends may be intensified, and become even more important than otherwise.

Organisation culture refers to typical ways societies structure power relations in institutions, organise groups to achieve goals, and promote economic activities. Patterns of leadership, manager-worker relations, styles of cooperation and conflict, patterns of openness and secrecy, can be affected by broader cultural conceptions. Unique patterns of organisation culture, and the relationship between political and economic systems, can be detected in Carthaginian, Roman, Islamic, Chinese, Malay and Japanese culture (in general see Nathan 1993a; Nathan 1993b Chen 1992; Ferguson 1998b), though all these cultures have also been able to adapt to chanced circumstances. The ability to build viable and strong institutions which can carry out their tasks and even adapt their roles has been a major feature of the American and European traditions, while others would see distinctive advantages in American, Japanese and Chinese business organisations.

The overlapping of these three areas, however, suggests that 'culture' often has a very broad, background affect on behaviours and institutions, and does not determine all aspects of its legal or economic operations. Instead of looking at these three concepts separately, we will look at how culture is used in international affairs, using a wide range of examples.

2. The Pervasive Influence of World-View

Culture is likely to be important in influencing values, world-views, and the structure of human relationships. In general, 'culture tells us what to want, to prefer, to desire, and thus to value.' (Hudson 1997b, p8). The way culture can affect attitudes and social relations has already been verified in a wide range of areas, including varying patterns of individualism, masculinity, uncertainty avoidance, power distance and cultural complexity. (Hudson 1997b, p8). In summary, cultural variables can be shown to affect a wide range of social, political and business behaviours. However, it is less clear whether a particular culture in general can ever be used to predict an individual response, the way a government may act in a particular case, or the outcome of a specific negotiation. Furthermore, individuals may utilise chunks of culturally acknowledged behaviour to meet their own ends, often in an individual or creative way (Hudson 1997b, p9). Culture and knowledge systems can also be competitive and contested; they can empower some and exclude others. There is thus ‘a darker side to knowledge: the fear of failing to master it, of being excluded from it, of becoming its object’ (Hobart 1995, p49).

We can, of course, look at the way that culture influences the decisions of leaders and restricts government action through popular pressure. Culture is certainly an important element which affects foreign policy. However, at a deeper level, we can also argue that international relations in its broadest sense is itself the product of the interaction of different cultures. In this sense, international affairs is also an intellectual and cultural phenomenon, 'of which changing ideas of war and peace are important aspects' (Iriye 1997, pix). Just as to some extent national communities must be 'imagined' and created (Iriye 1997, p16, following Anderson 1983), so too international relations can be imagined and re-invented. Akira Iriye would argue that 'the internationalist imagination has exerted a significant influence in modern world history' (Iriye 1997, p16), e.g. the vision needed to create the League of Nations and the United Nations, as well as to create hundreds of diverse international organisations (IGOs, International Government Organisations and IGNOs, International Non-Government Organisations, which perform diverse international roles).

There is another crucial way in which culture shapes international affairs. The culture itself has to acknowledge that there is some sort of 'world-system' or world society, and to support the idea of reaching out into this broader world. Different societies took very different views on how models of this world should be constructed. China, in the imperial past, developed a system of Asian international relations based on the tribute system, with a core civilised area, surrounded by frontier states linked by tribute, then a more distant 'wild' region. In traditional Western Christendom, a community of Christian nations was envisaged as the basis real community and international law - only later on would non-Europe nations be recognized as fit to join this club or be accepted as part of this 'civilised' community (Iriye 1997, p20). In Islam there was a recognition of a zone of peace, the Dar al Islam surrounded by a potentially hostile Dar al-Harb, the zone of war. Both Christianity and Islam had certain universal tendencies, trying to reach out to all of mankind. In the modern period, with the end of most European Empires, the state system first developed in 17th century Europe was extended to virtually all of the planet, as the world was carved up by borders based on some over 184 nation states. There has been a rapid expansion of states as some Federal states, e.g. Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union, fragmented into a number of smaller entities, many of which demonstrate serious problems in the viability of the state system (see Huntington 1996, p33-36).

This state system has become dominant in the last one hundred years, but is also challenged by the needs of states, cultures, economies and civilisations to interact. What is paradoxical is that at the same time as the state system has strengthened, so too has the need to interact internationally, thereby supporting trends towards internationalism. We can sample this by a glimpse at some international organisations and related developments.

Examples of International Cooperation Trends 1851-1945 (Compiled from Iriye 1997 & Nolan 1995).

Today, there are thousands of key International Government and Non-Government organisations (IGOs and INGOs) performing hundreds of tasks (see for example National Standards Association, 1993; Henderson 1998). At first these organisations were largely focused on Western nations (the West and its empires controlled 84% of the earth's territory in 1914), with invited other members, e.g. Japan, Persia Turkey etc. However, after World War 2 and the end of most colonial empires most had to develop a wider focus.

Internationalism itself is therefore an attitude and has cultural features, which found expression in new and vigorous institutions. What was emerging through this trends was: -

The key element which was revolutionary was the idea of a mindset which used a vision of international order in transnational debates, and also went beyond narrow national culture. From this point of view 'the modern hero went out to conquer his enemy through creating a mutual understanding', which could only occur by developing 'a group culture which shall be broader than the culture of one nation alone' (M.K. Follett in Iriye 1997, p60).

However, the currently used notion of a truly universal, integrated global culture, i.e. a universal civilisation, is very much the product of Western civilisation (Hobart 1995, p50), and tended to develop as West nations expanded and reached out to control much of the globe. In the second half of the 20th century, 'the concept of a universal civilization helps justify Western cultural dominance of other societies and the need for those societies to ape Western practices and institutions. Universalism is the ideology of the West for confrontations with non-Western cultures' (Huntington 1996, p66). It is not surprising, therefore, that the interpretation of the role of culture in international affairs is a highly controversial and highly contested area. Furthermore, such a claim to global dominion has a down side, since such self-confidence is ‘likely to ignore what people are actually doing somewhere in the world’ outside the preconceived mind-set (Hobart 1995, p68).

3. Culture and Foreign Policy

One area where there has been some effort to understand the impact of different cultures has been in study the way actors (leaders or institutions) reach decisions in foreign affairs (Hudson 1997b, pp4-7), especially during times of crisis. Aside from individual characteristics and psychology, governmental politics and structure, it is often assumed that individuals must be affected to some degree by the differences in their societies, their historical experiences, value systems and language structures. Here micro-cultures might be important (Hudson 1997b, p16), e.g. those in particular professions, areas of research, different groups in government, the graduates of a particular university.

The leading questions include: -

* How do cultural differences lead nations to predictable patterns of interaction?

* 'Under what conditions would we expect culture to play a more important role in international interactions?' (Hudson 1997b, p18)

* Do 'cultural syndromes' lead to predictable 'propensities of thought, reaction, and action'? (Hudson 1997b, p18)

* Is the protection of national culture and identity itself a core 'national interest'?

* What are the dynamics of cultural change and how can this be measured, along with its impact on foreign policy? (Hudson 1997b, p18)

Since the 1920s, however, governments have often tried to use culture in foreign affairs, promoting their own languages, music, media and views overseas (this in the past was usually a promotion of 'high culture'). It was thus recognized that there were cultural borderlands where different cultures interact, and of the usefulness of cultural diplomacy. Britain and France have been willing to promote their own language and culture as part of nation-to-nation diplomacy, e.g. the operation of the British Council throughout the world, e.g. in Malaysia. Likewise, Turkey has tried to benefit from its position was a culture borderland between Europe and the Central Asia, trying to capitalise on its access to European trade and technology, as well as a tradition cultural connection with the Turkish speaking people of most of central Asia (the cultural area known as Turkestan). Culture has had a complex interaction with questions of political legitimacy in Asia, and has had a complex impact on countries in Eastern Europe, America, and the Middle East (for examples, see Alagappa 1995 Hudson 1997a; Chay 1990).

The Cold War itself also saw and extremely active phase of the use of culture in international relations: -

The ideal of cross-national cultural communication and understanding, of course, was compromised by the geopolitical realities of the cold war, as the United States and the Soviet Union waged what has been called World War III on all fronts. Cultural activities, ranging from intelligence gathering and propaganda in the media to student exchanges and subsidies to foreign intellectuals, became instruments of official policy. International power relations, defined, to that extent, international cultural relations. (Iriye 1997, p151). Culture, then, could be put to use in propaganda and ideological battles. We can glimpse this in two major works published and promoted during the World War II and Cold War period. Hans Morgenthau's Politics Among Nations: the Struggle for Power and Peace was written in this period precisely to justify the culture of political realism in a world of conflict (see lecture 2). Likewise, Karl Popper wrote a famous work of political philosophy, The Open Society and Its Enemies, during the early part of this period to attack both fascism and communism, arguing that both undermined democratic societies. These works supported specific political and cultural views of how societies and the international system should operate. Today, many proponents of Western-led globalisation can also be accused of Western 'globalism', i.e. supporting the dominance of a particular 'rationalistic' culture from which they benefit (for one telling critique, see Saul 1993).

Likewise, Japan from the 1980s also relied on cultural exchange as one of its three pillars of foreign policy, the other two being security and economic activities, a trend which first developed under Prime Minister Takeshita Noboru (Iriye 1997, p167). One of the key elements of this has been the promotion of Japanese cultural events overseas, and an extensive programme of student exchange which has allowed foreign students to enter Japan in large numbers. The Japanese ambassador to Australia suggested in 1998 that this student exchange remains important, and would like to see Australia make a larger reciprocal effort to bring Japanese students to Australia through scholarships and exchange programmes.

International organisations have also tried to benefit from cultural diplomacy and by developing cultural internationalism. The Non-Aligned Movement (NAM, now with 113 members), right from the Bandung Conference held in Indonesia in 1955, argued for active cultural exchange, but this was never followed up, thereby not building active bridges of understanding between Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Latin America which would have strengthened other forms of cooperation (Iriye 1997, pp161-162). This has changed to some extend with the speeches made at recent NAM and G-77 meetings, where at least a critical view of certain aspects of the modern global system are often expressed. Note for example, the speeches made by the Prime Minister of Malaysia, Dr. Mahathir at the NAM meeting in 1995 and other international conferences in that year (See Mahathir 1995a & 1995b), as well as his vigorous speech at the 1997 ASEAN Region Forum, suggesting a serious review of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948). Thus the NAM conferences have tried to bring together converging political and cultural views that allow for greater cooperation among developing nations. Its current main agenda is the eradication of poverty and the move towards sustainable development in its member countries, thereby giving the organisation relevance after the end of the Cold War.(1)

Other organisations have made a positive use of culture. Aside from the heritage and retrieval roles of UNESCO, the ASEAN organisation (the Association of South East Asian Nations) has been quite successful in promoting a consensus-based system of inter-state relations based on the principle of non-interference. This has led to a certain sharing of styles of diplomacy and business practice, at least among elites in Southeast Asia. ASEAN itself provides a nuanced example of how trade, cultural patterns, and dialogue can mix to create a successful international organisation (for further detail, see Dellios & Ferguson 1997). ASEAN itself has largely been able to impress the wider international environment with these values through its central role in the extended dialogue groups of the ASEAN Regional Forum, and through the Asia-Europe meetings that have proceeded since 1996. In spite of numerous criticisms, some system of shared values in Southeast Asia does seem to be influencing foreign affairs, and to some extent resisting certain Western claims (see Dupont 1996; Hitchcok 1994 for critical accounts). The conception of 'Asian values' is now under vigorous attack intellectually with the currency crises in parts of Asia, and with political problems emerging in styles of Asian leadership, especially in Indonesia. However, it must be remembered that these problems have only destabilised a small part of East Asia, and that China and Japan in particular remain powerful nations.

4. The Issue of Culture Diversity

There are several key issues which emerge from the enormous cultural diversity of civilisations, societies, and sub-communities around the world. Cultural extinctions have been occurring at a rapid rate over the last three thousand years, especially as small societies are destroyed or incorporated by more powerful groups. In the fast, the formation of kingdoms and empires was the main driving force for this. Today, the main driving forces seem to be the formation and maintenance of nation-states, and the forces of globalisation. We can glimpse of these problems by the way that languages carried by these cultures are in some cases undergoing extinction, e.g. some 200 languages in Africa are in serious decline and may soon now longer be living languages, while 17 languages in the former USSR are in danger (Brenzinger et al. 1991; Kibrik 1991). One estimate suggests that of 'the 5,000-6,700 extant languages, more than half will probably be extinct by the end of the 21st century' (Kellman 2001).

However, diversity can be a crucial human resource. There is an argument from biology which suggested that a minimum number of viable species is required to maintain a stable ecosystem. Likewise, unique plants and animals once lost are almost impossible to resurrect, and their unique natural function, as well as chemical, medical and industrial uses can also be lost. The bio-diversity argument is paralleled by an argument concerning cultural diversity. For example, the European Union has argued that its diversity of languages is both a problem and a resource, and that economic efficiency can be developed while protecting a range of different subcultures and unique heritages in Europe (Attali 1997). The cultural and linguistic diversity of Europe, alongside its contesting states, may have helped drive forward the Renaissance and the Industrial revolution, in contrast to the more unifying and ultimately more stagnant state of knowledge in Imperial China (Ridley 1998). From this point of view, linguistic diversity is also a resource (Muhlhausler 1994). Likewise, the emphasis in European languages on causality and instrumentality make it difficult to really view ‘nature’ as more than a resource (Muhlhausler 1994), rather than a living entity with its own place in the human order.

Biological, philosophical, linguistic and cultural diversity are all important aspects (Sangalli 1996) of living in a wider, and more adaptive society. Already, business groups and corporations have tried to turn around this ‘problem’ of diversity into a resource, though sometimes dealing with cultural diversity in a rather functionalist way. Terms such as 'human resources' and 'social capital' recognise the vast array of human skills needed to create functioning large-scale modern societies. Likewise, governments, including those of Australia and the US, have tried to use the skills and knowledge of minority and ethnic groups to improve their foreign relations and trade competitiveness.

Another problem is that cultural theory can sometimes be interpreted to suggest that certain cultures are so unique that they therefore cannot readily take part in any national or cosmopolitan mix. Taken to extreme, cultural essentialism can feed conceptions of an exclusive nationalism, xenophobic conceptions of superiority, or fears of culture pollution and identity-loss (Iriye 197, p8). New or fragile nations often appeal to specific ethnic, national, religious, or cultural considerations to reinforce their sense of identity, and to develop loyalty to a new or threatened state structure, e.g. in 'Serbia' (actually two Serbian local states exist, one in rump Yugoslavia, the other within Bosnia), Bosnia, Chechnya, Latvia, Iraq, and Pakistan. Indeed, political polarisation and the creation of ethnic myths are often needed to create this kind of nationalism, and encourage ethnic groups with whom they have often lived in relative peace in the past (this is particularly the case in the Balkans and the Middle East).

Even at a more moderate level, the contrast between national culture verses internationalism can complicate foreign relations. In Japan, for example, the word bunka became popular in the 1920s in contrast to 'civilisation and enlightenment'. Rather than simply Westernising and modernising (as in the early Meiji Westernisers), this was a claim of unique Japanese 'essence' which should not be ignored in national policy (Gaenslen 1997, p266). In the broader history of Japanese foreign policy, there has been this tendency to veer between conceptions of Japan as fitting into a basically Western world order, and Japan as a unique civilisation able to make a particular contribution in the Asian world (Johnson 1994; Morris-Suzuki 1995). Japan can thus swing towards or away from various poles of cooperation, e.g. between China and the US, between seeking deeper integration in Asian verses a more general role in world affairs (Johnson 1994). This, of course, may be part of a deeper identity crisis in Japanese culture, turning to the West for enrichment, then back in search of a unique Japanese 'soul' (Johnson 1994). Here, some of the negative cultural assertiveness of 1930s and 1940s has left a complicating legacy, with Japan for a time claiming cultural leadership of a proposed Asian co-prosperity sphere (Iriye 1977, pp134-136; For Japan's early efforts to provide a modernising role in Northeast Asia, see Kim 1980). Today, any such indirect leadership would be based on increased trade with Asia, and on Japan's technonationalism, combined with a comprehensive view of her security (see Ferguson 1995 for a fuller description).

Culture, in this sense, can also be 'an assertion of both national unity and national independence' (Gaenslen 1997, p266). Culture, cultural diplomacy and particular institutional cultures can therefore form important parts of national strategy.

The main trend recently has been to recognise that the world consists of hundreds of different subcultures and cultural groups, operating at the level of the village, tribe, local region, city, nation, state, and civilisational groupings. Diversity of cultures has been actively recognized as the counterbalance to the quest for a core set of human values (Iriye 197, p141), and the push towards some sort of integrating global geo-culture. Agencies such as UNESCO have actively taken on this diversity of cultures as one its key resources, and even transnational corporations, though pushing for a specific material and economic culture, are now trying to utilise cultural understandings and local cultural symbols for their own benefit. Here there is a major issue about how far regimes, governments, and systems of international governance can cope with widely diverse cultural systems. This has led to tensions in globalisation, in the pursuit of human rights, the maintenance of concepts of a truly just international law, and even within countries serious debates about pluralism, multiculturalism and national culture (this can be so intense that it has been labelled in the US as culture wars, Iriye 1997, p171). Alternative models of cultural accommodation, ranging across options such as multiculturalism, political pluralism, the promotion of cosmopolitanism, and the creation of a core national culture, remain hotly debated.

5. Cultures: Sources of Conflict, Sources of Cooperation

There are numerous ways that cultural system reduce or aid conflict and cooperation. One of the simplest problems has been that of cultural imperialism whereby a dominant political or economic power can impose its power on others, or create conditions whereby its culture has preference. This was the case with most European empires (including the Spanish, French, English and Dutch). In the contemporary period, the US is often seen as directly and indirectly aiding Americanisation, largely through companies spreading cultural commodities (see Week 1) as well as having strong educational, research, media and publishing industries. Americanisation seems to have been experienced in part in cultures as diverse as Austria, Japan, Saipan and Australia.

However, it must also be remembered that American culture itself has been greatly broadened by cosmopolitan influences, most from Europe since World War I, and increasingly through more prominence to Latin American, African and Asian cultural streams. Some would argue that in large measure American culture has now become rather de-centred (Iriye 1997, p84) and what is being spread around the world is much more than a WASP American culture. This means there can be more bridges between commodities and local cultures, but of course does not guarantee a genuinely cosmopolitan media or multi-valued production system.

Furthermore, even though certain aspects of 'Western/American" culture may have been adopted (media, economic models etc.) this does not guarantee a complete adoption of social and political values, even today (see Emmerson 1998 for limitations to this Westernism even in East Asia. For French 'resistance', see Moïsi 1998). Resistance remains a viable strategy for many communities even in the face of global forces. There are ‘many African, Asian, and Oceanic small-scale societies’ which are alive and quite able to utilise elements of both local and Western culture (Howell 1995, p171). Diffusion (ranging from religions, arts, dance, music and views on nature) is occurring between a wide range of cultural groupings (Howell 1995, pp172-176). Likewise, since the 1990s a distinct resistance to the more superficial elements of global culture, sometimes viewed as ‘anti-culture’ or de-civilising, has emerged in many countries, including Italy, France, Hungary, and India, sometimes dubbed ‘culture jamming’(2). A wide range of patterns of resistance can be utilised even by weaker groups ranging from passive resistance, inertia, non-violent protest, legal obstruction, creative re-adaptation of the product, popular violence, or selective sabotage through to outright terrorism (see Pettman 1991 for further examples).

However, Western culture cannot be just equated with 'Coca-Cola' and blue jeans. The cultural, legal, philosophical and scientific legacy of the West is indeed extremely deep. As suggested by Samuel Huntington the 'essence of Western civilization is the Magna Carta not the Magna Mac' (Huntington 197, p58). The problem is, however, that the deeper elements of this are not so easily transported by economic forces. Secondly, even the deeper of themes of the human tradition, ranging from religious tolerance to human rights, have sometimes been used as ‘political footballs’ to claim cultural superiority over other societies. This has resulted in very entrenched arguments about human rights and the role of the United Nations and the Security Council. It is this political usage of human rights, unfortunately, which has partly undermined the humanitarian missions of both the UN and a wide range of humanitarian agencies (including Amnesty International and the United Nations Human Rights Commission).

A related problem is the issue of cultural appropriation, where cultural elements are taken from the context of their society and reused in a new context, often as part of an academic or commodified ‘product'. This can be harmless, but in other cases leads to a complete misinterpretation of the source culture (Howell 1995, pp164-166), can infringe religious customs and in other cases is a blatant theft of intellectual property. Yet other cultures, too, have sophisticated views of knowledge, e.g. in Bali knowledge is ‘knowing and remembering as the act of agents’, i.e. is involves action and work, the ability to do, rather than just an abstract collection of information (Hobart 1995, p51, p59) and is often incorporated in sophisticated art, music, dance and religious rituals. This is a dynamic culture which has been able to take on, integrate and use diverse influences (Hindu, Buddhist, Islamic, European), and turn back and enter into a humorous debate with the world, often using three languages in one performance (e.g. Javanese, Indonesia and English, see Hobart 1995, pp63-64). In Bali, for many activities, learning and laughter must be mixed (Hobart 1995, p66). Certain elements of the dance-music culture are readily accessible even to tourists, but fortunately the broader culture which sustains these artistic products remains vital and only partly reliant on the tourist dollar. Likewise, tourist money and UNESCO funds have helped restore and maintain major monuments around the world, e.g. Buddhist sites in Sri Lanka, which seems to have balanced the needs of locals and visitors (Otchet 1998, pp20-21) Not all other cultures, especially indigenous ones, have retained such a relative balance, and in many cases indigenous communities have to struggle to reclaim a heritage and culture from extinction (see for example Gibbs 1991). In many cases, the culture and its ‘relics’ are plundered, with specialists hoping to ‘master the other culture’ (Hobart 1995, p54. This phrasing of the process does not seem to be accident). This knowledge is still often viewed as a type of power that can be appropriated and used by a dominant group.

However, this does not mean that all cultural tourism is destructive. We can take a case once again from Bali. Here tourists regularly watch cultural performances with a unique cultural and spiritual dimension (see Hobart et al. 1996, pp129-136). In most cases the language, music, symbols and religious meanings remain beyond even an intelligent visitor. Yet certain elements can be understood at a basically human level. In the Barong dance, for example, there is a humorous, half-cooperative half-aggressive dance between a monkey and the Barong (a good mythical creature, which nonetheless has sharp teeth). The interplay is designed to humorous, and is understood at this level by a widely diverse international audience.

Likewise, tourists in Bali are often treated to a kris dance, in which young warriors seem to cut and stab themselves with sharp, ritual knives. In the original religious ritual, this is done in trance, with real cuts penetrating the body but inflicting no pain and little blood loss, with priests ready to bless and help participants. Fortunately, the regular tourist performances are only clever simulations. However, it seems that in Bali the original, often longer and more ritual performances are also kept intact and have not been lost entirely to the tourist trade. Even in the performances for tourists, the performers retain great pride in their artistic skills, and real priests are kept at hand just in case the gods do indeed 'come down' to partake of the ritual. Here, the culture remains vital and adaptive: it certainly is not a kind of 'museum culture' frozen in time. Hence, Bali's culture has continuously evolved since the 19th century (Agung 1991), and new works using traditional idioms are written by musicians and choreographers today. In Bali, long term economic impacts from tourism may turn out to be more destructive than the cultural exchanges that have influenced local culture. Unfortunately, not all cultures are able to keep this balance between tradition and innovation, local participation and international economic demands.

© Rosita Dellios and R. James Ferguson 1997
The Barong Dance contains obvious humorous interplays, but is also
a deep philosophical work concerning balance and change, good and evil.

Another problem which has emerged in the twentieth century has been that culture has also become politicised. In other words, powerful nations often saw themselves the guardians of a certain culture (France, Germany, Britain, the US, the Soviet Union, China in the 19th century, Iran, Egypt etc.). This meant that when they became embroiled in war, they could easily argue that each country was 'fighting for its culture' (Iriye 1997, p132). This meant that conflict could readily take on an ideological dimension, the survival of a superior culture against one believed to be inferior (NAZI propaganda against the Soviets), the survival of a proud Anglo-American culture (Churchill's view of the World War II), the survival of socialism world-wide (the Brezhnev doctrine of the Soviet Union), or the protection of a religious revolution (Khomeini in Iran).

At the highest level of cultural organisation (Huntington 1996, p43), one scholar in particular has argued that civilisational differences can also lead to conflict. Samuel Huntington wrote a famous article in the prestigious Foreign Affairs journal (1993) that conflicts in the future would be between civilisations, and along geographical fracture lines between civilisations. In the 19th century wars had been between nations, and in the 20th century were often fought between ideologies. Huntington argued that now, with the end of the Cold War, different cultures and religions would tend to intensify conflicts. He explained this: -

The great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflict will be cultural. Nation states will remain the most powerful actors in world affairs, but the principle conflicts of global politics will occur between nations and groups of different civilizations. The clash of civilizations will dominate global politics. The fault lines between civilizations will be the battle lines of the future (Huntington 1993, p22) Huntington argues that a civilisation is a cultural identity, and the highest, most general level of identity. It includes elements of language, history, religion, customs, institutions, as well as self-identification (Huntington 1993, p24). For Huntington, the major civilisations existing today are the ‘Western, Confucian, Japanese, Islamic, Hindu, Slavic-Orthodox, Latin American and possibly African’ civilisations (Huntington 1993, p25). Huntington feels that there are a number of reasons why conflict between civilisations will tend to grow, and why they are often the most intense (Huntington 1993, pp25-27): - 1) Civilisation differences, e.g. in history, language, culture, religion, are basic and real.

2) The world is ‘becoming smaller’, with more interaction among different cultural groups.

3) Modernisation has led to a loss of tradition and identity, which is often filled by fundamentalist religious and national feeling.

4) The dominant role of the West has led to a response by other civilisation to strengthen themselves, e.g. the rise of Islamic radicalism.

5) Cultural ‘characteristics and differences are less mutable and hence less easily compromised and resolved’,

6) Economic regionalism is increasing, thereby increasing areas of competition.

Huntington describes several areas where these civilisation and cultural differences could intensify conflicts (Huntington 1993, pp29-34). He argues that the war in Bosnia was right on the borderline between Western Catholic Europe and Slavic and Islamic East Europe. Likewise, he sees growing tensions between Europe and southern Islamic states, e.g. over religious values, migrations, and differences in wealth. Lastly, he notes growing tensions between a growth in East Asian power and American views of how the world should be run. Thus he argues that the ‘next world war, if there is one, will be a war between civilizations’ (Huntington 1993, p39). This type of thought also argues that even if war does not occur, cultural differences will tend to lead to more misunderstandings and intensify competition.

Huntington argues that these trends have serious implications for the future: -

It will also, however, require the West to develop a more profound understanding of the basic religious and philosophical assumptions underlying other civilizations and the ways in which people in those civilizations see their interests. It will require an effort to identify elements of commonality between Western and other civilizations. For the relevant future, there will be no universal civilization, but instead a world of different civilizations, each of which will have to learn to coexist with others. (Huntington 1993, p49) If Huntington is right, then no simple set of universal values will be easily found. He sees this mix of cultures as inherently conflict-promoting and needing careful management.

There are numerous criticisms that can be made of Huntington. In brief, we could debate his break down of civilisational groups, e.g. he happily includes the Arab, Turkic, and Malay worlds in Islam, yet these three cultures are rather different, and he seems to have totally ignored Persian culture. Likewise, he argues that there is a Confucian-Islamic connection between East Asian and Middle East states to challenge Western power (Huntington 1993, pp45-47), but this is simply based on some arms sales that China has made to Pakistan and the Middle East and little more. The cultural systems of Confucianism and Islam are very different indeed, and aside from some China-Pakistan cooperation, it is hard to see any large-scale coordination of Middle Eastern and Chinese interests (for other criticisms see Muzaffar 1994; Ahluwalia & Mayer 1994).

In response to massive and detailed criticism, Huntington slightly adapted his thesis in his 1996 publication, The Clash of Civilisations and the Remaking of World Order. In this book, for example, he changes the term 'Confucian' civilisation to Sinic civilisation, recognising that much more than Confucian thought has formed a unique Chinese culture (Huntington 1996). However, he strongly defends his conception of conflict now being exacerbated by differences in culture. The last version of the Huntington thesis can be summarised in the following sections: -

Part I: For the first time in history global politics is both multipolar and multicivilizational; modernization is distinct from Westernization and is producing neither a universal civilization in any meaningful sense nor the Westernization of non-Western societies.

Part II: The balance of power among civilizations is shifting: the West is declining in relative influence: Asian civilizations are expanding their economic military, and poltical strength; Islam is exploding demographically with destabilizing consequences for Muslim countries and their neighbours; and non-Western civilizations generally are reaffirming the value of their own cultures.

Part III: A civilization-based world order is emerging: societies sharing cultural affinities cooperate with each other; efforts to shift societies from one civilization to another are unsuccessful; and countries group themselves around the lead or core states of their civilization.

Part IV: The West's universalist pretensions increasingly bring it into conflict with other civilizations, most seriously with Islam and China; at the local level fault line wars, largely between Muslims and non-Muslims, generate "kin-country rallying," the threat of broader escalation, and hence efforts by core states to halt these wars.

Part V: The survival of the West depends on Americans reaffirming their Western identity and Westerners accepting their civilization as unique not universal and uniting to renew and preserve it against challenges from non-Western societies. Avoidance of a global war of civilizations depends on world leaders accepting and cooperating to maintain the multicivilization character of global politics. (Huntington 1996, pp20-21)

Each and every one of these propositions could be challenged, and might need modification. However, for our purposes, his most important point is that no single dominant global culture has completely filled the global system, and we do indeed live in a multipolar and multi-civilisational world. Even though English has emerged as a major business language for specialised elites, it has not really emerged as the global Language of Wider Communication (LWC), with Chinese and Spanish also having extremely large usage populations (see Huntington 1996, pp59-62). However, the main criticism is that Huntington assumes that the communication between civilisations will always lead to conflict. But it can also lead to dialogue, adaptation, and mutual learning. I can show this by briefly outlining a few ideas of Hans Küng on dialogue between religion and cultures.

Hans Küng likewise feels that there is a real danger of continued war, conflict and environment destruction so long as the world is full of ‘differing, contradictory and even antagonistic ethics’ (1991, pxvi). His idea is that although there will be different political and religious systems, that some sort of basic shared ethic needs to emerge at the global level. World society needs ‘some norms, values, ideals and goals to bring it together and to be binding on it (Küng, 1991, pxvi). He feels that in spite of relative economic success, the West ‘is faced with a vacuum of meaning, values, and norms which is not only a problem for individuals, but also a political issue of the first order’ (Küng 1991, pp9-10). He argues that a related crisis in values is also occurring in Japan over the nature of Japanese national identity and Japan’s future role in the world (Küng 1991, pp10-11).

Put another way, he thinks there is a crisis in the meaning of progress. Though there has been progress in science, technology, industry, and even in democracy, each of these has been attended by other problems, e.g. scarcity of resources, environmental damage, unemployment, nuclear and other advanced weapons, information overload, and a more competitive social environment. Here Küng argues that there is no point being smart after the fact. Instead of trying to fix these problems after we’ve created them, he suggests we should work on a preventive ethics, which can work out the basis of how to manage these problems and conflicts before they occur. To create the stable, wealthy and environmentally-sound world in which such self-development can be continued, we also need a sense of social and global responsibility. Put another way, the search for self-fulfilment can only be continued if there is also a sense of responsibility ‘for society and nature’ (Küng 1991, p31).

Küng goes on to suggest that religious dialogue can provide an important starting place for developing a shared global view (1991, pp56-58). In part, this is because religion is now becoming more important in the late 20th century, and in many ways is taking over some of the functions of identity formation that states used to try and control through nationalism. Huntington likewise argues that religion is becoming more important in international affairs, a trend moving away from the old statist separation between 'church and state' (Huntington 1996, p54, pp64-66). He argues that moderate world religions can provide some input for a humanised 21st century. Most religions: -

* focus on human well-being in the broadest sense.

* focus in core human values, e.g. not killing, which apply generally unless there are powerful reasons why not, e.g. self-defence.

* provide a sense of a balanced ‘middle way’.

* Many have a version of the gold rule, i.e. ‘Do not do to others what you would not want them to do to you’ (Rabbi Hillel, the Jewish thinker, 60-10 B.C.E.). This rule in different forms is found in Confucianism and Christianity, and is implied in the Buddhist notion of compassion.

* gives strong motivation to be moral by providing a great role model in charismatic figures, e.g. Buddha, Confucius, Jesus, Lao-tze, Muhammad.

* provide a sense of global meaning for the world, life and death.

This means that the post-modern world needs global religious understanding and knowledge and respect for major value systems - without it no political understanding between civilisation can be possible (Küng 1991, p135). Furthermore, many countries are now multi-ethnic, multi-religious, and therefore multi-cultural whether they like it or not. The US, Australia, Britain, France, Germany, Russia, India, Malaysia, and Indonesia all live with this reality. This means that a proper and serious dialogue between these different value systems is needed, both for social and global stability Küng (1991, p138). Kung developed these ideas further in his 1997 work A Global Ethic for Global Politics and Economics. Without the emergence of this genuine dialogue, the kind of conflicts Huntington has outlined might eventuate. However, this dialogue of cultures is already quite active globally, and has begun to influence the way trade, economic and security issues are perceived (we will explore this in more detail in following weeks). If in the future, a single global culture does begin to truly emerge (see Kessler 2000), that it is crucial that this new culture is resource-rich, inclusive, and flexible enough to meet new needs.

6. The New Cultural Internationalism

Cultural internationalism has been an important trend in the 19th and 20th century, especially after the end of World War I and again in recent years. Cultural internationalism is 'the idea that world order can and should be defined through interactions at the cultural level across national boundaries' (Iriye 1997, px). From this point of view, an alternative view of world order has often been created by artists, writers, thinkers, and popular movements which is often in contrast the view of a world system dominated by great powers (Iriye 1997, p2) and the realist demands of geopolitics (see lecture 2 for these 'realist' ideas).

Some of the main trends of the new internationalism have been summarised by Akira Iriye in his important book, Cultural Internationalism and World Order, who argues that international cooperation goes well beyond relations between nation states. This internationalism 'aspires to a more peaceful and stable world order through transnational efforts' on several fronts: -

Since the end of the Cold War, a new, dynamic form of internationalism has emerged which goes well beyond merely creating some kind of humane, global culture (in the past usually rather Western in tone). If some sort of global civilisation has begun to emerge, it still remains a thin and fragile veneer covering the great diversity of cultures, religions and historical experiences (Huntington 1996, p57, following the ideas Vaclav Havel). Instead, major research and institutional efforts have begun to: - New movements towards recognising cultural diversity have broadened the intellectual space in which people and societies operate. It has also tended to 'enlarge the spheres in which peoples and nations' can cooperate' (Iriye 1997, pp96-97). However, the leading question remains whether cultural diversity and cultural internationalism can work together to help define 'a stable world order' (Iriye 1997, p175), or whether other, more explicit patterns of 'governance', based on norms and rules, need to be developed. Culture is a real force in international relations, but is no magic cure to conflict. Put another way, cultural factors may be much too dispersed an influence to deal with major economic, environmental and social problems unless expressed directly through powerful institutions. We will look in more detail at some of these institutions and their limitations in later weeks.

7. Bibliography, Resources and Further Reading


United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Webpage at

This page provides a range of data about the organization, access to indexes of The UNESCO Courier, and downloads of UNESCO Sources, which includes concise briefing materials on a wide range of topics (You will need access to Adobe Acrobat PDF software to download these).

InterAction, a coalition of 150 non-profit organisations working in areas of humanitarian relief, refugees, the environment, development and social issues, has a searchable Webpage on the net at

A number of short articles on wide range of topics, including the activities of NGOs, can be located.

Further Reading HELD, David et al. Global Transformations: Politics, Economics and Culture, Oxford, Polity, 1999
HUDSON, Valerie M. (ed.) Culture and Foreign Policy, Boulder, Lynne Rienner, 1997
HUNTINGTON, Samuel P. The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, N.Y., Simon & Schuster, 1996
IRIYE, Akira Cultural Internationalism and World Order, N.Y., John Hopkins University Press, 1997
KESSLER, Clive S. "Globalization: Another False Universalism?", Third World Quarterly, 21 no. 6, 2000, pp931-942 [Internet Access via Bond Library Electric Journals]
Title Footnotes

1. "Mbeki: NAM Aims at Eradicating Poverty in Member Countries", Xinhua News Agency, April 13, 2000 [Internet Access via Infotrac SearchBank].

2. "Fighting the Rise of New Global Culture", NST, 5 September, 1995, p5.


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Copyright R. James Ferguson 2000, 2001
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