How the Arts and Military Can Help Cultural Diplomacy

Posted by Brigadier General Nolen Bivens, U.S. Army Ret., May 15, 2013 0 comments

Brigadier General Nolen Bivens, U.S. Army, Ret. Brigadier General Nolen Bivens, U.S. Army, Ret.

The conditions have been set and it’s now time to use the arts and cultural engagement at ground and grassroots level to further enhance cultural diplomacy and effectiveness of military security cooperation operations.

The model for military operations has six phases. The recent withdrawal of U.S. combat forces from Iraq and the goal of drawing down troops in Afghanistan beginning in July of this year, returns the focus of U.S. Military leadership to preparing for the future and the point in its operational phasing model known as Phase Zero – shaping the environment.

In the 12 years since beginning combat in Afghanistan and Iraq, joint U.S. Military Forces, other governmental and non-governmental organizations, and coalition members have demonstrated unprecedented courage, sacrifice and even creativity to protect national interest in the Middle East region.

Realizing that a key component to success during these operations is winning the hearts and minds of the people, they also learned how vital and necessary the “whole of government” approach is during all phases of military operations; that is, integrating activity across the whole of society – the political, military, economic, social, infrastructure and information components.

Examples include bringing the curatorial skills of the Archaeological Institute of America, Iraq’s Cultural Ministry and U.S. Army Reserve soldiers to address the ransacking of Iraq’s museums and archeological sites by looters and insurgents.  For those not familiar with the story, in the aftermath of the fall of Baghdad, “Mobs of treasure hunters” tore into “Iraqi archaeological sites, stealing urns, statues, vases and cuneiform tablets that dated back 3,000 years and more to Babylon” according to some archaeologists. From a nongovernmental perspective, Greg Mortenson, author of "Stones into Schools" built 130 schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan – an effort that did not go unnoticed by four-star U.S. military commanders. His 2006 book “Three Cups of Tea” was “required reading for all Special Forces soldiers deploying to Afghanistan.”

Interested in applying these lessons to needs in their own region, other combatant commands have integrated various government agencies, nongovernmental organizations, public-private partnerships, private sector, and international organizations into a “whole of society” approach built on shared interests and security during their phase zero security cooperation operations.   Even a 2005 advisory committee report to the State Department stated, “Cultural diplomacy reveals the soul of a nation, … when our nations is at war, every tool in the diplomatic kit bag is employed, including the promotion of cultural activities.”

DSC03777_new_0It applies even during the time of natural disasters.  In the wake of the devastating 2010 earthquake, the Haiti Cultural Recovery project was launched by the Smithsonian Institution in partnership with the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, the Government of Haiti, Ministry of Culture, U.S Southern Command and with assistance from several other federal agencies—National Endowment for the Humanities, National Endowment for the Arts and the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

Given the incredible momentum these successes afford us, and tremendous sacrifice by our service members, now’s the time to leverage the cultural and artistic communities to further U.S. interests and image around the world during phase zero security cooperation operations. Innovatively joining arts and cultural engagements during phase zero activities is a lever to build transnational community connections, and bridge cultural distinctions.

Utilizing these new tactics will contribute to preserving the costly gains made in shaping world opinion about the U.S. to date. The past decade has only been the preamble to the “long war” in combating terrorism and the required “generational commitment” former Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice spoke of early on in the Iraq war. It is time to apply all elements of national power, including, culture, industry, science and technology, academic institutions, geography, and national will to this task during phase zero.

lrs_275073Connecting the laudable, extant efforts of U.S. Embassies, nongovernmental organizations, and nonprofits along with those of the military can achieve a more synergistic approach at the U.S. Government level. But what would an integrated approach to engagement look like? A typical phase zero engagement might be the construction of a school in a particular village during a military to military engineer training exercise.  However, with an integrated approach, young writers from that nation who participated in The University of Iowa International Writing Program (IWP) sponsored by the U.S. State Department could be included during the school’s grand opening ceremony, expanding the perception of the United States’ goodwill and be a catalyst for future cultural engagement.

Imaginatively combining arts and cultural with existing military plans activities during phase zero of military operations is the action needed now for the idea Thomas Jefferson expressed in a letter from Paris in September 1785, “You see I am an enthusiast on the subject of the arts ... as its object is to improve the taste of my countrymen, to increase their reputation, to reconcile to them the respect of the world and procure them its praise.”  - Winning hearts and minds at home and abroad, and strengthening security in the long war against terrorism.

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