Art and Culture at the service of peace and mutual understanding: the value of UN
On 23 October 2017, the King’s College of London launched at the Palais des Nations (Geneva) a study entitled «The art of soft power: a study of cultural diplomacy at the UN Office in Geneva » by which it explores how diplomats uses art and culture in the service of soft power.
According to the study, today there is no consensus on the precise meanings of the terms cultural diplomacy and soft power. The political scientific Milton C. Cumming defines cultural diplomacy as “the exchange of ideas, information, art and other aspects of culture among nations and their peoples in order to foster mutual understanding”. This definition of cultural diplomacy incorporates a sense of reciprocity, openness and willingness to learn from others.
By contrast, Joseph Nye defines soft power as the ability “to influence the behaviour of others to get the outcomes one wants”. It stands in contrast to hard power, the traditional tools of which are weapons, munitions, armies and economic sanctions.
Scholars have persistently shown little interest in examining the many claims made for soft power interventions, despite bold assertions that they can reduce the risk of terrorism, enhance national security, facilitate peace and reconciliation and reserve the erosion of trust.
The United Nations Office at Geneva (UNOG) has a vast art collection built up over time through gifts, bequests and the remnants of temporary displays. As of 2017, there are 2,163 objects in collection. The Palais des Nations and its grounds are full of paintings, tapestries and sculptures, including monumental works which convey the spirit and mission of the United Nations.
UNOG is one of the four centres for multilateral diplomacy and cooperation within the United Nations. The centre in Geneva specifically focuses on issues associated with human rights, public health, refugees, intellectual property, labour relations, peace and reconciliation. In this vein, UNOG is a laboratory for bigger questions about the role of art and culture in foreign policy.
The Cultural Activities Programme, facilitated by the UNOG Secretariat, was developed in the context of the Global Agenda for Dialogue among Civilizations. As well as being a celebration of diversity, it provides a forum for interaction among peoples of different traditions and backgrounds. Through this Programme, the UN seeks to spread the message that we are united by our common humanity.