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The Case for Cultural Diplomacy: Engaging Foreign Audiences

Author: Helena Kane Finn
November/December 2003
Foreign Affairs


Early in the Cold War, American efforts at cultural diplomacy were funded by the CIA as well as the State Department's Division of Cultural Relations. Although CIA sponsorship would be inappropriate and counterproductive today, that history is a useful reminder of how seriously Washington once took the promotion of mutual understanding through cultural exchange. Policymakers understood the link between engagement with foreign audiences and victory over ideological enemies and considered cultural diplomacy vital to U.S. national security.

Such a perspective is sorely lacking today, when many policymakers appear to believe that military force has become a sufficient response to radical Islamist terrorism. They would do well to keep in mind what their predecessors knew: that dialogue is essential to winning the hearts and minds of moderate elements in societies vulnerable to radicalism.

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