I always knew –deep down – that there was something missing from NATO military doctrine. But I could not put my finger on it. Until yesterday.

Having worked with NATO before, I knew of the great effort that NATO has gone to over the last five years to tie in a civilian component to its military doctrine. I knew of the embedded civilian press journalists in the Afghanistan campaign. I knew of the civilian engineers who rebuild Kosovo. I knew of the growing links with NGOs and civilian development agencies.

What I suddenly realised yesterday – in a blinding flash of the obvious – was that the missing component in NATO strategy is…culture. So it was timely that the British Council organised this conference – the hard hitting fire arms of NATO’s hard power, and the warm, embracing arms of the British Council’s cultural relations.

‘What has Culture got to do with winning tactical battles against insurgents?’ was the question posed by an eminent academic and leader of a respected Brussels think tank at 09:30 yesterday morning as the conference opened.

Four hours later – after a live debate between British Council CEO Martin Davidson and the NATO Head of Operations, with a wide exposition of cultural activities ranging from empowerment of women in Afganistan, literature in Congo, photos in Kenya, dancing in Uganda, lost languages in Rwanda and football games in Nazareth – there was no doubt in the audience’s mind that the only way to build lasting, sustained peace is through deep understanding of ‘the other’. And this understanding can only – I mean ‘only’ – be borne out of willingness to recognise ‘the other’s’ culture.

NATO recognised it too. About time. By December they will have written their new Strategic Concept and there was an admission that Cultural Relations deserved not a paragraph – but a chapter.

Robin Davies is part of the British Council Europe Team programme in Brussels

Watch the video from the conference at Vimeo


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Kathy Vaughan

Posted on April 6th, 2010 Report abuse

Culture and identity are critical components to coexistence and constructive conflict management. I look forward to learning more about these initiatives and how they will be spread to the policy level on the regional and country level – kathy Vaughan, British Council.