How Cultural Diplomacy Supports American Military Objectives

Community
CULP Expedition Guyana Mission Commander, Florida Army National Guard’s Maj. Peter Jennison speaks to Cadets with the 2013 Cultural Understanding Language Proficiency program’s following completion of the Jungle Amphibious Training School.
Photo courtesy of Florida National Guard

Every year, hundreds of Reserve Officer Training Corps cadets travel the globe as part of the Army’s Cultural Understanding and Language Proficiency Program. They spend up to three weeks immersed in foreign cultures, learning more about how others around the world view the United States, and in the process, learn more about themselves.


This isn’t a run-of-the-mill study abroad opportunity; cadets are fully immersed in foreign cultures and spend their time interacting and building relationships with their peers. They are engaging in cultural diplomacy.

The Army recognizes the need for young leaders to develop more cultural awareness and foreign language proficiency skills. Now more than ever, cultural awareness training is a vital component to the ROTC curriculum. These immersion opportunities — available in 40 countries — expose cadets to everyday life in different cultures and intensify language study, which helps develop officers with the necessary language and cultural skills to support global operations. Furthermore, service members gain valuable leadership skills as they learn to cooperate across diverse teams.

Cadets participate in a variety of exchanges during their tours, including humanitarian service, military-to-military contact, and education on the social, cultural and historical aspects of the country. In 2014, 1,320 ROTC cadets participated in the program. The future goal is for at least half of all cadets to complete an immersion internship annually.

I advocate for a more aggressive goal of 100% participation. Recognizing logistical and budgetary realities, it wouldn’t necessarily need to be a three-week immersion; there would still be immense benefit to shorter-term opportunities of cultural exchange. Immersion into foreign cultures exposes cadets to the realities that other countries have vastly different lifestyles, economic standing, and world perspective. It’s a simple premise, but would go a long way in preparing our young soldiers for the reality of a future of joint operations. Beyond the cultural training, the direct coordination and teamwork that emerges from these exchanges helps cadets to develop useful cross-cultural collaboration skills that can’t be taught in a classroom.

The cross-cultural collaboration skills that soldiers gain are uniquely useful in helping them grow as leaders. The U.S. military is increasingly diverse, with more races, ages, and socio-economic backgrounds represented each year. The leadership skills cadets gain in the field, by working with diverse teams, are directly transferable to the diverse teams they will surely lead as new officers.

Young soldiers are our best cultural diplomats.

Cultural diplomacy is built upon mutual understanding through cultural exchange. In essence, exactly what the cadets are engaged in each summer. The ultimate goal of cultural diplomacy is to instill positive perceptions of the U.S. abroad, but the benefit of mutual understanding is, I think, more significant. Through these types of meaningful exchanges, American service members will learn more about foreign audiences and potential future partners, and as a bonus, create favorable views of the United States in the process. Such favorable views are instrumental on a micro and a macro level to the future success of the force. On a micro level, they help to foster positive relationships for service members engaging with foreign peers. On a macro level, they set the foundation for multinational cooperation on joint missions.

If the United States wants to cultivate a better image of itself overseas — a worthwhile ancillary goal to garner support for our objectives—extending foreign exchange programs and exposing foreign publics to American values through cadets would go a long way. As the State Department, describes, cultural diplomacy helps create a foundation of trust with other peoples, which policymakers can build on to reach political, economic, and military agreements.

Our military engagements are increasingly multilateral and having a common basis of understanding is a great benefit. The relationships that the cadets make with their peers from other armed forces will be immensely beneficial to their future careers, particularly when carrying out missions with foreign partners.

Editor's Note: This article by Matthew Cox originally appeared onMilitary.com, a leading source of news for the military and veteran community.

U.S. Army aviation officials have launched an effort to restore full air assault capability to the 101st Airborne Division — a capability the Screaming Eagles have been without since 2015.

Read More Show Less

The U.S. military's withdrawal from northeast Syria is looking more like Dunkirk every day.

On Wednesday, the U.S. military had to call in an airstrike on one of its own ammunition dumps in northern Syria because the cargo trucks required to safely remove the ammo are needed elsewhere to support the withdrawal, Task & Purpose has learned.

Read More Show Less

President Donald Trump belittled his former defense secretary, James Mattis, by characterizing him as the "world's most overrated general," according to a Washington Post report published Wednesday.

The account from numerous officials came during an afternoon closed door meeting with congressional leaders in the Cabinet Room of the White House on Wednesday. In the meeting, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer reportedly brought up dissenting views towards the president's decision to withdraw the vast majority of roughly 1,000 U.S. troops stationed in Syria.

Read More Show Less

Retired two-star Navy. Adm. Joe Sestak is the highest ranking — and perhaps, least known — veteran who is trying to clinch the Democratic nomination for president in 2020.

Sestak has decades of military experience, but he is not getting nearly as much media attention as fellow veterans Pete Buttigieg and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii). Another veteran, Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.) has dropped out of the race.

Read More Show Less

After preliminary fitness test scores leaked in September, many have voiced concerns about how women would fare in the new Army Combat Fitness Test.

The scores — which accounted for 11 of the 63 battalions that the ACFT was tested on last year — showed an overall failure rate of 84% for women, and a 70% pass rate for men.

But Army leaders aren't concerned about this in the slightest.

Read More Show Less