Why Culture Matters for Strategists

The words “pithy” and “easy to read” do not always attach themselves to writing coming out of government institutions, but Jiyul Kim’s Cultural Dimensions of Strategy and Policy is the exception that proves the rule. Kim is an engaging writer and has a point to make: in international relations it is not just political and economic power that matter, but culture as well.

To those untouched by the debates among the various schools of political thought, this makes incredible sense. But there are those, alas, who think that culture plays such a secondary or tertiary role in relations between states that it merits little consideration. In many cases, these scholars are the same ones who deride the ideas of Joseph Nye (“Soft Power“) and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (“Smart Power“) as insufferably idealistic. As a longtime skeptic of all of the standing schools of foreign policy, I am as yet undecided. But Kim makes a persuasive point, and his paper is an important addition to the literature that argues for the importance of factors beyond guns and butter in international politics.

In fact, I would argue that Kim’s points are more relevant to executives and students of business than it is to political economists. The issue of where national culture and corporate culture create or destroy opportunity as businesses venture abroad is not trivial, but it remains underrated and insufficiently discussed among those of us actually making decisions or advising those who do. Kim’s paper should helps spark your thinking.

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