Over the past half-century, UNESCO conventions have developed the political importance of cultural property. In response, state parties to the conventions pursue bilateral agreements and domestic policy in the interest of cultural security. Specifically, countering the traffic in antiquities and preserving historic monuments protects cultural identity, which plays a role in political stability.
Foreign policy that supports the repatriation of cultural patrimony develops relations with the “source nations” and demonstrates an interest in countering trafficking in cultural material. Recent efforts by the US Department of Homeland Security in returning objects to Peru provides an example. Policy that supports the preservation of sites of cultural heritage positively reinforces relations with nations in political turmoil. As one example, the US Ambassadors Fund supports restoration and conservation of cultural heritage worldwide.
The perceived value of cultural heritage also creates security risks. Terrorist groups target religious monuments in acts of political violence, an illicit trade in antiquities induces looting in emerging nations, and an international art market creates opportunity for money laundering. Poignant examples include the Taliban’s destruction of statues of Buddha, looting of antiquities in Iraq, and a thriving market for forgeries of works by master artists worldwide.
Foreign policy that protects monuments, counters trafficking in antiquities, and brings greater transparency to the art market not only supports national security but also protects cultural heritage of emerging nations.
Learn about the framework for Cultural Intelligence.