The phrase, “cultural security,” seems to have been in use for about a century. According to Google’s Ngram Viewer, the phrase first appeared in 1916 and, beginning in 1930, the relative frequency of use started to increase. Relative usage reached a peak in 1944 and then declined through 1951 before assuming a steady increase through 2000. In the new millennium, the phrase has appeared as a term in various contexts internationally, and the usage seems to fall into three categories: preservation of an indigenous culture, protection of a national culture, and “power” of a national culture in the global economy.
Over the past decade, the preservation of indigenous cultures in the face of technological advancement and economic and political development has elicited discussion on cultural security. In 2001(?), the Department of Health in the Government of Western Australia published, Aboriginal Cultural Security – A Background Paper. The publication stated, “Cultural Security is a commitment to the principle that the construct and provision of services offered by the health system will not compromise the legitimate cultural rights, views, values and expectations of Aboriginal peoples.” Initiatives to preserve the Aboriginal culture continue to the present.
In the context of national cultures, "cultural security" refers to protecting against foreign influence. As an example, in August through December 2005, the Financial Times reported that “China propaganda tsars have moved to defend 'national cultural security' by ordering tighter controls on foreign involvement in the media market.” Active insulation against foreign influence reemerged in fall of 2006 and fall of 2011. Since then, officials in China have employed the rhetoric of “national cultural security” as a reason for banning performers of Western popular culture. Similar reports from China have continued into 2013, and a new example has emerged in Africa. Over the past month, news sources in Nigeria quoted the former president on the critical role of culture in the development of Africa. At the regional summit on “Women and Youth in the Promotion of Cultural Security and Development in Africa,” Olusegun Obasanjo noted, "Culture tells us where we are coming from, where we are and to plot where we are going to."
A third type of "cultural security" exists in the interplay of culture and foreign policy. In 1999, Louis Bélanger published the paper, “Redefining Cultural Diplomacy: Cultural Security and Foreign Policy in Canada.” The paper points out that “states that have made culture the ‘third pillar’ of their foreign policy, beside security and economy” promote “an already existing culture abroad” as a form of cultural diplomacy. The "power" of a nation's culture abroad depends to some extent on economic standing. As nations such as the United States yield economic dominance to emerging economies, the national cultures will lose effect as attractors and face competition from the cultures of emerging nations. The competition could form a global political economy of culture.
The practical value of culture in the form of tangible art offers an example. The role of artworks, antiquities, and monuments in international affairs over the past two centuries has evolved into a political economy of cultural property. Politically, the dispute over ownership of artworks that were plundered during wartime or antiquities that have been looted from emerging nations has proven to be a significant issue in foreign policy. Also, the targeting of monuments in campaigns of ethnic and religious persecution has made cultural property relevant to security. Economically, over the last half-century in particular, the financial value of fine art and the market for antiquities have developed as a multi-billion-dollar sector of the global economy. Collectively, the increasing significance of cultural property in politics, economics, and security may serve as a model for the political economy of culture.
As the political economy of culture evolves, so will the definition(s) for “cultural security.”
Learn about the framework for Cultural Intelligence.