This topic is particularly relevant in light of NATO's more comprehensive approach to the planning and conduct of its operations, which emphasizes civil-military cooperation. This Comprehensive Approach is expected to feature prominently in the Alliance's new Strategic Concept, which is being developed in time for the Lisbon Summit in November.
"Culture is about the ways in which people think and live and create their society," said Martin Davidson, Chief Executive of the British Council. "Cultural relations is about creating opportunities for dialogue."
Speaking about the NATO-led operation in Afghanistan, Michael Howard, NATO's Assistant Secretary General for Operations, emphasized that providing cultural awareness training to troops before they deploy is important, but that it is not enough. "We need to take into account Afghan cultural norms, the way that the Afghan style of society organizes itself. So it is absolutely essential that we have a dialogue with Afghans, with Afghan authorities."
"I don't think we have a box on our military planning that says 'cultural relations'", he explained. "It is more that it is part of recognizing that the campaign in Afghanistan is not just a military campaign. It is a political-civilian-military campaign, and we bring it all together under the term Comprehensive Approach. [...] Dealing with the cultural aspects of these operations is part of the Comprehensive Approach."
Case studies from around the world were presented at the conference to demonstrate how "cultural" projects on the ground are improving dialogue, and playing a part in both preventing conflict and healing post-conflict wounds.