Managing Risks, Securing Interests, Expressing Values: Cross-Cultural Dialogue in the Asian Century |

Managing Risks, Securing Interests, Expressing Values: Cross-Cultural Dialogue in the Asian Century

20120827_CokerCrow_w170On 27 August 2012, Mr. Christopher Coker, former professor of International Relations, London School of Economics, and Dr. Alexis Crow, Research Fellow at Chatham House gave a public lecture titled ‘Managing Risks, Security Interests and Expressing Values: The Cross Cultural Dialogue in the Asian Century’ at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy The talk highlighted a new Chatham House project titled ‘Cultural Dialogue in International Security,’ to examine approaches to risk management and international affairs.

Unlike threats, risks are nebulous, “debounded from time and space” and until recently, managed by Western laws, traditions and institutions, including the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and World Trade Organization (WTO). This idea of Western primacy, culminating in an age of Imperialism with the belief of a dominant set of values and norms, led to various wars and American-imposed ideals of democracy and market economy in the East. With the crash of Lehman Brothers and the onslaught of the Arab Spring however, Western approaches to international security were challenged. 

Nonetheless, the differing civilizations and cultures between the West and East have seen three values remain constant across these borders. These are fair treatment of peoples, self-esteem and morale as well as an absolute dislike of disloyalty and betrayal. As social animals, humans use language and values to communicate and cooperate, and where norms may differ; values permeate every morsel of our sensibility. But values are not only seen as a connector but also as a divisor, and the philosopher David Hume reminds us to not impose our values on each other.

Cultural dialogue, the main framework of Chatham House, realizes this paradox of language and values. Like language, values emerge from the local culture and are contested across countries, shaping the way people see reality and daily challenges. Yet, dialogue is mandated by Globalization, which intensifies cultural differences even further when societies are faced with the same risks. Interpretations of these risks are subject to also one’s own culture and values.

Three problems arise if countries fail to discuss these risks or as Coker says, if they fail to have a “dialogue.” Countries that do not communicate narrowly frame risks based on their personal experiences and values; rely on heuristics or “anchoring” around cultural construction and transform their norms and practices as preventive measures. By examining values and norms in an objective manner, one can reduce errors in decision-making, increase cross-cultural understanding and avoid risk traps.

The role of Chatham House as a non-profit NGO is to recalibrate the balance of power and change the way countries address these risks. To do so, countries must engage in an issue and interest-based dialogue about international security. This will lead to the path of global stability.


By Asha Rampersad, a Master in Public Policy student at the LKY School.


In the realm of international security, the collapse of Western banks has forced a change in the way in which Euro-Atlantic countries engage with others. In order to successfully manage transnational risks such as cyber-war, nuclear proliferation, failed states, international terrorism, and energy security, countries such as the US - and Western institutions such as NATO - must engage effectively with other players who may have similar concerns, but approach these concerns with different preferences. For too long, these Euro-Atlantic countries have ignored the reality of local preferences and have approached their target audience through Western norms, regimes and laws in their belief that their way is best.

However, as the Arab Spring has shown, the peoples' choice of democracy is not synonymous with Western forms of governance. And, with the fate of the Euro in the balance, and economic recovery a distant prospect on both sides of the Atlantic, the West will need to find new forms of mediation for effective risk management - an approach which is not driven by 20th century modes of troop posturing, deterrence and containment, but engagement and action in accordance with local preferences to human concerns.

In this paper, the authors will chart out this framework by which actors can engage with one another across cultural and territorial boundaries in a way in which they can effectively manage risks, secure interests, and express values in an uncertain strategic context.

Click here for more info.


Prof. Christopher Coker, Professor of International Relations, London School of Economics; and Dr. Alexis Crow, Research Fellow, International Security Programme, Chatham House, (Royal Institute of International Affairs), London, UK

Monday, 27 August 2012
12.15 p.m. - 1.30 p.m.

Seminar Room 3-5
Level 3, Manasseh Meyer
Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy
469C Bukit Timah Road
Singapore 259772

WordPress Video Lightbox Plugin