Neutrality – The Case for Sustainable Commerce – Part III

Shifting Power SmallPresident of the United States, Barack Obama, before the United Nations General Assembly on September 24, 2014 warned against the application of Huntington’s “clash of civilizations” concept to a secular vs. religious construct, saying, “…we have reaffirmed that the United States is not and never will be at war with Islam. Islam teaches peace. Muslims the world over aspire to live with dignity and a sense of justice. And when it comes to America and Islam, there is no us and them – there is only us, because millions of Muslim Americans are part of the fabric of our country. So we reject any suggestion of a clash of civilizations…And it is no exaggeration to say that humanity’s future depends on us uniting against those who would divide us along fault lines of tribe or sect; race or religion.” [3]

Also less than enthusiastically supportive of Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations” concepts, Kishore Mahbubani, Dean, Professor in the Practice of Public Policy, carefully qualifies his somewhat grudging agreement, using a crisp metaphorical assessment.

“Huntington is right: power is shifting among civilizations. But when the tectonic plates of world history move in a dramatic fashion, as they do now, perceptions of these changes depend on where one stands.”

Mahbubani’s tectonics metaphor, apropos for a world characterized by constant shifting, would also hold for the places where cultural values, norms and identities are most thoroughly stressed and distressed, where cultures meet, the point at which cultural plates push or grind together under pressure. When the pressure at a fault line builds to the point of a shift, one plate slips over/under the other, or the two plates fracture one another.  In either case, the entirety of cultural plates are affected, but how mightily one experiences the “perceptions of these changes depend on where one stands.”

Consistent with the tectonics metaphor, the idea of completely preventing geologic earthquakes is a bit out of reach at the moment, though incredibly, impressive scientific experimentation is in progress.  Few would argue against the inevitability of cultural tectonics in a global environment. It can and does manifest in the form of intercultural conflict at any point along the entitativity continuum, or series of sovereign entities, as discussed in the CultureNeutral® Keys.

The matter of damage control is the more currently addressable question for literal earthquakes. An approximating cultural tectonics approach falls into three neat categories, each of which can be proactively managed and coached, (1) accurate monitoring and prediction, (2) building all new construction with mitigating architectures, and (3) retrofitting those already built to improve stability and survivability.  The first objective is honest vulnerability assessment, then building toward sufficient durability to withstand a shock of predictable magnitude.

Honest assessment of intercultural stresses may be more crucial than ever. While the classic “good vs. evil” presents one filter, things are not always that simple or clear. A “Leaders” article in the December 21st 2013 issue (p. 17) of The Economist is headlined, “Look back with angst,” and leads with “A century on, there are uncomfortable parallels with the era that led to the outbreak of the first world war.”  That is sobering. to think that even as American Corporate Diversity continues to increase its global reach and influence, the parallels to a pre-global-warfare environment are also on the increase.

“As Keynes put it,” so The Economist’s editorial points up, “The projects and politics of militarism and imperialism, of racial and cultural rivalries, of monopolies, restrictions and exclusion, which were to play the serpent to this paradise, were little more than the amusements of [the Londoner’s]…daily newspaper.” The article describes a virtual scaffolding for war being erected, both in international and intercultural terms. Though the parallels are not exact, as you’d expect given the new geopolitical terrain, “they are close enough for the world to be on its guard.”

In a final half-hopeful musing, the cultural underbelly of the potential for conflagration is editorially set:  “Madness, whether motivated by race, religion or tribe, usually gives ground to rational self-interest. But when it triumphs, it leads to carnage, so to assume that reason will prevail is to be culpably complacent. That is the lesson of a century ago.”

Credible, and sobering, not something one would relish reading over a morning coffee.

If culpable complacence isn’t good for nations, how could it be good for businesses?  Are the ‘cultural rivalries, restrictions and exclusion’ at risk of playing the serpent in any business paradise that you know of?  Can rational and “enlightened” self-interest turn the public relations of “Diversity & Inclusion” into something more substantive than tabloid style amusements in the morning Diversity Newspaper? Is there a warning here for businesses and business professionals?

One single sentence in The Economist’s full-page admonition leaped out, bearing a proposal that was immediately salient. It read as a fleeting aside, end of a nearly concluding paragraph, subtle enough that it could easily be missed or even dismissed as having applicability only in the context of its aforementioned China-Korea game of “Chicken.”

“A code of maritime conduct for the area is needed.”

The phrase jumped off that page for me, a little morsel to feed my confirmation bias as I sipped my coffee.  Those familiar with neutrality will recognize that that international protocols flowing from the principle of neutrality remain at the heart of the code of maritime conduct in connection with freedom of navigation and maritime commerce.  Neutrality does pop, sometimes in disguise, and if you’re not paying attention, or dredging for confirmation of your own theories, as I was, you’ll most often miss it.

Zulfiqar Shah, a stateless activist, analyst, researcher and refugee in exile, born Sindhi and South Asian, and now living in India, pointedly states, “A new ethos is needed to replace old biases, discrimination and non-neutrality in diplomacy…”

“When individual or collective conflicts push politics into a blind alley,” observes Shah, “neutrality becomes key to mediation and resolution. Mediation, in all its forms—cultural, individual, collective or judicial—requires neutrality. If seen through the lens of diplomatic history among nations and the cultural history of people, neutrality embodied with justice has not only been successful in bringing about peace but also sustaining it. Hence, the diversified nature of conflicts, inter- as well as intra-state, ethnic and group require the exhibition of extreme neutrality for a judicious and sustainable resolution of the antagonism that is destined to lead all of us towards collective destruction.” [4] How would Shah’s “new ethos” and Huntington’s concepts of “clash” converge on a solution set?

To repeat a thought, nations aren’t the only entities that have inviolable sovereign borders, and certainly not the only entities that experience conflict. Whether the intertwining of international conflict and intercultural conflict at a macro level is relatively new, as Huntington suggested, or old news on economic fronts, as Weeks suggested, or perhaps nonsensical to some, as Aron suggested, there remains a common thread that keeps popping up in proposed conflict solution sets, either directly or implied. The durable Principle of Neutrality in international diplomatic relations and foreign affairs can have a mirror image role in intercultural diplomacy and related affairs.

The greater the diversity, the greater the initial diversity tensions (stresses), the more fragile the fault lines. Traditional “Diversity” intervention has not changed that, and some hold that it may actually work in a counterproductive manner, worsening the stresses, as it exerts steady unabated pressures to insert differences into reticent homogeneous venues. In an America with increasingly abundant cultures and interactions, and across a European society of diverse cultures working to solidify and sustain an economic union, there may be less commonality between them than “Diversity” professionals recognize.

So thought Michael Stuber of European Diversity Research & Consulting, who wrote in 2007, “In light of ongoing globalization, it is a good time to evaluate the effectiveness of these international [diversity] initiatives. It might be necessary to re-invent concepts that have been successful in the past, on local or national levels, in order to upgrade them for a more global fit.”

Durability, flexibility, success, positive and intrinsic to sustainable business and commerce in environments of varying degrees of conflict, few constructs would make more sense to “re-invent” for intercultural relations, intercultural diplomacy and intercultural affairs than the enduring and abiding concept of neutrality one that already enjoys international respect and undisputed global fit.

In his case for admission of the word “Neutrality” into the Dictionary of War, John Palmesino characterizes the principle of neutrality as being part of a “generalized and universal body of knowledge.” [2]  Based on neutrality’s historical efficacy in past application, he argued for extended application in new areas of nonpolitical conflict, including ethnic, racial, gender, social and cultural transitions, as well as creative use in more traditional conflicts.

Our globalized society is increasingly fractured by a “differences” mindset. Confronted with the prospect of compounding differences, and thus compounded conflict, our ability to personally, professionally and organizationally manage those complexities diminishes. The rubric of managing diversity has become burdensome and costly.  The CultureNeutral® Framework creates an operational third space, a mindset that culturally unifies instead of divides.

Please do continue the CultureNeutral® journey with us as we examine some of the primary articles of contemporary neutrality and how they can be incorporated into your thinking and decision making, way of life, career, your organization and community.

Continue with the next installment:  Some Fundamentals of Neutrality

or:  Return to Part I
Return to Part II


Copyright © 2013 Robert D. Jones – All Rights Reserved

[1] K. Mahbubani, Dean, Professor in the Practice of Public Policy, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore  “The Dangers of Decadence, What the Rest Can Teach theWest

[2] Case for Admission of the word “Neutrality” into the Dictionary of War. John Palmesino, Frankfurt, Germany, June 3rd, 2006,
Excerpt from video speech: 

“Two points seem to be particularly interesting when we think of neutrality as a means to manage post-colonial, ethnic, racial, gender, political, social, military, technological, cultural transitions, as a disposit[ion] of change of the contemporary space, tuned to balance the conflict[ing] forces that flare up in almost every human settlement. First of all, in constructing an overview of contemporary human settlements, we are thinking of a world without borders, a world whose parts have become increasingly plugged into each other, and which today is completely borderless at every turn, in which we have migrations of an endless kind almost at every point of the world. The second point is that the implementation of this borderless world is accompanied by an intermingled and entangled overlapping of logistic supply networks, buffer zones, enclaves, extraterritorial bases. Wherever these transitions are occurring, new principles have been theorised to examine the nature of war and contemporary transformation processes. Today, not to have a policy, not to stand for something, not to take part, not to participate, to be a-political is becoming more and more a difficult, contrasted, almost immoral condition. Yet it might be in these very difficulties that to be neutral acquires a novel significance.”

[3] Transcript, Obama Before U.N. General Assembly, September 24, 2014:

[4] “A new ethos is needed to replace old biases, discrimination and non-neutrality in diplomacy…”  Zalfiqar Shah,

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