Founder Editor in Chief: Octavian-Dragomir Jora ISSN (print) 2537 - 2610
,
ISSN (online) 2558 - 8206
Contact Editorial Team RAFPEC The Idea
How the Evolution of ITC Shaped the Field of Diplomacy

How the Evolution of ITC Shaped the Field of Diplomacy

When looking at the historical evolution of diplomacy and foreign policy, for centuries they have ended up relying on the traditional establishment of delegations or ambassadors, formalizing bilateral and multilateral agreements regarding various issues.

Today's diplomatic scenario appears solidly anchored to its legal ecosystem within the confines of the international community. The evolution of technology seems to have had a significant impact both on the way diplomacy is conducted and on the emergence of new, less traditional actors.

Digital diplomacy or open diplomacy represents, today, an indispensable element in diplomatic relations. Where technology has had, and still has, a huge initial impact is the speed with which information flows. 

From classic diplomacy to diplomacy 2.0 

When Thomas Jefferson and his predecessor Benjamin Franklin were sent to France as US ambassadors, it could take months for messages to reach their final destination - from the presidential cabinet to the Paris Embassy, and vice versa. In 1994, President of the United States Bill Clinton sent his first official email to a foreign head of state, Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt.

From the brief exchange of emails between the two leaders, it is easy to grasp a mixture of curiosity and expectations in the face of a world at the mercy of the digital revolution, a new world in which the Internet phenomenon is taking shape and becomes deeply rooted in the structures of society.

An example of a multi-level communication strategy based on soft power is the model of China that offers blogging services, e-journals and multilingual podcast services. In its expansion on the web, China has signed several agreements with important portals, social network sites, search engines and instant messaging suppliers so as to make its expansion strategy unique in the world, even compared to Western competitors.

Politics and foreign affairs were changing, as was the large communications network around the world. After about 20 years from the first online correspondence between Clinton and Bildt, in December 2014, President Barack Obama, the former world leader most followed on social media, entered into partnership with code.org to launch a new and revolutionary campaign to raise awareness of the so-called code literacy. “If we want America to stay on the cutting edge, we need young Americans like you to master the tools and technology that will change the way we do just about everything”, said the President at the launch of the annual Computer Science Education Week, officially becoming the first politician in the world to ride the big digital wave.

A newer form of diplomacy took shape into what we call today Cyber Diplomacy or Digital Diplomacy, an extension of public diplomacy, which allows states to actively participate in information networks.

If until now public diplomacy has focused on the close relationship of the state with the various types of organizations, digital diplomacy goes beyond the traditional approach, and applies the rule of Open government to international relations, which establishes a totally distinct form of communication between state and people.

Thanks to technology and new digital tools, diplomacy ended up becoming partially democratized, including a wider variety of voices in its structures. 

Mixing soft power with digital diplomacy 

From the geopolitical point of view, the network allows a greater affirmation of what Joseph Nye has defined as 'soft power' in foreign policy. This concept summarizes the complex mechanism in which diplomacy acts to spread messages to a global audience, expanding its sphere of influence and promoting the interests of one's country.

Today, soft power seems to be the best solution in the face of the unstoppable change in the global context that is redesigning the limits of political power. In this context of openness, new media represent a strategic tool for international relations.

To pursue a soft power strategy, the web offers various tools that allow one to disseminate a nation's political, economic and cultural information, but also interactive content that aims to stimulate debates and exchanges of opinion among users on current issues, promoting their active involvement.

An example of a multi-level communication strategy based on soft power is the model of China that offers blogging services, e-journals and multilingual podcast services.

In its expansion on the web, China has signed several agreements with important portals, social network sites, search engines and instant messaging suppliers so as to make its expansion strategy unique in the world, even compared to Western competitors.

But the use of the Internet in diplomatic and consular activities requires reflection on the suitability of some rules of diplomatic law to regulate this constantly evolving phenomenon. Diplomatic law is dictated by customs and rules enshrined in the treaties governing international relations.

With the exponential use of new technologies, these rules will have to be rewritten. The most important aspect related to diplomatic law is that of digital information security.

In June 2012, in a video message addressed to US embassies around the world, former President Barack Obama said: “In the 21st century, our nations are connected like never before. In our global economy, our prosperity is shared. That's why, as President, I've committed the United States to a new era of engagement with the world, including economic partnerships that create jobs and opportunities for all our citizens. It's part of our lager effort to renew American leadership”.

The problem of security in the use of the Internet and social media implies particular attention also to the problem of fake news, cyber-attacks, malware apps and their impact in international politics:

  • The Wikileaks affair represents an example of the vulnerability of computer systems to cyber-attacks;
  • Technological progress has enhanced states' ability to conduct espionage activities;
  • The intrusion into the IT systems, without borders, gives immediate access to huge quantities of information. As a result, the audience of people interested in espionage activities has expanded.

From a legal point of view, this aspect raises the need to verify whether the rules on espionage are adequate to the current characteristics of the phenomenon which is more harmful and invasive than in the past.

The phenomenon of disinformation is dangerously amplified by the global dimension of the network which acts as a sounding board favoring the polarization and the manipulation of opinions.

Examples of fake news led to armed conflicts, which changed the balance of entire nations; or have raised popular protests that have inflamed various areas of the world. 

Social media, Governments’ first ally 

With the spread of Twitter like web platforms, the ways in which individuals and governments interact with each other have changed, as has the way in which a nation sets its diplomatic strategies and puts its foreign agenda and related objectives into practice.

The way information travels and the way diplomats share it has also undergone transformations; all this in relation to the new idea of ​​real time: the concept of a 'more real' time, faster and more geographically broad, has somehow affected the effectiveness of traditional politics.

Multilateral diplomacy adds a different connotation to the Twitter experience: not only governments are involved, but also the large secretariats of organizations, from those widely known such as the United Nations, to smaller and lesser known ones such as the Nordic Council.

Information has decentralized, facilitating changes in power and politics, the so-called Arab Spring in North Africa and the Middle East being a clear example:

  • Public information supplied by social networking websites played an important role during modern-day activism, specifically as it pertains to the Arab Spring;
  • In Arab countries, many activists who played crucial roles in the Arab Spring used social networking as a key tool in expressing their thoughts concerning unjust acts committed by the government;
  • Being capable of sharing an immense amount of uncensored and accurate information throughout social networking sites has contributed to the cause of many Arab Spring activists;
  • Through social networking sites, Arab Spring activists have not only gained the power to overthrow powerful dictatorships, but also helped Arab civilians become aware of the underground communities that exist and are made up of their brothers, and others willing to listen to their stories;

Although the origins of many revolutionary movements in these areas arise from external causes, and not directly from Twitter - as the Tunisian blogger Lina Ben Mhenni underlined during the conference on Twiplomacy in Turin, in June 2012: “Social media have certainly contributed in viral way to the timing and amplification of political unrest”.

Alec Ross, Senior Advisor for Innovation during the Clinton secretariat, found that, although the dystopian idea of ​​the role of social media in these revolutions was refuted, they certainly accelerated the movement-making processes, they facilitated the consolidation of a state of leaderlessness and enriched the information environment.

A fundamental aspect to be taken into consideration in analyzing the potential of online platforms, and especially Twitter, is that relating to the enormous incentive given to individual citizens and the international community to provide help and support during crises.

In June 2012, in a video message addressed to US embassies around the world, former President Barack Obama said: “In the 21st century, our nations are connected like never before. In our global economy, our prosperity is shared. That's why, as President, I've committed the United States to a new era of engagement with the world, including economic partnerships that create jobs and opportunities for all our citizens. It's part of our lager effort to renew American leadership”.

Clearly, the US Administration has found a great ally in social media, making them an integral part of most programs led by the State Department, including the “21st Century Statecraft” which is probably one of the best bets in the international arena by secretary Clinton: “When Hillary Clinton became the Secretary of State, one of the first things she recognised that the traditional statecraft was no longer bound by vast distances or by national borders. Her idea was account for the rise of non-state based threats and the disruptions caused by the increasing ubiquity and power of our communications network; what followed was the so called ‘21st Century Statecraft’”.

As explained by the same Alec Ross, the umbrella of activity constituted by the 21st Century Statecraft arises as an attempt to integrate the tools of traditional foreign policy with the innovative tools of government that leverage networks, technologies, and the demography of the modern world interconnected. In other words, explore ways to use the new tools available and adopt new digital networks to meet today's challenges.   

The global character of Twitter, like all major social networking tools, seems to integrate perfectly into the mission and objectives of many multilateral, international and regional organizations around the world.

While the complexity of these entities and the number of actors involved can often make the use of digital platforms bureaucratically difficult, the potential scope is largely guaranteed by their visibility.

Multilateral diplomacy adds a different connotation to the Twitter experience: not only governments are involved, but also the large secretariats of organizations, from those widely known such as the United Nations, to smaller and lesser known ones such as the Nordic Council.

This is the reason why a tweet from the United Nations account can multiply into hundreds of thousands of impressions in a second, considering that the number of active followers is enormously greater than that of a little-known ambassador or diplomat.

The United Nations' social networking strategy has proved particularly effective; the organization was ranked thirteenth in the index of the most influential countries on Twitter in the sphere of e-diplomacy.

Today, the UN has a total of twelve Twitter accounts available in five languages and sixteen Facebook profiles in all six official languages. To this, it is important to add the online presence of many United Nations agencies, funds, programs and offices around the world.

Taking into account the way in which the organization ended up consolidating itself on social media platforms, it today constitutes the international/regional entity best connected to the world, far ahead of the European Union, NATO, the OAS (Organization of American States) and the OSCE.

A fundamental aspect to be taken into consideration in analyzing the potential of online platforms, and especially Twitter, is that relating to the enormous incentive given to individual citizens and the international community to provide help and support during crises.

The digital revolution has not only made it easier for governments and embassies to relate to the public, both outside and within national borders, but above all it has spread awareness of the great impact - positive and negative - that a single word, tweet, comment, video or image can have in a relatively short span of time.

A classic example is Ushahidi, a non-profit company that operates in the field of social activism (citizen journalism) and, with the use of open source software, it engages in the collection, display and interactive geolocation of information. Initially developed to portray the episodes of violence in Kenya after the post-election crisis in early 2008, Ushahidi has evolved from being a simple group of ad hoc volunteers, to an organic organization that manages a crowdsourcing platform and that uses all the tools of the new Web for the mapping of areas subject to conflicts and disasters.

Ushahidi demonstrates how the use of social media can go far beyond the classic diplomatic activity, placing itself as a useful tool for collecting information and disseminating real news at the right time.

In a context of crisis, the timeliness of the news is particularly critical, since the scenarios are constantly changing. Ushahidi, with the help of small armies of volunteers, collects data from different sources of information; it became specialized in managing Twitter posts, emails and text messages on-site of the disaster, and in placing them visually on a map updated in real time. This process allows for the best localization of individuals with the greatest need and for sending medical and humanitarian support. 

When digital and diplomacy go out of hand 

Diplomacy, whether exercised in its innovative digital forms or in its traditional form, has risks. In all its manifestations, diplomacy can represent a risky undertaking for diplomats:

  • In August 2003, a terrorist car bomb destroyed the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad, killing the Special Representative of the United Nations General Secretariat in Iraq, Sergio Vieira de Mello, and sixteen other members of his team;
  • A few years later, in December 2007, another terrorist bombing struck Algiers, the capital of Algeria, taking the lives of seventeen United Nations employees, the second highest death toll in United Nations history;
  • Terrorism, however, is not the only factor to consider: in January 2010, a terrible earthquake collapsed the capital of Haiti, in the Caribbean, killing hundreds of diplomats along with most of the Haitian population.

As we can see, the world can be a tough place for diplomats, and sometimes a diplomat can take on the role of soldier rather than politician, as claimed by former United Nations Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar in reference to one of his closest collaborators, former UN hostage negotiator, Giandomenico Picco:

  • In the role of Italian officer at the United Nations, Picco put himself in great difficulties in ensuring the release of western hostages in Lebanon at the beginning of the 1990: disappeared for days and traveled countless times to intimidate the Shiite strongholds in Syria and Lebanon - only his assistant was aware of his movements, the Secretary General was completely unaware of them;
  • He boldly agreed to negotiate his kidnapping with the aim of secretly meeting his jailers; he moved from place to place every night with a contract on his life. His mediation was a success just as the risks taken were profitable. “History doesn't kill”, writes Picco in his memoirs: “Religion does not violate women, purity of blood does not destroy buildings, and institutions do not fail. Only individuals do these things”.

The digital revolution has not only made it easier for governments and embassies to relate to the public, both outside and within national borders, but above all it has spread awareness of the great impact - positive and negative - that a single word, tweet, comment, video or image can have in a relatively short span of time. Furthermore, it emphasized the need to enhance the way social media is analyzed, especially in particularly strategic regions, including primarily the Middle East:

For instance, the assassination of Ambassador Stevens in Benghazi and the assault on the US Embassy in Cairo in 2012 not only cast a shadow over e-diplomacy's commitments and efforts, asking new questions about how to control networking technologies with the relative channels so as to make them more effective, but they also intensified and exacerbated the political confusion of the time.

Digital communication channels can promote online dialogue only if the public opinion is trained and aware. Otherwise the interaction risks becoming a functional information flow only to influence the masses.

According to reports from US sources, Al Qaeda's violence on the American consulate in Benghazi, on the day of the anniversary of the attacks of 11 September, where the American ambassador Christopher Stevens, two marines and an official were killed, was the result of a revenge plan by rebels after the release of “The innocence of Muslims”, a film that was perceived as denigration of religious figures..

The diffusion of some scenes of the film on the various web platforms immediately triggered a domino effect of outrage and agitation until the outbreak of real protests. 

Conclusion 

The relationship between diplomacy and the Internet is still in an experimental and study phase. It is therefore difficult to predict what the impact of new media on international policies will be in the future.

What is certain is the urgent need to analyze these current phenomena, in order to prevent potentially dangerous situations.

The network can offer many opportunities. Through it, participation takes on a new dimension that creates a global social environment in which economic, political and cultural relationships live and develop and in which decision-making places are configured.

Also, the Net hides many pitfalls. Therefore, wisely exploiting digital resources implies the need to favor the widest computer literacy, for a correct use of innovation.

Digital communication channels can promote online dialogue only if the public opinion is trained and aware. Otherwise the interaction risks becoming a functional information flow only to influence the masses.

In the field of law, in particular, it is essential to train expert jurists in the fields related to IT law, who have the necessary skills to manage the legal issues related to the use of new and increasingly sophisticated technologies.

The multiple legal aspects of information technology, transversal and connected to almost all sectors of law, represents a field destined, due to its relevance and impact, to have an even greater impact in society.

An in-depth study of the legal aspects related to new technologies is necessary to build a theoretical and regulatory framework that is as solid and complete as regards digitization, which analyzes the critical issues of new technologies, which defines the policies for using the network and which responds to the greater security needs related to the global dissemination of data.

Digital diplomacy will also have to adopt a new package of foreign policy rules that do not exclude the presence of advanced ICT resources in the various strategic areas.

 
PRINT EDITION

SUBSCRIPTION

FOUNDATIONS
The Romanian-American Foundation for the Promotion of Education and Culture (RAFPEC)
THE NETWORK
WISEWIDEWEB
Amfiteatru Economic

OEconomica No. 1, 2016