Diplomacy in the Digital Age

By Brian Hocking and Jan Melissen
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail China.org.cn, October 26, 2015
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• Knowledge management: the problem of managing data – including big data – effectively and using resources to best effect.

• Service delivery: utilising digital resources in performing consular work and crisis management.

There are two contrasting ways of looking at the position of diplomacy in the digital age: gradual change and adaptation within the existing frameworks and principles versus a fundamental break with accepted patterns of behaviour, norms and rules.

It is hard to predict how 'digital disruption' – including the positive and negative impact of digitalization on diplomacy – will play out. The picture is complicated by underlying 'offline' trends in diplomatic practice, showing a growing 'hybridity' of diplomacy now paralleled by greater 'hybridity' of the global media.

Digitalization: Diplomatic Processes and Structures

The broader context of diplomatic change and adaptation needs to be analyzed at two levels: diplomatic processes, geared towards the functions of diplomacy, and diplomatic structures, paying special attention to institutions of diplomacy such as foreign ministries.

In the diplomatic arena all things 'online' blend with the 'offline': ICT trends impact on

pre-existing, hybrid modes of diplomacy. Digital diplomacy builds on trends predating web 2.0 based forms of communication and the rise of social media.

Models of diplomacy coalescing around different policy agendas involve distinct digital communication requirements.

The consular diplomacy challenge is the most pressing one, with citizens demanding the speedy delivery of government services meeting both the technological standard set by society and the human touch.

Public diplomacy is the area most often singled out for attention in the digital debate. Social networking sites have created new dynamics and opened up a plethora of previously unimaginable opportunities.

The digital revolution has been accompanied by fundamental changes in international negotiation processes. Hybridity blurs the distinction between 'online' diplomatic activities and 'offline' diplomacy and negotiation.

Structures: digitalization, the national diplomatic system and the MFA

We need to look at the MFA in the broader context of the national diplomatic system (NDS) – that is the totality of departments and agencies involved in the shaping and implementation of international policy.

The MFA forms a subsystem within the NDS and this subsystem requires two sets of tools that can be enabled by digitalization: detectors for acquiring and processing information and effectors for delivering policy.

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