Diplomacy in the Digital Age

By Brian Hocking and Jan Melissen
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Digitalization is increasingly important in determining centre-periphery roles and relationships within the integral network of the MFA and its diplomatic missions.

For the MFA it is of central importance to perform as a significant node in information networks. Networking is the basis of contemporary diplomacy, calling for the development and effective use of 'nodality' tools. This is one of the critical areas of digitalization in the diplomatic field.


This report has been commissioned by the Ministries of Foreign Affairs of Finland and Belgium. We would like to thank Petri Hakkarainen, Acting Director of the Finnish Policy Planning and Research Department, Marc Otte, Director-General Policy Planning and Director of the Egmont Institute in Brussels, as well as Leo Peeters, Director Press and Communication at the Belgian MFA, for their enthusiastic support. We are grateful to two very capable research assistants, Martijn van Lith and Julian Slotman, who have now joined the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the CPB Netherlands Bureau of Economic Policy Analysis.

The authors would like to thank Clingendael Senior Visiting Fellows Paul Sharp and Shaun Riordan for their comments and support, and the Strategy Advisory Unit and the Communications Directorate of the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs for sharing information and materials. Interviews with officials from the Canadian Department of Trade and Development and the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office have also been very helpful to our understanding of digitalization within foreign ministries. A range of experts and practitioners from inside and outside Europe who attended a December 2014 expert seminar hosted by the Egmont Institute in Brussels provided an important impulse to this project, and we are thankful to them for sharing their knowledge of this complex topic. The Finnish Foreign Ministry kindly organized and hosted a seminar on “Diplomacy in the Digital Age” in June 2015, which gave us a first opportunity to share results from this study with an international audience. Jukka Peltonen of the Finnish Foreign Ministry has been very supportive in organizing that event.

In the course of this project we have benefited from exchanging ideas with Corneliu Bjola at Oxford University, and we have met three other 'digital diplomacy' experts who make a contribution to a 2015 special issue of The Hague Journal of Diplomacy on the social media in diplomacy: Ilan Manor from Israel, Juan Luis Manfredi from Spain and Gökhan Yücel from Turkey. We have learned a great deal from discussions with them and their contributions to the journal. In the context of this project we have also collaborated with Jay Wang and other staff at the Centre on Public Diplomacy, University of Southern California, in preparing an online digital diplomacy bibliography.

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