International

How technology changes the world of diplomacy

Tanzania embassy

The 1998 bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Tanzania was one of the events leading to the acceleration of electronic diplomacy in the State Department, according to a new report.

The increasing use of social media, mobile apps and other technology is changing the way diplomacy works, according to a new Brookings Institute report. And the U.S. State Department is at the forefront of that change.

The report, written by Fergus Hanson and called "Baked In and Wired: eDiplomacy@State," traces the department's adoption of electronic tools to the bombings of two U.S. embassies in 1998, and credits Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former Secretary Condoleezza Rice with accelerating the effort.

However, Hanson notes that technology brings risks as well as opportunities for foreign ministries. In summarizing both sides of the coin, he offers this list:

  • The opportunity to influence and speak directly and more frequently to large audiences, which can in turn build political influence. In the case of State, this involves its emergence as a de facto media empire.
  • The opportunity to segment audiences and target messages to key groups.
  • Broadening awareness among diplomats of political and social movements that are driven from the bottom up by providing an early warning capability.
  • The chance to listen to voices and receive information previously unavailable to diplomats. With the new opportunity to monitor the views of so many people on so many topics all the time, technology should help good listeners to better understand the complexity of politics, society and culture beyond the elite views represented in traditional diplomatic sources.
  • The risk of economically costly damage to a country‚Äôs reputation or key exports in incredibly short time-frames.
  • The challenge of competing for a voice when everyone can communicate and, in some cases, with individuals or organizations that are more successful at controlling a foreign policy message than governments.

The full report is available on the Brookings web site.

About the Author

Technology journalist Michael Hardy is a former FCW editor.

Featured

  • Cybersecurity

    DHS floats 'collective defense' model for cybersecurity

    Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen wants her department to have a more direct role in defending the private sector and critical infrastructure entities from cyberthreats.

  • Defense
    Defense Secretary James Mattis testifies at an April 12 hearing of the House Armed Services Committee.

    Mattis: Cloud deal not tailored for Amazon

    On Capitol Hill, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis sought to quell "rumors" that the Pentagon's planned single-award cloud acquisition was designed with Amazon Web Services in mind.

  • Census
    shutterstock image

    2020 Census to include citizenship question

    The Department of Commerce is breaking with recent practice and restoring a question about respondent citizenship last used in 1950, despite being urged not to by former Census directors and outside experts.

Stay Connected

FCW Update

Sign up for our newsletter.

I agree to this site's Privacy Policy.