Digital diplomacy: All sweetness and light?

by daryl.copeland on June 14, 2015

Blogger’s note: Since early April I have been on the road almost constantly – teaching at the Diplomatic Academy of Vienna, visiting my son in Greece, speaking at a digital diplomacy conference in Yerevan, traveling in Armenia, Ngorno Karabakh and Georgia, participating in a “Diplohack ” session in Ottawa, and now winding up a science diplomacy workshop in Trieste prior to undertaking some travel in NE Italy, Slovenia and Croatia until the end of the month. All of that has conspired to distract me from my customary habit of regular postings – but it has also furnished me with some new ideas and much useful material for future posts.

That will resume shortly.  In the meantime following is a slightly edited summary (full report here) of the remarks I delivered last month in Yerevan as prepared by the event organizers.

Daryl Copeland, Senior Fellow, Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute, broadened the perspective by suggesting a variety of ways in which digital technologies are fundamentally changing the ways that foreign ministries do business, not just in social media but in their core functions as well. For instance, Copeland discussed the unappreciated potential for the creation of  “virtual desks,” which which would be enabled by the Internet, serve a diverse variety of functions, and would feature lateral connectivity in order to address  the challenges of bureaucratic process and hierarchic, authoritarian . These could exist in contrast to traditional country desks, which are typically organized vertically, with a focus on a specific function. virtual desks would allow individuals to become empowered because the top-down  totem pole would no longer matter – what matters is the node in the network, such as the virtual desk. This would lead to outcomes where, as Copeland argued, “it’s about clicks, not bricks.” On the other hand, Copeland was also quick to point out limitations of digital technology in diplomacy. Copeland argued that social media is ephemeral and impersonal in nature, highly vulnerable to manipulation and disruption and not conducive to relationship building based on confidence, trust, and respect. These are, of course, precisely the types of relationships that states normally seek to nurture through diplomacy. In the end, networks and technological tools do not in themselves build relationships. Networks are necessary but not sufficient. Diplomacy is  ultimately a contact sport. There is no substitute for face-to-face contact and genuine, interersonal dialogue. Platitudes about digital technologies may be fashionable, but in the end cannot change diplomacy’s core essence.

 

 

 

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Editor`s note: This article is the second part of a feature  co-authored with my CDFAI colleague and friend Colin Robertson. We served together in the Canadian foreign service for 30 years.

 

The new diplomatic dialectic

The days of designated envoys speaking only with each other about the business of government have gone forever. Diplomats now have to engage with whole societies, creating partnerships and exchanging meaningfully not just with the usual suspects, but with strange bedfellows as well.

In short, public diplomacy has in important respects become the new diplomacy. In consequence, the epicentre of diplomatic practice must move out of the shadows and into the light.
That said, no amount of Twiplomacy, virtuality, digital dexterity or technological savvy will ever be able to substitute for face to face contact, cross-cultural communications, and the ability to cultivate relationships based on confidence, trust and respect.

At its core, diplomacy will remain a contact sport.

A cultural, but also a substantive revolution

Even by comparative bureaucratic measure, foreign ministries are conservative, rganizationally silohed institutions. With their faces to the world but backs to their own citizens, they are friendless and isolated. Social relations are hierarchic, communications are vertical, authority is unquestioned and risk is averted.

In the 21st century that combination represents a dead end, a fast track to irrelevance.

Risk must be managed, innovation relentlessly pursued, and failure treated as a learning experience, all within an institution that values and provides continuous learning – again, something the modern military does very well.

In terms of content, political and multilateral relations will remain central features of diplomacy, but the articulation of sound trade, commercial and investment policies are equally important as keys to a prosperous and peaceful future.

There is also a need to reach international agreement on rules governing cyber and space – both enable globalization, but they also offer terrible possibilities for chaos and destruction.

Finding effective ways to pursue the just and joint management of the global commons has become job one. [click to continue…]

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Editor`s note: This article was co-authored with my CDFAI colleague and friend Colin Robertson. We served together in the Canadian foreign service for 30 years.

 

The world is an ever more complicated place and diplomacy, the world’s second oldest profession, matters more than ever before. But it is a different form of diplomacy – embracing the tools of technology and recognizing that globalization has both flattened the old hierarchies and added new complexities.

For Canada, diplomacy is more than a tool of statecraft. As a country that still puts a premium on attracting immigrants from abroad, a part of our identity is dependent on how we behave and how we are seen internationally.

For those reasons and more, Canadian diplomacy is and must be a manifestation of our values, policies and interests.

Joining the Foreign Service over three decades ago was to enter what was still mostly a brotherhood. Women were few, and the atmosphere was almost clubby. Indeed, the hallmarks resembled in some respects those of a religious order, if perhaps more Jesuitical than Dominican.

Contemporary foreign service is not a priesthood, nor is the foreign ministry a cathedral.

And diplomacy is not liturgy.

In Chapters and Indigo bookstores across the country, shoppers are encouraged to believe that: “The world needs more Canada.” To deliver on that promise, a thoroughgoing process of secular diplomatic reform will be essential.

The approaching election is a good time to consider our international policies, diplomatic practice and the foreign service itself. [click to continue…]

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The government has announced that it will table a motion in Parliament to extend and expand the bombing, training and special operations mission in Iraq. Syria may now also be included.

Joining this mission was unnecessary; continuing and expanding it will compound the costs.

Canada need not participate in this campaign. Following are five reasons why the application of armed force is ill-advised:

It doesn’t work. Look no further than the disastrous results of recent Western military interventions. Afghanistan, where support for the Mujahidin gave way to the creation of al-Qaeda, is fractured and failing. Libya, where conditions of life once topped the African continent on the UNDP’s Human Development Index, is imploding. In Iraq, the current problem with ISIL is a direct result of the security, governance and justice vacuum engendered by the ruinous US-led invasion and occupation 2003-11.

Blowback, big time. [click to continue…]

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Last August I attended a conference in entitled 1814, 1914, 2014: Lessons from the Past, Visions for the Future, organized jointly by the International Peace Institute (IPI) and the Salzburg Global Seminar. Over the course of that event, and despite whatever else may have been learned about the nature and impact of industrial-scale violence, it became clear that there is a fundamental problem. The multilateral institutions crafted in the middle of the 20th century are underperforming and largely unfit for purpose in the 21st. Absent some sort of significant transformation, peace and prosperity will therefore remain elusive. Or worse.

Thus arose the idea of undertaking a comprehensive review of the institutions which, writ large, comprise the “international system” with a view to formulating proposals for change. The UN and its specialized agencies will figure centrally, but the role of regional bodies such as ASEAN the OAS, SCO and AU, as well as non-traditional actors, including NGOs, philanthropic foundations, and multinational business will also be evaluated.

Christened the Independent Commission of Multilateralism, or ICM, this initiative is supported by the governments of Norway, the United Arab Emirates, and – somewhat surprisingly – Canada. It was launched in September by its Chair, former Australian PM Kevin Rudd, and will be co-chaired by the Foreign Ministers of Canada and Norway, as well as the former President and Prime Minister of Timor-Leste, José Ramos-Horta. India’s former Ambassador to the UN, Hardeep Singh Puri, will serve as Secretary General.

However important, political and bureaucratic machinations of this sort rarely fire the public imagination; the ICM has to date flown largely below the radar. An initial round of international consultations with experts and stakeholders will be held this weekend in New York. Discussions will focus on an examination of new global challenges, the evolution of organized violence, the current multilateral architecture, and recommendations for reform. A final report will be released in 2016. [click to continue…]

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For Canada’s new Foreign Minister? A three point plan

by daryl.copeland on February 18, 2015

As the dust settles in the wake of John Baird’s abrupt departure from the Foreign Affairs portfolio, little has been ventured about his successor, former Defence Minister Rob Nicholson. Given the new minister’s long record in government, we might reliably anticipate a steady, if somewhat slow hand on the tiller at Fort Pearson, and the quiet, if unquestioning execution of the PM’s ideologically-driven agenda.

My former colleague Paul Heinbecker recently offered Mr. Nicholson some useful advice on repairing the damage associated with Mr. Baird’s controversial legacy. These proposals are related mainly to specific foreign policy issues, and I have no particular qualms with the priorities set forth.

That said, the challenges associated with the restoration of this country’s place in the world are profound and far-reaching. Addressing them will require remedial action affecting all elements of the diplomatic ecosystem – the foreign ministry, foreign service, and diplomatic practice – as well as grand strategy and the Canadian brand. [click to continue…]

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Out of Afghanistan? Still counting the costs

by daryl.copeland on December 30, 2014

Thirteen years after the campaign began, NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) formally ended combat operations in Afghanistan on 28 December. A residual foreign military presence of about 18,000 troops, the Resolute Support Mission, will stay on for counter-terrorism purposes and provide training and logistical assistance to Afghan police and security forces.

With rising Afghan civilian and military casualties, and Taliban gains amidst generally deteriorating conditions, there was little to celebrate at the secret handover ceremony. That event received only passing media attention – surprising given the exceptional human and financial costs associated with this intervention.

As coalition members rush for the exits, there have been many attempts to explain what went wrong, which by my reckoning includes just about everything. That said, few in positions of authority are admitting failure. Clearly, among responsible senior officials, more than a few of whom managed to eke a promotion or two out of the war, there is no appetite for a searching retrospective.

While awaiting the attribution of some form of culpability for the wilful blindness which plagued the ISAF mission, it may be useful to look ahead with a view to identifying some of the main winners and losers. [click to continue…]

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Reporting on the historic resumption of diplomatic ties between the USA and Cuba has tended to focus on the details of the agreement and the likely impact on domestic politics and bilateral relations. Beyond the spectacle of longstanding political and ideological adversaries coming to terms after a hiatus of over fifty years, there are a number of additional implications which deserve examination. [click to continue…]

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Canada and the world today: Cold comfort, little joy

by daryl.copeland on December 19, 2014

As Christmas approaches and 2014 winds down, a survey of major political and economic developments suggests that the prospects for a more peaceful and prosperous world are receding.

Thanks to the emergence of the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, the much-maligned Global War on Terror (GWOT), which only a year ago seemed to be waning, has received an enormous boost. The name may have changed, but terrorism and radical Islam remain at the top of the threat list for most Western governments. While large scale invasions and occupations have – for now – fallen into well-deserved disrepute, that space has been filled by a combination of drone and air strikes, special operations, cyber attacks and mass surveillance.

Torture and abduction – a.k.a. enhanced interrogation and extraordinary rendition – have been curbed, but not forgotten. Guantanamo Bay still festers like an open sore, a poster for jihadi recruiters everywhere. Occasional episodes of Islamist-inspired domestic violence, however vaguely motivated, receive saturation coverage in the Western media and ensure that the politics of fear and social control remain the order of the day.

Such circumstances have eroded the foundations of freedom and democracy and permitted the imposition of constraints on civil liberties, constitutional rights and the rule of law. [click to continue…]

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A time of remembrance… and of forgetting

by daryl.copeland on November 19, 2014

For those with an interest in foreign policy, military history, and geopolitics, this month has been rich.

Canadians marked a pair of significant commemorations – November 9th, the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, and November 11th, Remembrance (or Armistice) Day, which in 2014 fell during 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War One.

Much has been made of these events. The festivities in Berlin punctuated a quarter century of European transformation. A few days later at the National War Memorial in Ottawa, an unusually large crowd gathered to honour all those who have served in the Canadian military, and in particular those whose names alone ‘liveth for evermore”.

Late October’s tragic killings in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu and Ottawa heightened Canadians’ shared sense of both empathy and loss.

What larger implications might be drawn?

The Great War reminds us of what can happen when citizens and politicians “sleepwalk” over the precipice, defer critical decision-making to generals and admirals, or otherwise invite the sort of conflagration which ensues when obsolete doctrines fail and industrial processes are harnessed in service of mass violence. Less appreciated, but at least as debilitating as was the 1918-20 Spanish Flu pandemic, which killed many times the number of the war’s 8.5 million dead.

The problem of inattention to the management of non-traditional security threats, from climate change to resource scarcity, remains acute.

Berlin’s re-emergence as the dynamic capital of Europe’s most powerful country is in some respects even more consequential, signifying the end of the Cold War, German re-unification, and the eastward expansion of NATO and the EU. If the “end of history” has not quite delivered a knock-out punch in favour of markets and neoliberalism, Berlin’s ascent nonetheless stands as a powerful symbol of peace and prosperity.

Despite its annexation of Crimea and meddling in Ukraine, today Russia threatens few beyond its “near abroad”. And while the financial crisis and colossal strategic miscalculation in Iraq resulted in the premature eclipse of the USA’s unipolar moment, broader Western prospects remain reasonably bright, even in the face of a rising Asia-Pacific. At minimum, the Doomsday Clock, though still ticking, no longer hangs over a world mere moments away from the possibility of nuclear Armageddon.

The “international system”, in other words, though in flux and not functioning especially well, faces few fundamental challenges to its survival. The religious extremism and political violence used with such effect by the Islamic State, however horrifying, do not compare to the hazards of world war.

Still, this November, on the occasion of two particularly poignant anniversaries, Canadians have ample reason to reflect. The question might be put: from these many acts of remembrance, what, if anything, has been learned?

Perhaps even more to the point, what elements previously associated with this country’s global engagement might have been lost or forgotten? [click to continue…]

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In the wake of last week’s disturbing events in Saint-Jean-sur-Richileau and Ottawa, Canadian policy and decision-makers are turning their attention to remedial action. So far, rather than a rigorous re-assessment and course correction, indications are that we are headed for more of the same, but possibly worse.

By way of alternatives, what would constitute an effective response to the combined threats posed by ISIS abroad and political violence at home?  Changes will be required in both domestic and international policy, but the best defence will have little to do with the application of armed force or the imposition of more stringent security measures.

A coherent strategy could give expression to five recommendations: [click to continue…]

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In my last posting, I made the case for radical diplomatic reform as an alternative to the use of armed force in international relations.

How would that work?

A bit of background. Last month I attended an international conference in Salzburg which marked the centenary of World War One. It was entitled Architects or Sleepwalkers: 1814, 1914, 2014 – Lessons from the Past, Visions for the Future.

Participants were searching for ways to avoid the disastrous mistakes of the past century, during which two world wars and a Cold War killed tens of millions. I argued that although there are no military solutions to the most vexing challenges at present facing the planet, a cosmetic makeover of the diplomatic status quo will not suffice. At minimum, ten transformative steps will be required: [click to continue…]

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It is September, the seasons are changing, and Canadians have every reason to feel uneasy.

The erstwhile global village is today looking more and more like a patchwork of gated communities surrounded by a roiling wasteland of violent and terrifying shantytowns.

Over the course of the summer – and  undoubtedly much to the delight of Abu Bakr al Baghdadi – the media has delivered saturation coverage of the Islamic State on the rampage, Iraq fissuring, carnage in Gaza, civil war in Libya, Russian adventurism in the Ukraine, state failure in Afghanistan, rising tensions in the East and South China Seas…

The torrent of troubles has been unrelenting.

Twenty-five years after the end of the Cold War, and just when the ill-starred Global War on Terror seemed finally to be winding down, our political and opinion leaders seem convinced that Western civilization is once again being menaced, this time by new iterations of both threats: a revived, and particularly strident version of Russian revanchism, and a media-savvy, unusually treacherous form of Islamist terrorism operating out of a reconstructed Caliphate.

Be afraid, be very afraid… [click to continue…]

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When it comes to Western attempts at armed intervention, the record of recent years – in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya – speaks convincingly for itself.

Unprecedented gains by the Islamic State (IS) in Iraq have drawn the U.S. military back into the fray and have been accompanied by horrendous civilian carnage. The country is politically fractured and the state failing.

A controversial election in Afghanistan, with a highly contested outcome, has been followed by a putative deal on cobbling together a “unity” government. Meanwhile, another instance of “green on blue” insider killings has underscored the parlous prospects facing this “graveyard of empires” following NATO’s withdrawal.

Enough? Not quite. Although not covered nearly as prominently as developments in Iraq or Afghanistan, recent weeks have brought dissolution, civil war and generalized regression in Libya.

* * * * * * * * * *

What to make of these events? Above all, it appears that costly Western experiments with the attempted imposition of military solutions in the face of complex, multi-dimensional civil conflicts have served mainly to make matters worse.

The latest example of this form of “blowback” is Libya, which is by all accounts in uncharted waters and  descending into chaos. For the Libyan people, who until recently enjoyed Africa’s highest standing on the UN’s Human Development Index, this outcome represents an unmitigated disaster, with no end in sight.

Could such a catastrophe have been avoided?

Almost certainly.

Have decision-makers and opinion-leaders learned from their mistakes? Not likely. The burden of evidence from the misadventures in Afghanistan and Iraq was already clear at the time of the Libyan intervention, yet those lessons were ignored. Little wonder that the victory celebrations rung hollow.

If this all seems too discouraging, brace yourself.

The larger picture is even more troubling. [click to continue…]

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