Diplomacy, Journalism, and the New Media

Over the course of the past few months I have been conducting research for an article on “Digital Diplomacy” and the implications of the “WikiLeaks/Cablegate” revelations for diplomatic practice and international relations. That piece, when finished and peer reviewed, is scheduled to appear in a forthcoming reference text entitled the Oxford Handbook on Modern Diplomacy.

Reflecting on that enterprise, it has occurred to me that much of what is new in contemporary diplomacy may one way or another be attributed to the emergence of the Internet. Over the space of about twenty years it has displaced other venues as the principal medium for global information exchange and interaction. As more and more people look to the Web as a primary source of information and communication, including e-mail, social networking, video conferencing, and telephony, and as higher transmission speeds and greater bandwidth expand audio and visual streaming possibilities, communications media are converging. In recent years the Internet has edged out newspapers, TV, radio, and conventional telephones as the primary communications medium. Current Web 2.0 applications, featuring an emphasis on networks, wikis, interactivity, file sharing and downloadable “podcasts” – in marked contrast to the simple Web 1.0 presentation of static information – promise to further accelerate this trend.

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WikiLeaks, Diplomacy and the Public Interest

Looking back over the key developments affecting international relations during 2010, the continuing release of over 250,000 US-origin diplomatic communications stands out as especially significant.

The story broke just over a month a month ago, and has been with us every day since. This must already amount to something of an endurance record  given the relentless pressures  of the 24/7 news cycle, and there is much, much more to come.

The WikiLeaks saga raises a host of complex, multifaceted issues. What to make of it all?

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WikiLeaks Revelations: The Implications for Diplomacy

N.B.: The post below was prepared as a guest editorial for e-International Relations. Some of the front end argumentation may be familiar to regular GD readers, but the topic is of sufficient currency that I have presented the piece in its entirety.

In my book Guerrilla Diplomacy, I argue that if development is the new security in the age of globalization, then diplomacy must displace defence at the centre of international policy.

More recently, in a short article on science diplomacy, I observe that when it comes to assessing the role of science and technology (S&T) in international relations, one is confronted by a significant paradox.

Unlike religious extremism or political violence, most of the threats and challenges which imperil life on the planet – climate change, resource scarcity, public health – are rooted in science and driven by technology. While S&T can provide the remedies which contribute materially to the achievement of security and development, for instance through remote sensing, agronomy, or the introduction of game changing information and communication technologies, it can also give rise to the opposite – insecurity and underdevelopment.  Here I refer to the scourge of weapons of mass destruction, the mismanagement of toxic wastes, the repression of human rights and civil liberties, and so forth.

In other words, in addition to its key function as a driver of globalization, when it comes to understanding the dynamics of contemporary international relations, S&T plays the part of a powerful, two-edged sword. It can provide solutions to some of the world’s most vexing problems, even as it creates new ones.

Nowhere has this observation been brought into sharper relief than in the case of the most recent, and on this occasion phased release by WikiLeaks of what will amount eventually to  hundreds of thousands of classified diplomatic reports.  The very technologies which facilitate modern diplomatic communications have also made possible their unauthorized reproduction and mass dissemination.

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