Digital Diplomacy Adviser of the Office of Diplomatic Information
We gallop through a technological revolution that turns the world imagined yesterday into a reality every day. One click to do the shopping and another one to have a conversation. A robot will replace drivers and another one will be able to make a medical diagnosis. An algorithm classifies mass data to predict the results of a candidate for president, and another one will be able to weight them to outline opinion maps on, for example, the course of an international conference.
Digital diplomacy has become a priority for many Foreign Ministries. We navigate fast waters and I wonder what we will not have to change to keep being efficient when pursuing traditional goals. It is not a mere thirst for modernity and it is not simply about adding another tool. A diplomacy measuring up to the times has to be open to reforms to keep protecting the national interests and those of its citizens.
The “eDiplomacy” was born as the need of Foreign Ministries to close the gap with digital natives, looking for channels to reach a generation that gives opinion about their neighbourhood problems as frequently as about international affairs. As a result, diplomats will have to be more receptive and approachable.
Besides, electronic communications mean an extraordinary opportunity to be present in every corner of the planet. If social networks had not been created already, then diplomats would have had to invent them. Videos produced by some Embassies in Spain have had a bigger audience, thanks to their broadcasting on the Internet, than that fitting into a concert hall! Therefore, our ambassadors will tend to be more extrovert, something inseparable from the development of the public diplomacy.
Digital diplomacy has become a priority for many Foreign Ministries
Originally, those who imagined the Internet conceived it as a democratic space of individual freedom, in which people would be given prominence facing the hierarchic power. Some authors refer to these new relations as horizontal, as “liquid societies” in which borders are exceeded. However, constant examples contradict that dream. “If you are not a client, you are the product”. We have to fight for the individual, for the respect for their digital identity and freedom, both in the social cohesion and development international agendas and in those of defence and promotion of the human rights in the 21st century.
On the other hand, by the hand of the advances of the electronic Administration, the consulates of the coming decades will start rendering more online services. By bringing the procedures closer to the citizen’s house, it will be possible to restructure the current distribution of foreign offices, which still responds to the approach of the end of the Cold War. We are witnessing how information and communication can change the structure of the international power, favour changes of regime, and modify the centres of economic growth. Social networks, on their own, are accelerators and multipliers of these changes, but there is more: a fierce competition is on, a competition for the control of the Internet, the knowledge and the information circulating as a source of economic and political benefits. Also for the defence of infrastructures and the national security facing cyber-attacks. Will we have ambassadors to scientific and technological innovation, as we already have them to cybersecurity? Will the centres of forecast and strategy of the departments of foreign policy become less humanistic and more computerized, less historical and more mathematical?
We are probably in the era of the amphibious diplomat, able to move between its traditional habitat and this new liquid world, and, as others in its environment, the Spanish foreign service has started this evolution path. With the digital diplomacy of 2015 and 2016 we chose a model in which, everyone at once, the Spanish diplomats get in contact with social networks, giving importance to this action as the first step of a deeper adaptation, which requires money and will. The Internet is already the essential global infrastructure, and we should better get used to the idea.