The Daily Demarche
Sunday, February 13, 2005
How Now Brown Cow?
I was poking around in the nooks and crannies of the Internet today and found an article titled "21st Century Diplomacy" (the paper is 18 pages long, but worth reading). Since we are in the 21st century, and I earn my daily bread in the salt mines of diplomacy I figured this was a good place to stop and read. For your reading pleasure, here is the opening paragraph:

To Abba Eban, the late great Israeli statesman and diplomat, we owe the rediscovery of the following statement which he attributes to President Jefferson: "For two years we have not heard from our ambassador in Spain; if we again do not hear from him this year, we should write him a letter"[2]. Many things have changed in diplomacy since then. And yet, the diplomat's craft[3] has an astounding potential for survival. Its more or less imminent death has been predicted many times, mostly in the context of revolutions in communications technology. Today, of course, we think of the World Wide Web and its consequences for a profession, which relies so much on words and knowledge management. But in all likelihood the advent of the telegraph was even more decisive. When the first dispatch sent by cable reached his desk in Whitehall, Lord Palmerston is reported to have exclaimed: "This is the end of diplomacy". Similarly, Queen Victoria, when consulted whether the British Legation in Rome should be elevated to the status of full Embassy, is said to have immediately rejected this proposal because, in her assessment, given the new telecommunication techniques, the time for ambassadors, their pretensions and privileges were definitely over. [4] Here, of course, Her Majesty was wrong.

Communications around the globe have of course improved dramatically since President Jefferson and Lord Palmerston's day (although we still speak of "cables" and send "telegrams"). But what can we expect from diplomacy in the information age? The author does a fairly good job of describing how diplomats can use technology to stay plugged in to the world around them, and to instantly reach out to colleagues and contacts around the clock and around the world. There are a few topics in the paper, though, relating to Information Technology (IT) that I take serious issue with. Consider the following:

Internet as information tool for the diplomat (emphasis added):

Today it has become quite standard for the modern diplomat to have a tailor made mosaic consisting of the web sites of different national and international news agencies on his or her computer desktop or laptop and to consult them first thing in the morning. Secondly, every diplomat needs to have the homepages of all organisations and institutions, relevant for his work, ready on her or his list of "favourites". Diplomats today will be electronically connected with colleagues all over the world and thus can quickly and informally gather important information. A tremendous shift in the main focus of diplomatic work occurs: no more factual reporting, no tele-copying of documents that in former times would have been obtained only after using a lot of diplomatic charm on some insider. Internet access increases the amount of information readily available. However, this information needs to be sorted and also be put in context. Factual reporting is best left to the public media. Diplomacy, even more than it has done hitherto, must concentrate on in depth analysis and drafting recommendations for action and reaction.

This paper is, of course, written by a European. No American diplomat (I hope) would ever seriously imply that we abandon factual reporting in favor of the media. Which media source are we to rely on? I suppose we could trust the New York Times as the "Paper of Record", no, wait, I forgot about this and this. Ok, maybe the Washington Post? Oh no, there was this. Maybe the Boston Globe. Whoops, this cancels that idea. Surely we can trust CNN, or maybe CBS? Well, maybe not. I would argue that in the information age diplomats must focus on factual reporting more than ever. What we really need, however, is to ween ourselves from the 24 hour news feed and acting on the speculation of some hackneyed "journalist" looking for a scoop.

The author next examines the manner in which various IT innovations should ease the internal processes of diplomacy. Many of the areas he addresses are indeed in place and very effective:
  • direct contacts between all officers,
  • development of an informal reporting style;
  • teamwork: officers can, independently from their geographic location, work together on a report to the minister, a draft statement, a position paper.

I am not certain that these innovations have been instrumental in "speeding up the decision making process", however, but that might just be growing pains as officers less inclined to use new technology retire and are replaced with officers for whom e-mail is the staff of life. The author also discusses the benefits of hyperlinks and web-sites, and I find him to be spot on in his anticipation of the best possible use of these resources, especially when he says:

Web-sites assume an important function in the "representation" of a country, one of the traditional functions of diplomacy. Web-sites need to be professionally developed and maintained. There has to be close co-ordination of the ministry's central web-site and those of missions abroad to prevent contradictions and in order to demonstrate corporate identity

I think the author may have seriously misjudged the current potential for IT, however, in the area of "Negotiating per Internet." He lists advantages ( and I agree with all of them: concentration on content, clarity, lucidity of formulation, less misunderstandings, transparency, easy to maintain record of proposals , etc) and preconditions, but does not really examine the likelihood of these conditions being met. His first two pre-conditions alone are the death knell of this idea:

"partners must share a common view on the purpose of the negotiations and the time frame; [and] ground-rules need to be established (who are the active negotiating partners? with whom can you share the text? who establishes the final text?)"

Diplomats have a hard time deciding how many people should attend a meeting and what shape the table should be, and the author expects the global community to agree to a set of on line protocols? This may be the future of diplomacy, but if it is I would call it a long way off.

So where am I going with this? Back to my current favorite topic: Public Diplomacy. The referenced paper is much more wide ranging than I have alluded to. But it all comes down to this for me (emphasis added):

Many of the above mentioned developments (the nexus between diplomacy and internal politics, the broadening of issues to be dealt with by diplomats, the communication revolution and others) have helped to give prominence to a rather new concept in foreign relations: public diplomacy[27]. The diplomat today is above all a communicator and mediator of positions of his/her own country vis-à-vis all sections of the politically informed public in the host country. The main business is no longer discreet and confidential dealings with the foreign ministry of the host country but public diplomacy aimed at explaining and canvassing support for positions among government circles, parliament, the political parties, the business community, the social partners, the media and representatives of academic and cultural life. For this the diplomat must build up and cultivate a dense and stable network of contacts in all areas of society with a view to becoming actively involved in shaping public opinion in the host country.

I know that some of our readers have their doubts about the efficacy of Public Diplomacy. I see it as the best and brightest hope for American diplomacy. While I am not convinced that PD in it's current form works as well as it could, I do know that there are officers out there in some of the smaller consulates, who are doing amazing things. They are addressing small groups, exposing the host country population to living, breathing representatives of the United States. These officers are what the military calls "force multipliers." They require little in the way of resources and achieve tremendous "bang for the buck." As I have said in previous posts, I think we should all have an aspect of PD in our jobs.

The question is how do we get there? I was somewhat surprised when I reached the end of the report to find that I could not agree more with the author when he asked "What qualifications does the 21st century diplomat need?" and answered himself as follows:

· a pluridisciplinary education;
· linguistic skills;
· patience to listen and observe;
· proficiency in intercultural communication;
· sensitivity to socio-cultural differences;
· feeling comfortable with the latest communications technologies;
· ability to perform at ease in public;
· free of elitism
· service orientation;
· a high level of tolerance;
· neither a "softie" nor the "elbow type";
· readiness for life-long learning, mid career training;
· stress resistance, coolness in crises;
· management skills;
· ability to work in teams; collaborator instead of competitor;
· a keen interest in global issues.

The future is now, and as the dinosaurs of American diplomacy retire the younger generations of officers and staff are going to have to make their voices heard. We need to take a good hard look at the tools we have at our disposal, and out failure to get our message heard. If Euorozone diplomatic recruiting and training is moving in this direction this might be one area where we can learn from our European colleagues.


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dé·marche 1) A course of action; a maneuver. 2) A diplomatic representation or protest 3) A statement or protest addressed by citizens to public authorities.

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