Digital Diplomacy And Its Implications In The 21st Century

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Gulsara JABBARLI

What is Digital Diplomacy?

The ability of a nation to attain policy goals in the name of national interest is the main component of foreign policy, and diplomacy is the preferred approach. States can use diplomacy to express their foreign policy goals and coordinate their efforts via conversation and agreements to sway the actions and choices of other countries. However, the information and communication technology (ICT) revolution has profoundly altered how nations interact with one another, their populations, and non-state actors. This revolution affected how other countries behaved, and future ICT decisions revolutionised diplomatic involvement with the development of digital diplomacy. Government-to-government contact, which had previously been the status quo, has changed, and social media has led to a rise in people-to-people and people-to government engagement. While the effects of this relatively new phenomenon are still being studied, it is clear that there are certain consequences on international relations, and that Sri Lanka stands to benefit enormously.

People all across the world now have new chances because of digital technology. They have also developed into important competitive factors that can alter the power dynamic. EU Digital Diplomacy seeks to safeguard the EU’s leadership position globally in the digital sphere, safeguard its strategic interests, and advance its flexible, human-centric legislative framework for a broad-based digital transformation.

Definition of Digital Diplomacy

Although it is growing in importance, there is currently no official definition for digital diplomacy. Although some organisations have made an effort to define the phrase specifically, it is nevertheless often used ambiguously. Due to the absence of a clear definition, academics have studied digital diplomacy in a variety of ways, concentrating on topics including cyber security, social media, and internet governance. Another factor contributing to this lack of specificity is the fact that numerous titles for digital diplomacy are frequently used. The phrases “cyber-diplomacy,” “net-diplomacy,” “e-diplomacy,” and “Twiplomacy” have all been used interchangeably by academics. Despite having nearly identical meanings, each prefix refers to a different aspect of the subject that must be utilised appropriately. For instance, “cyber” is frequently used to address security concerns, “e” is frequently used to discuss business-related topics, and “twi” should only be used to expressly refer to Twitter. Although the interchangeable use of these terms may appear innocent, it helps explain why digital diplomacy cannot be precisely defined. Digital diplomacy is defined as “describes new methods and modes of conducting diplomacy with the help of the internet and ICTs, and describes their impact on contemporary diplomatic practices,” according to DiploFoundation, an organisation that focuses on the relationship between digital technology and diplomacy. In recent times, diplomats and political leaders have begun to recognize how they can use the popularity of technology in this digital age to enhance their international relations and ultimately further the interests of their country.

Advantages of Digital Diplomacy

Digital diplomacy is becoming more and more popular, which implies that there must be advantages to using it; thus, it is crucial to examine some of these advantages. The capability of digital diplomacy to promote two-way communication is one of its most alluring features. The digital sphere “opens new possibilities from one-on-one interactions to dialogues with communities,” according to Rudolf Bekink, the ambassador of the Netherlands to the United States. As has already been noted, conventional diplomatic techniques solely focused on meetings between government personnel. Government officials continued to solely contact the public on a general level, frequently speaking to them through one-sided radio broadcasts, despite the adoption of public diplomacy’s intention to change this. Government representatives may now directly engage with certain audiences and people thanks to the growth of social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook. These channels for two-way communication make it feasible for people to exert new kinds of influence over their government. These discussions with the public help governments better understand the public sentiment on certain subjects, which benefits their foreign policy in the end.

One of the better instances of this was provided by William Hague, the UK Foreign Secretary, who utilised his Twitter account to introduce the “Meet the Foreign Secretary” programme. With the promise of awarding some participants with the chance to see him, he invited his followers to tweet him with their suggestions on what they believed the Foreign Office’s objectives should be in the future years. A demonstration of how social media can provide the public a forum to participate in discussions about foreign policy, hundreds of individuals tweeted their thoughts in response to Hague. Also well-known for their internet engagements are other international officials. For instance, the Dutch government’s Twitter account dedicates every workday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. to respond to inquiries from its followers, while according to reports, 81% of Paul Kagame’s tweets are answers to other users. These interactions have become simpler because of new social media capabilities like Twitter polls and Facebook live video chat.

Similar to how it has made it simple for diplomats and world leaders to expand their diplomatic networks and forge strategic alliances, social media has opened up new opportunities for communication. Diplomats no longer have a monopoly on information since digitization has made so much information readily available online. A new motivation for diplomats to leave their restricted network of elites has been created by this loss of influence, which has allowed other non-state players to become more valued than they were previously. Government officials may now do this with ease thanks to social media. These websites have been used by government officials to communicate with one another, but they connect with people far more often. Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, acknowledges how frequently diplomats utilise social media to engage with younger generations. More instances of this may be seen in the work of the DOS’s Digital Outreach Team, which has created profiles on well-known online discussion boards in the languages of Arabic, Urdu, and Persian to interact with people in the Middle East.

The Effects of Digital Diplomacy on International Relations

The network of diplomacy has moved away from paper and the physical world and onto a virtual network of digital links as a result of the development of a global platform through digital diplomacy. The removal of the physical constraints on decision-making has facilitated greater information availability and the development of virtual implementation frameworks. Additionally, information has spread faster because of digital diplomacy, especially amid major crises. The correctness, which affects the repercussions and management of the information, is not taken into account in this extraordinarily rapid transmission of information. Since many people are being quarantined due to the COVID-19 (Coronavirus outbreak), several nations have utilised social media to communicate with their residents and the rest of the globe. Additionally, digital diplomacy has made it possible for diplomatic services to be supplied to both their citizens and those of other nations more quickly and affordably, which has improved the efficiency of embassies and allowed them to operate with fewer staff members. Digital diplomacy has numerous advantages, but it also has some concerns, such as data leaking, hacking, and user anonymity.

Digital diplomacy has already been effectively used by several nations. Germany used digital platforms in 2014 to crowdsource suggestions and opinions for their annual assessment of their foreign policy. Vladimir Putin, the president of Russia, recognised digital diplomacy as one of the most useful instruments for foreign policy in 2012 and urged diplomats to make use of social media. When the civil crisis in Libya broke out in 2011, the Ministry of External Affairs in India utilised Twitter to evacuate 18,000 Indian people there, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi has urged his diplomats to “stay ahead of the curve on digital diplomacy.”States which do not engage in digital diplomacy risk falling behind, and yet it seems that low to middle-income countries may be able to massively benefit from this phenomenon.

The Challenges of Digital Diplomacy in the Era of Globalization: The Case of the United Arab Emirates

As part of its foreign policy, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has embraced digital diplomacy. To analyse the difficulties faced by UAE digital diplomacy, this research employs case study methodology through in-depth interviews with Emirati officials, researchers, and practitioners of foreign policy who are stationed in the UAE. Despite embracing globalisation and the related digital tools to further its foreign policy, the UAE faces deglobalization issues that jeopardise the full potential of digital diplomacy. Institutionally, this entails issues with state security and censorship, media restrictions, organisational culture, workforce issues, and linguistic difficulties. In terms of structure, the UAE also has to contend with issues like a poor reputation in the region, difficulty identifying and targeting audiences, keeping up with a fast-paced global media environment, fake news from adversarial sources, used by nonstate actors, a culture of anonymity, the danger of cyberattacks, and technical and digital divides. The outcome of the UAE’s digital diplomacy will ultimately depend on whether or not it can strike the correct balance between digital empowerment and regulation to meet valid national security concerns.

References

  • Osman Antwi-Boateng Khadija Ali Mohammed Al Mazrouei, “The Challenges of Digital Diplomacy in the Era of Globalization: The Case of the United Arab Emirates”, https://ijoc.org/index.php/ijoc/article/viewFile/16150/3583 
  • Aktaş, H. (2021), “Digital Diplomacy and Its Implications in the 21st Century”

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