Copeland: Are diplomats needed in the digital age?

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October 17, 2011


Diplomacy is an approach to the management of international relations founded upon the use of non-violent political communications such as dialogue, negotiation and compromise for purposes of conflict resolution and problem-solving. In my experience, many serving diplomats are not entirely sure of that definition, or of how their work contributes to the achievement of international peace, security and prosperity. That observation notwithstanding, I would argue that diplomacy has never been more relevant.

Digital diplomacy, which is also referred to variously as e-,  i- cyber or virtual diplomacy, is part of what has been widely referred to as the  new diplomacy. That activity has been made possible by the adoption, within diplomatic institutions and government more generally, of digitally-based systems of data creation, transmission and storage using the Internet, social media platforms, computers, and a variety of wireless electronic devices.




The diplomatic means, therefore, are evolving to keep pace with the times, but the ends are largely immutable.

The threat or use of armed force will always have its place in the world, but that place is now dramatically over-represented. Since the end of the Cold War, and in the wake of disasters in Iraq and Afghanistan, the limitations associated with the continued militarization of international policy could not be clearer. The reality is that the most profound threats and challenges which imperil the planet - climate change, resource scarcity, diminishing bio-diversity, environmental collapse - are rooted in science and driven by technology. International cooperation to broach these complex and difficult issues cannot be undertaken using anything other than diplomacy, whether traditional,  public, digital,  or guerrilla
, which combines elements of all three. 

Because long-term, sustainable and human-centred development has become the basis for durable security in the digital age, diplomacy must displace defence at the centre of international policy. In a globalized precincts of the 21st century, talking rather than fighting is the only way forward.