Smith: Are diplomats needed in the digital age?

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October 17, 2011

Diplomats are needed more than ever in the digital age. They must just engage in and be part of that age. This involves more than the knowledge of how to use the technology; it requires cultural change. This normally comes quite naturally as new recruits, familiar with FaceBook and Twitter, replace those for whom email and Internet searches were a challenge. Diplomats of the digital age are dealing with a much vaster number of actors than was the case with people my age (the biblical three score years and ten). There is a much vaster amount of information that is available. Diplomats of the digital age must be able to find the wheat and separate it from the chaff. The skills of analysis have never been more important. Negotiating skills are of critical importance. The same is true for the skills of policy advice, assuming, of course, that such advice is welcomed. Governments will need to let go of the degree of central control that seems now to be established, at least in Canada. The British and the Americans are already moving in this direction. I know thought is being given in Ottawa to the impact of the digital age on diplomacy, more broadly on the management of Canada's foreign relations. This is good news. Given the degree of interdependence in the world and the seriousness of the challenges we face, we need a diplomacy on the cutting edge. That means experimenting with the ways in which Canada's capabilities can be both focused on what matters and projected around the world. Digitally speaking, my handle on Twitter is @GordonSmithG20 – talking about "rapid response," one only has 140 characters to communicate! It can be done.