Friday, October 9, 1998

Reinventing Diplomacy in the Information Age

On October 9, 1998, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) released a report called “Reinventing Diplomacy in the Information Age.” As the title suggests, the report urged America to make dramatic changes to the way it conducted its diplomacy. According to the report, America needed to change the way it conducted its diplomacy because of the emergence of the Internet and the new technologies associated with it.

“Unlike the mass media which they are challenging, these new technologies are diffuse, profoundly democratic and highly resistant to central control,” said the report. “Everyone can become a publisher and a broadcaster.”

In the new world order, because of the Internet, the public now had the ability to engage foreigners in a conversation. In other words, the public now had a chance to engage in diplomacy, an idea the authors of the report strenuously agreed with.

“Diplomacy must expand its reach from a closed circle of knowledgeable diplomats to a much broader circle of interested Americans and, as well, to those publics abroad who influence global decision-making,” said CSIS.

These people would be involved in both the deliberation and the implementation of policy.

“The first and highest priority is to end the culture of secrecy and exclusivity to embrace the notions of openness and trust,” said CSIS. “The sense that diplomacy takes place in a closed universe of privileged intellectuals must change. Diplomacy must move from a mandarinate system to one which recognizes the permeability of borders and information.”

In the New Diplomacy, governments must interact with “domestic and foreign publics,” in other words, they must conduct public diplomacy.

“The new diplomacy, as I call it, is, to a large extent, public diplomacy and requires different skills, techniques, and attitudes than those found in traditional diplomacy,” said Canadian Ambassador Allan Gotlieb.

The report called for moving public diplomacy “from the sidelines to the core of diplomacy.”

Public diplomacy involves communicating with a foreign public in an attempt to influence their opinions and beliefs. At the time of this report, the U.S. government considered the attempt to influence foreign public opinion (public diplomacy) and the attempt to influence domestic public opinion (public affairs) as two separate endeavors. The CSIS report urged the government to remove the distinction between the two and include public affairs in public diplomacy.

“In a world with porous borders, messages can no longer be pigeonholed as domestic or foreign,” said the report.

Traditionally, governments carry out public diplomacy but the report urged America to redefine public diplomacy to include allowing the public to engage in the conduct of diplomacy. Presumably, this meant that America would try to get its citizens to influence public opinion in foreign countries.

While allowing for new actors, the report recognized that existing actors would still have to play a part. For example, the report noted that the editorial page of the New York Times conducted diplomacy in an informal manner. I would also add the Washington Post to the list of diplomatic actors, though the report failed to mention them.

To change the current system of diplomacy, the report recommended bringing together “a team of like-minded leaders who were united in their passion for change.” CSIS believed success would require “both risk-taking and a conviction that the eventual results would quiet the criticism.”

What the government did certainly involved risk taking, but I don’t think the results quieted the criticism, quite the opposite, in fact.

I am one of the people involved in this New Diplomacy. I never agreed to take part. The government has some sort of way of forcing ideas into a person’s mind. Over the past several years, they have forced all sorts of ideas into my mind, many of which I have communicated through my blog and through other websites.

You can read a history of my activities and how this process played out on this blog.

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