Diplomacy is shifting from tedious traditional diplomacy to proactive and online digital diplomacy. How are governments across the world making difference in digital diplomacy?
India as the host of the G20 presidency has chalked out the widest scale of digital diplomacy. The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) is gearing up to showcase the full spectrum of its digital diplomacy when the leaders of the G20 nations will gather in New Delhi in September.
The population of the world is approximately 8 billion and as per Digital 2022 Global Overview Report 59% of the global population is active social media user with 5.1% active growth. The 12.5 trillion hours online spent by global citizens established remarkable growth and showcased the deep penetration of the Internet in a global society.
In 2017, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark appointed Casper Klynge as the Tech Ambassador. It was the first appointment of its kind worldwide. His appointment was for Silicon Valley.
“The world is changing and rapidly moving from offline to online. Diplomacy must adapt,” said Danish Ambassador to India Freddy Svane as Denmark becomes the first such nation to appoint a tech ambassador.
“And India has taken digitisation into its development agenda. Digital transformation needs diplomacy, Ambassador Freddy adds on the rapid adaptation of digital tools for Indian diplomacy.
In a first step, India inaugurated the ISRO’s South Asia Satellite to address critical communications and services for South Asian countries. However, the MEA is looking at comprehensive digital diplomacy as the key strategy which can prove beneficial for India.
Take a look at the worldwide shits in foreign policies where digital diplomacy is affecting geopolitics.
India’s digital outreach
In some way, the MEA has pioneered the use of digital technologies and social media platforms. In fact, the MEA India Facebook page, which was created in 2012, is the most liked and followed Foreign Ministry page in the world. The MEA took to Twitter as early as 2011 by launching Twitter handles –@MEA India and @IndianDiplomacy – which focus on creating a positive cultural narrative for Brand India.
Way back, the Ministry launched #AsktheSpokesperson – the first of its kind initiative on Twitter wherein it invited questions on India’s foreign policy from the public on social media and the selected questions were responded to by the Official Spokesperson live on Twitter.
The MEA creates a substantial mix of content comprising press statements, speeches, joint statements, appointments of new ambassadors, and soft stories on Indian arts and culture.
China’s shift towards Digital Geopolitics
The Chinese shift towards digital diplomacy is one of the key policy directions which is going to impact the traditional conducts and tools of diplomacy. Some might call it – disruption.
In 2018 Chinese diplomats activated the 301 diplomatic Twitter accounts to advocate Beijing’s policies at the international level. Initially, the China-US trade dispute triggered such initiatives. China’s Digital Diplomacy efforts are galvanised to reach global citizens.
In 2022, Carl Miller, Co-Founder of The Centre for the Analysis of Social Media (CASM) Technologies published his report after a deep analysis of 1,00,000 social media messages through bespoke algorithms posted by Chinese Diplomats. During the analysis, it was found that a multi-lingual approach was adopted by the Chinese diplomats to float 1,00,000 messages. The messages were circulated by Facebook and Twitter through 393 Confucius Institutes, Diplomats, Chinese Consular Officials, and the social media account of the Chinese Foreign Ministry. It had been observed during the period from the start of 2021 to the end of September of that particular year by using multi-lingual machine learning(ML) and sophisticated AI (Artificial Intelligence) models.
And their overall global engagements could be measured by the average of 64.9 likes per Twitter and 38.7 likes per Facebook messages. The messages were not generated randomly, they were fabricated based on global geo-political themes with sophisticated regional variation.
Digital Platforms and Mutation of Beliefs
How is digital diplomacy unfolding? And how the tools of modern diplomacy are changing fast across the world?
Amit Das, who is heading the Center for AI, and Machine Learning, at ICFAI University, has brought out some fascinating accounts of digital diplomacy at work in geopolitics. He says the rapid growth in digital technologies is redefining the values, beliefs, responsibilities, and logical capabilities of the natives of the countries.
Das calls it the ‘Mutation of Beliefs’. “The changing norms of society and the deep encroachment of digitalization are creating dynamic mutations of beliefs and thought processes. Digital tools are providing a vast amount of processed information readily available to society.”
“From heterogeneous sources through the internet and social media, citizens access a wide range of information. Those set of information may be true or misinformation or false information,” Das points out the opportunities and the challenges at the same time.
Countries are serious about this new fusion of problems and adopting resilient technological solutions to handle such issues. Globally countries are trying to prepare a roadmap and policies for the smooth running of the digital society. Das says the new world of borderless digital societies is affecting the countries’ diplomatic relationships. The limited technological capabilities and the strong challenges of digital society are enforcing governments to establish good relationships with the tech giants locally and globally.
“Digital platforms or ICTs (Information and Communication Technologies) are necessary for the local government to enhance governance up to each level of society. Globally countries are appointing Tech Ambassadors to establish cordial relations with tech giants,” he further explains.
The UK government took the lead in leveraging ICT for diplomacy when in 2014 British Prime Minster David Cameron formed a position of a special diplomat in his office to handle the various technical issues between the government and US tech companies.
Another EU country, Estonia launched E-Residency in 2014, offering a digital identity program which gives the right to the people to utilize the Estonian Government services and to start a business in Estonia. The benefits of E-Residency are Digital Identity, Business Registration, Banking, Taxation, and the facility to access the EU Market. In fact, Estonia went as far as to adopt the Digital Twinning technique to be part of its diplomatic outreach.
“This modish technomancy is multi-stakeholder diplomacy by nature, enclosing government, society, and global digital companies for the nation’s interest, Das outlines.
In fact, In July 2022, the Council of the European Union announced Council Conclusions on EU Digital Diplomacy to access the massive opportunities to expand foreign policy and engagement with other countries. “The EU is also serious about handling the digital security hybrid threats and reducing the counter effects of misinformation such as foreign information manipulation and interference (FIMI),” Das adds to the growing list of countries, making a shift in devising its national framework for diplomacy under the framework of foreign policies.
Digital platforms swing the world
Digital technologies are changing the diplomacy of the world and are one of the major parameters for the geopolitical balance of power. Das says, “Digitization is the non-state actor which could easily influence the behaviour or change the belief of the friend or enemy state without using army.
“The expansion of digital platforms is increasing the probability of cyber threats and cyber-attacks in society. The resultant effect of those attacks could be higher due to rapid growth of digital societies and digital economy.”
Due to the complex and specific nature of the cyber-attacks, the situation is demanding a strong digital alliance and partnership between governments, tech companies and non-governmental organizations. “…so, it is time to strengthen the international cyber rules to stop the cyber-attacks and create the strong cyber security frame for citizens, institutions and critical infrastructures,” Das emphasized.
Advanced digital technologies, widespread digital networks, intelligent algorithms and powerful data are forcing governments to develop strategic foresight with practical insights to align with digital global politics.
“All the global powers must intelligently prepare the roadmap for the negotiation of emerging digital propositions. It is also necessary that next-generation countries must do the joint task for the digital tools deployed in modern diplomacies such as Data, AI (Artificial Intelligence), social media and Metaverse,” Das concludes.
Future diplomats must be ready to handle such a hybrid non-linear diplomatic environment with the help of advanced computational technologies to address the complexity and unpredictability. The strategies may include data analysis and visualizations, AI and Machine Learning based predictive models to navigate non-linear diplomatic situations with a comprehensive understanding of the global environment and geopolitics.