Diplomacy and Foreign Relations in the Social Media Age: Presentation to RCSS Course on Creative Diplomacy

“The key to successful foreign policy in today’s world is networked diplomacy. Managing international crises requires mobilizing international networks of public and private actors,” says Anne-Marie Slaughter, an international lawyer and political scientist who is a former Princeton academic and ex-Director of Policy Planning at the US State Department under U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Diplomacy then...and now

Diplomacy then…and now

The nature of this ‘networked diplomacy’ is still being documented and studied. Some governments are not even convinced of its value, but meanwhile, others are encouraging it perhaps as a way of ‘exploiting the inevitable’.

I am neither diplomat nor scholar, but sometimes dabble as a writer and researcher on how new media – including social media – impact our society, economy and governance. So I welcomed an opportunity to engage a group of mid-career professionals on the topic Diplomacy & Foreign Relations in the Social Media Age.

I made this presentation on 14 November 2015 as part of the Certificate Course in Creative Diplomacy, conducted by the Regional Centre for Strategic Studies (RCSS) in Colombo, Sri Lanka – a think tank on international relations.

In this, I introduce and briefly explore the new kind of real-time, public diplomacy that is being ushered in with the spreading of social media. I show how diplomats and other government officials can no longer ignore this mass medium, but at the same time their traditional ways of communications need to be reoriented to suit the realities of this new information ecosystem that is informal, irreverent and fleeting.

As I spoke on the day after the ISIS terrorist attacks in France, I used (among others) the latest examples of how Gérard Araud, France’s Ambassador to the US, tweeted live as multiple terror attacks unfolded in Paris on Nov 13 night.

Real time tweeting by French Ambassador to the US while Paris attack was underway on 13 Nov 2015...

Real time tweeting by French Ambassador to the US while Paris attack was underway on 13 Nov 2015…

More tweets from Ambassador Gérard Araud

More tweets from Ambassador Gérard Araud on 13 Nov 2015…

 

To see the bigger picture, I’ve distilled some wisdom of key researchers in this area including: Anne-Marie Slaughter, former Princeton Academic and ex-Director of Policy Planning, US State Department; Philip Seib, Professor of Journalism and Public Diplomacy, University of Southern California; and Ramesh Thakur, Professor, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University (ANU).

I also used the case study of Indian Ministry of External Affairs using social media for crisis management when 18,000 Indian nationals were stranded in Libya in Feb – March 2011 who had to be evacuated urgently.

As Ramesh Thakur has written, it is “a useful case study in the utility of social media tools in connecting the government with people who are normally well outside their range, but who can be a useful channel to send out time-urgent critical information and to receive equally valuable information from sources on the ground.”

Dedication to a remarkable diplomat-scholar who spent a few days in the Summer of 1995 mentoring a group of youth leaders from around the world, including myself, who were brought to the UN Headquarters in New York...

Dedication to a remarkable diplomat-scholar who spent a few days in the Summer of 1995 mentoring a group of youth leaders from around the world, including myself, who were brought to the UN Headquarters in New York…

I dedicated this presentation to a diplomat and scholar whose mentoring I was privileged to receive 20 years ago: Dr Harlan Cleveland (1918 – 2008) who served as US Ambassador to NATO, 1965–1969 (Johnson Administration), and earlier as US Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs, 1961–1965 (Kennedy Administration).

Harlan Cleveland, among the first 'philosophers' of the Information Age

Harlan Cleveland, among the first ‘philosophers’ of the Information Age

According to RCSS, their Course in Creative Diplomacy “provides theoretical and practical insights into the various facets of Creative Diplomacy. The course will expand participants’ understanding of the concept of diplomacy and expose them to new skills and alternative perspectives to engage with stakeholders. It is further envisioned that this post-disciplinary approach, which will be followed by the course, will explore a whole host of new mediums through which mediation, cooperation and negotiation can be carried out.”

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