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New Realities in Foreign Affairs: Diplomacy in the 21st Century

New Realities in Foreign Affairs: Diplomacy in the 21st Century

SWP Research Paper 2018/RP 11, November 2018, 69 Pages


Elites and elite changePolitical systemsConflict preventionCrisis management

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Modern diplomacy is currently experiencing fundamental changes at an unprecedented rate, which affect the very character of diplomacy as we know it. These changes also affect aspects of domestic and international politics that were once of no great concern to diplomacy. Technical develop­ments, mainly digitization, affect how the work of the diplomat is understood; the number of domestic and international actors whose activity implicates (or is a form of) diplomacy is increasing; the public is more sen­sitive to foreign policy issues and seeks to influence diplomacy through social media and other platforms; the way exchange between states, as well as the interchange between government and other domestic actors, pro­gresses is influencing diplomacy’s ability to act legitimately and effectively; and finally, diplomats themselves do not necessarily need the same attri­butes as they previously did. These trends, reflecting general societal devel­opments, need to be absorbed by diplomacy as part of state governance.

Ministries of Foreign Affairs, diplomats and governments in general should therefore be proactive in four areas:

1. Diplomats must understand the tension between individual needs and state requirements, and engage with that tension without detriment to the state.

2. Digitization must be employed in such a way that gains in efficiency are not at the expense of efficacy.

3. Forms of mediation should be developed that reconcile the interests of all sides allowing governments to operate as sovereign states, and yet simul­taneously use the influence and potential of other actors.

4. New and more open state activities need to be advanced that respond to the ways in which emotionalized publics who wish to participate in govern­ance express themselves.

Table of contents

New Realities in Foreign Affairs: Diplomacy in the 21 st Century

1 Issues and Recommendations

2 Introduction: Following the Wrong Track or Walking on Stepping Stones – Which Way for Diplomacy?

2.1 1. The Personal Element

2.2 2. Instrumental Level: Digitization

2.3 3. Institutional Aspects

2.4 4. Global Aspects

3 Diplomats and the Use of Economic Sanctions

3.1 Progressing Practice

3.2 Trailing Theory

3.3 Bridging the Gap

4 Populism and the Domestic Challenge to Diplomacy

5 Diplomatic Representation: States and Beyond

5.1 State Representation

5.1.1 From Immunity to Vulnerability

5.1.2 Mirroring Society

5.1.3 Democratic vs. Authoritarian States as Principals

5.1.4 Representing Divided Societies

5.1.5 Representing Populist Regimes

5.2 Non-State Representation

5.2.1 Supranational Representation

5.2.2 Subnational Representation

5.2.3 Transnational representation

5.3 Conclusion

6 Trends and Counter-Trends in Digital Diplomacy *   A Spanish translation of this chapter was published as “Diplomacia digital 2.0: tendencias y resistencias” in Revista Mexicana de Política Exterior , no. 113 (May–August 2018): 35–52.

6.1 Context: From Institutional-based to Ecosystem Approaches

6.2 Process: From Re-action to Pro-action

6.3 Structure: From Centralisation to ‘Network of Networks’

6.4 Post-truth: From Fact-based Reasoning to Emotional Commodification

6.5 Automation: From Relationship-building to Robo-trolling

6.6 Strategic Entropy: From Digital Outputs to Policy Outcomes

7 Critical Digital Diplomacy and How Theory Can Inform Practice

7.1 Technology and Diplomatic Practice

7.2 Digital Literacy and Awareness in Diplomacy

7.3 The Softwarization of Diplomatic Practice

7.4 More than a Search for Attention Online

7.5 Five Policy Recommendations

8 Perpetual Change: Remarks on Diplomacy Today in the European Union *   The SWP working group has enlisted a number of voices and comments, mainly from practitioners of diplomacy, which are highly pertinent to the issue of how diplomacy evolves in the 21 st century. The following is a contribution by Karsten D. Voigt, a former member of the German Bun­destag, a member of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, and a German-American Coordinator in the Federal Foreign Office.

8.1 1. New Forms of Communication

8.2 2. New Competencies at the Top Operational Level

8.3 3. Interministerial Exchange in the European Union

8.4 4. The Impact of European ‘Party Families’

8.5 5. The ‘Nebenaußenpolitik’ (Parallel Foreign Policy) of Parties

8.6 6. The Influence of National Parliaments

9 The Domestic Challenges of European Geoeconomic Diplomacy

9.1 From Sanctions to Free Trade Agree­ments: Geoeconomics on the Rise in EU Foreign Policy Making

9.2 The Neglected Foreign Policy Role of Non-Governmental Agency in Europe’s Liberal Market Economies

9.3 The Fallacies of Structuralism for Understanding Geoeconomic Diplomacy

9.4 Shifting Perspective: From ‘Diplomatic Systems’ to ‘Diplomatic Networks’

9.5 Making European Sanctions Work? The Role of German Domestic Networks in the EU’s Sanction Regime against Russia

9.6 Concluding remarks

10 Autism in Foreign Policy

10.1 What Diplomacy Needs to Deliver: Changing Demands on Governance beyond the State

10.2 What Diplomacy Can Deliver: The Constraints of Sovereignty

10.3 The Concept of Foreign Policy Autism

10.4 FPA and the European Union

10.5 Future Implications

11 Digital Diplomacy as Diplomatic Sites: Emotion, Identity & Do-it-Yourself Politics

11.1 State-Centric Digital Diplomacy: Digital Media as Diplomatic Tools

11.2 Mixed Results

11.3 Public-Centric Digital Diplomacy: Digital Media and Diplomatic Sites

11.3.1 • Emotion as a Defining Dynamic

11.3.2 • Personalized Do-it Yourself Politics

11.3.3 • Story-Driven Resonant Narratives

11.3.4 • Emotion and Identity

11.3.5 • Emotion and Community

11.4 Implications & Recommendations

11.4.1 • Avoiding the State-Centric Strategic Communication Treadmill

11.4.2 • Developing an Eye for Public-Centric Needs

11.4.3 • Leveraging the Human Dimension

12 Conclusions – An Open Diplomacy

13 Appendix

13.1 Abbreviations

13.2 Selected Bibliography

13.3 About the Authors

Issues and Recommendations

New Realities in Foreign Affairs: Diplomacy in the 21st Century

Modern diplomacy extends its activities into many spheres, but today it is subject to unprecedented in­fluences and restrictions. An example of its diversifying influence is reflected in the expansion of the framework and themes of traditional multilateral diplomacy: the UN Climate Change Conference in Bonn in 2017 was the largest multilateral conference ever held in Germany; issues such as climate and health, which in the past were by no means part of the foreign policy realm, are handled by diplomatic means today as a matter of course. At the same time, in some areas of international relations, policy makersare turning away from multilateralism – and it is not just U.S. President Donald Trump, who assumes that foreign policy issues are better solved bilaterally. Finally, the public, in turn, is more directly –often mediated by social media – placing demands on diplomacy, be it to stop whaling, halt the flow of refugees, or any other issue on the contemporary agenda.

Such change has become increasingly noticeable in the decades since the end of the Cold War, or perhaps it is an altogether recent emergence. The new expan­sions of and restrictions on diplomacy deserve aca­demic consideration, if only because of its influence on the politics of modern states. During the years 2016 to 2018, a working group named Diplomacy in the 21st Century has taken on the task of more thoroughly and comprehensively examining today’s diplomacy at the Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik – German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) in Berlin, financially supported by the German Federal Foreign Office and ZEIT-Stiftung.

Modern diplomacy is in the midst of a process of change, and that rate of change is likely to approximately match the pace of general change in modern industrial societies. However, diplomats’ responses to modern challenges often fall under the radar of gov­ernments and the public, precisely because they do not conform to what is traditionally considered to be typically diplomatic. Nevertheless, at the same time they have a strong influence on the actions and self-understanding of governments, and probably also on the public’s understanding of foreign policy.

Rapid changes in the character of modern diplomacy are well recognized by those who are accustomed to being active in diplomacy, to be affected by it or to observe it, and the fact that diplomats are trying to navigate the implications of rapid changes is demon­strated by several recent developments. A variety of reform efforts – in Germany, pursuant to the com­prehensive ‘Review’ analysis undertaken in 2014 – endeavour to exchange information between the for­eign ministries of the EU member states with regard to the need for reform and the reforms currently under way. The fact that even China is dealing with ques­tions of modern diplomacy highlights the significance of the emerging changes in the nature of diplomacy.

Such shifts in the focus of diplomatic activity raise questions about which changes in modern diplomacy will have longer term impacts, as well as if and how governments should respond to those changes. Four aspects concerning diplomacy seem to be of central importance: (1) The personality of the individual dip­lo­mat; (2) fundamental changes that come with tech­nical developments, especially due to digitization; (3) the increase of diplomatically active actors; (4) the new sensitivities of various publics to foreign policies.

The heterogeneity and pluralism of thinking about modern societies impacts the diplomat’s personality and their work as much as anyone else. An example might be what occurs through the use of social media: even the way a diplomat uses social media constitutes a ‘message’ from the diplomat’s society to the outside world beyond what a government wants to officially communicate. This changes the appearance and pre­sumably the orientation of diplomacy and must be taken into account in the recruitment, training and employment of diplomats.

As a matter of course, governments are always using new technical instruments. The means of digitiza­tion, for example, thus intervene in the functioning of administrative action. Such intervention can hinder or accelerate diplomacy, for example in the collection and processing of information. Furthermore, digiti­zation influenced by social media in turn influences the preservation, gain, and loss of trust in the public of a country and its international partners.

A number of new actors involve themselves in diplomatic processes on their own initiative and/or are deliberately involved in dealing with new tasks of diplomacy. These actors include other national insti­tutions, such as other ministries whose tasks extend into foreign policy, to international organizations – mostly UN sub-organizations – or, for Europeans, to EU institutions. They may include transnational com­panies and non-governmental organizations. At the same time, when diplomats appear more visible to the public thanks to the digital revolution, they stand more in the shadow of other foreign policy actors. In fact, professional diplomacy as a whole tends to be overshadowed at least partially by the activities of traditionally non-diplomatic actors.

Lastly, and incessantly, new and often highly emo­tional sensitivities of publics arise, and these too make use of social media to communicate with one an­other. When making demands of governments, and when governments wish to accommodate those de­mands, the problem of the democratic legitimacy of such publics and their demands immediately arises.

All of these factors are becoming increasingly impactful as a result of the progress of inter-state ex­change and domestic connectivity of state action, and possibly even the shifting moods of relevant individuals. These factors signify and reinforce the trend of traditional diplomacy’s diminishing influence. This tendency, as it reflects overall societal developments, needs to be absorbed by diplomacy as a part of gov­ern­ance of a state. If well directed, changes in diplomacy may be able to inform future governments’ actions and the societies that represent them. Therefore:

Diplomats must understand the tension between the condition of the individual and state requirements, and engage with that tension without detri­ment to the state.

Digitization must be used in such a way that gains in efficiency are not made at the expense of efficacy;

it is important to develop forms of mediation and reconciliation of the interests of both sides that allow governments to operate as sovereign states, but at the same time make use of the influence and the potential of other actors;

dealing with publics is likely to raise the gravest problems and requires the development of new and more open forms of state activity that respond to the ways in which emotionalized publics who wish to participate in governance express themselves.

At the same time, the principles of representative democracy must be kept intact; if not, the state will suffer damage to the legitimacy of its system of governance. The crucial question will be how govern­ments can ensure sufficient efficacy and efficiency, and thus also their legitimacy, to be able to address adequately the needs of a state.

Volker Stanzel

Introduction: Following the Wrong Track or Walking on Stepping Stones – Which Way for Diplomacy?

Diplomacy, like so many areas of public administration, is affected by the radical changes of the 21st cen­tury. Shocks within the international order, the revo­lution of internet-based global communication, and legitimacy problems of liberal governments seem to necessitate a fundamental re-orientation of foreign policy tools. Otto von Bismarck, first chancellor of the German empire of 1871, described diplomacy as the never-ending negotiation of reciprocal concessions between states. If that is the case, then today we face the question of the purpose of such a time-consuming art of managing international relations.

In early 2016, the Working Group Diplomacy in the 21st Century was established at the Stiftung Wis­senschaft und Politik – German Institute for Inter­national and Security Affairs (SWP), with the financial support of the German Foreign Ministry and the ZEIT-Stiftung. The group is composed of diplomats, ob­servers, and researchers from Germany, Australia, Canada, China, Denmark, France, Great Britain, India, the Netherlands, Norway, Russia, Sweden, and the United States (U.S.). In contrast to the 2014 ‘Review’1 of the German Foreign Ministry, which examined German foreign policy and the structures of the Ger­man Foreign Office, the research approach of the SWP is narrower. Its insights into modern diplomacy, however, concern not only Germany. The central ques­tion for the practitioners and researchers of the working group was whether global changes of the 21st century necessitate changes at the very core of diplo­macy in order for it to function effectively and effi­cient­ly, as well as to preserve its legitimacy as a foreign policy tool of governmental action. The essays in this volume from participants of the working group reflect a broad spectrum of analyses. We ar­ranged them according to (1) personal, (2) instrumental, (3) institutional as well as (4) global elements.


Beyond Bismarck’s simple description of diplomacy, things become complicated. Therefore, the working group of the SWP restricted itself to a rough definition of diplomacy as the touchstone for its discussion (not necessarily incorporating every member’s indi­vidual definition): a pragmatic approach to manage the relations between states and other institutions in the intergovernmental space with the aim of arriving at peaceful conflict resolutions. Sascha Lohmann ap­proaches the problem of a definition in his chapter when he describes modern diplomacy employing economic instruments and turning markets into a new ‘battlefield’. Changes in the structure of the international community have made continual adaptations in diplomacy tactics necessary. An exam­ple of change to diplomatic organization is the 15th century shift from temporarily posted legations by governments to the establishment of permanent residing ambassadors. Similarly far-reaching adap­ta­tions might be required again today, since there is not only a greater public interest in diplomatic activity, but also growing demand by publics to participate in matters that have traditionally been under the pur­view of diplomats and governing bodies. Additionally, new communication devices and a growing number of state and non-state actors influence foreign policy.

1. The Personal Element

Diplomats are bureaucrats of sorts, and certain traits of their personalities play significant roles in their specific professional activities. Negotiations in general possess an official character, but informal communication between persons through expressions of behav­iour reflect the complexity of the negotiations, the need for confidentiality, and discretion ranging from formality to informality determines the degree of its effectiveness. Charm, persuasion, or restraint may seem like clichés; however, they constitute essential features of communicative behaviour and correlate more with a person’s character than one’s training. In today’s secular and pluralistic societies, moral standards likewise depend more on a person’s char­acteristics than on specific training. Due to immigration and globalization today, diverse cultures that were once bounded by oceans and continents inter­weave more than in the past; people of diverse back­grounds now find themselves in the same public spaces, and there are simply more stimuli to per­son­ally witness and reflect on, problems such as unequal treatment of people based on gender, age, race, or other ascribed characteristics. Increasing social diver­sity can make moral conflicts matters of conscience more readily than in the more homogenous societies of the past. Individual civil servants can feel obligated to resist their superiors’ instructions – in the case of Germany in accordance with Article 20 of German Basic Law2 – and become a whistleblower.

Today, this social diversification, and in some ways even fragmentation, reaches far. Language skills are more widespread, and to ‘digital natives’ the opera­tion of new technologies comes naturally, while the functionaries of the past struggle to make sense of and use new communication pathways. The comprehension of gender equality and the values of private family life come from but also influence individuals’ outlooks on and participation in society generally. And these are only a few examples. All in all, per­sonal values constitute a diplomat’s ‘message’, which informs the image of his country as well as the reactions of his host country. While the recruitment of future diplomats should follow precise criteria, one question remains on which Christer Jönsson elaborates in his chapter: to what degree can today’s diplomats as individuals still satisfactorily represent their ever more heterogeneous societies?

In a society that asks how bureaucracies can fulfil their task of supporting political decisions meaningfully by rationally applying information and knowl­edge, there is some temptation for political leaders to stigmatize the traditional civil service as old-fashionedand inherently error-prone. Andrew Cooper analyses this question further in his chapter. At the same time, decisions made at the top of the hierarchy may be adapted to what they regard as the requirements of society by civil servants even at the lower operational level. Hierarchy and bureaucratization have always been the means to restrict accumulation of power. However, the high level of external influences besides the government or even outside of the state reduces the influence of individual diplomats. This imbalance might even threaten the democratic principle of the responsibility of governmental action.

2. Instrumental Level: Digitization

The improvements of modern communication tech­nology have complex effects on diplomatic action. Corneliu Bjola points out in his chapter that digitization “is likely to penetrate the deep core of the diplo­matic DNA.” This can promote creativity, but also destroy existing structures of communication and its organization. Emillie V. de Keulenaarand Jan Melissen argue that existing ‘analogue’ diplomacy is not merely super­imposed onto technologies now shaping an environment that is facilitating digitally native prac­tices. Their analysis gives recommendations for diplo­matic practitioners who still look at new tech­nologies, including social media, as merely open and free­ly avail­able ‘services’. Amongst all the ‘instruments’ of diplomacy we will focus specifically on digitization by looking at three key factors: unprecedented time restraints for decision-making; the neces­sity to distil a high volume of incoming information responsibly; and the integration of social media.

(1) The timeframe to respond to an incident is continually shortened due to the increasingly rapid transmission of information between embassies abroad and foreign ministries, as well as between other foreign policy actors. Consequently, this rapid­ity places an increasing burden on the persons acting at the top of a hierarchy and in positions where pro­posals for decisions are worked out. This burden can be quantified as the period of time available for the receipt of an item of information and subsequent consultation about it: the less time there is, the greater the pressure on the decision maker. Due to accelerating information transmission, only a limited range of issues reach the level of the responsible deci­sion makers. Therefore, tensions arise between the expectation for quick action on the basis of comprehensive information on the one hand, and the neces­sity to act conscientiously on the basis of deliberated information on the other. Physical factors such as lengthy nightly conferences, travel across multiple time zones, and overloaded schedules only add to the strain. Despite the rising number of people responsible for the distillation of information and tactics for reducing the information to be taken into account, no solution has been found to reduce pressure on the decision-making process. Therefore there is a greater risk that wrong decisions will be made, not due to an erroneous comprehension of the known facts (a risk always at hand given the imperfection and incompleteness of human knowledge), but because time is restricted for the processing of and reflection on facts and possible courses of action.

(2) Information frequently travels on non-diplo­matic paths, such as in social media. This gives op­portunities to actors such as large corporations or civil society organizations competing with governments in some areas to act independently of and possibly earlier than a government. Therefore, instead of only gathering information, diplomacy must also distil it usefully and competently. Among other things, diplomacy involves the “provision of knowl­edge.”3 However, today, diplomacy has to be more the distillation of knowledge – and in real time. Trans­cending mere knowledge distillation is the only way to process information into reasonably argued pro­posals for actions for political decision makers. The danger is that decision-making is integrated into the technological procedures without undergoing a thorough examination to see if the information can be made available quickly and avoid being super­ficial – which is essential. Modern digital diplomatic com­munication strives to make it possible to react to events in real-time. However, digital communication has to balance efficiency enhancement through increased speed, and effectiveness enhancement through calculability. This balance, if successfully reached, enhances trust on the side of the ‘consumer’ of foreign policy. Hence, the ‘cultivation of trust’ is also a fitting description of modern diplomatic activ­ity.

(3) Currently, governmental action is under con­stant scrutiny by the public. Social media did not trigger this scrutiny, but they transport it and the pur­suant conversations. Thus, social media are them­selves instruments of diplomatic action. These actions are not, as in the past, soliloquized ‘public relations work’. However, they strive to promote dialogue with domestic and international publics. Therefore, modern diplomats are unavoidably under pressure to use social media. This means that they are approachable and open to public criticism via digital platforms. Social media exchange with official dialogue partners and interested publics creates a far-reaching network of connections with known and unknown, influential and powerless actors, observers, and participants. Sim­ul­taneously this exchange has to adapt to the lin­guistic and formal character of the new media. Inde­pendent of their actual added value for the workings of diplomacy, social media impact on all those actors in a general manner – when for example malice is directed toward a politician – as well as in specific cases – when their users, for example, ask about cer­tain foreign policy activities. Due to their influence on publics, which can be expedited by commercialized or in other ways motivated sensationalism, dis­torted reporting or fake news (therefore not much different from that of the traditional media), social media even have the strength to create pseudo-crises, some of which may waste substantial resources.

A deeper risk of the use of social media by diplomats is that it might reorient itself toward the pub­lic’s opinions about foreign policy matters. Currently, politics must be presentable and comprehensible for many publics. The need to communicate quickly and effectively with diverse publics results in oversimplified explanations that fail to reflect the true complexities of the matters at hand. That oversimplification to the detriment of complexity in turn risks affecting actual politics: decisions may be made only so that they are more easily comprehensible – leading to difficult ethical questions. Crisis management is prob­ably most susceptible to this risk because it is where measures of foreign policy concern the lives of indi­viduals most directly. Yet the impacts of social media are strongest on the formulation and conception of diplomacy and foreign policy, where the danger for the publics’ trust in decision-makers is greatest.

3. Institutional Aspects

Essentially, diplomacy operates in the framework of a community within completely sovereign nation states. Nevertheless, with the reality of the dissolution of sovereignty on the one hand and the necessity to solve global problems on the other, new forums of (conference) diplomacy were established and more international and supranational organizations cre­ated. The European Union (EU) is an excellent exam­ple. It possesses instruments that are normally only at the disposal of nation states. Nevertheless, in all matters that are of major concern for member states, the EU is guided by the intergovernmental working institutions. These mechanics have an impact on the diplomacy between the member states of the EU. The European External Action Service operates alongside the national foreign services and provides collective knowledge resources for the smaller member states in particular. Thus the need for global management has produced diplomacy and diplomats that represent their national interests and supranational aims at the same time.

Diplomacy can also be understood as the media­tion of societies in a broad discourse4 – not neces­sarily in a friendly conversation, but sometimes pre­cisely the opposite. Whether it is the application of hard power, coercive measures, soft power, the power of institutions, or symbolic power, governments and other international interacting actors today feel obli­gated to explain their actions not only to their official dialogue partners, but also often to their own publics, as well as to non-state observers and actors outside their own borders. In his chapter Hanns W. Maull points out which dangers can arise, considering the tech­nological advances and increasing expectations that could even lead to ‘foreign policy autism’.

Contrary to the hopes of national-populist movements’ that nation states will win back their former status as sovereign actors, in reality, the process of dissolution of physical and non-physical borders continues at great speed. While states attempt to preserve their formal status as the last legitimate source of national and international governmental leadership, avenues are opening up for non-diplo­matic, internationally active governmental institution, parliaments, internationally active companies, media, non-governmental organizations, and organ­ized crime. All of these attempt to influence a society or the community of states. Karsten D. Voigt analyses some of these processes in his chapter concerning the EU. Companies’ interest in shaping conditions abroad leads them to use their leverage over governments, which in turn aim to attract investments and create new jobs. The politics of nominally sovereign states depend on a flow of activities, which are mostly sub­ject to governmental control and which cross tradi­tional borders. Official politics is reduced to attempts to manage the situations that result from incidents outside their sphere of influence. Political participation takes place across borders, and not only in times of crises and wars. The discourse about foreign policy amongst elites and publics dissolves its borders at the same time. Thus grey areas are created, which are con­cerned with foreign policy to varying degrees. Here, foreign ministries are hardly poised to moderate negotiations anymore. Diplomatic institutions are rather more like diplomacy’s ‘face’ to the out­side than actual movers of the world. The variety of elements of modern diplomatic activity creates a prob­lem of coherence for diplomatic work in the foreign ministries and embassies. This difficulty is aggravated by the increasing number of ‘attachés’ of other gov­ern­mental institutions, or institutions with their own agendas and priorities in the embassies. Diplomatic bodies, which are confronted with such difficult-to-control tasks, could be tempted to retreat to technocratic procedural modes and become con­tent with work­ing results that are just ‘good enough’. As Andrew Cooper argues, the effort to avoid respon­sibility under the pressure of the latest developments could begin to drain sources of diplomatic strength and in­fluence.

Presumably, civil society is only occasionally aware of the full impact of globalization on international events. However, once a public recognizes that im­pact, it demands foreign policy measures that are out­side the range of political possibilities. Thus, not only politicians, but also diplomats are forced to suggest actions that promise satisfactory solutions to publics. At least modern conference diplomacy still succeeds in following Bismarck’s notion and thus often manages to avoid conflicts for as long as possible. However, civil society or other actors regularly attempt to take things into their own hands – usually through the institutionalization and organization of publics. This sometimes makes it possible to accomplish aims that had been abandoned by traditional diplomacy. The achievements of the Paris Climate Conference in 2015, as R. S. Zaharna points out, would not have been possible (and the conference might not have taken place at all) without the lobbying of highly active NGOs, which worked together for a long period with politicians and diplomats. In turn, many of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals need the commitment of trans­nationally active companies.

However, civil society’s demands may also be at the root of movements that do not help to solve global problems, but rather aggravate them. The anti-Islamic Pegida movement in Germany is one exam­ple. In many cases, however, the question of whether a civic movement has a positive or negative impact depends on the political attitude of the observer, as is the case in the conflict over the activ­ities of foreign NGOs in China. Diplomacy, which adapts to this new reality, has to balance its own aims as the democratically legitimate representation of the overall popu­lation of a country with the individual interests of civic organizations. Through such endeavours, and confronted with more complex operative tasks and greater public expectations than ever before, diplo­macy will be less administrative activity and more ‘politics’. This means that publics will treat diplo­macy as politics too – which can result in mistrust.

4. Global Aspects

Like any other form of governance, diplomacy strives to be successful. Its achievements are measured along predetermined guidelines and are judged on the value of the aims it achieved or failed to realize. For­eign policy can conceivably be successful despite diplo­matic failures. The definition of diplomatic ‘suc­cess’ must therefore encompass global conditions and future prospects as well as management of expectations caused by international requirements. However, some parts of national publics still identify with the nation-states of the past. They expect successful for­eign policy from their governments. They expect that they will be represented by them and accept that the representation of their interests may lead to substantial conflict with other nation-states. This dynamic can lead to a strong emotional impact by the gov­ern­mental use of diplomatic instruments. R. S. Zaharnaaddresses emotionality as a determining dynamic element of foreign policy in her chapter. The prob­lem here is the public’s expectations directed at the nation-state conjoined with the need for the government to represent the interests of a nation in a world of interdependencies.

The question of whether the present societal and global changes will be the catalyst for homogenization or heterogenization of diplomacy remains unanswered in this volume. States learn from one another, and today they also learn from new inter­national institutions. At the same time, their own intellectual traditions play an additional role. The United States and Europe are impacted by their ad­herence to various forms of market liberalism. In Russia and China the communist-led government traditionally influenced diplomacy through the prin­ciple of ideology over pragmatism. As Kim B. Olsen explains, having these various politico-economic heritages in mind, states (unaware of the influence of non-governmental actors in their national pursuit of transforming economic power into diplomatic influence) lack the fundamental understanding of today’s geo-economic strains in diplomatic activity.

The role of diplomacy in the 21st century is less clearly defined than in the past. Its influence on the organization of the international order is decreasing. Diplomacy is caught in the continuous dispute be­tween new technical demands and opportunities coupled with the expectations of new actors and pub­lics as well as internal societal changes. At the same time, the diplomacy of a nation-state has to pursue, due to its traditional foreign policy pragmatic ra­tion­alism,5 effective, efficient, and (legal as well as moral) legitimate strategies in the international environment. The question of a new normative frame­work for this kind of significantly changed diplomacy, and whether this is even possible, remains unanswered for the Working Group of the SWP. An answer will eventually be determined by whether the governmental activity of democracies can gain or re-establish the indispensable trust of citizens in the representative institutions of foreign policy.

Sascha Lohmann

Diplomats and the Use of Economic Sanctions

Diplomats have been closely involved in the threat and actual use of economic sanctions – a manifes­tation of the “capacity to interrupt commercial inter­course.”6 However, the central role of diplomats in wielding this particular instrument of economic force has not yet received systematic scrutiny. On the one hand, diplomatic practitioners usually deal with broad­er issues of war and peace in their autobiogra­phical accounts, and, if they discuss particular cases in which they relied on economic sanctions as a means to extract concessions, they do so in a rather anecdotal fashion. On the other hand, scholars com­monly employ various theoretical perspectives and empirical evidence in order to generalize across different contexts, thereby offering little practical insights into how to deal with concrete cases.

Equipped with only an impressionistic body of practical knowledge about the use of economic force, diplomats from the United States and the member states of the European Union (EU) are struggling to keep up with an increasing reliance on ever more sophisticated economic sanctions in the pursuit of national security and foreign policy objectives. Until now, there exists not a single official American or European doctrine that could provide guidance for the use of economic force. This lack of systematic thinking contrasts sharply with the elaborated mili­tary doctrines that lay out principles governing the use of armed force by specifying the triggering con­ditions, applicable procedures, and responsible actors tasked to carry it out. This intellectual imbalance can hardly be justified given that military and economic power occupy opposite sides of the same coin.7 At a time when the selective and comprehensive impo­sition of trade as well as financial sanctions has emerged as the go-to option for decision-makers on both sides of the Atlantic, addressing a constantly growing number of perceived foreign policy and national security threats emanating from state and non-state actors alike, what has previously figured merely as a lamentable lacunae may soon turn into a strategic liability.

Against this backdrop, I assess the changing role of diplomats in the use of economic sanctions by draw­ing on empirical evidence from foreign and national security policy of the United States and the EU. This chapter proceeds as follows: in the first section, I brief­lydiscuss the causes of the increasing prominence of the use of economic sanctions after World War II, and its adverse consequence of contributing to the side-lining of diplomats in contemporary diplomacy. In the second section, I briefly review how the existing political science literature has inadequately theorized the relationship between diplomats and the use of eco­nomic force. In the third section, I conclude by sug­gesting why the role of diplomats in the use of eco­nomic sanctions should be strengthened and offer some practical steps in that direction.

Progressing Practice

When conducting political intercourse beyond their borders, rulers had used economic sanctions to restrict trade and financial interactions well before the term diplomacy entered into the French and Eng­lish dictionaries in the late 18th century.8 Until the first half of the 20th century, these measures had over­whelmingly complemented the use of armed force among the consolidated political communities in North America and Europe, either in the form of land-based sieges or naval blockades.9 Consequently, monitoring and enforcing the respective restrictions required physical inspection such as interdicting cargo transported via train or ships, a task carried out by members of the armed forces.10 Diplomats came to replace soldiers as agents of the use of economic force when the newly created international institutions, first the League of Nations and later the United Na­tions, as well as individual nation states acting alone or together, gradually substituted the use of armed force with that of economic force beginning in the second half of the 20th century.

Markets have become one of the main battlefields at the beginning of the 21st century.

This shift away from the use of armed to economic force was mainly driven by three technological and societal developments: firstly, the development of nuclear weapons led to a rapid decline of the utility of armed force, since its actual use among major powers would have assured their mutual destruction. Later on, armed force also turned out to be a rather blunt and therefore ineffective instrument to cope with unconventional threats posed by limited or collapsing statehood, transnational violent extremism, and organized crime. This is not to say that armed forced completely ceased to be used, as the continuation of covert operations and other types of limited use of armed force such as drones or cyber warfare amply demonstrates to this day. Secondly, the unilateral threat and actual use of armed force became morally shunned and legally relegated to being an ultima ratio that could be legitimately ap­plied under the Charta of the United Nations only as a meas­ure of self-defence or pursuant to a collec­tive authorization by the Security Council. Finally, the use of economic sanctions was further elevated by the emergence of post-heroic societies across Western countries where the associated post-material values would henceforth provoke almost allergic reactions to casualties on the battlefield.11 Without having to send troops into harm’s way, the use of economic sanctions allows contemporary decision-makers in the United States and Europe to inflict equally substantial political and economic costs on adversaries in order to influence their decision-making. Due to its com­paratively high utility vis-à-vis other policy instruments, the use of economic force has also frequently been applied by the Chinese and Russian governments.12 Due to this change in the pattern of the appli­cation of force, markets have become one of the main battlefields at the beginning of the 21st century.13

This shift in statecraft has been most pronounced in the United States; here the Department of the Treasury now occupies a central role in foreign policy and national security policy-making, overseeing a vast regime of unilateral economic sanctions employed against state and non-state actors around the world. Where­as the Department of State was instrumental in building strong financial and trade relationships with other nations and through international institutions after World War II, the Department of the Treasury has increasingly manipulated these relationships as a way to generate pressure on adversaries and allies alike. Within the Department of the Treasury, the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) is the lead agency that implements and enforces financial and trade sanctions under national emergency powers granted by Congress to the president pursuant to two key statutes: the Trading with the Enemy Act of 1917 and the International Emergency Economic Powers Act of 1977. Every U.S. president since Franklin D. Roosevelt has utilized these economic sanctions to conduct U.S. for­eign and national security policy. Under the George W. Bush administration, the use of financial sanc­tions was elevated to a primary instrument in the ‘Global War on Terrorism’. At the same time, mem­bers of Congress re-inserted themselves into foreign policy-making by using economic sanctions as a legis­lative vehicle, forcing the administration’s hand by broadening designation criteria and constraining executive power to lift and terminate the use of eco­nomic sanctions, as in the cases of Iran and Russia.

The increasing reliance on trade and financial sanctions elevated senior officials from the Department of the Treasury to pursue diplomatic missions to garner support for, and offer warnings about, non-compliance with unilateral U.S. economic sanctions in foreign capitals and corporate headquarters ab­road.14 These increasingly frequent missions further undermined the leadership position of diplomats in conducting U.S. foreign and national security policy. Whereas the threat of being side-lined by other bureaucratic and non-state actors in the conduct of diplomacy had been feared by diplomats in the past, the current marginalization of the Department of State is truly unprecedented.15 Although less pro­nounced, the side-lining of diplomats also takes place within the EU, where an equally increasing use of economic sanctions is ultimately decided by the heads of governments in the European Council and even­tually implemented by bureaucrats in the European Commission and national governments, with diplo­mats playing mainly a supportive role at both stages of the policy circle. As a matter of fact, the ever-growing importance of the EU’s ‘restrictive measures’ over the last two decades in furthering the objectives of its Common Foreign and Security Policy has not been matched by the number of diplomats working in the Sanctions Unit of the European External Action Service. Given the encroachment of other bureaucratic actors on diplomats’ traditional prerogative to con­duct foreign affairs, it was no coincidence that mostly economic and finance ministers were in attendance when the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 2253 on December 17, 2015, which added the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) to the exist­ing multilateral financial sanctions regime against Al‑Qaeda.

Trailing Theory

The soaring use of economic sanctions by U.S. and EU decision-makers to pursue a growing number of for­eign and national security objectives correspondingly required expertise about how financial markets and the global trading system function. This expertise mostly resided in finance or trade ministries, central banks, and the private sector. In the United States, the demand for this specialized economic knowledge has been supplied and operationalized by a new bureaucratic cast whose members are neither diplomats nor soldiers. Notwithstanding, they take on tasks that used to be assigned exclusively to diplomats, such as negotiating with foreign governments and their home companies about cooperating on the design, implementation and enforcement of economic sanctions. In doing so, its members have directly targeted state and non-state adversaries and their respective sup­porters since the early 1990s, engaging in what can be described as economic warfare without an offi­cial declaration of war.16 The members of this new bureau­cratic cast can accordingly be described as financial warriors.

The rise of these financial warriors has so far only been documented in autobiographical accounts of former protagonists.17 This development has other­wise gone largely unnoticed in the existing literature on diplomacy and economic sanctions. One reason for this could be the persistent misconception by prac­titioners and scholars of international relations that economics would pertain to ‘low’ politics while the conduct of foreign and national security policy would occupy the throne of ‘high’ politics, the latter thought to be firmly in the hands of diplomats. This questionable analytical separation between ‘low’ and ‘high’ politics might be a path-dependent result of the dis­dain for economic issues that had featured prominently during the 19th century among the diplomatic corps. Traditionally, its members were mainly com­prised of aristocrats who viewed the emancipation of the merchant middle class with utter disdain.18 Alter­natively, this analytical separation might also be a consequence of the dominance of the liberal school of thought in the academic study of economics and politics, and the apparent contradiction posed by the use of economic sanctions, which violates two of its basic premises: firstly, that markets operate independently from state interference, and secondly that economic interdependence reduces conflict. Having dethroned mercantilism as a dominant paradigm of international political economy, liberal ideas exerted a lasting impact on decision-makers, as evidenced in the words of former U.S. Secretary of State Cordell Hull, who proclaimed that “if trade crosses borders, soldiers won’t.” Regardless of its cause, the analytical separation of supposedly low and high politics in the study of international relations and diplomacy runs contrary to empirical evidence. In particular, the use of economic sanctions stretches back as far as the city states of ancient Greece. Later, economics and diplo­macy evolved hand-in-hand as foreign trade missions were both causes and consequences of the establish­ment of official diplomatic ties among governments throughout the 18th and 19th centuries.

In the past, scholarship overwhelmingly neglected the economic means available to diplomats. Instead, scholars extensively scrutinized the intimate involve­ment of diplomats in the use of armed force (what Carl von Clausewitz had called the ‘other means’ and what its academic acolytes nowadays discuss as ‘co­ercive diplomacy’).19 Some scholars working in the sub-discipline of Diplomatic Studies have recently begun to theorize the economic ends of foreign and national security policy as “economic diplomacy.”20 This rather blurry concept encompasses myriad efforts, sometimes also labelled commercial or trade diplomacy, which relate to the promotion and sup­port of business interests abroad, the negotiation of trade agreements and international institutions of economic governance,21 as well as foreign aid and other types of monetary assistance.22 However, this literature largely neglects the economic means avail­able to diplomats in the pursuit of foreign policy and national security objectives.23

While the theory of power under the condition of economic interdependence has been a central theme of the realist school of thought,24 we still lack system­atic inquiries into the use of economic force by diplo­mats. David A. Baldwin came fairly close, although he ultimately shied away from connecting his seminal analytical framework of economic statecraft to the particular role of diplomats, arguing that such a move “broadens the concept of ‘diplomacy’ so much that it makes it difficult to think in terms of diplomatic alter­natives to economic techniques.”25 This proves to be highly unfortunate as his book has significantly improved our thinking about the possibilities and pit­falls of the use of economic sanctions.

Bridging the Gap

In order to demonstrate their continuing relevance for diplomacy in the 21st century, diplomats need to come to terms with the profound shift from the use of armed to economic force, which is threatening to further side-line them vis-à-vis other bureaucratic actors in the implementation of foreign and national security policy in the United States and the member states of the EU. Due to their vast body of specialized and general knowledge, acquired through systematic education and training, diplomats must continue to play a central role in the design, implementation, and enforcement of economic sanctions. Although there exists neither an agreed-upon epistemic canon within the sphere of public policy of what economic state­craft entails, nor is there an institutionalized struc­ture in most Western countries geared to facilitating its most effective application, admittedly diplomats are uniquely suited to act as primary agents of the use of economic sanctions. This is because of their ability to weigh competing policy objectives in the pursuit of diplomacy, according to their short- and long-term implications. Their comprehensive view, grounded in profound contextual knowledge gained through con­stant exposure to different cultural conditions, distin­guishes them from their colleagues in financial and trade ministries who tend to myopically pursue nar­rower policy objectives. With respect to the use of eco­nomic sanctions, this may entail increasing economic pressure and ensuring universal compliance by rigor­ous enforcement without considering what exactly the other sides want and why. As Sir Robert F. Cooper has pointed out, “Diplomacy is partly Newtonian phys­ics – power, pressure and leverage – but it is also about what people want.”26 Thus, the benefit of diplo­macy sometimes may be to buy additional time for ne­gotiations and for necessary social change to happen.

A second career path with a focus on specialized training for tasks such as designing and implementing trade and financial sanctions could be a viable solution.

In order to strengthen their role in the use of eco­nomic sanctions, especially within governments of EU member states and particularly in Germany, the career path of diplomats should not only lead to the education of generalists who can adapt to any task. The current practice of having the entire diplomatic corps rotate mandatorily for fixed terms creates im­mense opportunity costs because individual diplomats must acquire the highly technical knowledge required for the use of economic sanctions at every turn. Instead, a second career path with a focus on specialized training for highly specific tasks such as designing and implementing trade and financial sanc­tions could be a viable solution. In the United States, former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton initiated similar steps as part of her Economic Statecraft Initiative between late 2011 and 2012. Although re­ceiving only scant attention at the time, her initiative lead to lasting organizational changes within the bureau­cracy of the Department of State, which were based on an appreciation of the crucial role of eco­nomic force for U.S. diplomacy.27 As specialists on the use of economic force, diplomats could become orchestrators directing other bureaucratic actors within their own governments to contribute the requisite specialized knowledge, instead of being sidelined by them in the pursuit of diplomacy.

Andrew Cooper

Populism and the Domestic Challenge to Diplomacy

The challenge to diplomacy for numerous Western countries has become domestic in nature. Although serious tensions exist concerning the global insti­tutional architecture, these do not constitute the existential threat of the 1930s. Unlike in that earlier era, there has been no outright abandonment of international organizations (IOs), as punctuated by the failure of the League of Nations. Rather than disappearing, IOs have proliferated, albeit with a bias towards informal self-selected forums including the G20 and the Financial Stability Board. Nor does the world’s geo-political environment include a cluster of totalitarian states bent on territorial expansion by military means. In many ways, liberal internationalism continues to hold sway, at least as judged by the degree of complex interdependence. Instead of the hold of autarchy (with large national champions having exclusive authority in zones of control), it is the image of hyper-globalization that defines the 21st century. Massive corporations are not the only victors from this situation, since large NGOs (Oxfam, MSF) and philanthropic bodies (The Gates Foundation) have benefited as well. Moreover, reflecting this kind of pluralism, it is no longer a hegemonic or unipolar era. Rather there is ample space particularly for big state actors beyond the West (above all the BRICS, including China, India, Brazil, and South Africa as well as Russia) and outside the traditional establishment of the G7/8 to exert influence. Indeed, at the recent 2018 BRICS summit in Johannesburg, the BRICS positioned themselves as defenders of the multilateral economic order.

At the core of the current dilemma is that diplomacy and its institutions are contested and stigmatized domestically by populist forces.

At the core of the current dilemma is not whether diplomacy (and diplomats situated in foreign minis­tries) is in the process of disappearing on the global stage but rather that these forms of institution and machinery are contested and stigmatized domestically by populist forces. Akin to the challenge confronting other institutions, diplomacy is viewed as being a con­straining instrument, part of a self-serving and con­trolling establishment. From the theoretical tra­dition associated with Ernesto Laclau,28 the populist logic may be contrasted with nationalists in one fundamental dimension. Whereas nationalists dif­ferentiate horizontally between those in and outside (the other) the nation state, populists differentiate on a down/up basis with antagonism between the elite and ‘the people’ as underdog.

This anti-diplomatic/foreign ministry sentiment is most noticeable in the Brexit campaign with its aversion to insiders and communities of sentiment and interest beyond the national. However, this type of contestation can be located in multiple sites beyond the UK as well. In various sections of the Euro­pean populist movements, forces rail against considerations of diplomatic solidarity, above all on the migration issue. On top of all this, of course, is the concerted challenge to contemporary diplomatic culture that U.S. President Donald Trump presents. On one level, to be sure, Trump can be depicted as a return to an older type of diplomacy. Privileging ad hoc processes as a means to circumvent all forms of institutionalization whether formal (UN, IFIs, WTO, NATO) or informal (G20, contact groups etc.). On an­other level, the operational style of President Trump is focused on personalism, detachment from any fixed ideology, a winner take-it all approach to nego­tiations, the use of bilateral one-on-ones, constant surprises, and direct communication with ‘his’ sup­porters combined with an erratic use of Twitter

Thus this accumulated challenge to diplomacy and foreign ministries in particular comes not from the periphery of the global system where it might be ex­pected. After all, small states were among those that experienced the heaviest diplomatic casualties of the global financial crisis. Additionally, small states have been left out of the new institutions, not only in terms of the G20 but also the BRICS-states and the MIKTA29 partnership. Furthermore, space for normatively driven diplomatic initiatives, which was led in some considerable part by small states, for example at the International Court, has been curtailed.

That the contested view of diplomacy and diplomats is most robust in countries at the core of the international system, is a dynamic that can only be understood in the context of a backlash against a wider segment of established institutional culture. Such an adverse reaction at least to some degree re­flects the ascendancy of celebrity culture, which puts the onus on personalistic spectacle rather than a cul­ture of achievement. What is new and different is the connection between celebrity status and populism rather than an institutional connection. Whereas celeb­rities such as George Clooney, Angelina Jolie, or for that matter, Bill Gates or Ted Turner, were asso­ciated with the United Nations and/or global ini­tia­tives aimed at delivering global public goods,30 celeb­rity politicians, notably Donald Trump – or indeed Boris Johnson and Beppe Grillo (the former leader of the Five Star Movement in Italy, who focused in­ternally to appeal to large domestic constituencies) – are closer connected with populism.

Foreign ministries have become more fragile in their standing across a wide spectrum of countries. The view that diplomats/foreign service officers have a unique ability to interpret the national interest is strongly embedded, accentuated by the legacy of a distinctive culture that highlights the separation of diplomats not only from other components of gov­ern­mental bureaucracy but citizens at large. Diplomacy evolved to “function [as intermediator] between states and societies separated by institutions, law, culture, economics, and language.”31 Therefore, as long as for­eign ministries had a special status (with the ability to some considerable extent to act as the primary conduit for external relations) the ‘guild’ system vis-à-vis diplomacy imparted some considerable strengths. How­ever, increasingly stirred up and mobilized citizens push to circumvent this component of the establishment, as they also do in the contest between representative and participatory democracy.

Through this type of framework, therefore, it is not surprising that diplomacy and diplomats have faced challenges of even a more formidable nature beyond the West when a combination of celebrity status and populism completely captures a state. Venezuela under President Hugo Chávez (1999–2013) fits this model with its mixture of charismatic leadership and so‐called ‘diplomacy of the peoples’ (diplomacia de los pueblos). According to Cardozo the deterioration of professional diplomacy in favor of personal relations and the “diplomacy of microphones” meshed with the “definition of diplomacy in terms of support for the regime”,32 rather than having any professional basis. As Serbin and Serbin Pont put it:

“The Foreign Service was restructured in 2000 and 2005. Changes included the modification of the Pedro Gual diplomatic academy so that professionals entering the diplomatic service would also have to do social service and experience personally the structure of the Bolivarian social missions and to acknowledge their effects on the revolution.”33

The populist challenge highlights the disconnection between a perceived entrenched elite and ‘the people’ embracing hyper-empowered individuals as their cham­pions. Personalism is no longer restricted to the leaders of distinctive political parties. The cult of celeb­rity owes no loyalty to established patterns of per­for­mance. Even the most cynical citizens are drawn to the aura of autonomous individuals who are the contradistinction of what diplomatic culture rep­re­sents.

Making the challenge even more formidable is the ability of these hyper-empowered individuals to rep­re­sent themselves as flag bearers for the frustrations of ordinary citizens. They operate through loose net­working as outsiders rather than using the closed clubs of insiders. All of this is not to say that the back­lash extended through the process of disintermediation dismisses all diplomacy and diplomats as not fit for purpose. On the contrary, what stands out is the contrast between the generalized contestation of diplo­macy and the high value placed on specific diplo­mats, as witnessed by the tributes to Ambassador Chris Stevens and others killed in the 2012 Benghazi attack. In the UK, it is an open question whether attacks on diplomacy by populist politicians such as Nigel Farage are authentic or simply a response to the willingness of some diplomats such as Sir Ivan Rogers to speak ‘truth to power’ about Brexit. After all, Farage revelled in meeting Trump in an unofficial capacity, particularly as the idea was floated by Trump that Farage would make a ‘great’ British ambassador to the United States.

Even with these caveats, nonetheless, the challenge to diplomacy and foreign ministries is a serious one. Given the power of the disintermediation, an oppor­tunistic set of ascendant political leaders – even those located at the core of the international sys­tem – have considerable incentive to diminish ‘their’ own diplo­mats as part of a wider campaign to stigma­tize the traditional establishment.

Under this intense pressure there is a logic in diplo­mats demonstrating their value. Some modes of operation could well be downplayed in this process: for example, the high-profile efforts of ambassadors and missions to engage in public campaigns to criti­cize or even destabilize autocratic regimes. The efforts of Michael McFaul, the then U.S. Ambassador to Russia (2012–2014), on Twitter with a following of 60,000, falls into this category. So does the effort of U.S. Ambassador Robert Ford to Syria, who was already reaching out in 2011 (at the beginning of the Syrian crisis) to opposition forces and who visited cities under siege by the Assad government’s security forces.

Facing the challenge of populism, diplomacy and diplomats need to be far more reactive.

Facing the challenge of populism, diplomacy and diplomats need to be far more reactive. In these dis­ruptive times, the most instrumentally attractive approach is one in which the institutions and machin­ery of diplomacy are geared towards delivery in the service of citizens. Again, this is not a complete­ly novel strategy, but it is one that needs to be implanted into the mantra of ‘public’ diplomacy di­rected do­mesti­cally. At every opportunity diplomacy and diplo­mats should counter the image of ‘de­nation­al­is[ation]’ – originally put forward as a concern by Sir Harold Nicolson in the interwar years;34 but it is a concept which under current turbulent conditions must re­turn to the fore of thinking and practice.

Christer Jönsson

Diplomatic Representation: States and Beyond

Representation, in terms of standing and acting for others, is a core function of diplomacy. Historically, diplomats represented individual rulers; today they represent states. Their representative role hinges on the predominance of states in international relations.

“When states become weaker, so do those who represent and derive authority from them. As the trend continues towards global decision-making for the big global issues on the one hand, and greater localisation and individualisation on the other, where does a state’s representative fit in?”35

Representing states diplomatically in the 21st century is far from unproblematic. In the first part of this chapter, I will attempt to identify some contemporary and future challenging issues of state representation through diplomats. Moreover, in the 21st century actors other than states make claims to diplomatic representation. The second part of my chapter will therefore discuss the implications and challenges of broader diplomatic representation.

State Representation

From Antiquity to the Middle Ages, diplomats repre­sented sovereign rulers in the sense that they were per­ceived to embody their sovereigns when they pre­sented themselves at foreign courts. While such a view is alien to modern thought, today’s principle of diplomatic immunity has deep roots in notions of personal representation. Early envoys were inviolable for the reason that they were to be treated “as though the sovereign himself were there.”36Today, the status of diplomatic representatives, standing for someone or something other, is understood as symbolic repre­sentation. The diplomat is then a representative in the same sense that a flag represents a nation.

Representation implies not only status (standing for others) but also behaviour (acting for others).

Representation implies not only status (standing for others) but also behaviour (acting for others). Economists and political scientists analyse such rela­tionships between representatives and those repre­sented in terms of principals and agents. Principal-agent relations arise whenever one party (principal) delegates certain tasks to another party (agent). Diplo­mats and elected politicians are obvious examples of agents, who have been entrusted with certain tasks from their principals (governments/voters). Due to conflicting preferences and information asymmetry, agents may pursue other interests than those of the principal. Delegation is therefore usually combined with control mechanisms, such as monitoring and audits.

The proper behaviour of a representative is a matter of intense debate, especially in the literature on representative democracy. At issue is whether agents have an “imperative mandate”, being strictly accountable to their principals, or a “free mandate”, being authorized to act on behalf of their principals.37 It implies an appraisal of whether accountability or authorization is the key term to characterize the rela­tionship between representatives and principals.

At first sight, diplomats as civil servants would seem to have a restricted or ‘imperative’ mandate compared to the freer mandate of elected politicians. However, this is a simplification. While varying in restrictions, the instructions and bargaining mandate of diplomats often allow room for initiative within the given frames. Diplomatic representation rests on two-way communication and mutual influence. Using their diplomatic talent in interaction with their own foreign ministry, diplomats have influence over the instructions they receive which may give them con­siderable leeway.

In short, standing and acting for others entails per­ennial dilemmas and issues concerning diplomats’ symbolic role and the balancing act between the im­perative and free mandate extremes. Are there, then, specific issues of diplomatic representation in the 21st century? Hereafter, I will identify some changes and trends, and raise questions concerning their implications. As for symbolic representation, I will discuss the change from immunity to vulnerability and the question of whether diplomats ought to mirror the society they represent. In addition, I will identify three interrelated issues concerning principal-agent relations and diplomatic behaviour: what are the sig­nificant differences in representing a democratic or an authoritarian state? How can diplomats represent divided societies? And what problems are associated with representing a populist regime?

From Immunity to Vulnerability

For centuries, the fact that diplomats represented venerable principals – from powerful monarchs to established states – guaranteed their protected and privileged status. Whereas long-standing rules of diplo­matic immunity and privileges by and large continue to be upheld in interstate relations, popular perceptions of diplomats have changed in recent decades. To the extent that diplomats are perceived as symbols of disliked countries, religions or ‘-isms’, the quality of standing for others has been transformed from a rationale for diplomatic immunity to a rationale for political violence. No longer being inviolable symbols, diplomatic representatives have increasingly become highly vulnerable symbols.

In a polarized world diplomats and diplomatic facilities have become soft targets for terrorist attacks. For instance, of all terrorist attacks targeting the United States between 1969 and 2009, 28 percent were di­rect­ly against U.S. diplomatic officers. In 2012 alone there were 95 attacks against various diplomatic insti­tutions, of which more than one-third targeted UN personnel.38 As a consequence, embassy security has become an overriding concern. Some embassies today have the appearance of fortresses or penitentiaries, with barbed wire atop and alongside high walls with­out windows. CCTV surveillance, turnstiles, metal detectors and crash proof barriers are only a few exam­ples of security devices at embassies and con­sulates. One veteran U.S. diplomat speaks of “creeping militarization”, as embassy security has become influenced by military priorities and require­ments.39 The military connection is also reflected in the fact that embassies and diplomats representing governments with ongoing military operations are particularly vulnerable.

This raises the question of whether there are non-militarized approaches to restoring the protection and security of diplomats that have been a hallmark of diplomacy throughout centuries. The tendency toward increasing insecurity and vulnerability not only impedes diplomatic tasks but also threatens to render the recruitment process of qualified personnel more difficult.

Mirroring Society

Standing for others can be understood in another, more literal, sense. To what extent do diplomats need to mirror the social and ethnic composition of the societies they represent? For most of recorded history, diplomatic envoys have represented individual rulers rather than whole communities and have not neces­sarily come from the same country as their rulers. Well into the 19th century diplomats were aristocrats, who could easily change from one monarchical em­ployer to another. The idea that diplomats should be an accurate reflection or typical of the society they represent is quite recent. With increasing migration, many – if not most – states will have a multiethnic and multicultural character in the 21stcentury. In countries with substantial immigration, such as Sweden, governments have recently made efforts to influence recruitment policies in such a way that diplomatic corps better mirror the multiethnic char­acter of these societies.

The standard objection to taking measures to safe­guard representativeness in this sense is that diplo­mats are supposed to represent national policies and values rather than the social and ethnic composition of the society they come from. However, the question needs to be raised how important the symbolic value of accurately reflecting their society might be in the perceptions of relevant audiences. Another considera­tion concerns the potential value of individuals with multiple cultural backgrounds and understandings in diplomatic negotiations with relevant counterparts. For instance, could diplomats recruited from the Mus­lim population in Germany or Sweden play a con­struc­tive role in negotiations with Arab countries?

Gender is another debated dimension of representa­tiveness. In many diplomatic establishments around the world there is an ongoing quest to end formal and informal barriers and bring about gender parity, which will no doubt pervade the 21st century. Despite positive developments in recent years, diplomatic infra­structures still tend toward masculinized norms, homo-social environments and gendered divisions of labour.40

Democratic vs. Authoritarian States as Principals

The nature of the principal is one important factor determining the nature of diplomatic representation. Specifically, it matters whether the diplomatic agent has a single principal or receives instructions from a collective body. Principal-agent theory heeds the prob­lems of collective or multiple principals, pecu­liarly to the increased autonomy agents may enjoy as a result of competing preferences among principals. The unequivocal instructions from a single sovereign in earlier times left less leeway for diplomats than the frequently vague instructions resulting from nego­tia­tions among different actors and agencies in modern democracies. And whereas democratic states place diplomats at the end of multiple chains of principals and agents, diplomats representing contemporary authoritarian states, with one clearly identifiable principal, have more restrictive mandates.

We need to think harder about differing parameters of diplomatic representation between democracies and autocracies and the possible consequences of this.

The changing balance between democratic and authoritarian states in the 21st century constitutes quite a change from the optimistic predictions of the final victory of liberal democracies after the end of the Cold War. This ought to make us think harder about differing parameters of diplomatic representation between democracies and autocracies and what consequences these might have. For instance, demo­cratic methods of arriving at agreement by civilized discussion rather than coercive dictation have a bear­ing on diplomacy as well. The use of digital platforms by autocracies for info warfare represents a new facet of 21st century diplomacy. On the other hand, digital diplomacy offers an effective tool for democratic states to bypass the controlled media in authoritarian states.41

Representing Divided Societies

A specific case of representation dilemmas in the 21st century occur in divided societies. Two prominent ex­amples are Great Britain after the Brexit referendum and the United States after the election of Donald Trump as president. These countries are politically split into two halves of similar strength, with oppos­ing views on issues that diplomats have to deal with. On the one hand, this would seem to grant diplomats more leeway. But, on the other hand, the lack of firm and consistent policies, standpoints and instructions complicates life for diplomats significantly.

The lack of a firm consensus can be a serious lia­bility in international negotiations, as the other side may try to exploit internal divisions and opposing standpoints. One common dynamic, well-known from repeated Cold War occurrences, is that hard-liners of both sides tend to reinforce each other’s position. The Brexit negotiations will be a significant test case for whether old patterns hold in the new 21st century en­vironment. This unique situation of an encounter between a deeply divided society and a coalition of a large number of dissimilar states makes for interest­ing observations concerning representation in the contemporary world.

Representing Populist Regimes

Another specific difficulty concerns the rise of popu­list regimes. Populism yields a democratic representation problem. Populists claim to represent ‘the real people’ or ‘the silent majority’. By implication, those who do not share the populists’ views and notion of ‘the people’ are not legitimate members of society. Populism is essentially anti-pluralist, which is in con­tradiction to the norm of coexistence − to ‘live and let live’ – on which both democracy and diplomacy rest.

The question is how to represent a principal who distrusts you.

The controversial conception of democratic representation domestically translates into an external dip­lo­matic representation problem. Exploiting grow­ing mistrust and suspicion among voters, populist leaders target diffuse and undefined forces, such as ‘the estab­lishment’ or ‘experts’ who have ostensibly under­mined the democratic system. Along with jour­nalists, diplomats are typically included in these cat­egories. The fact that xenophobia is often a com­po­nent of populism does not make the situation easier for dip­lomats. This raises the question of how to rep­resent a principal who distrusts you. The U.S. under President Trump is a case in point. The presi­dent has openly declared his lack of confidence in the State Department and his budget proposal for 2018 cuts its budget significantly. Furthermore, a number of im­portant ambassadorial appointments have been post­poned including countries such as Mexico, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Among U.S. diplomats there is widespread distress, and many have chosen to leave the service.

As this current example illustrates, the problem of representing populist regimes is interrelated to the issue of differing principal-agent interests as well as the difficulty of representing divided societies.

Non-State Representation

Diplomatic recognition is a “ticket of general admis­sion to the international arena”,42 which has been granted to states or state-like entities, and not to other influential international entities, such as multi­national corporations or financial actors. Will the state-centric pattern of diplomatic recognition and rep­resentation persist in the 21st century, or are there signs of potential change?

One recent noteworthy exception to the state-centred pattern is the recognition of the EU as a diplo­matic persona. This raises the question of whether this ‘supranational challenge’ heralds the introduction of other regional organizations on the diplomatic arena. Insofar as cities are increasingly making claims to becoming represented in the international arena, one may speak of a ‘subnational challenge’ as well. Most important, however, is the ‘transnational challenge’ from organizations and groups which act beyond na­tional borders yet are not controlled by governments.

Supranational Representation

The EU is the prime example of a supranational actor in today’s world. With the entry into force of the Lis­bon Treaty in December 2009 the EU as such, not just the Commission, acquired a diplomatic persona. The EU ‘foreign minister’, the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, is assisted by the European External Action Service (EEAS). The recruit­ment process has not been unproblematic. Some 1,600 officials were transferred to the EEAS from the Commission and the Council Secretariat on 1 January, 2011. In addition, staffs are recruited among member-state diplomats. The representational function of EU delegations is well established and EU diplomats take an active part in the local corps diplomatique. Yet sev­eral organizational questions are yet to be solved.43

One set of challenges concerns the ‘double-hatted’ character that the service shares with its foreign minis­ter. Sceptics wonder how the two sets of career streams in the Commission and the Council Secretariat can be fused. Additionally, the recruitment of mem­ber-state diplomats adds to the heterogeneity and po­ten­tial tensions. Another problematic aspect of supra­national European diplomacy concerns the persistence of traditional, national diplomatic repre­senta­tion among the member states. The emergence of the EU as a diplomatic persona has not replaced, but merely added a new layer to, traditional diplomacy. To repre­sent a conglomerate of states, which all have indi­vidual diplomatic representation, is no easy mat­ter. Nor are there indications that other supranational entities than the EU will be granted similar diplomatic status and representation in the foreseeable future.

Subnational Representation

Traditional diplomacy presupposes centralized con­trol of interaction across state boundaries. Regions and cities are then not recognized as diplomatic personae with representation of their own. Nor are constituent states in federal governments. However, there is an increased activity of subnational units. To refer to these cross-border activities sometimes the terms ‘micro-diplomacy’ and ‘para-diplomacy’ are sometimes used.

Today, some authors speak of a renaissance of cities as international actors.44 The “governments of large cities and urban areas increasingly engage directly in diplomatic activities, opening representative offices in foreign capitals and other major world cities and sending their mayors on ever more fre­quent ‘state’ visits to their foreign counterparts.”45City governments engage in a variety of international activities and receive increasing recognition for this role. The increasing engagement by local governments in peaceful areas or countries to support their counterparts in more troubled regions received spe­cial attention at the First World Conference on City Diplo­macy in The Hague in 2008.46 City governments have become organized themselves in one general NGO, United Cities and Local Governments, which has observer status with the United Nations.

Subnational levels of federal nations constitute a special case. U.S. states ranging from California and Florida to New York and Massachusetts have represen­tations in various foreign capitals, as do Canadian provinces, such as British Columbia, Quebec and Ontario. Scotland, Wales, Catalonia and Bavaria are other examples of regional diplomatic representation. Public diplomacy, treaty-making, transnational part­nerships and participation in multilateral organizations and networks are examples of diplomatic activ­ity by federated entities.47

While the diplomatic representation of subnational actors is still relatively marginal, it is not farfetched to anticipate that their role will be enhanced in 21st cen­tury diplomacy, considering their critical role in the global economy.

Transnational representation

Given their enhanced role, transnational actors (TNAs) of various kinds – NGOs or civil society orga­ni­za­tions, advocacy networks, party associations, phil­an­thropic foundations, multinational corporations – have be­gun to claim, and are increasingly granted, rep­resen­tation in various diplomatic forums. For in­stance, some 3,000 NGOs now have consultative sta­tus with the Economic and Social Council of the United Na­tions (ECOSOC), as compared to 41 in 1948. The open­ness toward NGOs has subsequently spread to other parts of the UN system, generating a pattern where few or no UN bodies remain entirely closed to TNAs.48

States and international institutions are engaging TNAs as policy experts, service providers, compliance watchdogs, and stakeholder representatives. A data­set, containing information on formal TNA access to 298 organizational bodies of 50 international organi­za­tions during the time period 1950–2010, shows that, while hardly any of these organizations were open in 1950, more than 75 percent provide access in 2010.49

In addition to gaining access to diplomatic forums, TNAs can enact diplomatic roles by means of infor­mal networking. Prominent examples of networking between states, NGOs and international organizations include the processes leading to the Ottawa Treaty in 1997 banning landmines and the creation of the Inter­national Criminal Court in 2002. In global health governance the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has emerged as a major player. Actors behind popular digital platforms, such as Google and Facebook, have a considerable political impact by how they organize our access to information. While they have not become actively involved in diplomatic processes thus far, their central position in today’s world will in­evitably draw them into the diplomatic realm before the end of the century. However, in a passive way, these platforms already impact the way diplomacy is conducted as well as the international standing of diplomats.

In sum, one may speak of a transnational turn in diplomacy.

In sum, one may speak of a transnational turn in diplomacy. Senior diplomats admit that traditional bilateral and multilateral diplomacy has been “pro­gressively supplemented by transnational issues which may or may not involve government-to-gov­ern­ment activity.”50However, TNA representation is prob­lematic. Whereas TNAs typically claim to repre­sent a ‘global civil society’, a disproportionate num­ber of them are based in North America or Europe. “As of 2007, 66 per cent of the then 3,050 NGOs with consultative status at the ECOSOC came from North America or Europe.”51 This imbalance seriously re­duces the legitimacy of their claims to represent the underprivileged and give voice to the voiceless. The crucial question is whether TNAs from the poor half of the world will acquire the necessary resources to be represented in international forums in the 21st century.


Representation is not a simple and static concept, but a complex and dynamic one. Changes in the para­meters of diplomatic representation in the 21st cen­tury warrant reflection among practitioners and stu­dents alike. In this chapter, I have pointed to some, but by no means all, contemporary issues of representation. I have raised questions, but have not provided any answers. My point is that subtle shifts in the non-technological foundations of diplomacy need to be noted along with the more dramatic changes in infor­mation technology when discussing the evolution of diplomacy in the 21st century.

As symbolic representatives of states, diplomatic agents face challenges in terms of increased vulner­ability and demands for reflecting multiethnic soci­eties. The problems of acting for others, discussed here, pertain to the changing nature of principals: the difference between democratic and authoritarian states; and the specific complications associated with divided states and populist regimes.

As for non-state representation, the uncertain future development of the EU will determine the significance of the supranational challenge, with no rival regional diplomatic actors in sight. Subnational representation will, in all likelihood, remain of mar­ginal importance, unless states abandon their diplo­matic role. For example, the United States’ withdrawalfrom the Paris Agreement triggered individual U.S. states to become more active in the international cli­mate regime. The transnational challenge, on the other hand, has transformative potential by eroding the exclusive cross-border authority of states.

Representation, in sum, is best understood as a process rather than a static relationship. It is a process of mutual interaction between principals and agents.52 Some authors have suggested that the notion of “plas­tic control”, introduced by Karl Popper to describe the relation between two interacting and indeterminate systems, may help us to understand this mutual rela­tionship, at the same time as it points to the difficulties in defining representation in more precise terms.53

Corneliu Bjola

Trends and Counter-Trends in Digital Diplomacy*

The most fascinating aspect of technological disruption is its remarkable capacity for both destruction and creation. By marginalising or even eliminating ways in which people do their work in a specific field of activity, new technologies create pervasive con­ditions for active and enduring resistance against them. On the other hand, by laying the groundwork for new economic or social opportunities, they also stimulate new thinking and innovative practices that reinforce and sustain these technologies in the long term. The ability of disruptive technologies to en­trench themselves in society depends, therefore, on how the balance between the trends and counter-trends that they abruptly unleash is ultimately decided. This observation may prove particularly valuable for understanding the evolution of digital diplomacy and the extent to which the recent adoption of digital technologies by Ministries of Foreign Affairs (MFAs) will be able to substantially change the way in which diplomacy is practiced, or whether it will have only a marginal effect on its mode of operation.

Two opposing mega-trends are particularly impor­tant to consider when examining the transformative potential of digital technologies on diplomatic rela­tions. The first mega-trendactively encourages digital adoption and is driven by the dual process of rapid acceleration of technological disruption, on the one hand, and the MFAs commitment to thrive in an increasingly competitive environment, on the other hand. While it took the telephone 75 years to reach 100 million users worldwide, the mobile phone and its most popular app, Facebook, needed only 16 and 4 ½ years respectively to pass this milestone.54 Tech­nological acceleration thus puts significant pressure on MFAs to develop strong capacities for understanding the potential of digital technologies in their activity and for devising strategies for mainstreaming and tailoring them to short and long-term foreign policy objectives. The failure to do so, risks exposing MFAs to the problem of not being able to maintain their ability to meaningfully influence policy out­comes in the international arena. Three areas should be analysed closer by MFAs as the rate of technological disruption accelerates: the context, the process, and the structure of the digital diplomatic transforma­tion.

Context: From Institutional-based to Ecosystem Approaches

From an institutional perspective, the MFA’s organi­sational culture constitutes a critical interface for digital adaptation and can make a big difference as to whether diplomats would perceive digital technol­ogies as a threat or as an opportunity in their work.55However, as the success or failure of technological innovations is also dependent on the quality of the broader ecosystem that supports them, MFAs would also need a better understanding of the technological context in which they operate in order to figure out which digital trends to follow and which not. The 3G mobile technology made possible, for instance, the devel­opment and spread of social media networks. The 5G technology, which is due to arrive in just a few years, will likely usher in a whole new level of technological disruption, which could lead to the mass adoption of an entire range of tech tools of growing relevance for diplomacy, such as virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) in public diplomacy or artificial intelligence in consular services.

What’s the difference between 
AR, VR, and MR?

Augmented reality (AR) adds digital elements to a live view often by using the camera on a smartphone. Exam­ples of augmented reality experiences include Snapchat lenses and the game Pokemon Go. Virtual reality (VR) implies a complete immersion experience that shuts out the physical world. Using VR devices such as HTC Vive, Oculus Rift or Google Cardboard, users can be transported into a number of real-world and imagined environments such as the middle of a squawking penguin colony or even the back of a dragon.

In a mixed reality (MR) experience, which combines elements of both AR and VR, real-world and digital ob­jects interact. Mixed reality technology is just now start­ing to take off with Microsoft’s HoloLens being one of the most notable early mixed reality apparatuses.

Source: see

In fact, as Sandre points out, the future is already here.56 For example, in May 2016, the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation an­nounced that it had joined the Google Art Project – an online technology platform developed by Google to promote and protect culture – to open its art collection and virtually display 176 works of art.57 In July 2016, NATO’s Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Coordination Centre (EADRCC) and Romania, with support from the Joint Health Agriculture and Food Group (JHAFG) and the Civil Protection Group (CPG), partnered to organize a disaster response exercise using VR to simulate a large-scale emergency situa­tion with multiple casualties and the evacuation of a large number of people.58 AR has been somewhat slower than VR to catch on with the public, but the technology is advancing fast59 and should be able to generate a steady flow of apps, including for diplo­macy, relatively quickly.

The success of the second wave of technological disruption will greatly depend on the reliability of the eco­system in which embassies operate.

Immersive AR systems could prove useful, for in­stance, for creating highly interactive public diplo­macy campaigns or for tailoring consular services to individual needs, possibly in combination with iBeacon technology.60 Artificial intelligence (AI) is also making steady progress in consular affairs. At the lower end of the complexity scale, chat-bots now assist with visa applications, legal aid for refugees, and consular registrations.61 More sophisticated algo­rithms are being developed by MFAs to either advance the spread of positive narratives or inhibit online dis­information and propaganda.62 In sum, the second wave of technological disruption is already under way, but its success will greatly depend on the reli­ability of the ecosystem in which embassies operate: superfast broadband availability, clear strategic vision, strong demand for digital services, cost effec­tiveness, and skilled personnel.

Process: From Re-action to Pro-action

Staying ahead of the technological curve will likely require a cognitive shift from following to anticipating and possibly pushing new trends. By reacting to the rise of social media, MFAs have managed, for in­stance, to leverage the power of these tools for max­im­ising their role in public diplomacy, crisis com­munication and diaspora engagement. However, by anticipating new trends, they could better operate in an increasingly competitive digital environment and set the rules and standards of digital practice before others have the chance to do it. Pushing new trends could also prove highly beneficial, as the ‘first mover’ advantage could help digital pioneers to secure extra recognition and influence, thus boosting their ‘soft power’ credentials as diplomatic leaders and inno­vators.

‘Going pro-active’ could happen horizontally, when successful digital practices are extended from one diplomatic area to another (e.g., by transferring techniques of digital listening and engagement used in public diplomacy to crisis communication) or ver­tically, when the input/output value of digital tech­nologies is maximised (e.g., by making better use of big data via predictive analysis and algorithms). For example, by mining open-source data from social media, satellite imagery and blogs, the Embers project sponsored by the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA) has generated, since 2012, highly accurate forecasts of influenza-like illness case counts, rare disease outbreaks, civil unrest, domestic political crises, and elections.63 Big data analytics could thus become an indispensable tool for em­bassies for getting a comprehensive, in-depth and reliable under­standing of the local conditions in which they operate in real-time, which in turn could help them better tai­lor and fine-tune their bilateral diplomatic approach.

Structure: From Centralisation to ‘Network of Networks’

A dense digital environment, with a high rate of tech­nological innovation, favours and rewards creativity and experimentation over hierarchy and procedures. This means that in order to adapt more effectively to technological challenges, MFAs would need to relax the constraints of institutional centralisation and instead encourage forms and modes of digital inter­action tailored to the specific profile of its constitutive diplomatic networks. As noted by the authors of the Future of Diplomacy Report, the nature of the nation­al diplomatic environment is changing from one that privileges the role of the MFAs to one which places it within a broader construct – that of the national diplomatic system (NDS), which covers the complex network of governmental and non-governmental institutions that inform and shape a country’s inter­national policy objectives.64 Building on this insight, one could argue that MFAs’ digital architecture could be best captured by the concept of a digital diplomaticsystem (DDS), which refers to the ‘network of net­works’ of embassies, consulates, think tanks, private companies, international organisations and civil society groups that contribute and shape the digital diplomatic profile of a country.

DDS consists of three key layers. The first layer is demand driven and connects institutional actors, groups and stakeholders that directly benefit from digital diplomatic programs. It may include diaspora groups in need of good digital consular services, embassies in critical spots facing public diplomacy challenges, and think tanks providing consultancy to MFAs on digital matters. The second layer is functional and task-oriented. Diplomatic missions to internation­al organisations would benefit, for instance, from close collaborative efforts aimed at exploring and testing the potential of digital technologies in multilateral contexts. Similarly, embassies and consulates based in conflict-risk regions could share experiences and best practices regarding the use of digital technologies in crisis situations. The third layer is tech-oriented and practice-oriented and seeks to advance digital inno­vation and dissemination of good practices of digital diplomacy. Digital pioneers working in embassies, academics researching digital diplomatic practices and private IT companies are the most likely nodes in this network. The three DDS layers have flexible con­figurations and they may occasionally intersect or clash, but they can offer MFAs a much-needed boost of forward-thinking creativity and ambition to their digital diplomacy objectives and strategies, in a man­ner that does not require a fundamental rewriting of their institutional structure.

Paradoxically, the success of digitiza­tion may plant the seeds for the rise of a powerful counter-trend to MFAs’ efforts to further integrate and insti­tutionalise digital technologies in their work.

The second mega-trend works in a different direction by building resistance against the use of digital tech­nologies. Unlike the case above, where MFAs are con­cerned about the risk of missing out on potential op­portunities created by technological breakthroughs, this counter-driver raises questions about whether the costs of ‘going digital’ may not actually exceed its benefits. Paradoxically, the success of digitization may plant the seeds for the rise of a powerful counter-trend to MFAs’ efforts to further integrate and insti­tutionalise digital technologies in their work. Emo­tional contagion, algorithmic determinism and stra­tegic entropy are three ways in which this count­er-trend is more likely to manifest itself.

Post-truth: From Fact-based Reasoning to Emotional Commodification

Diplomatic engagement requires a minimum level of shared understanding and mutual openness in order to work. Such possibility arguably dissipates when emotions overwhelmingly frame and dominate the discourse by which opinions are formed online, and when facts are pushed into a secondary or marginal position. Emotional commodification (i.e., deliberate amplification of emotional content in the online dis­course) has become a regular pattern of engagement on social media platforms as it helps digital influ­encers control the scope and direction of the online conversation. Posts connected with high-arousal emo­tions, whether positive or negative, have greater viral potential than those containing low-arousal emotions.65 At the same time, emotional valence (i.e., the degree of positivity or negativity of an emotion) can trigger, by over-exposure, desired reactions from the audience.66 Emotional commodification has negative implications for digital diplomacy for two reasons. First, it enables the formation of echo-chambers, where­by MFAs and embassies end up “preaching to the choir” of sympathetic online followers, thus fail­ing to reach constituencies outside the self-re­inforc­ing “digital bubble” of like-minded followers.67Second, it favours a ‘post-truth’ environment in which ‘fake news’ and disinformation thrive, thus making more difficult for digital diplomats to articu­late their message and engage with their audience or to defend themselves against defamatory claims.

As the connection between emotions and social media becomes stronger and more sophisticated, the question of how digital diplomats can adapt to an emotionally charged form of social communication can no longer be ignored. The concept of digital emo­tional intelligence (DEI) might offer a solution. First developed by Salovey and Sluyter, DEI covers four distinct dimensions, namely, the ability:

To perceive or experience emotions accurately,

To use emotional information to facilitate thought and action,

To understand the meaning and significance of emotions, and

To manage emotions in one’s self and others.68

DEI cannot prevent the formation of echo-cham­bers or the dissemination of digital propaganda, but it can help social media users to better cope with them. For example, DEI can help digital users better dis­crimi­nate between genuine vs. false emotional ex­pres­sions, facilitate a better understanding of how emotions affect their thinking, enable them to recog­nise the sources and implications of their emotions, and regulate their level of detachment or engagement to an emotional trigger in a particular situation. Pay­ing close attention to how genuinely and intensely people feel about a particular situation in their online communication can help avoid embarrassing mo­ments with potentially disruptive implications for bilateral relations. In short, DEI could facilitate careful digital navigation through emotion-laden situations and steer the conversation back on a path informed by fact-based reasoning. MFAs and governments should therefore invest in the education of their staff to be better equipped to navigate this digital environment.

Automation: From Relationship-building to Robo-trolling

MFAs’ interest in digital technologies primarily lies with their capacities to reach out to online influencers and develop multiple networks of engagement with and across a variety of constituencies. By ‘going digi­tal’, the once secretive and exclusive domain of the elite has also gone public, requiring diplomats to regularly look outside their once closed doors, and perhaps more importantly, for the first time, allowing citizens to look in.69 Being able to reach out to mil­lions of people, directly and in real-time thus repre­sents a remarkable opportunity for MFAs to redefine themselves in the Digital Age, including by building strong relationships with foreign publics. This ability could nevertheless be severely tested and even com­promised by the growing use of algorithms as instru­ments of conversation monitoring, agenda setting and message dissemination. Recent studies have shown that up to 15 percent of Twitter accounts are in fact bots rather than people, and this number is bound to increase in the future.70 One could safely argue that whenever AI entities overtake humans in the popu­lation of digital users, the possibility of MFAs and embassies to develop meaningful relationships with online publics drastically decreases.

Furthermore, it is not only the presence of algorithms that may hinder digital diplomatic inter­actions, but also the purpose for which they are used. Intriguingly, the ‘dark side’ of digital technologies (e.g., disinformation, propaganda and infowar tactics) has proved to be the most fertile ground for the pro­liferation of bots. A recent report produced by the NATO’s Strategic Center of Excellence in Latvia has found, for instance, that the ‘Twitter conversation’ about NATO-related news is mainly bots talking to other bots, bots promoting third-party content and bots incrementally building more believable pro­files.71 Some also fear that AI could soon make it easier for adversaries to divide and dishearten alli­ances, for example, by undermining trust among countries fighting on the same side and by discrediting their intelligence.72 While these developments have a predominant intelligence and military profile, they nevertheless have important diplomatic reper­cussions, as their use is mainly tailored to tearing down political institutions and diplomatic relationships, not building them up.

It is also important to remind ourselves that digital diplomacy is not supposed to be an end in itself, but rather to inform and serve foreign policy objectives.

Robo-trolling (i.e., use of algorithms for content pro­motion and/or disruption) is now part of the digi­tal landscape and without new rules by which the anonymity of social media users can be removed, it is likely to remain so. Digital diplomats may not be therefore able to prevent AI from disrupting their relationship building activities, but they may contain some of its negative ramifications. The “Three A’s” (activity, anonymity, and amplification) – techniques of bot and botnet discovery and identification73 – should, for instance, be widely disseminated through the digital diplomatic system to increase awareness and resistance against possible sources of manipu­lation. At the same time, MFAs may deploy AI tools themselves, such as Google’s Perspective as a way of reducing the pressure on their limited resources for mapping and filtering abusive comments that disrupt their online conversation.74 In more serious situations, when the robo-trolling crosses the threshold of disinformation into aggressive propaganda and infowar, more sophisticated measures of digital con­tainment would need to be considered. The goals would be supporting media literacy and source criti­cism, encouraging institutional resilience, and pro­moting a clear and coherent strategic narrative capable of containing the threat from inconsistent counter-messaging.75

Strategic Entropy: From Digital Outputs to Policy Outcomes

It is also important to remind ourselves that digital diplomacy is not supposed to be an end in itself, but rather to inform and serve foreign policy objectives. The disruptive character of technological breakthroughs may lead, however, at least in the initial stage, to a decoupling of digital diplomacy from for­eign policy. Quick adoption of digital tools without an overarching strategy of how they should be used in support of certain foreign policy objectives is likely to create problems of policy coordination and imple­mentation. Digital enthusiasts working in embassies may seek to push ahead with experimentation and innovation, especially in public diplomacy, and with varying degrees of success. At the same time, MFA ‘mandarins’ facing budgetary and bureaucratic pres­sures to demonstrate ‘value for money’ may seek to slow down the process of digital adoption and to align it to the pace of foreign policy making. The risk for MFAs entailed by the ‘tug of war’ between digital enthusiasts and sceptics is to find themselves either running underfunded digital campaigns with no clear direction or strategic compass, or uncritically embrac­ing rigid ‘diplometric’ models, predominantly quanti­tative, for designing and assessing the success of digi­tal activities. In both cases, the result is likely to be the same: a middle-ground approach that would neither promote innovative digital outputs as favoured by enthusiasts nor reliably inform foreign policy out­comes as advocated by sceptics.

One way in which this tension could be mitigated is by drawing on the output vs. outcome distinction in public policy analysis so as to separate means (what digital diplomacy does) from results (what digital dip­lomacy accomplishes).76 Outputs reflect on-going con­sequences of digital activities, while outcomes cover broader influences of the digital outputs on policy objectives. As argued elsewhere, it makes sense to prioritise the impact of digital outputs at the ex­pense of policy outcomes, when digital activities involve complex operations, large audiences, and lengthy periods of implementation, as it may often happen in digital public diplomacy.77 In such cases, if quanti­tatively strong outputs (content, reach, engagement) are generated in a consistent fashion, then one would expect positive policy outcomes (e.g., perception changes in the target audience) to follow as well at some point. On the other hand, digital engage­ments are more conducive to informing outcome-based strategies, when they involve conventional opera­tions, with small or medium-size audiences, requiring short periods of implementation. Consular crisis com­munication is particularly amenable to this approach since the goal of assisting nationals in times of terror­ist attacks or natural disasters with timely and accu­rate information (output) about how to protect them­selves from harm during crises (outcome) is a relatively straightforward strategy in which digital outputs are informed by and assessed against tangible policy goals. In sum, managing strategic entropy is a matter of understanding how to prioritise and balance digital outputs vs. policy outcomes.

To conclude, the future of digital diplomacy lies within the ability of MFAs to exploit the opportuni­ties generated by technological disruption, while guarding itself against the potential pitfalls that its early success might create. If technological acceleration will be seen as an opportunity for ecosystem-based, pro-active, and network-oriented adaptation, then digital diplomacy is likely to penetrate the deep core of the diplomatic DNA. If, on the other hand, digitization fails to restrain emotional contagion, algo­rithmic determinism and strategic entropy, then MFAs will likely slow down their efforts to integrate digital technologies in their work.

Emillie V. de Keulenaar and Jan Melissen

Critical Digital Diplomacy and How Theory Can Inform Practice

A debate on the impact of digitization on diplomatic practice is currently taking place in most of the world’s diplomatic services. This debate serves as a reminder of how important it is to continue discerning the political significance of digital technologies in diplo­macy and to confront the emerging reality of diplo­matic engagement in a digitized world, rather than focusing exclusively on applying digital tools to existing practices. In 2016 and 2017, illicit electronic intervention in democratic elections and referenda in Europe and the United States has turned the issue of digital diplomacy’s ‘weaponization’ into headline news. In just a couple of years the dominant tone in the narrative on digital diplomacy has transformed from one of optimism about social media’s mobilization potential and a boost for democratization, to one of gloominess about ‘fake news’ and the stealthy intrusion in social media conversations by bots and trolls controlled from authoritarian countries. U.S.-based tech giants are accused of ethically question­able trade in personal data harvested from social networking sites, whilst the influence operations of the UK-based company Cambridge Analytica have caused alarm about the commercial behaviour of web developers in the social and political realm. More than five years after the social media optimism asso­ciated with the Arab Spring, some ministries of for­eign affairs (MFAs) that wanted to be seen as early social media adopters may wonder whether they have rushed into the social media domain without suf­ficient critical reflection.

Rather than joining current affairs commentary on the impact of social media in international politics, we will, in this chapter, first turn to literature that can help throw a light on underlying issues. We take a close look at new media studies to add to our under­standing of the role of digital technologies as media and infrastructures to current diplomatic processes. It is our aim to inform the study of diplomacy as well as diplomatic practice with relevant theoretical insights and conceptualizations from this field. We conclude with general policy recommendations for MFAs.

Technology and Diplomatic Practice

Agreement on essential terminology and a shared understanding of core concepts matters – and is not just relevant for academics. Reminiscent of references to ‘soft power’ in the past 25 years, by politicians and diplomats as much as scholars, basic terminology in the digital diplomacy debate is used rather loosely. In this context of changing practices, we need to reflect on the depth and extent of digital technology, first as a new medium for states and other international actors to communicate and conduct relations, and secondly as a condition. The digital age is increasingly permeating the way in which new generations experi­ence their life and work.

Before arriving at conclusions about the impact of technological change in the practice of international relations, it is worthwhile to continue reflecting on the capacities of these new technologies. It is safe to suggest that many MFAs’ initiatives aimed at encour­aging the use of social media have been insufficiently grounded in an analysis of digital technologies in terms of what they bring to modern literacy and to the conditions in which diplomacy is now practiced. Comprising these conditions are the underlying tech­niques that constitute digital technologies, whether they are referred to generally as algorithms or to other types of computational systems, including search engines, recommenders or newsfeeds. Benefitting from the mediatory capacity of digitization and data­fication practices, these techniques have become ubiquitous access points to culture, politics and eco­nomic activities. Designing these and other pieces of software grants tech actors a powerful political im­pact in how they formalize, organize and repurpose information and cultural capital today.

This invites the field of digital diplomacy to interrogate how digital technologies go about redesigning one’s access to processes relevant to diplomacy. Just as Facebook may have altered one’s access to social life, political action and the marketplace of ideas, other tech actors and their platforms have leverage in redesigning several processes that constitute inter­national relations. The potential of new technologies to assist knowledge management combined with the potential of big data concerning intricate issue areas and for the purposes of forecasting, are bound to have a great impact on diplomacy’s chief function: inter­national negotiation. Human decisions will remain as important as ever and data do not speak; but acting upon how data and the ideas they constitute are or­gan­ized by important algorithmic systems and plat­form affordances may add to ‘the art of negotiation’ and involve a great deal of complexity management.

In this sense, we see in the broader realm of cultural relations how digital culture impacts on trans­national exchange and conditions for the creation of new ideas in ways that interplay with international and domestic public consensus. New warfare tactics used by Russian military intelligence during the U.S. 2016 presidential elections have in fact directly tapped into this question by interplaying with popu­larity and attention metrics as they distributed sen­sational, ‘fake’ news to feed into partisan divide on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. The influence of digital platforms in the fields of culture and social relations may equally mean that they are of greater relevance to increasingly ‘societized’ diplomatic practices, ones that include diverse stakeholders and address a variety of non-traditional issues on the international agenda. Concretely, such societized diplomacy results in new dynamics in government-society relations and, arguably, more domestically oriented MFAs.

Many international challenges of our time have acquired some kind of digital dimension, such that their corresponding technologies provide a platform for social, political and economic activities that could be understood as being computationally formalized. It is one thing to assess Facebook as a vector of diplo­matic messages. Another aspect would be to assess the self-same politics partly as products of the plat­form mechanisms that process and organize them as data – or indeed to assess platform mechanisms and other algorithms as political processes in their own right. Doing so may invite diplomats to locate various issues relevant to foreign policy within their respec­tive technical context. For example, to what extent do information filtering systems such as YouTube’s recommender follow EU guidelines to distribute and ‘recommend’ videos in a pluralistic and diverse fashion? Possible answers to this question touch directly upon how the systematic organization of in­formation through algorithms constitutes the means through which political solutions may be applied. Facebook and Google have already been attempting to tackle problems such as filter bubbles and fake news from a technical standpoint – yet, they may greatly benefit from the perspective of those specialized in interpreting and resolving the nature of such issues, such as conflict and misinformation. Diplomats are in a unique place not just to offer their expertise, but also to formulate their own political philosophy of computational foreign policy by moulding values, strategies and processes proper to their field into infor­mation and information-organizing systems.

Such initiatives may come across as naïve for ex­pecting too much of companies driven by private gains and peculiar platform business models. But it is this very problem that pushes public policy makers to balance the public responsibility of tech actors and their patented systems, both widely originating from the United States, precisely by inviting the actors that design them to share a continuous, collaborative respon­sibility with foreign, public counterparts. This collaborative responsibility would be facilitated by diplomats attuned to the technical and political dimen­sions of the issues that such systems reproduce.

Digital Literacy and Awareness in Diplomacy

As mentioned above, pessimism and the extent to which misuse of social media complicates international rela­tionships seem to have become dominant in re­cent debates about digital diplomacy. We maintain never­theless that, because they provide one with additional capacities to put ideas and policy into (technical) prac­tice, digital technologies should above all be recognized as a source of creativity for diplo­mats. Their relevance comes above all from their capac­ities as media, and, in this sense, as grounds for new litera­cies. They can be more than simply using available devices and services such as email, Twitter or Face­book. Digital technologies can be compared to writing and speech in that they allow users or ‘writers’ to col­lect, organize and repurpose information on various aspects of reality, whether it be data about or from individual users, objects, institutions, or from more complex processes. Digital literacy would then range from engaging with ready-made software as a user all the way to coding it, gaining leverage over how users shall access it and what it allows one to do with it.

The so-called ‘digital divide’ may then not be just one between populations that have or lack the means to access these technologies, but also one between more or less ‘digitally literate’ citizens and governance. Big powers, small non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and diplomatic actors of any kind could employ programming languages as tools to operationalize data by way of realizing certain interests and objectives in the form of usable software for public usage or techniques designed for internal pur­poses, whether they be for reference (for example, with data analysis), communication or other pro­grammable purposes. In the same way that certain companies conceive of sociality, transportation or marketing in terms of information and information systems, digital diplomacy would invite policy to conceive of entities, processes, strategies and values relevant to diplomacy at least partly as computational entities. Digital literacy would then also refer to the ability to take on computation as a form of governance attuned to contemporary instruments of power, such as software. Adopting these means to digital literacy is what allows an institution such as diplo­macy to exercise active decision-making with tech­nical actors and towards the programs and data that touch upon their craft.

One of the challenges lies in conceiv­ing of ways to mediate the interests of tech actors and public actors.

Thus, digital literacy would equally amount to the individual ability to make an informed assessment of how these technologies are designed, and in what terms diplomats can approach those that design them: tech actors. The value of approaching them lies in gaining access to information about how their sys­tems work, what they do with data tied to issues at stake for MFAs, and in negotiating ways to alter their systems, the collection and curation of platform-owned data in ways favourable to all actors affected by those issues. One of the challenges, here, would lie in conceiving of ways to mediate the interests of tech actors, whose primary goal is to think in terms of product design, and public actors, who would in most cases advance the causes of several normative ques­tions. Ultimately, combining essentially technical and political rationales is what the deliberative process of digital diplomats could come down to. Part of this pro­cess entails proposing how tech actors could for­malize the normative values that drive the agenda of diplomacy as computational values – an exercise that may well invite diplomats and their tech actors into a joint deliberation.

MFAs have therefore started thinking about the fundamental implications of digital transformation for the physical structures of their headquarters and embassies. Following the private sector and other gov­ernment departments, they are currently enhancing their capacity to take advantage of big data analysis in the interests of foreign policy-making. A challenge for foreign policy bureaucracies steeped in centuries of diplomatic tradition is that they lack the intuitive, post-disciplinary, ‘native’ character of some NGOs and companies that are thriving with the investment and management of data. What may lie further ahead is that MFAs re-conceptualize diplomacy as the manage­ment of complexity as much as the management of international relations.

The Softwarization of Diplomatic Practice

Many practitioners appear to see ‘digital diplomacy’ almost uniquely as an extension of public diplomacy. Within this restricted understanding of the purposes of digital diplomacy, the decreasing trust in informa­tion, the privacy concerns of internet users, and the mobility across platforms of young generations amount to new challenges for MFA communication departments. There is however the need to take a broader look and analyse digital technologies as me­diating political processes. Diplomatic engagement with digital technologies and the utilization of soft­ware for diplomatic purposes is thus to be based on an understanding of the political significance of tech­nicality. The relationship between individual diplo­mats and digital technology suggests a different his­tory than the way in which predecessors have adopt­ed the use of the telephone (to call), the typewriter (to write), the telegraph (to send encrypted messages) and the personal computer (to write, store, organize and send information).

To be sure, the advent of social media has shown entirely new dynamics in the relationship between diplomacy and technology. Over the past years, many MFAs have invested a great deal in introducing them­selves to the social media phenomenon and have started making use of its potential in more and more areas of foreign policy. Following the Arab Spring, a variety of international crises between 2011 and 2015 were major learning opportunities for governments. In a relatively short time span, social media have become indispensable in the delivery of key MFA func­tions such as public diplomacy and assistance to nationals abroad.

The way in which digital technologies are currently used is often fundamentally similar to the incorporation of various types of ‘machines’ in 19th and 20th century diplomatic practice: diplomats use what tech­nology offers and is designed to do. Yet, as previously mentioned, part of understanding the digital dimen­sions of diplomacy today is to make use of digital tech­nologies as metamedia: media that can be used actively and imaginatively to create yet more media, such as software. They offer ready-to-use products such as computers and other hands-on devices, but they also provide the means to create software that is tailored to internal or proactive diplomatic needs. This seems to be the case with what Uber does for transportation, Airbnb for the hospitality industry, Google for documentation, YouTube for filmmaking, Spotify for music, and Facebook and Twitter for per­sonal relations, political careers and political activ­ism. The influence of these platforms resides partly in their organizing and systematizing of digitized data and the transnational mediation of content, whether it is in the form of culture, ideas, knowledge, rela­tions or capital. Such is the power of the daily bread-and-butter in the ‘walled gardens’ of Google (using its PageRank algorithm), Twitter (selling algorithms to private-sector clients doing business in personal data with governments), YouTube (the second largest engine on the web) and Facebook (at the centre of the debate about the ethical practices of commercial tech giants and the need to tame the influence of the cor­porate sector). There is now growing awareness that the mediation capacity of these platforms as controll­edinformational environments is as relevant to the world of diplomacy as it is to the commercial sector.

One important consequence of these fast-moving developments is that the governance of the digital realm needs to catch up. Although not analysed here, reigning in undesirable practices is a collective re­spon­sibility of national governments, digital plat­forms and end-users, which requires innovative forms of governance.

More than a Search for Attention Online

In terms of the kinds of skills needed by foreign policy actors, there is little doubt that the multifaceted nature of the digitization of diplomatic practice amounts to the largest upskilling exercise in the his­tory of diplomacy. For many future diplomats the most important learning will consist of critical knowl­edge and the use of software and other technical, but no less political, elements constituting digital tech­nol­ogies. From user-friendly interfaces to codes and algo­rithms, it is this design that they need to examine, critique, and improve in the interests of enhancing policy capacity.

The technical aspects of everything digital are profoundly political.

The technical aspects of everything digital are profoundly political, as debates about foreign inter­ference in the 2016 and 2017 U.S. and European elec­tion campaigns and the 2018 public outrage about Cambridge Analytica’s practices have made abundantly clear. Much more remains hidden in the ex­pand­ing realm where diplomacy and intelligence increasingly overlap. Common sense in the digital age therefore dictates that diplomats should remain critical of real-life actors behind software, of their intentions and of how they pursue their aims, and to what effect. Politics happens at the earliest stages of the design of software used in the context of inter­national relationships. In recent years, some western governments have lost their relative innocence. They follow the lead of more astute countries – ranging from Russia to Sudan and Israel to Iran – as well as non-governmental actors working in the interests of a better world, or engaged in violent action and with contested motives, such as terrorist groups or rebel movements.

Individual diplomats need concepts to critique and comprehend tech­nicality as a medium for diplomatic strategy and policy implementation.

Digital diplomacy is then not so much an active and continuous search for attention online, as it is in a lot of public diplomacy. The practices of digital communication and outreach to foreign and domestic audiences do in fact seem to have disrupted public diplomacy to an extent that deserves urgent examination. As to critical digital diplomacy: it constitutes diplomatic engagement with how culture, informa­tion and relations are systematized in software, such as with the counteracting of algorithms that do not work in one’s favour. Mechanisms constituting digital technologies can be actively used as tools to operationalize political and diplomatic interests. The chal­lenge for MFAs is thus to explore all of this and put it into practice. Individual diplomats are in need of con­cepts to critique and comprehend technicality as a medium for diplomatic strategy and policy imple­men­tation. After all, contemporary diplomacy is al­ready enacted in rapidly changing landscapes where new technological tools impact on the nature of inter­national relationships.

Five Policy Recommendations

1. Diplomats should realize that digital diplomacy constitutes engagement with how culture, informa­tion and relations are systematized in software, such as with the counteracting of algorithms that do not work in one’s favour.

2. As diplomacy is increasingly enacted in a digital environment, diplomats should be critical of real-life actors behind software, of their intentions and how they pursue their aims, and to what effect.

3. MFAs that have the capability to create software for diplomatic purposes but do not yet do so are at a disadvantage in comparison with more astute counterparts and non-governmental actors.

4. Mechanisms constituting digital technologies can be used as a medium to operationalize political and diplomatic interests.

5. Diplomats may act as mediators between plat­form actors and all others affected by platform sys­tems and data, honing a capacity to invite a dialogue between technical and normative interests.

Karsten D. Voigt

Perpetual Change: Remarks on Diplomacy Today in the European Union*

The number of organized and institutionalized actors actively participating in the international sector is steadily increasing. Synchronously (although the pub­lic was not traditionally concerned with foreign policy) sections of the public interconnect on national and international levels.. In addition, new partly-, pseudo- or quasi-governmental actors have come along. I will make six observations, drawing mainly from the German experience. The expansion of the diplomatic sphere predominantly relates to the for­eign policy of the European member states. This is not a coinci­dence, since particularly intense communication is taking place between member states of the European Union (EU). Via this communication, the boundaries between domestic and foreign policy as well as be­tween national, intergovernmental and international politics begin to blur. Thus this com­munication acts as an agent of continuous change for diplomacy, per­haps more so than elsewhere.

1. New Forms of Communication

The way foreign policy is conducted needs to adapt continuously. Situations involving crisis and conflict in particular require intense communication among all involved parties. In such situations, a daily ex­change of ideas between the capitals implicated in reaching a solution is the rule rather than the excep­tion. Which capitals will be involved in the communication depends on the relevance of the individual states and their leaders to the solution of the prob­lem. In Europe, Berlin will very often be one of the involved capitals.

Due to Germany’s weight, Berlin will in the future communicate even more with other capitals as well as with EU institutions. However, simply because of time constraints, it will not always be possible to equally inform all member states of the EU. German diplomacy is aware of this problem and therefore endeavours to include particularly the smaller EU member states during the process, or at least after­wards. This inclusive effort mitigates the problem of asymmetrical influence between larger and smaller states, but is not enough to solve it.

New forms of communication such as email, video calls, and direct messaging, the overall reinforced in­tensity of communication, as well as time constraints all lead to an increase in verbal exchange outside of formal reporting channels, especially in times of crisis. The availability of new communication path­ways changes the mode of operation within foreign ministries and with the chancellery as well as among other ministries. Within the EU it changes in particu­lar the role of embassies. During immediate and time-sensitive cases, communication increasingly takes place directly between capitals. Consequently, bi­lateral embassies in EU member states have become ever more marginalised participants in these pro­cesses, or are not involved at all. This leads to a change in the functioning of embassies within the EU: on the one hand, they increasingly accompany direct nego­tia­tions between governments, on the other hand, they partially undertake what traditionally has been staff work. In this way, they prepare the talks con­tentwise, as was previously done by the minis­tries’ bureaus.

2. New Competencies at the Top Operational Level

Within the EU, heads of government, foreign minis­ters, and specialized ministers meet frequently. Not merely the formal meetings of heads of government or specialized ministers, but also the numerous other formal and informal bi- and multilateral meetings. At these meetings opinions are expressed and agreements are reached that relativize the coordinating function of the foreign ministries in European affairs. Whether a transfer of the coordinating role of the foreign min­istry to the chancellery would solve the problem or only relocate it needs to be determined in the future. It is conceivable that as a result, work on substance – particularly in the most politically im­portant areas – will also be drawn into the realm of the chancellery.

3. Interministerial Exchange in the European Union

In addition, all relevant federal ministries in Germany have established task forces concerning international and European policy aspects of their ministries. Staff members in these task forces are often ‘borrowed’ from the foreign ministry. However, the fact of hav­ing personnel from the foreign ministry does not prevent individual ministries from developing direct working relations with their partners in other Euro­pean capitals and at the EU level. This influences the substantive work as well and complicates the effec­tiveness of national coordination of the European policy by the foreign ministry. Official representation of federal states at the EU is functioning similarly.

4. The Impact of European ‘Party Families’

All parties represented in the German Bundestag belong to European associations of similar and/or like-minded parties. In the case of the newly created Alternative for Germany (AfD) Europe-wide coordination of anti-European parties has only just begun. Many of these parties belong to parliaments or governments on national levels. Often, members of the European Commission proclaim their affiliation to one of these ‘party families’. Most parties in the European Parlia­ment regard themselves as a parliamentary arm of such a ‘party family’.

The role of party associations on the European level is significantly weaker than the role of national parties. However, party associations are effective as transnational networks and as instruments giving still predominantly national politics a transnational frame. They particularly influence personnel deci­sions at the European Commission and other Euro­pean institutions. In that respect, national and European politicians can exert influence in this area.

Thanks to their functions in their parties, heads of government, foreign ministries, and leading opposition politicians are frequently involved in these Euro­pean networks. Diplomats are often affected by the agreements thus made, but are seldom involved and sometimes insufficiently informed. Although the politicization of civil service can thereby (rightly) be avoided, it may happen that diplomats learn too late about such agreements, and so miss out on knowl­edge essential for their analyses, reports, and recom­mendations. Due to the informal nature of these kinds of meetings and agreements, so far very few studies have examined their role.

5. The ‘Nebenaußenpolitik’ (Parallel Foreign Policy) of Parties

In Germany, in the context of the conflict concerning the NATO Double-Track Decision in the decade before the fall of the Berlin Wall, there was a public dispute regarding what was then called ‘Nebenaußenpolitik’ (parallel foreign policy) by the Social Democratic Party. This referred to the cooperation between Social Democratic Parties in Scandinavia, the Benelux coun­tries, and Germany (so-called Euro-Lux or Scandia-Lux), among other things. It served as a coordinating platform for the parties’ position regarding the NATO Double-Track Decision, and subsequent negotiations between the United States and the Soviet Union. Trans­national coordination of foreign and security policy through parties is often at odds with the political intentions of respective national governments. How­ever, such transnational processes may be considered part of the logic of an increasing and a legitimate con­vergence between member states of the EU. With the decreasing role of large political parties and the dis­solution of party affiliation amongst the electorate in general, the ‘Nebenaußenpolitik’ by parties seems to be replaced more and more by a similar process with other actors such as NGOs (for example, their role concerning the U.N. 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development). Therefore, ‘Nebenaußenpolitik’ in a much wider sense might well be a future-orientated element of German and European foreign policy, which corresponds with the multiplication of actors, who all exert their influence on foreign policy.

6. The Influence of National Parliaments

Finally: Foreign policy is traditionally seen as the prerogative of the executive branch. Academically, the influence of parliaments is often assessed with reference to the division between executive and legis­lative branches along the lines prescribed by state constitutions. The prerogatives of parliaments con­sti­tute their ‘hard power’.

Beyond their own competences, parliaments also possess soft power.

However, beyond that they also possess ‘soft power’: their influence on political opinion-building. This is true of the German Bundestag and also applies to the still undervalued European Parliament. It even ex­tends to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, although that still has limited competences.

There is only one institution in the transatlantic relationship whereby members of parliament on both sides of the Atlantic can regularly meet for an intense dialogue regarding foreign and security policy issues: the Parliamentary Assembly of NATO. It has no com­petences, but might be used in the future for influ­encing political opinion-building in the parliaments of the member states of NATO – a role it has occa­sionally assumed in the past.

One outstanding concrete example demonstrates how the Parliamentary Assembly can exert influence. Several years before the German Federal Government and the U.S. Administration agreed upon the enlarge­ment of NATO to the East, and long before a majority for it emerged in the U.S. Congress and the German Bundestag, Volker Rühe and others endorsed the NATO enlargement to the East. All of them campaign­ed for it in Europe and in the United States, creating a task force focusing on the substance of a concept for NATO enlargement, and drafting different models of NATO, including the question of the deployment of troops and nuclear weapons. It was sent to all rele­vant par­lia­ments in Eastern Europe, including Russia, which surprisingly responded. A discussion continued in this way for several years, pre-empting later deci­sions by the concerned governments, and impacting on much later decisions by governments, parliaments, and even parties, in relevant if not measurable ways. The strengthening role of national parliaments in the diplomacy of their countries is thus something new, and governments benefit from contributions coming from different perspectives.


Diplomacy needs to recognize problems and courses of action early on while also seeking creative and tar­get-oriented ways to develop tools for shaping foreign policy. Today, this can be achieved by actors, at least within the scope of the EU, who previously hardly touched foreign policy: national parliaments, parties, new European ‘party families’, other ministries beside the foreign ministry, heads of state and governments (who take responsibilities from the ministries of for­eign affairs) – and, although less and less, the embas­sies within the European states.

The parties involved in this process of shaping for­eign policy – predominantly bureaucrats and poli­ti­cians – are not yet completely aware of this develop­ment. It is possible that diplomats are thus not yet adequately prepared for these changes. But one thing is certain: the foreign ministries must prepare for the consequences of an emerging need to deal with new, increasingly influential actors when they revise their structures and procedures.

Kim B. Olsen

The Domestic Challenges of European Geoeconomic Diplomacy

The strategic utilisation of economic, monetary or financial capabilities to advance their own geopolitical objectives has, in historic terms, been a defining aspect of almost every geographical entity’s foreign policy behaviour.78 For diplomatic practitioners, the interplay between governments and markets, and its impact on the former’s room for manoeuvre on the international stage, remains a fundamental tenet that is of analytical importance. For scholars of inter­national political economy, economic statecraft, eco­nomic foreign policy and the like, the relationship between wealth and power is a core driver of theo­retical debate and innovation. In light of the remark­able structural fluidity that defines the 21st century’s ‘m


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