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May 13, 2011 |  1 comment |  Print  Your Opinion  

Editorial Team

21st Century Statecraft: How New Technology is Changing Foreign Policy

Editorial Team: Ben Scott, policy advisor for innovation to Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, joined Atlantic Initiative, publisher of atlantic-community.org, at a roundtable discussion to talk about the importance of new media in foreign policy.

The State Department plans to use newly created channels of communication to leverage the networks and technology of an interconnected world. The importance of the internet in international relations no longer concerns just the private sphere but has evolved as a powerful tool for the media as well as changing the way in which we trade goods and communicate. Dr. Scott's foreign policy plans are to move beyond classic government-to-government diplomacy to include government-to-people communication as well as the creation of platforms in which people-to-people communication concerning political matters will become the norm. Social media is to become the tool with which new audiences can be found. This means that social media enables multi-dimensional and multi-stakeholder communication instead of one-directional communication.

Social networks such as Twitter and Facebook have been used mainly for communication with friends and family or as blogging platforms. However, both sites heavily influenced Obama's successful presidential campaign in 2008 and sparked politicians' interest as they began to realise that these new forums were invaluable ways to communicate with the electorate. Dr. Scott wishes to take these initiatives to a global level in which forums linking people from Europe and the US will become a hub of political activity. He emphasized that the State Department's goals are not to push American ideas onto the world but to realise that the international political landscape is changing and that states must too. Governments will only be one actor among many in matters of global communication.

To find a further, more contemporary example of the power of new technology one need only look as far as the recent events in North Africa where platforms like Twitter, Facebook and Youtube sparked the uprising and bore witness to the inhumane behaviour of the governments and police force. Social media amplified the effects and reach of conventional media. Dr. Scott gave the example of protesters, who held up posters in Tahrir Square with names of their twitter accounts for news crews and provided first-hands accounts of what was happening on the ground. Although new media can help bring about democratic change and connect as well as engage people, it will not replace the arduous endeavours of institution building.

As Dr. Scott explained, 21st Century Statecraft needs to consider internet freedom and free speech as a central human rights issue. A third of the world's population has access to mobile internet but lives in countries where content is blocked and speech is censored. The State Department is therefore leading discussions with other countries to develop and protect free speech on the web, even though that may, for now, seem a long way off.

Dr. Scott's second initiative is aptly named "Civil Society 2.0" in which civil society organisations would be matched with the needed media platforms and digital training to amplify their effectiveness. The State Department wishes to foster citizen engagement around the globe in the hopes of creating a "force for stability, security and public service". A group of US diplomats raised more than $30 million in donations in three weeks for aid relief after the earthquake in Haiti. Using social media websites to market the text message donation program, these diplomats proved the speed and effectiveness of large networks. This enhancement of tools can take many forms, such as mobile banking or election monitoring.

In all, Dr. Scott presented a solid set of ideas on paper even though he himself was unsure of the internet's ability to create rather than destroy. We have witnessed the internet's ability to help topple a corrupt regime but it has yet to be seen whether it can foster new parties and democratic governments. The idea of devolution of influence from large institutions to the individual should produce more communication and a greater citizen involvement to find solutions to global issues. With new technologies come new opportunities of growth, trade and communication and the State Department has recognised how valuable they are in terms of foreign policy.

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Talha Bin  Tariq

January 17, 2012

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I like this comment! What's this?
New technology is almost changing everything either its foreign policy or education .. health programs ... politics .. It is directly changing the mind set of people.


Regards.
Talha Bin Tariq
 

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