The Analyst: Tech-Diplomacy and Its Practices In The Modern Era

(By: Josephus Moses Gray/Email:

The landscape of diplomacy and its practices have changed from the old practices to a modern system; beginning with the advancement of technology and education that makes it imperative to adapt to the demands stemming from continuing transformations of the international system. The gradual collapse of a long-established hegemonies and the re-emergence of long-neglected enmities have placed a high premium on the work of those well-trained and skilled in mediation, negotiation and representation. v Diplomacy goes far beyond swanky banquets and curtails red wine discussion.

In whatsoever form or shape it may choose, this process will always be marked by well-guided and most often vested interests which may be viewed cardinal or changed in ingredient from country to country, sometime to the annoyance of other nations; shifts in ideas, norms of behavior, and informal practices that create new international customs and conventions.

The development of instant communications and the advance of science and technology have increased the depth and scope of diplomacy in this contemporary world of civilization, especially with the emergence of new states, nuclear weapons, conflict resolution, terrorism and bad governance. The necessity for a well formulated dialogue in a modern world when relative certainties of a bipolar state system have given way to a disorderly, confused multi-polarity is witnessed by the frenetic pace of contemporary diplomatic activities.

However, the revolutionary changes in the nature of relations between sovereign states and even non state actors with international reputation and other civil societies have changed the responsibilities of today’s diplomat which is basically that of mediation and communication of international issues between countries, civil international societies and the public. But, now new issues such as technical matters are coming to the forefront.

Out of this sphere of unfolding developments and uncertainties a diplomat, in this modern era, should obtain the ‘requisite tools’ of education, skills, and a marketable reputation. The word diplomat has been used in a rather general sense to include all members of the foreign services of all nations, and particularly those acting as chiefs of mission.

In contemporary diplomacy, the issues of economic interests, trade, protection of nationals, and security  have become much more difficult, with major challenges affecting the practices of diplomacy being influenced by major actors and powerful states, and some time the continued experiment of global, continental and regional groupings. Other factors such as bad political decisions in domestic politics, economic growth, and technological development, among others have greatly affected the international system.

These new issues not only reflect the wider interests and responsibilities of government but also narrowly focus on non-state actors (Mohammad Tariqul, 2005). These trends have consequently changed the diplomatic agenda, techniques and practice of diplomatic relations, the rapid growth in the operational activities of international organizations, and changes in the style of negotiating diplomatic matters.

In the words of Richard Rosecrance, Adjunct Professor of Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School, in the extended sense, diplomatic techniques have undergone considerable metamorphosis since the eighteenth century. In his book titled: The Rise of the Trading State”,  Rosecrance propounded that the extensive use of propaganda, subversion on a wide scale, and the manipulation of national economic instruments for foreign policy purposes have greatly enlarged the range of multilateral dealings on the world scene.

The role of the diplomat has changed appreciably purely due to the technological breakthrough in a modern world, today, the role of “conference diplomacy” and hi-tech diplomacy in most cases downgrade the role of diplomats especially Ambassadors. In this hi-tech advancement, in some cases diplomats are secondary important, while in a crisis did they act merely as messengers. In an advanced technically era, diplomats sometimes are merely the messengers of their governments rather than important advisers and policy makers, since technology has brought about a psychological warfare and propaganda that has become a powerful weapon to diplomacy and foreign policy.

According to a leading twentieth-century figure in the study of international politics, Hans Morgenthau, diplomacy will naturally decline with the onset of modern communication technologies such as the telephone, telegraph, cable and communication satellite. For example, following the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, Washington and Moscow set up a teletype system that delivered printed copy from one capital to the other.

Furthermore, leader’s willingness to use the telephone has carried communication a step further. In the Persian Gulf crisis of 1991, former President George Bush, Sr., and former President Mikhail Gorbachev conducted an unprecedented 75 minutes telephone conversation including the time needed for translations. Also in recent times the Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu made a telephone call to the UN secretary-general Ban Ki Moon dissuading him not to go to Iran, former US secretary of State, Colin Powell conducted an unprecedented about 95 telephone calls under the rubric of diplomacy to his colleagues around the world while Foreign Minister Augustine Kpehe Ngafuan on one occasion took advantage of this modern system of tech-diplomacy. Occasionally, telephone diplomacy some time experiences problem due to tech-glitch.

Powell by-passed his ambassador and put a call through directly to the Secretary General. Study shows that technology has rendered the difference in time, space and distance irrelevant and meaningless in contemporary diplomatic intercourse. And now the almighty internet with its many sophisticated features including the e-mail segment cannot be denied center-stage in the community of diplomacy.

Former American Secretary of State, Madeleine K. Albright in her book: New American Diplomacy,(2000), pinpointed that  Diplomacy is the art and practice of negotiation between nations, conducted mostly through private conversations and the exchange of confidential documents. According to her, Foreign Ministers and ambassadors use public statements and news conferences to explain their policies, seek support for their governments, and put pressure on other countries in the negotiations of a specify situation.

Diplomat should be fully aware of work every day to be able to partner with local businesses and companies in host country to enhance economic growth back home in his country. That is why those tasked with economic activities at embassy must be sharp, cognizant of global prevailing wheeling and dealing; keep check of the financial movers and shakers, be well-schooled and knowledgeable of economic diplomacy which encourages greater cooperation and relations that protect investment and bilateral ties between two states or among companies.

Former American Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger in his thoughtful new book: New Order: Explained that practically, new actors on the international scene are increasingly using practices employed by states with the aim of furthering their interests in the international arena and putting new issues on the global agenda. Not only do the ‘newcomers’ who are educated in the practices emulate states’ behavior, but they also develop new mechanisms and instruments of reading materials of diplomatic conduct and practices, this usually afford them the opportunities to make impact on the world stage of  recognized diplomatic practices.

Evidently, diplomat presents his or her government’s policies to the foreign and domestic publics in a persuasive and persuading tone, not a demanding one, as such; a diplomat always represents the interest of the nation but at the same time cannot ignore the public opinion on national and international issues that go beyond defined borders.

In the words of Warren Christopher, diplomat is a crisis manager and must possess: A good knowledge of international relations, a good understanding of how international relations function between nations, the confidence and the convincing ability to capture successful negotiations, the ability to establish intimacy and empathy with the adversaries and their aspirations in the negotiations, great moral and intellectual sensitivity, perception, imagination and courage, the ability to make parties feel convincing and grateful for successful negotiation.              

In order for a Foreign Service officer especially an ambassador to gain respect on the global stage, one appointed as ambassador should have taste and desire to seek new knowledge by reading and conducting research; must be cognoscente that contemporary diplomacy goes beyond curtails red wine and swanky banquets.

However, not all diplomacy is carried out by diplomats. In a sense, every citizen of a state who travels to another country is a diplomat, sometimes not a very good or skillful one. However, in a professional sense, diplomats include two main groups: diplomatic officers and consular officers. Diplomatic officials specialize in representation and negotiation, whereas consular official are particularly concerned with the protection of the interests of the nationals of their country. The diplomat in this modern world faces challenges from the global distribution of power.

Diplomacy is not an end but a means; not a purpose but a method. It seeks, by the use of reason, conciliation and the exchange of interests to prevent major conflicts arising between sovereign states and other civil organizations. It is an activity which aims to promote the national interest of a country and also a technique for accommodating conflicting interest. But it could also be construed that apart from representing national interests the role of a diplomat includes the bringing about compromises to ensure a greater peace in an age when conflict has more dire consequences.

Scholars of diplomacy have identified many new developments that have contributed to the changing nature of diplomatic practice in a contemporary system of global politics, such includes diplomatic representation, with greater emphasis on recognized conduct; engagement of governments in a dialogue with foreign civil societies and a consequent focus on the utilization of public diplomacy since studies show that diplomacy is a continuous process.

No doubt, diplomacy forges relations between states and international societies; keeps changing and adapting to its system of practices and international system, but basic functions of the diplomat certainly remain the same. A diplomat, is not one whose focus is deeply rooted in money, materialism, curtail red wine and swanky banquets much more than that should have the ability and knowledge to sense what is especially politically or other obtaining in the environment where he or she is accredited and relates same to the sending government.

In the much quoted definition of a renowned Liberian author and former diplomat, Dr. Joseph Saye Guanua, he defined a diplomat as an honest Man sent abroad to lie for the good of his country. While in his recent book: Liberian Emerging Democracy, Josephus Gray, (2013) reiterated that beyond representation, a diplomat is expected to possess a good knowledge and understanding of his own country; its geography, history and culture, its economy, political, social and its demographic structure, natural resources, its industry and the determinants of its foreign policy priorities.

While it is true that an ambassador may not always tell the truth, but to be effective the diplomat must be credible to attract the confidence of the government to which he is accredited and be a person of high esteem with unquestionable integrity. Diplomacy serves states in three useful channels of communication including means of negotiating agreements between states, a source of information about what is happening in host states and representing the interest of the sending state.

A diplomat especially an ambassador should be acknowledgeable of other states, regions, and of the mechanism and procedures of international intercourse which involves a deep knowledge of the world network of diplomatic missions and consular posts, their functions, their practice and structure. As an added advantage, a diplomat should be crafty in crisis management and damage control and as far as possible without surrender, be well-rounded in performance.  A diplomat should also possess specialist qualities such as: political awareness, personal acceptability, education, intellectual curiosity and intellectual versatility, and not just .

An ambassador should level up fully to the new trends of diplomatic behavior and challenge should not come as a surprise, but for others it does, taking into consideration contemporary complexities of the international system, in which a multiplicity of major actors operates, which demand new approaches and solutions for a new demanding challenges.  In order for a Foreign Service officer especially an ambassador to gain respect on the global stage, one appointed as ambassador should have taste and desire to seek new knowledge by reading and conducting research; must be cognoscente that contemporary diplomacy goes beyond curtails red wine and swanky banquets.     

In the words of the former senior ambassador at large of Liberia, Carlton Karpeh (2010) diplomat presents his or her government policies to the foreign country in a persuasive and persuading tone, not a demanding one, as such, a diplomat always represents the interest of the nation but at the same time cannot ignore the public opinion on national and international issues that go beyond defined borders.

But in most instances especially for under-developed nations, inept and half-baked individuals are appointed under the influence of gifts and bribery. It is so shameful that some of these people do not know the different between Micro-economic and macro-economic or fiscal policy and monitory policy either can they distinguish economy and economics.

On one occasion I was embarrassed that I wished the grounds that I was standing would open so that I could have plunged beneath and disappeared when a certain flamboyant ambassador was quested by a group of students during a certain occasion. This ambassador couldn’t distinguish foreign policy from international relations and the new world order on one hand and the doctrines of   President Obama and former president George W. Bush on the order hand.  On the stage, this guy became a laughing fun fare among his peers and the students. For every time he tries to escape the question, he was reminded to address the students’ questions and provide answer. After his ineptness became broad, the monitor requested the students to give the ambassador a month to conduct research and address the question.  

Former Liberian Minister of Foreign Affairs, T. Ernest Eastman (2006) stated: The field of international relations is so important that they called diplomacy the ‘master-institution’ of international politics which influenced domestic politics. While in international relations, Eastman (2006) said diplomacy functions through a labyrinth of foreign offices, embassies, consulates, and special missions all over the world. Watch out for part II

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