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A smart way for traditional diplomacy to evolve in the 21st-century

Traditionally the scope of international relations has been limited to international peace and prosperity; enacted predominantly by one main actor, the sovereign state. Diplomacy is conceptualised as an arm of foreign policy and has historically been a tool used alongside other mechanisms such as containment.

The process of globalisation has instigated a gradual shift in power away from the state as the predominate stakeholder within the realm of international relations. Emerging stakeholders include charities, multinational corporations, the media, non-governmental organisations as well as civil society.

The 21st-century, through power shifts, emerging actors and stakeholders, depicts the need for diplomacy to evolve from a foreign policy mechanism used by the state, to one that adequately reflects multi-stakeholder engagement.

Smart Diplomacy

The recognition of this need has been identified by the Global Diplomatic Forum.

The organisation, based in London, has conceptualised a feasible framework known as Smart Diplomacy - adapting Professor Joseph Nye’s concept of Smart Power into an applicable direction for diplomacy within the 21st-Century.

Smart Diplomacy can be defined as an apparatus to enable traditional diplomacy to evolve to better reflect the developing global engagement in societies. There are three fundamental pillars; digital capabilities, stakeholder diplomacy and feminist diplomacy.

But how applicable are these in creating a new direction for diplomacy?

Digital Capabilities

Digital capabilities relate to the use of technology and online platforms as valuable tools to communicate policy to global audiences. The concept depicts the need for diplomacy to evolve to remain a relevant mechanism of foreign policy and international relations. The incorporation of this pillar into traditional approaches to diplomacy is fairly feasible, with the benefit of improved efficiency in global communication and utilisation of cybersecurity.

Online platforms are becoming the new norm of knowledge sharing and are producing pivotal impacts on the perceptions, perspectives and behaviours of people globally. Capitalising upon this allows countries to expand their global reach and security via effective use of ongoing technological advancements.

However, there lies an inherent assumption that all countries and affiliates have the same access to technology and digital capabilities. This pillar does not account for current imbalances between developed countries and lesser developed countries regarding technology and digital capabilities. Annual statistics released by the International Telecommunications Unit in December 2018, depicts that 51.2 per cent of the world’s population is online. However, the majority of online usage is concentrated in developed countries.

Furthermore, many of the countries and affiliates located within areas that are technological and digitally disadvantaged, are not considered powerful within international relations. While there is no direct correlation, the reliance on evolving traditionally diplomacy through digital capabilities will inevitably widen the current power gaps within international relations. As such, the fundamental issue of the digital divide must first be addressed for this pillar of Smart Diplomacy to be globally applicable.

Stakeholder Diplomacy

The second pillar is that of stakeholder diplomacy; a recognition that diplomacy is a multi-stakeholder process that involves numerous actors other than the state. This pillar highlights the large number of stakeholders independent of the state that contribute significantly to determining a nation’s foreign policy and relations.

This pillar thoroughly encapsulates power shifts within international relations resulting from the process of globalisation and identifies the need for traditional diplomacy to reflect this.

Traditional Diplomacy must evolve from a state-centric representation to reflect two key aspects that currently define international relations; the rise of independent stakeholders and the need for ‘multi-view-multi-stakeholder’ engagement within international relations. The depth of understanding that diplomacy has evolved, from a state mechanism of foreign policy to one that is complimentary and inherent in international relations, is well articulated and feasibly explored in this pillar.

Feminist Diplomacy

The final pillar is that of feminist diplomacy; the need for diplomacy to move away from men's status and views of world affairs to instead reflect societal views as a whole.

This pillar is perhaps the most difficult to implement compared to the others, for two reasons. Firstly, it is hard to shift embedded practices and secondly, there is an inherent possibility of a tokenistic approach being taken to pursue the intention of inclusion. This framework, whilst designed to shift diplomacy away from insular viewpoints, must overcome a variety of obstacles. The need remains for traditional diplomacy to evolve so as to adequately reflect changes in international relations, notably the inclusion of all perspectives.

Overall the concept of Smart Diplomacy well reflects the current and ongoing changes and challenges the 21st-Century brings to international relations and diplomacy.

The three pillars of this framework, formulated by the Global Diplomatic Forum, reflect well the need for traditional diplomacy to evolve and how this can be achieved. Whilst equitable, adequate and thorough implementation of each is yet to be seen within diplomacy, the framework is a feasible, effective and promising direction for diplomacy and its application in international relations.

Niamh Callinan has recently graduated from the University of Sydney with a Bachelor of International and Global Studies. 


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