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A currently debated topic is the impact of unprecedented advancements in breakthrough technologies

on various areas of public policy. Optimists praise how technology changes our lives through enhanced
communication, empowering individuals, raising awareness and spreading democracy throughout the
world. Pessimists stress the repercussions of technological advancements: tottering digital security, and
the rise of inequality—especially in countries exposed to progressive technologies.

In the areas of foreign policy and diplomacy, technology has brought about a tremendous amount of
change. As Hillary Clinton once said during her tenure as Secretary of State: “Just as the internet has
changed virtually every aspect of how people worldwide live, learn, consume and communicate,
connection technologies are changing the strategic context for diplomacy in the 21st century.”
This article aims at presenting the most pressing challenges that stem from the relationship between
advancing technologies and foreign affairs. In our point of view, the impact of breakthrough
technologies on foreign affairs can be seen through accelerating transformation in five significant
areas: security, institutions, participation, dialogueand leadership.
Security: Geopolitics online
The widely proclaimed shift from state-centric politics to non-governmental identities described as
“shadowy networks of individuals” was first addressed openly by U.S. President George Bush in his
2002 National Security Strategy. It is true to some extent, that traditional underlying influences of state
power are no longer the dominant catalysts at play. Indeed, the evolution of technology has empowered
individuals and created new commanding media capable of challenging existing national supremacy,
while directing a new world order. Although powerful-by-technology individuals play an important role,
international relations are still mostly dependent on geographical variables and interests.

In the Information Age it is certain that the ever-increasing amount of global data and online storage of
valuable information will bring incommensurable and occasionally conflicting value systems into ever
closer contact. The proximity of country and entity online systems is increasingly hazardous.

In this era of fast information transfer, along with the rapid development of new-generation technologies,
international relations among states are conflicting more so than a decade ago. However, states are
much weaker and less capable of mitigating arising challenges in controlling security, popular
discontent and cultural fragmentation.

The recent U.S.-China Summit on cybersecurity exposed all of the aforementioned problems. Tensions
between these two countries have concerned recent cyberattacks, mainly against U.S. government
computers. Presidents Barack Obama and Xi Jinping have agreed that their governments refrain from
online theft of intellectual property for commercial gain, but Obama emphasized that he might still
impose sanctions if the Chinese continue to sponsor cyber-intrusions.

The Summit showed, however, that technology can bring concurring values or interests into constant
confrontation without clear and sufficient evidence of particular guilt and responsibility. It also
presented how individuals like Edward Snowden—empowered by technology—can bring another
dimension to state relations. The notorious whistleblower overshadowed evidence of the last U.S. cyber-
espionage attack against China before the Summit and thus changed the negotiating position of the U.S.
government.

Institutions: Redefining actions by institutions and alliances


International organizations (IOs) and alliances such as North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)
benefit hugely from data-driven technologies enabling them to deliver better service and exchange large
volumes of information in real time. One may ask though, whether current IOs and alliances are
prepared to tackle complex threats such as financial, development, online security and climate change
challenges?
There is a growing concern that IOs founded after WWII, such as the United Nations (UN),
International Monetary Fund, and NATO are out-of-date, stagnant and with ineffective decision-
making processes to handle arising challenges. One cannot deal with today’s war-mongering neurotics
with passive and verbose institutions, only “considering sanctions” as a means of mitigation.

Many IOs are increasingly losing their ability to govern and implement necessary measures to oversee
the unregulated realms that technology has created. As recently as 2 October 2015, Sushma Swaraj,
External Affairs Minister of India, criticized the UN for failing effectively to address new challenges to
international peace and security.

In her view, the UN needs reform, stressing the importance of new, more transparent working methods
and claiming the need for permanent membership by African and Latin American countries: “How can
we have a Security Council in 2015 which still reflects the geo-political architecture of 1945?” reflected
Swaraj. This recent call for action is only one example of growing concern over the condition of the
UN in expecting that real change will come sooner or later.
Participation : Social media and online platforms drive profound change in foreign policies
Although many observers note how the social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter change
global connectivity, the reality is that new technologies do not necessarily create democratic evolution
online. Three major obstacles are identified.

First of all, new technologies empower individuals but can breed clusters of extremism, abuse,
xenophobia and violence expressed on a number of online media and channels. One recent example is
the enormous number of fake and distorted images of refugees with mocking memes that have circulated
online as a kind of response to the widely proclaimed action of welcoming refugees (#welcomerefugees).
Secondly, authoritarians including countries and separate individualist entities benefit from technology.
For instance, in Syria the internet is another weapon of war. The control of connections and website
content gives the government great power during the ongoing conflict. Authoritarian governments are
able to control technologies and use them to undermine social activism, thus gaining new forms of
control and power.

Thirdly, the ineffective implementation of technology can be both a harmful and costly endeavor. It
was the case of Healthcare.gov in the U.S., where even supporters of so-called “Obamacare” described
the platform as a faulty and extremely overpriced governmental tech launch. Indeed, governments and
institutions often grapple with poorly developed and protected platforms that cause more challenges
than benefits.

The risks of both adapting and managing new technologies are as profound as not evolving to
technological advancements. A number of countries have experienced major repercussions from either
not adapting or not adequately managing technological evolution in recent times. With five billion more
people set to join the digital world, these challenges shall remain on political and global agendas for
years to come.

Dialogue: The art of diplomacy and international policy is not vanishing but being reinvented
Breakthrough technologies enable instant contact and thus create ease in managing diplomacy and
organizing political dialogue. Referring back to traditional 18th or 19th century diplomacy, formal
representatives had to wait for weeks or even months to receive relevant instructions and courses of
action. As such, the points on agendas covered only the most important items needing to be addressed.
Nowadays, new technological channels have replaced outdated forms of communication. Officials have
continuous access to instantaneous and live networks empowering not only organizational dialogue, but
providing international communications enhancing responsiveness, action and regulation. That being
said, currently most ambassadors and politicians use Twitter to interact with officials, policymakers and
citizens.
So called “Twitplomacy” has been seen as a form of public diplomacy as it has been used not only by
officials but also millions of citizens across the globe. “Twitter has two big positive effects on foreign
policy: It fosters a beneficial exchange of ideas between policymakers and civil society and enhances
diplomats’ ability to gather information and to anticipate, analyze, manage, and react to events,” writes
former Italian Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi in his preface to the book entitled Twitter for Diplomacy.
Indeed, 140 characters have changed drastically the way officials communicate with each other.
Another profound example is the Virtual Embassy of the United States to Tehran in Iran. The Virtual
Embassy was developed by the U.S. State Department after the closure of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran.
This Embassy has the same status as other traditional U.S. Embassies apart from one significant detail:
diplomacy operates on a virtual level.
These are only two examples, whereas in different parts of the world, so-called ‘digital diplomacy’ has
grown enormously in popularity, and this trend is likely to continue. However, as significant and
impactful new progressive communication channels may be, a need still exists for fostering and
strengthening official communication between countries and international entities.

There is an absence of effective digital platforms that could be used to assist in critical decision-making
processes between different governments. Authorities often struggle to cooperate on the most essential
issues during regular summits, formal gatherings and multilateral forums. Critical information
exchanged is rarely archived and translated into actionable communication. A prime opportunity
presents itself here for creating sustainable and prominent platforms for dialogue and decision making
to enhance global governance and responsiveness.

Leaders: The human factor is still important but more complex


Although technologies serve leaders across the world as new sources of both power and governance,
they require an increasingly complex formulation of regulations and rules of conduct, which can be
difficult to structure, and enforce. Political leaders constantly are critiqued and assessed by analysts and
pundits on their responsiveness to new technologies. In particular, the prominence of public opinion in
political domains is a significant point for discussion. New technologies add another dimension to the
classical dilemma faced by politicians—how to propose and implement effective policies while
mitigating public popularity.

Henry Kissinger was right when he pointed out that “the mindset for walking lonely political paths may
not be self-evident to those who seek confirmation by hundreds, sometimes thousands of friends on
Facebook.” In this age of new breakthrough technologies, politicians and leaders do not require simply
the authoritative support of policies by respective experts. Such support also very often is advocated by
prominent online influencers having little or no direct linkage to political realms: celebrities, online
commentators and corporations.

In today’s world, being a politician is more than just “taking a stand and being passionate” with a sense
of devotion and responsibility for personal actions as Max Weber wrote long time ago. Politicians need
to be pop-stars, too. New technologies bring another dimension into classical political dilemma—how
to mitigate popularity and at the same time make tough decisions. In a world that is disseminating public
opinion to the masses at an increasing rate and prominence, understanding the role of technology and
its importance in political popularity has never been so complex.

Technology may be seen as a driver for both power and legitimacy in the areas of foreign affairs and
diplomacy. What we need today are leaders who not only understand the complexities of technology,
but who also use this technology to promote a global culture of human encounter that meets the
legitimate needs of all peoples.