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How Changes in Communication and Technology Affected the Role of the Modern Diplomat

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Introduction

This brief aims to discuss how changes in communication and technology affected the role of the modern diplomat. A diplomat is one who is sent abroad to represent his own country to carry out diplomatic duties (Carta, 2012). Kopp and Gillespie (2011) gave a sardonic definition of a diplomat as “an honest man or woman who is sent to lie abroad to carry out certain tasks for the welfare of his/her country” (p.

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3). This definition more or less shows the purpose of a diplomat’s work. Although written sardonically, the statement only conveys an atmosphere of suspicion that has always enveloped the diplomatic profession. The diplomat represents the interests of his own nation, seeking information that can provide an advantage to his government whilst being protected by international codes and regulations (Barker, 2011).

In order to clarify how communication and technological changes have affected the role of the modern diplomat, this brief will first discuss how the diplomat carried out his duties in the past, followed by how these duties and roles have changed now with the advent of such changes.

Overview of the Diplomat’s Role

A diplomat has certain roles to perform. He must serve as a trained theologian; he must be able to quickly solve the most complex problems in correct dialectical shape, and must be a specialist in civil and canon law, amongst other relevant fields. He has several functions, such as negotiating serious and/or secret agreements, and some of these negotiations aim to prevent the occurrence of wars, while some others provoke such occurrence (Shaw, 2006). The diplomat is sent on a mission where he must represent the sending state and protect its interests in the receiving government. He reports what occurs in the receiving state and fosters friendly relations. Part of his role is to generate diplomatic documents. These documents engender the greatest amount of information about international relations (Jonsson and Hall, 2002). There are also customary functions that he must carry out with the receiving state (Aust, 2005), such as trade promotion cooperation, matters relating to economic, defence, cultural, and scientific concerns, and those relating to terrorism, human trafficking, drug trafficking, and other related issues. Diplomacy is the sort of thing that a nation cannot manage to lose; to the point that even the poorest country would make an effort to afford a modest diplomatic corps (Singh, 2002).

Accordingly, when a diplomat pursues a consular function, this task is in keeping with the Vienna Consular Convention and does not forego his diplomatic immunities and privileges. This point is important to stress here since there are some overlapping functions that may take place between consular and diplomatic works, specifically in protecting one’s nationals, given that the consul has limited immunities and privileges compared to the diplomat (Aust, 2005). Performing consular work is part of the role of the diplomat, which is necessary to mention when considering changes in communication and technology. This is because such changes have in one way or another eased up the overlapping functions due to the speedier processes entailed in carrying them out.

How changes in communication and technology affected the role of the modern diplomat

The role of the modern diplomat has been greatly affected by changes in communication and technology. The rapid means of communication and transportation has diminished the importance of the modern diplomat. Prior to these developments, the diplomat was allowed considerable discretion in how he dealt with matters that arise on short notice. This is because of the lengthy time it took to communicate with his home government, given the limited available communication channels (Jonsson and Hall, 2002). With the absence of a previous position of his government, it was the diplomat who shaped policy; he was given enough leeway even in the implementation of policies developed in his country. In the past, the diplomat had the opportunity to avoid making decisions by doing nothing due to the slowness of events. During World War II, state leaders did not bother the diplomat (i.e. ambassador) for important things. They could not also telephone or correspond directly to one another (Singh, 2002). The limitation posed by the then not-so-advanced technology has set this kind of environment.

Today, the modern conditions characterised by speedy exchange of information paved the way for the disappearance of this opportunity (Batora, 2008). Through mobile devices, internet technology, and other similar devices, the modern diplomat can be instructed conveniently and rapidly on what position he is to take, what he is to say, etc. The advancement of technology has enabled the foreign office to direct and follow almost every detail of negotiations. In similar fashion, national leaders and foreign ministers have enabled themselves to communicate directly in as much as the diplomat is able to communicate to his home government as occasioned by advanced communication technologies. Early technological developments escorted the improvement in air travel, which affected the role of the diplomat. They would often see themselves shunted aside by the sorties that their bosses (presidents and prime ministers) performed in relation to improved air travel, where these chief executives could now afford to visit various foreign countries, including their diplomats’ own posts (Singh, 2002).

If analysed carefully, one would surmise that the surge in communication and technology has in fact made the whole process of information sharing more rapid and convenient. This would affect the pace and speed in which the home country responds to certain information that reaches its hands. On a positive light, the diplomat is in fact aided by these information channels when relating new information to his government (Cornago, 2013). Members of the media, who in the past had difficulty accessing a foreign country due to limited air travel, have also in effect helped the diplomat in relating news stories that he may have set aside; thereby not putting all the burden of information dissemination on his shoulders. It is like providing the diplomat the opportunity to focus on more important details of his job, such as promoting friendly relations with other nations, performing negotiations, etc. Information dissemination would then become a limited area of his duties as the media enters into the scene in a very active fashion.

In Gilboa’s (2000) article, changes in communication has affected the role of the diplomat in such a way that the media is now playing an important role in contemporary diplomacy, a role that it did not use to play prior to these changes. Officials and journalists often utilise the media extensively to promote negotiations. The media thus play an active part in contemporary diplomatic processes, which only the diplomat used to undertake prior to all those changes in communication and technology.

As social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook continue to serve as a fresh source of information for political events, diplomats are being encouraged to use social media as a regular part of their jobs to participate directly in political discussions (Paris, 2013). If one wants the latest political news, he needs only to read blogs, follow Twitter, or watch YouTube (Cooper, et al., 2013). Gone are the days that a nation would wait for the diplomat to relate the official information about similar events. Hence, it may be inferred that the enhanced complexity of information flows in diplomatic processes, amongst others, has bridged geographic distances (Batora and Hocking, 2007).

The effects of technology are greatly far-reaching so as to transform diplomacy, which is being reinvented gradually for the information age. Through available technology, diplomacy can enable physical presence in a virtual fashion (Batora, 2008). The United States and the UK have already taken this big stride to digital diplomacy. Those lagging behind are seen to lose influence over time albeit their engagement in private diplomatic communication. Canada lags far behind US and UK although it has recently displayed little interest in utilising social media in its diplomatic functions (Paris, 2013).

There are more positive effects of changes in communication and technology in the role of the diplomat. With the advent of globalisation comes the so-called globalisation of international relations (Lawson, 2002), suggesting new important diplomatic functions due to an increasing awareness about the idea that global problems necessitate global solutions, thereby expanding the scope of the diplomat’s role from merely representing his country. It is worthy of note that globalisation will allow the diplomat to operate in the future at the bilateral and multilateral levels, and the advancing communications technology is seen to conveniently aid such operation by the diplomat (Copeland, 2009). With the aid of changes in communication technologies, diplomats have been transformed as ‘globalisation managers’ who are charged with managing the ‘global village’ (Lawson, 2002). The advancing communication technologies enable the diplomat to perform his duties speedily, which can likewise permit him to respond to various issues right away, such as international terrorism, drug trafficking, and climate change, to name a few.

The abounding information, which may be verifiable or not and can be readily accessed anytime and anywhere is marshaled by modern means of communication. The modern diplomat has now a genuine task of inspecting and analysing the content and credibility of all available data and opinions, putting these data in a broader and more profound political context. This can then provide a suitable guideline for decisions by the diplomat’s home country (Bolewski, 2007). It therefore proves to show that despite the information age in which the modern diplomat functions and in the midst of the available information, the diplomat’s task is to screen this information in terms of truthfulness and credibility. He must not use such information right away in his diplomatic decisions but must scrutinise them instead.

Not only do changes in communication and technology expedite the diplomatic process, but they also provide the necessary information to the diplomat as well. It is therefore apparent that structural changes have taken place in the diplomatic environment due to technology and modern means of communication. The acknowledgement of the value of the media to his tasks is considered one of the ways in which changes in communication and technology have affected the role of the modern diplomat. Cooper et al. (2013) even claimed that today’s emphasis in diplomatic work is much more on interaction with the media and language ability, putting a decline to the written skills of the diplomat. Cooper et al. do not however mean this literally, but what they are pointing out is that the media have played an important role in the diplomatic process, to the point that the diplomat must consider interaction with them part of his routine.

It must be noted that negotiations and diplomatic missions are two main areas of diplomacy which have been considerably influenced by technology. Virtual negotiations now take place amongst diplomats, in which they reach certain commitments and agreements electronically, such as through voice conversation, video conferencing, and exchange of emails and faxes. Virtual diplomatic missions and virtual Ministries of Foreign Affairs contribute to enhancing negotiators’ investigative power as they continuously search for information (Batora, 2008). This setting is helpful for diplomats who are engaged in other processes or events and can save themselves so much time and trouble travelling. It also allows poor countries to save much money in travelling since e-negotiations are cost effective. Thus, a diplomat can participate in multiple negotiations and other events that occur simultaneously in geographically dispersed locations (Grech, 2006).

On a separate note, this can bring certain risks, such as lack of face-to-face interpersonal relations with fellow diplomats, increased participation expectancy by citizens, susceptibility to attacks, misreading of information, loss of credibility, lack of identity verification in online presence, and delicate maintenance (Grech, 2006). These threats are brought by the online nature of virtual diplomatic missions. The injection of communication technologies in diplomacy has corresponding negative repercussions such as those mentioned because virtual diplomatic missions cannot trade the culture delivered by a physical relationship in an embassy or consulate. Since human factor is of high value to diplomacy, changes in technology will not change the importance placed by the diplomat on personal contacts, feedback mechanisms, and human experience, which all characterise diplomatic procedures (Aneek, 2010).

In a virtual diplomatic setting, the diplomat is in fact deprived of developing relationships with fellow diplomats and the citizens, and such deprivation could be unfavourable to certain diplomatic functions such as developing bilateral relations and negotiations. Since interpersonal relations are lacking in virtual diplomacy, it would be difficult to verify identity in this fashion and illegitimate users may exploit this service, leading to adverse results. Increased vulnerability to attacks therefore puts the virtual diplomacy in a detrimental situation. Added complexity is thus required since special care must be warranted to ensure clearness and ease of understanding of site navigation . On a similar note, delicate maintenance of mission websites is essential, which a subject specialist must ensure. This subject specialist must be a diplomat also since only a diplomat has the best understanding of the nature and context of information (Grech, 2006).

There is also a threat to misinterpret information available in diplomatic mission websites because of the text-based nature of information, which can cause confusion than when such information is presented on a face-to-face basis where diplomats can have an open discussion and active deliberation (Grech, 2006).

Conclusion

This paper tackles the role of the modern diplomat alongside changes in communication and technology. The diplomat is sent by the home government to a receiving government for purposes of performing certain duties in behalf of the home country. Diplomacy is a process that every nation must carry out in its international relations activities.

In the past, a diplomat was tasked to relate news and information in the country where he was posted, and such information can aid his own government in designing certain decisions. This has changed now however; first, due to availability of air travel, and second, because of the prevalence of communication technologies that can enable speedier transmission of information. The modern diplomat no longer holds the banner of bringing news stories and information to his own country since he is outdone by the media in this department. However, he is not involved in a rat race with the media; instead, his daily activities include interacting with the media who aid him in conveying necessary information to the home government and to the world. In the past, he did not incorporate the media to his daily activities.

Globalisation, a phenomenon aided by advances in communication technologies, affects the way the modern diplomat performs his role. Alongside ease in communication and information, his role is now seen to expand bilaterally and multilaterally as he faces global issues in his task to manage the global village.

The threats posed by changes in communication and technology in the role of the modern diplomat and his adoption of virtual diplomacy are increased participation expectancy by citizens, susceptibility to attacks, misreading of information, loss of credibility, lack of identity verification in online presence, and delicate maintenance.

References

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Batora, J. and Hocking, B. (2007). Bilateral Diplomacy in the European Union: Towards ‘Post-Modern’ PatternsECPR/SGIR 6th Pan-European Conference: Turin 12-15 September.

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Grech, O. M. (2006). Virtual Diplomacy: Diplomacy of the Digital Age [Published Dissertation]. Malta: Faculty of Arts, University of Malta.

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Singh, N. N. (2002). Diplomacy for the 21st Century. New Delhi: Naurang Rai for Mittal Publications.

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