Role of Digital Diplomacy in Foreign Policy

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Since the wake of the twenty-first century, the emergence and global spread of internet technologies have changed the world. These internet technologies are playing an important role in every field of life, from domestic to international, social to political, economic to strategic, and every field is changed from conventional to modern/digital. Meanwhile, international politics is forcing diplomats to rethink core issues of governance, order, and international hierarchy. The intersection of diplomacy and information technology has led to the emergence of new practices of “digital diplomacy.” Digital diplomacy is an emerging phenomenon that has fundamentally altered the way that governments communicate and negotiate with each other and with their people. Digital diplomacy is seen as a driver and a result of digitalization, and thus incorporates all the various ways in which digitalization interacts with diplomacy. New technology is bringing new actors into the field of diplomacy. It is also challenging established actors to change their ways of doing things and how they present and perceive themselves.

During the pandemic, the whole world witnessed the rapid change in conventional modes of interaction and rapidly adopted new technological means to avert the socioeconomic crisis. Similarly, the swift shift to “zoom diplomacy” in early 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrates how these practices can, at least temporarily, replace face-to-face diplomacy, in the foreign policy of states. On the other hand, the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed many challenges related to the constraints on converting diplomatic practices that depend on tacit knowledge to the use of digital tools. To distinguish them from policy briefs or think tank reports, studies into these processes should strive to better capture how diplomats balance their online and offline environment in practice, and the potential constraints or lack of them. The balancing of online and offline practices can reveal how diplomats overcome constraints in the absence of face-to-face diplomacy and more generally contribute to a mapping of the socialization of diplomatic conduct online and the emergence of digital norms in new habits. The interesting practical knowledge of digital diplomacy is rather related to agency and the preconditions of the logic of action.

Moreover, diplomats have to deal with a new set of digital policy issues when promoting the interests of their countries. Most of these issues are addressed in the context of the internet and digital governance. The UN Secretary-General’s Roadmap for Digital Cooperation (June 2020) provides an entry point to digital policy at the United Nations. Specific implementation activities are listed in the summary of the Roadmap. The Roadmap builds on the report of the UN Secretary-General’s High-level Panel on Digital Cooperation (Panel) titled ‘The Age of Digital Interdependence’. The report, published in June 2019, provides five sets of recommendations; build an inclusive digital economy and society, develop human and institutional capacity, protect human rights and human agency, promote digital trust, security, and stability, and foster global digital cooperation.

Diplomats use digital tools in their daily work, from negotiations and representation to communication and policy analysis. Although the most focused is the use of social media for public diplomacy (e.g. Twitter diplomacy, Facebook diplomacy), digital tools have a much more substantial impact on other functions of diplomacy. Online meetings come with many pros and cons. It provides ease of communication, is cost-friendly, targets a larger population, it is time-saving, and is handier than the conventional methods. This could be a reason enough to push digital diplomacy into strictly rationalist models of diplomacy that view diplomacy as strategic interactions. In terms of communication strategies, more research is needed to understand why certain strategies are becoming rational while others are being abandoned in favor of stable routines.

This has been proved in the COVID-19 pandemic in a way that has never been seen before. The restrictions on domestic and foreign travel have made it clear that Pakistan must embrace and put into practice digital diplomacy. Countries now have a huge potential to interact directly with powerful people, other governments, and a wider audience of civil society thanks to digital diplomacy. Digital diplomacy has allowed for diplomatic services to be delivered faster and more cost-effectively to their citizens as well as to those of other countries which has allowed embassies to become more efficient, working faster with fewer people. States which do not engage in digital diplomacy risk falling behind, and yet it seems that low to middle-income countries may be able to massively benefit from this phenomenon because,

  • Digital Diplomacy is a competitive business, unlike other governmental departments, and Pakistan must continue to adapt and evolve as the industry changes or we risk becoming ineffective in our services.
  • Digital Diplomacy is one of the most potent soft power tools a country can employ and further research is necessary to implement Pakistan’s specific plan for success.
  • Its proficient use would allow Pakistan the chance to actively cultivate its own narrative and image to the world through platforms such as Twitter and Facebook.

Recommendations

  • Pakistan should adopt the best global practices of digital diplomacy.
  • The foundation of digital diplomacy school is important at the national and provincial levels.
  • Foreign office should establish a task force under which a relevant expert team can be developed for the promotion of digital diplomacy.
  • Government can also work on an adaptation of advanced technologies such as AI, and OSENT.
  • Training and mentorship program should be conducted for the diplomatic staff related to digital diplomacy.

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