During my travels through cyberspace, I recently came across an article published by Jimmy Leach in August of 2013 on the Huffington Post. In this article, titled “Add Digital Diplomacy to the Long List of Failures Over Syria”, Mr. Leach claims that in the wake of the Syrian civil war, “digital diplomacy never looked so small”. He adds that tyrants like Syria’s Bashar Assad have no interest in how they are portrayed or “trending” on twitter. Given its failure to tackle the Syrian crisis, Leach believes that Digital Diplomacy and nation branding seem more like exercises in vanity then innovative foreign policy tools. While the writer agrees that all forms of diplomacy have failed in ending the Syrian Civil War, he adds that none have fallen so flat as Digital Diplomacy for what is more minuscule in the face of atrocity than strongly worded tweets.
When it comes to the question “Digital Diplomacy, what is it good for?” Mr. Leach seems to think “almost nothing”.
Although I have only begun my exploration of the world of Digital Diplomacy, I do not believe that we can evaluate its potential or its achievement thus far by analyzing it from one perspective, in this case its ability to end international crises. In fact, the opposite is true. We should examine Digital Diplomacy from many different perspectives such as an historic one.
Leach writes that we are currently witnessing “The Golden Age of Digital Diplomacy”. Like Twiplomacy, famed Austrian author Stefan Zweig is also enjoying a golden age. In his 1942 masterpiece, The World of Yesterday, Zweig illustrates the diplomacy of the 1930′ and writes
“Never before did I experience such helplessness in light of world events. Here you are, a man living outside the realm of politics, laboring to produce your work while in a remote location some dozen men who you are unfamiliar with, whom you have never seen, men from Berlin’s Wilhelmstrasse, Paris’s quai d’orsay, Rome’s Palazzo Venezia or London’s Downing Ten, come together. These men, who have yet to demonstrate their abilities, speak to each other and write to one another regarding affairs of which you have no knowledge. They have made decisions which we were not party to and agreed on details which were unknown to us. And so they have decided not only my fate by the fate of all Europeans”.
If we return to the subject Syria’s civil war, the impact of Digital Diplomacy soon becomes apparent. By analyzing tweets published during the Geneva 2 conference of 2014, we see that followers of twiplomacy had the ability to answer three important W’s of diplomacy: What’s on the table? Who is in the room? and What is being said?
What’s on the table? The Geneva 2 conference which convened on the 22nd of January 2014 was an international effort to resolve the Syrian crisis by promoting dialogue between Assad’s regime and the Syrian rebels. By following tweets published on Digital Diplomacy channels under the # Geneva 2, we learned that the Geneva communiqué drafted by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan (which calls for the formation of an interim government) was the basis for the talks and What’s on the table:
— William Hague (@WilliamJHague) January 24, 2014
— MFA Russia (@mfa_russia) January 21, 2014
— Ahmad Jarba (@A_Jarba) January 27, 2014
Who is in the room? Unlike the diplomacy of the early 20th century, followers of Digital Diplomacy also learned Who is in the room in terms of what parties came together in Geneva and who represented each party. Through the tweets of officials such as British MP Hugo Robertson, who live tweeted from within the conference room, some of the inner workings of diplomacy were brought to light.
— Hugh Robertson (@HughRobertsonMP) January 22, 2014
What is said in the Room? This is perhaps the most important piece of information revealed by Digital Diplomacy. Be it on twitter or YouTube, Digital Diplomacy channels enabled their followers to glimpse into the negotiating room so they could hear what was being said in real time and by whom.
— UNRWA USA (@unrwausa) January 23, 2014
— U.S. Embassy Syria (@USEmbassySyria) January 22, 2014
We are now inviting the Assad delegation to participate in a free Syria. Find courage and join us now, in freedom and peace in a new Syria
— Ahmad Jarba (@A_Jarba) January 22, 2014
Foreign Minister: Our duty compels us not to deceive the people and not to cave in at moments of despair. #Geneva2
— MOFA – Qatar (@MofaQatar_EN) January 22, 2014
Digital Diplomacy will not cure the ailments of our world nor is it sure to succeed where traditional diplomacy fails. Yet if we examine Digital Diplomacy through the fabric of time then surly it has already brought with much warranted change. Our world has become a bit more transparent as has international diplomacy. Thanks to Digital Diplomacy people now have more of the information necessary to shape their own future and decide their own fate.
That is quite an achievement.