Is the world coming to an end? Hopefully not. But it could be the end of world trade as we have known it for the past two decades. During a course I took in the winter of 2018, my International Economics and Politics professor mentioned how the World Trade Organization (WTO) may face a severe crisis in the near future. At the time, the likelihood of such a crisis seemed low and distant. However, with the end of 2019 looming near, international trade is quickly heading into uncharted waters as the Appellate Body of the organization is facing extinction.
In March, demonstrations began in the streets of Hong Kong, largely in protest against a bill which would essentially allow the Chinese government to extradite fugitives from regions they do not currently control, such as Taiwan, Macau, and Hong Kong. Since then, Hong Kong City Leader Carrie Lam has agreed to withdraw the bill, however, as protests have increased in both frequency and violence, protesters’ demands have consolidated into a call for democracy. Among other demands such as amnesty for arrested protesters, and an inquiry into police brutality, there are also demands for the resignation for Lam, who is believed by the protesters to be a pawn for Beijing.
There is no denying that technology has transformed every aspect of our lives; the government sector has been no exception. In 2018, we saw tech-giant Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, face a series of congressional hearings where he had to answer for Facebook’s problematic data policies and entanglement with Cambridge Analytica. According to U.S. intelligence leaders, ‘social media disinformation’ practiced by Russia still remains a major threat to future elections in the United States. Beyond just social media, other technologies pose a challenge to governing practices across the world. Cryptocurrency and new financial technology (“fintech”) applications threaten to uproot traditional central financial units such as banks. Artificial Intelligence (AI) could displace thousands of workers.
Given the disruptive nature of technology, where does Techplomacy fit in?
“Techplomacy”—a “portmanteau” word—refers to the combination of technology and diplomacy, as foreign and security policies embraced the digital age. This concept acknowledges the key role that data-driven innovation and giant tech companies play in today’s society, reshaping the way we think about diplomacy in the 21st century. Techplomacy was initiated by Denmark in 2017 when it appointed the world’s first-ever “Tech Ambassador”, who enjoys a global mandate and splits his time between Silicon Valley, Beijing and Copenhagen.
Techplomacy initiative in Denmark
The first Tech Ambassador of Denmark, Casper Klynge, holds a Masters degree in Political Science (International Relations) from Copenhagen University. He has held many positions in his years at Denmark’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, including serving as the Ambassador of Denmark to Cyprus, Indonesia, Timor-Leste, Papua New Guinea, and ASEAN. In interviews, Klynge notes that his job requires a lot of traveling to cities across the world and meeting members of tech companies, civil societies, and governments. He urges other nations to also explore techplomacy and hopes to see more counterparts in his branch of diplomacy. He argues that techplomacy is not a disruption of traditional diplomacy but is actually complementary to it. In an interview with the World Economic Forum (WEF), he mentions, “We are bringing back diplomacy to its roots. This is about having a forward operating post in areas where things are happening.” After the appointment of the Tech Ambassador in 2017, the Danish Government launched their new ‘Foreign and Security Policy Strategy 2019–2020’. In this strategy, they have highlighted plans to strengthen Denmark’s cyber and information security through international engagement, promoting EU leadership in a new digital world order. Denmark wants to continue building alliances with the global tech industry and wishes to engage the United Nations to bridge the digital divide between the developed and developing worlds..
What is different about Techplomacy?
Techplomacy differs from simply creating regulatory policies about usage of technology or operations of tech companies. Instead, techplomacy aims at creating new avenues for dialogue
and collaboration between the tech industry and government. It recognizes tech companies as active stakeholders in forming policies. This concept is challenging the traditional notions of what constitutes a foreign policy. Foreign policy can be considered the patterns of interaction between governments and external entities; techplomacy challenges this by adding tech companies, their research, their products, and the consumers into the fray of policy-making interests.
An article in The Economist calls data “the oil of the digital era” and discusses how tech giants have paved the way for a ‘data economy’. Private sectors have been quick to adopt and integrate big data into their mechanisms. However, governments and public sectors have yet to catch up. This can be particularly surprising when considering that diplomacy and crafting foreign policy are functions of careful historical analysis of patterns of human interaction. Using big data will not only accelerate this analysis but also make it more applicable. Commissioned by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland, the DiploFoundation recently presented groundbreaking research on ‘data diplomacy.’ The report stated that data diplomacy can be looked at as an interplay of three dimensions—data as a tool for diplomacy, data as a topic for diplomacy, and data as something that changes the very environment in which diplomacy operates. Data diplomacy differs from techplomacy, as it focuses on the application of technology to diplomacy rather than the introduction of new participants in the diplomatic process. Although this difference may make the two new branches of diplomacy seem mutually exclusive, failing to integrate technology into diplomacy means the relationship between the tech industry and foreign policy will not evolve. One can only talk so much about technology without understanding its impact on his or her own field. In this case, without recognizing the role of data, tech-plomats would not be successful in acting as a liaison to industry actors who own much of the world’s proprietary data. Therefore, in today’s digital era, diplomacy must continue to evolve, integrating technology while simultaneously recognizing the changing role of non-traditional stakeholders.