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UNGA & Virtual Diplomacy – The Big Picture – RSTV IAS UPSC

  • IASbaba
  • July 16, 2020
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The Big Picture- RSTV, UPSC Articles
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IASBABA’S INTEGRATED LEARNING PROGRAMME (ILP)

UNGA & Virtual Diplomacy

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TOPIC: General Studies 2

  • International Relations; Diplomacy
  • Important International institutions, agencies and fora- their structure, mandate

In News: The UN General Assembly President has recommended that heads of state and government and ministers address the UNGA session in September through pre-recorded video statements as Covid-19-related restrictions on international travel and large in-person meetings are likely to be in place in the coming months. The new format will mean that it will be for the first time in the world organisation’s 75-year history that heads of state and governments will not gather in New York for the UNGA session. 

Covid has brought about disruption in all aspects of life. Diplomacy is no exception.

Virtual diplomacy is being embraced in different forms, by an increasing number of countries and international organizations and it is gaining more and more ground with respect to traditional diplomacy.

The History: Digital diplomacy falls under the broader spectrum of public diplomacy, the roots of which can be traced to the extensive use of radio communications by both the Axis and the Allied powers during WWII. Interestingly, the digitization of diplomacy however is believed to have happened earlier when foreign ministries first began the use of telegraph services in the 19th century. In the contemporary context, digital diplomacy has been practiced primarily through social media since the innovation of an online world, the arrival of new information communication technologies and the rapid popularity of the internet.

Twiplomacy: Today, diplomats and government representatives routinely engage in both pleasantries as well as repartee on Twitter in what is now popularly known as Twiplomacy or Twitter Diplomacy. Twiplomacy is direct, often unencumbered and enables wider reach of foreign policies than traditional channels. Such online engagement can also be converted to a substantial support for foreign policies and/or agendas. What Twiplomacy has done is added a supplementary avenue of diplomatic exchange which is in keeping with contemporary circumstances.

In India, almost all top ministers are on Twitter! Remember our very own Sushma Swaraj and the skill with which she used to respond!

The practice of diplomacy in the virtual space is geared towards amplifying foreign policy drives and messages and forms a vital and dynamic branch of strategic communication.

Technology to Support

The use of the internet offers real time dissemination and exchanges in a relatively informal setting, at low financial costs and aims at shrinking the space between foreign publics and stakeholders on the one hand and foreign policy practices and practitioners on the other.

IT enabled diplomacy provides great opportunities for countries, especially the ones in transition. By using innovative ICT tools such as social media, e-services and open data platforms, foreign services can leapfrog and play a greater role on the international stage and thus enabling smaller countries to “punch above their weight” and earn a space at the same table with other strong international stakeholders.

This is where the use of 5G systems, artificial intelligence, wearable technology and the applications of big data come in. Aggregation of big data can assist in the identification of disinformation campaigns while collating geospatial and sensor data for more objective, fact-based information gathering which in turn would aid the core component of diplomacy – negotiation. While the use of some of these technologies is mired in controversy, all of these will eventually find application across sectors and diplomacy too will not be an outlier.

How will Digital Tools assist?

Greater use of digital tools can assist diplomacy in broad ways. 

  • Ensures a quick response time: Digital tools facilitate diplomatic engagement to happen in real time and in so doing helps ease communication as well as make way for effective action in times of urgency or crisis
  • Assists in resource mobilization in terms negotiations and building of alliances, primarily by eliminating constraints of distance and time
  • Pave the way for gaining a wider understanding of public emotions and perceptions which can at times facilitate more updated policy approaches and methods of implementation.

The Challenges of Virtual Diplomacy

The virtual space, like many other forms of technology, faces the dual-use challenge i.e., it can serve both constructive purposes and also disruptive ones. 

For foreign policy this poses a considerable challenge as governments often find themselves in the middle of misinformation and disinformation campaigns which are difficult to debunk and deflate given the pace and volume of the reach that virtual networks offer. 

Another challenge of digital diplomacy is the internet’s “culture of anonymity”—anyone can adopt any persona, address or even attack anyone (Yakovenko, 2012). Anyone can mimic and pretend to be someone else, or actively seek to cause mischief. Interestingly also, sometimes, even digital diplomacy advocates and practitioners also commit blunders in their uses.

Conclusion

Engagements and functioning across the world must persist and diplomatic outreach forms a vital component of pooling in efforts to mitigate the health crisis. This involves the dissemination of information, transfers of key supplies, provisioning for the inevitable uncertainties of challenges post the pandemic and reorganizing institutions to better apprehend future exigencies. 

Bound by limitations on travel, world leaders are responding by convening on virtual platforms and this is going to be the way forward in the foreseeable future atleast. This is a challenge that governments across the world must learn to tackle because the medium and the technology will not go away but rather diversify and proliferate.

Connecting the Dots:

  1. Tough situations, even now, need old-fashioned diplomacy. Discuss. 
  2. Digital diplomacy is a foreign policy essential. Comment
  3. Essay: When diplomacy turns digital…

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