By: Senior Economist Aisha Ghoneimy
Electronic Diplomacy could be defined as the use of digital networks by states to determine and establish diplomatic goals and objectives and to efficiently carry out the functions of diplomats. These functions mainly cover representation and promotion of the home state, establishing both bilateral and multilateral relations, consular services and social engagement.
Electronic diplomacy is considered one of effective foreign policy tools as it is one of the directions of public diplomacy, which is based on modern information and communication technologies.
In particular, the application of social networks whose users have played a key role in mobilizing citizens and domestic public opinion as well as international public opinion. Worth noting, the public diplomacy is recognized in this context as people’s diplomacy that contributes to building the foundation for the national diplomacy.
Electronic diplomacy is also known as an Internet diplomacy, Digital diplomacy, or Cyberdiplomacy. E- Diplomacy is a vital supplement to traditional diplomacy that contributes to boosting foreign policy goals, widening international relations and cultural as well as social interactions.
Bearing in mind, E-diplomacy isn’t a replacement for conventional diplomacy, but it is a critical complementary tool to strengthen contemporary foreign policies and deepen multilateral relations among countries.
Digitalization promotes traditional diplomacy through rapidly traversing national borders, engaging with citizens not only on domestic level, but also on both regional and international levels.
The Internet, social media, and new information and communications technologies have impacted diplomacy on an exponential scale. Such activities would help to further consolidate the foundations for diplomatic ties, enriching the practice of diplomacy, influencing the environment of diplomacy, and bringing millions into open, peer-to-peer conversation.
It is essential to shed light on developments of e-diplomacy since 1992; these developments extended from the introduction of e-mail, the use of websites by diplomatic services and international organisations, to the intensive use of social media such as blogs, Facebook, and Twitter.
The year 1992 witnessed two early e-diplomacy developments, one took place at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, during which the mailing lists via emails have been used for the first time to co-ordinate negotiations.
The other one was the establishment of the first Unit for Computer Applications in Diplomacy at the Mediterranean Academy of Diplomatic Studies, this Unit evolved into “DiploFoundation” that contributed to doing research and training thousands of diplomats on the way how the Internet impact traditional diplomacy.
In 2010, Diplo launched the 2010 E-diplomacy Initiative, consisting of awareness building that created momentum for courses, research, and community discussion on e-diplomacy.
Social network platforms provide variety of channels for interactions, further engagement; promoting the goals of diplomacy, consolidating the rapprochement among citizens of all countries.
However, it is essential to consider the multiple risks and threats of digital diplomacy which develop exclusively on the basis of lack of public awareness, exacerbating threats of cybercrime, hacking and cyber-terrorism.
Bearing in mind, raising public awareness is a critical corner stone for countering thoughts of extremism and terrorism.
Worth noting, the internet and social networks could be perceived as a channel for deepening the roots of such thoughts and the imposition of an alien ideology as a means of information warfare amid the lack of sufficient awareness.
In that context, e-diplomacy could be a double weapon on the international arena in the presence of fragmentation of the global formational sphere, national and regional segments, and the race weapons in the information.
Taking into account digital diplomacy has its risks, which include information leakage, hacking, and anonymity of Internet users.
The driven changes of internet and the intensive use of social network platforms have dramatically affected the environment in which diplomacy is conducted as well as questions related to geo-politics, geo-economics, sovereignty, interdependence.
Digital as a driving-change in diplomacy is also shown by the UN Secretary-General High-level Panel on Digital Cooperation.
The Panel was convened by the UN Secretary-General in July 2018, aiming at raising awareness about the transformative impact of digital technologies across society and the economy, and contributing to the broader public debate on how to ensure a safe and inclusive digital future for all, taking into account relevant human rights norms.
From another perspective, e-diplomacy should not be recognized as a threat to international security as it provides new channels of opportunities for resolving the contemporary global problems. Worth noting the social network platforms and other global informational networks offer opportunities for global debates among global civil society, which would help to shape the international public opinion and lay foundations of diplomatic ties.
Among the most effective contributions of e-diplomacy is facilitating and boosting the interaction of states in different spheres in particular economy, politics, culture, social sphere, considering the interethnic relations.
Noteworthy, the e-diplomacy plays an important role in boosting the unification of different ethnic communities, the rapprochement of all aspects of the life of peoples.
As interethnic relations can be cooperatively, mutually peaceful or hostile, such tools of e-diplomacy (i.e. social media as Twitter , Facebook or Instagram) would bolster the implementation and the facilitation of international interethnic relations, leading to maintaining stability and peace in the international, solving conflicts peacefully.
In the midst of intensive use of digital networks, the domestic and the foreign become collide with one another.
The ease and the speed with which information traverses national borders have blurred the distinction between the domestic and the foreign citizens. Accordingly, the practice of diplomacy has to contain both public diplomacy and domestic diplomacy.
Most importantly, efforts of promoting governance of internet should be continued as an essential part of the diplomatic agenda, assessing in a timely-manner how new technologies is redefining international co-operation and interdependence under the umbrella of digital co-operation.
Last but not least, continued to have an overarching strategy of how to use digital diplomacy tools in support of certain foreign policy objectives would greatly help to promote policy coordination and implementation.
In addition to assessing the capacity to reach target audiences and achieve pre-defined and measurable targets, ensuring that digital diplomacy is used to obtain concrete goals, disseminating strategic thinking.
In the mean time, continued raising public awareness and fostering internet security are a must to counter the risks of digital network platforms, eradicating the roots of spreading the thoughts of extremism and terrorism that threat not only the national security but also the international security and stability.