Digital Diplomacy: U.S. Foreign Policy in the Information Age

By Wilson Dizard Jr. | Go to book overview

Chapter 6

Restructuring Diplomatic Communications

Digital diplomacy issues and techniques have had to be shoehorned into a policymaking system run by officials who were initially uninterested in and often suspicious of the subject. They were, moreover, usually poorly informed about the technological and economic trends that have made electronic resources newly important factors in U.S. global strategy.

By and large, these difficulties are being overcome. An older diplomatic generation has come to accept, and a newer one to embrace, the changes. Increasingly, they share the new pop culture of information age attitudes and activities, including those that touch on foreign policy. Here we will examine how the administration of American foreign policy has adjusted to this shift in recent decades.

In general, the State Department has been more reluctant than most Washington agencies to recognize the value of the new information technologies in its operations. There are various explanations for this (budgetary restrictions, for instance) but the overriding one involves the mindset of diplomats themselves. One of its characteristics has been general resistance by department officials to the idea that technology (in this case, information machines) was a critical part of their arcane trade. Until recently, they shared a belief that theirs was an elite profession and that its practitioners could rely primarily on their personal skills in dealing with its agenda. To their credit, most American diplomats never lost sight of the populist roots of U.S. foreign policy. Nevertheless, elitism played a role, given the tradition of a small group of men set apart, with special instincts for understanding the esoteric art of dealing with other cultures. 1

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