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

By Wilson Dizard Jr. | Go to book overview

Chapter 9

The Future of Digital Diplomacy

This survey has covered almost 130 years of American foreign policy involvement with electronic communications. Symbolically the story begins on the day in 1868 when the State Department hired its first telegraph clerk. His duties were to pick up telegrams addressed to the department at the Western Union office in downtown Washington. From that modest beginning, the role of electronic communications has expanded fitfully in U.S. foreign affairs, both in its policy agenda and in the way it conducts its business. Having traced its origins from that unknown clerk, it is useful to look at digital diplomacy prospects at the beginning of a new century.

As we have seen throughout our survey, the American diplomatic community has generally lagged in adapting its policies and operations to electronic realities. The pace has quickened in recent years, but there are still lingering misunderstandings about the role of information technologies. In November 1998, the State Department issued an “international affairs strategic plan,” outlining its policy priorities for the next decade and beyond. It included the standard list of issues (national security, trade, environment, human rights) without referring, except for a cliché nod towards the information age, to the role of electronic technologies in determining the form and content of these issues. 1

This reluctance to acknowledge new digital realities reflects an organizational culture that still resists change. There is an element of a com-mendable caution in this attitude. As Lawrence Eagleburger, a former secretary of state, notes: “Will the speed at which we communicate drive out thought? I worry about that a lot. Instant answers to instant problems can get you in a hell of a lot of trouble.” 2 However valid this caution, it

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