International Relations in the Information Age: Redefining Diplomatic Processes, and Challenges for the Commonwealth Caribbean*

Article excerpt

1. INTRODUCTION

As the 21st century unfolds, evolving political, economic, social and technological developments are converging to shape a "New World Order" that is impacting on the nature and scope of international relations as we know it. No longer can international relations be construed solely the interaction amongst nation-states. In the evolving international landscape the state is but one actor setting the diplomatic agenda. Powerful non-state actors are utilising information and communications technologies to sensitise global public opinion to a host of issues previously considered "domestic". Non-governmental organisations and grassroots lobbies, often linked across borders electronically, are promoting a "global civil society", pressuring governments to adhere to principles of social justice and democratisation.

By adapting production processes to a digital international trading system global corporations can easily relocate operations. This has had the effect of adding a new dimension to the diplomatic agenda, and of weakening the government's role as regulator of fiscal and monetary policies, transforming them into negotiators. The global media and the Internet have rendered ineffective a state's ability to suppress or control the dissemination of "sensitive" information by making information easily available, virtually instantaneously. These features make the global media an important factor in contemporary diplomacy, impacting on the manner in which diplomacy is conducted and in a very real sense, is helping to shape the content and direction of foreign policy. At the institutional level, intergovernmental organisations such as the World Trade Organisation (WTO) supported by the industrialised countries (G-8) have been established to oversee the dismantling of barriers to trade with the aim of levelling the playing field. Under this current wave of trade liberalisation, regional blocs are becoming competitive forces that influence their members into relinquishing areas of authority in anticipation of socio-economic prosperity.

Clearly, this rapidly changing environment poses intense new challenges for the manner in which diplomacy is perceived and conducted. The emergence of new pressure groups, global in orientation and equipped with digital tools to wage campaigns of "netwar" to effect policy changes, illustrates the importance of Information Technology (IT) as a mechanism for enhancing the diplomatic capabilities of states in the digital age. Increasing interdependence and interaction amongst actors are forcing governments to re-examine diplomatic approaches to deal more effectively with issues the impacts of which are trans-global in nature and thus cannot adequately be addressed by domestic efforts alone. Money laundering, the HIV/AIDS threat, environmental conservation and international terrorism require global approaches to solving these problems. Capital and financial markets have become so internationally structured that instability in one country can trigger negative responses in several states.

This changing international context in which states must function demands the incorporation of new diplomatic tools into their resource capabilities. Understanding that information and economic globalisation are the new realities within which the state must now operate will be significant in redefining its new role in twenty-first century diplomacy. Undoubtedly the task of adaptation is a difficult undertaking for any country. For small countries with weak institutional structures and limited financial, technological and human capital, such as those of the Commonwealth Caribbean (CARICOM), the challenges appear to be even more daunting.

Even in the region's more developed countries where information technology is being embraced at a much faster pace, the challenges go beyond issues of infrastructure and human resource costs. Reshaping values, attitudes and reconfiguring organisational structures to incorporate new technologies must also be addressed. …