Of the four great instrumentalities available to nations for influencing the world around them—diplomacy, armed forces, money and information—the last is both the most powerful and the least understood.
—Ithiel de Sola Pool, MIT political scientist 1
These words were written a generation ago in a technologically simpler time, before the large-scale expansion of computer power and global information networks. Professor Pool’s emphasis on information as a strategic resource takes on new meaning in the current millennial environment. His insights foreshadowed a larger transformation of American society as it moves beyond the industrial age into an information-intensive postindustrial environment.
This survey examines a small but important aspect of this shift, namely how the U.S. diplomatic establishment is adjusting to information age realities. Electronic communications and information resources are influencing foreign policy, not only by raising a new set of strategic issues but also by altering the ways in which we deal with them. The result is a distinctly different type of relations between nations—one that calls for a responsive digital diplomacy.
The change is substantial enough to suggest that it is the most important innovation affecting diplomatic practices since the fifteenth century, when permanent ambassadors were first exchanged among the royal courts of Europe. In his magisterial study of Renaissance diplomacy, historian Garrett Mattingly noted that the role of an ambassador then was