Walter Wriston was an aspiring young executive in the 1950s when he went to work in Citibank’s international division. He recalls that the company’s rule at the time was that you never sent a cable to overseas clients if a letter would do—and the letter was often sent by ship. Citibank took its first halting steps towards the electronic age a few years later when it set up a telex line between its New York and London offices, a channel that transmitted a leisurely seven characters per second.
Wriston moved up the corporate ladder to become chairman of the company, and a pioneer in adapting advanced information resources to the firm’s needs. Citibank (now part of Citigroup) is a leading global networker, routinely moving data at high speeds among its branches in more than 50 countries. Foreign operations represented a large share of Citigroup’s market capitalization of $144 billion at the turn of the century; the company has more branch banks in Brazil than in the United States. The goal, as one Citibanker has noted, is to know where the company’s money is, and what it is worth, at the end of every business day. Wriston made the firm one of the prime examples of how world trade is being shaped by a new standard—the information standard, replacing the old industrial measures.
This chapter looks at how this shift has had a major impact on American international strategy in general, and on digital diplomacy in particular, with every indication that it will continue to do so well into the future. Information technology (IT) in all its forms is, by some estimates, a $2 trillion global enterprise, the largest segment in an electronics sector which has replaced automobiles as the leading world industry. 1 Moreover, IT trade at the turn of the century was expanding at a rate of 11