The beginning of the 21st century was marked with many transformations. Significant changes have undergone in diplomatic discourse as well. The explosive development of means of mass communication indicates the process of globalization, which, in turn, has caused an unprecedented growth in the intensity of interactions and the transformation of information into a political and economic resource of prime importance.
For a long time, diplomacy was of a closed nature and was represented mainly by equal-status communication at the highest level through text documents. Informing broad sections of the population about foreign policy developments occurred mainly through the media, where the messages were low-sounding and sometimes provocative. Over time, the informative component of communication between diplomats and representatives of the press intensified due to public speeches, open interviews and the creation of press services with diplomatic departments.
Classical diplomacy certainly preserves its basic functions and institutions, called upon by peaceful means to defend the foreign policy interests of the state. At the same time, due to the influence of global socio-political, economic and technological processes, the forms and methods of modern diplomacy are being transformed. They become more open, similar in their implementation with media discourse. The expansion of the potential audience and diplomatic strategic focus on the active implementation of information technologies led to the emergence of the new communicative phenomenon – digital diplomacy.
In recent years, the importance of digital diplomacy in international relations has been growing steadily. Along with established methods of work in foreign policy departments and traditional channels of information dissemination, the Internet is increasingly being used. It has given new life to modern diplomacy – ministers, ambassadors, and diplomats use social networks for interaction with the public.
Information is now a strategic resource that must be managed effectively. Due to the information revolution, the ability of governments to control information received by the population has been significantly reduced, if not completely eliminated.
The Internet has very organically blended into the mechanism of public diplomacy. It has become a very popular source of information and active communication channel. Consequently, it leads to many more difficulties with control of information dissemination, in comparison with the content of print media and television, where the number of products is limited, and the audience is passive.
Evidently, the practice of foreign policy also has modernized. In the sense of this issue, it is particularly relevant to emphasize the role of social networks. Almost no one worked with them in diplomacy a few years ago, but today, this practice is much more common because it is a very convenient way of communicating with society due to its advantage of being more operational than the official media. The reverse side, in this case, is that this information is harder to check.
This Research Paper examines the role of networks and digital diplomacy. The given topic is justified with the emergence of new information and communication technologies. Hence, two central questions around which this paper is structured to appear to be as follows: What is the significance of the digital diplomacy as an instrument of ‘soft’ power in international politics? How does it affect the concept of sovereignty? The following sub-question arises: What is the role of social networks in the context of digital diplomacy?
The main objective of this work is to gain an insight into the historical, institutional, political, and social contexts and analyze above-mentioned factors, so to evaluate their role in the transformation of the international relations since the disintegration of the bipolar world order.
The general methodology of the paper is qualitatively-oriented and interpretivist, research paradigm is constructivist at understanding and analysis of the findings from the insider perspective.
The research strategy identifies the main areas essential for complete understanding of the digital diplomacy: soft power and public diplomacy; history, characteristics, main tasks, benefits and risks of digital diplomacy itself; social networks; the concept of sovereignty.
1. The Concept of Soft Power and Public Diplomacy
Generally, power defined as a concentrated expression of the possible degree of influence. Depending on what such influence will be based, Joseph Nye, the author of the concept, distinguished several types of powers: soft, hard and smart, as an effective combination. Soft power is more propagandistic and humanitarian in its nature and involves the use of communication-oriented methods of influence. It uses information as a key resource and relies on the achieved authority and prestige of the state. This voluntary submission implies the attractiveness of the country at the expense of its culture, ideas or programs. Hard power involves real or indirect coercion and pays more attention to such levers of influence as economic or military potential.
Nye comes to the conclusion that in the era of informational globalization, the very content of power in international politics is being transformed. Now it relies not on military but on information resources.1 That is why the practice of soft power is becoming more common among states.
For the implementation of soft power capabilities, each state must adapt its own objectively existing political, economic and socio-cultural characteristics. Soft power is a promising form of diplomacy, but its effective fulfilment by both the state and other interested actors of the political system is associated with a number of features:
The attractive image of the country is required to achieve national interests. It consists of the following elements: the state’s actions in domestic and foreign policy, its culture and values. Then this image must be “brought” to the international arena for the international community to get acquainted with information about a given country, its position on various issues and its policies. The feedback of the “audience” is an essential component of the process.
The circle of actors capable of implementing soft power goes far beyond the limits of state authorities: can be either various public organizations or individual individuals who are not representatives of power but who have the ability to influence the political situation.
The use of various means and methods based on all available traditional and digital information channels. The characteristics of the audience to which the impact is calculated also should be taken into consideration.
The use of new information technologies is strengthening the soft and hard power of the state. With the development of a global network, traditional mechanisms for ensuring international security and stabilizing international relations are becoming obsolete, and new ones, such as multi-level diplomacy and multilateral partnerships, are still in the initial or early stages of development.
2. The Concepts of Digital Diplomacy
2.1. Historical Background
Initially, the term digital diplomacy (also called – Internet diplomacy, social networking diplomacy, Web 2.0 diplomacy, and new public diplomacy) was used in relation to the US public policy pursued to solve diplomatic and related foreign policy tasks with the use of digital technology. In particular, it implied the extensive use of information and communication technologies (ICT), including new social networks, blogs and similar media platforms to assist state bodies to carry out its functions and communications on a variety of issues. Currently, digital diplomacy programs are being implemented by a number of other states.
Digital diplomacy is one of the directions of public diplomacy. It is a way to influence the international situation and foreign audiences. At the same time, new public diplomacy is a much more efficient way to exercise short-term political campaigns through the use of the most modern ICT than classical public diplomacy. It is possible due to the more intensive information flows and psychological impact of new means of communication. An example of such short-term political campaigns may be activities to attract the attention of foreign audiences to an issue and to form a certain opinion in this audience.
2.2. Characteristics of Digital Diplomacy
The characteristics of the basic postulates of modern digital diplomacy include several aspects:
-Firstly, the source of digital diplomacy is non-governmental and network organizations that more effectively cover a certain part of the foreign audience with their influence;
-Secondly, the platform for digital diplomacy is the Internet, where the news and music formats of radio and television programs together with the promotion of the image of the country are transferred;
-Thirdly, members of foreign non-governmental organizations, Internet users and young people become the main targeted groups of digital diplomacy;
-Fourthly, instead of the concept of “promoting a positive image” of the country, a new concept of “branding” is used for more specific symbols. For example – promoting the image of the president;
-Fifthly, in the digital diplomacy of Western countries, three strategic conceptions of forces are used: soft, smart and the concept of dialogue that provides feedback and then a quick reaction to the emerging public opinion of network users.
2.3. Tasks of Digital Diplomacy
The tasks for digital diplomacy are identified and developed by the leadership of the countries in accordance with the country’s foreign policy. It is aimed at realizing the national interests of each individual country. Thus, generally, the goals of digital diplomacy should be viewed as complementary to military-political tactics, but carried out in the global information sphere. In particular, its main tasks are:
• promotion of foreign policy interests;
• informational propaganda aimed at the mass consciousness of the public and political elite;
• improvement of the state image;
• strengthening of existing and establishing new union relations;
• support for youth movements;
• establishing cooperation between people in different countries at the level of the whole society, not the elite with a view to achieving the desired result in the long term;
• Sharing and disseminating knowledge among people and governments around the world in order to promote democratic processes.
Others, not so “positive” tasks include:
• Appealing to a foreign audience and governments;
• Discrediting ideological opponents;
• Financing projects to create and disseminate new technologies that allow censorship around the network;
• Creation of information services aimed at supporting the opposition in authoritarian countries;
• Counteracting the information activities of opponents on the Internet and limiting their media presence undesirable in the space;
• Counteracting the external cultural policy of the enemy, carried out through social networks;
• Creation of shadow Internet systems and independent mobile networks, the deployment of which in the territory of third countries will allow fighters of authoritarian regimes to exchange information online, avoiding the authorities’ bans;
• Search for allies for popularization through various non-governmental organizations, political parties of other countries, diasporas and brands.
2.4. Benefits and risks of Digital Diplomacy
The key to understanding the essence of digital diplomacy is in the fact that it is a technological tool. There are some risks that are typical for communication, in general, and on the Internet, in particular:
– issues of ensuring cybersecurity against hacking and cyberterrorism. Cyberspace is seen as a space for conducting combat operations along with classical spaces;
– the anonymity of users, the human factor (the level of the culture of communication in social networks, suggesting not only constructive communication but also provocative messages of offensive nature, etc.);
– irrespective of the breadth of coverage of ICT, the information broadcasted must be not only reliable but also attractive;
At the same time, within the framework of public diplomacy, digital diplomacy is quite effective, and it is impossible to deny the possibility of social networks as a political tool:
– allows to track the “feedback” of users to digital diplomacy events, record the state of mass consciousness and correct the further actions of public diplomacy actors;
– does not require large financial investments;
– includes a large number of users who are representatives of various social classes
– allows implementing the principle of openness of state policy in diplomacy. The Internet and ICT have the great democratizing potential for contributing to the formation of civil society on a global scale. Every democratic state realizes the need to give an account of its actions to the public and to make contact in order to justify its position.
2.5. Social Networks used in Digital Diplomacy
The term social networks refer to resources whose functionality allows one to represent oneself on the Internet, creating one`s own personal communication space (page) and communicating with other users of these resources.
It is social networks that allow accessing a formally indeterminate circle of people, distributing certain information of the political content and simultaneously receiving a response to it. The potential of digital diplomacy lies in its ability to conduct a dialogue, rather than one-way communication on the part of an actor of public diplomacy. In addition, the initiative to start a dialogue is possible from both sides – actors in public diplomacy and the audience.
The wide functionality of social networks helps to significantly increase the capacity of government public relations underlying digital diplomacy. The digital source of public relations is the communicative space of the official website of the diplomatic department. However, the website does not allow for tracking the reaction of a mass audience, whereas networks, by virtue of their technical features, provide such a possibility. It is natural in this connection to actively use social networks in modern diplomatic practice.
Each website of the diplomatic department is necessarily provided with a hypertext link to official accounts in various social networks. The most popular resources are chosen as communicative platforms: Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Newmedia, DipNote, etc.2 These networks are meant not for the pressure on the Internet user, but rather for one`s familiarization with information about a particular country and its position on different problems from the necessary angle of view.
2.6. Digital Diplomacy based on Facebook and Twitter
Digital diplomacy is dominated by an appeal to Facebook and Twitter due to their popularity among Internet users around the world and a wide range of communication opportunities adaptable for use as a blog. Thus, a diplomat, who uses the blog for information tasks of foreign policy, writes in the genre of online diaries and actually acts as network journalist. Therefore, he is provided with an opportunity to reach the widest possible audience, both among citizens of his own country and abroad. Social media allows one to carry out this task in real time.3
Having examined, in general terms, the concepts of soft power, public and digital diplomacy, we can determine answers to the research questions.
The modern states are interested in applying soft power. To some extent, most states use it to protect national interests and achieve foreign policy goals. The priority of its use in the policy guarantees international peace, security and cooperation.
Returning to the problem of distinguishing concepts in the field of public diplomacy, we can find the differences between the new public diplomacy and the digital one. Both types actively use modern technologies, nevertheless digital diplomacy relies only on Internet resources without using other means. Taking into account the development of the Internet and rapid increase in the number of its users, there has been a visible shift from classical methods of public diplomacy to digital.
Another difference is the possibility of a direct intervention into the domestic policy of the recipient country. It is carried out through the transfer of new ICT and software resources to the opposition forces or through the provision of direct methodological support in the field of “electronic struggle”.
The classical methods of new public diplomacy, no doubt, do not violate the sovereignty of the recipient country. They are absolutely legitimate, notwithstanding the fact that through the information-psychological influence the population of the recipient country is actively involved in the information field of a foreign country.
However, other ways of applying digital diplomacy, which officials try not to publicize, can be considered a direct threat to state sovereignty. It’s about financing projects that create and disseminate new technologies allowing censorship around the network (so-called firewalls). Consequently, the opening of access through firewalls for the local opposition poses a significant threat to political stability in the recipient country. It violates the law of this country and also undermines the foundations of sovereignty concept and the UN principle of non-interference in internal affairs.
Additionally, the active inclusion of diplomatic departments in the communicative space of social networks has made changes in the discursive information practices of foreign affairs agencies. The new features consist of predominantly limited to a certain number of characters text messages as well as incorporated characteristic images, hypertext links and hashtags as a new form of language compression.4 This impact and the diplomacy of social networks are successful due to the increased popularity of such information and communication platforms that have become important channels of modern diplomacy in the Internet space.
Digital diplomacy, as an instrument of soft power, is now placed on a par with the most effective tools of domestic and foreign policy. Diplomats are called upon to use new technologies more and more on different platforms, including social media, so to explain the state’s positions. Although, professional diplomacy and its functions are not becoming obsolete in the digital age. It is diplomacy that provides experienced and thoughtful analyzes influencing the opinions of leaders for decision-making in foreign policy.
As mentioned above, some methods of digital diplomacy completely allow direct interference in the domestic policy of the recipient country and hence the violation of its sovereign rights. Such methods are applicable in most cases only to “closed” states in which there is a restriction of Internet access for the population. The quality of public diplomacy is changing under the cover of the struggle for the freedom of speech and freedom of the Internet. Such an approach can be fully considered as a violation of the integrity of the sovereignty by inciting and providing the population with instruments of violation of local law.
This “reverse” side of the relationship between Diplomacy 2.0 and state sovereignty once again shows that the problems of using digital diplomacy in the conditions of globalization, as well as the problem of the term itself, in many respects, remain part of the political discourse. It needs further development with application of the legal methodology.