The Online Journal of
Foreign Affairs and Tradecraft Robert Marshall, Editor
Diplomacy and Tradecraft
"There is perhaps no clearer indication of the need for reform in the American Foreign Service than the absence, in the age of the Internet and cyberspace, of the latest information technologies in many of Americas key embassies overseas. It is ironic that the nation, which has done more than any other to bring the world into the information age, still conducts much of its diplomatic activities via cable. The technology currently employed by the State Department is woefully inadequate to support its diplomatic efforts in the next century. Even as American businesses, academia, the media, non-governmental organizations, and other government agencies routinely employ cutting edge technologies in their day-to-day operations, the U.S. foreign policy infrastructure remains mired in the past. It is perhaps an overstatement to say that the medium is the message. However, it is no overstatement to say that without access to, and proficiency in, the information media of the future, the message can be lost in the cacophony of voices made suddenly all too audible via the computer." A quote from the Henry L Stimson Center's Project on the Advocacy of U.S. Interests Abroad: Final Report, Equipped for the Future: Managing U.S. Foreign Affairs in the 21st Century by John Schall. The whole report is available from the Henry L. Stimson web site www.stimson.org This same theme is repeated in another recent study, this time by the Center Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). " American diplomacy is today at severe risk because it does not have the modern technology it needs to do its job. As astonishing as it may seem, the Department of State does not have the proper tools for gathering, processing, and disseminating information, nor for communicating effectively with an increasingly democratic world. All this has happened at precisely the historical moment when American technological innovation leads and shapes the globalization process, both at home and abroad. All this has happened during a decade when the international affairs budget has been cut by more than 20 percent. Embassies have been closed, American diplomats have been recalled, and the communications infrastructure has been neglected. From Ireland to Israel, from South Africa to Indonesia--America must continue to provide some measure of stability in a world that remains unpredictable and turbulent. Yet, there is an anomaly in our conduct of diplomacy. Its instruments are left over from another era. While the image of a diplomat in striped pants is nothing but a stereotype from the past, the hierarchical cable culture that defines American diplomacy today has changed little in the last century. Not only must American diplomacy be brought up to date, it must reflect the nations position of global leadership. The stakes are too high to do otherwise." The whole text of this study, Reinventing Diplomacy in the Information Age, is available from the CSIS website.
Sadly, this same theme is repeated yet again in another recent study, this time by Overseas Presence Advisory Panel in its November 1999 report: "..., technology. It is a disgrace -- and the report says this in no uncertain terms -- that our personnel, representing 30 agencies, cannot communicate either with each other or with other posts around the world or with the government back in Washington, the way my organization and probably your organizations take for granted.
In the unclassified environment, a connection by an Internet-based e-mail system would provide the capacity for this kind of communication. But we should not be deceived. This is not a technological challenge. It is not expensive, and it is not technologically difficult to do it in a properly secured way. It's a cultural issue, and all of you are familiar with the literature: When you provide technology to communicate across departmental or agency lines and around the world, you break down hierarchies. You break down barriers of disciplined cones. And that is something that probably should happen, if you're going to build a knowledge-based system that is fast-enough moving to respond to the kinds of issues that we ask our representatives to deal with. But the creation of this technology platform is a critical problem and we are lagging well behind other large-scale organizations around the world."
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Last revised: March 20, 2001.