Smart Diplomacy and the Future of Diplomatic Undertaking

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(Photo Credit: Steve Snodgrass, Flickr Commons)

(Photo Credit: Steve Snodgrass, Flickr Commons)

Professor Joseph Nye introduced the concept of Smart Power as a combination of coercive and soft power to achieve goals in international relations, arguing that neither soft nor hard power alone could produce effective foreign policy. Nye defined soft power as “the ability to affect others through the co-optive means of framing the agenda, persuading, and eliciting positive attraction in order to obtain preferred outcomes.” Hard power, on the other hand, is the use of economic and military means to influence other parties. While hard power by itself has failed to transform Iraq or Afghanistan into democratic, stable, and prosperous countries, at the same time, soft power alone cannot remove the Taliban regime in Afghanistan or defeat the Islamic State in Iraq. Therefore, a combination of the two presents a viable strategy, as demonstrated in Iran’s recent nuclear program deal (although it may still be premature to assess the deal’s success).

Under the Obama administration, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton popularized smart power and defined it as choosing the right combination of tools – diplomatic, economic, political, legal, and cultural – for a particular situation.

Similar to what Hillary Clinton called “21st Century Statecraft,” we at the Global Diplomatic Forum have defined the concept of Smart Diplomacy as the practice of smart power beyond traditional diplomacy, with the employment of new technologies, public and private partnerships, as well as diaspora networks at the center of diplomacy. Subsequently, we have identified three pillars for effective Smart Diplomacy: Digital Capabilities, Multi-Stakeholder Diplomacy, and Feminist Diplomacy. These three pillars represent factors critical to the process of translating smart power into effective leverage in both bilateral relations as well as the larger international arena.

Digital Capabilities

Digital capabilities are crucial to capitalizing on the soft and hard powers countries possess. The far reach of online platforms makes them valuable tools for reaching a global audience in policy communications. Increasingly, people tend to use online channels as their main sources of information to gain knowledge about various subjects. Thus, these channels are increasingly impacting the perceptions, perspectives, and behaviors of people worldwide. Governments and their affiliates can use online platforms not only to reach audiences for their cultural and trade offerings, but also to detect security threats, as digital capabilities prepare nations to protect their economic and military resources against cyber attacks. In addition, these capabilities are reinvigorating traditional diplomacy between state officials, as they allow for the efficient use of time during meetings and in communications with counterparts and colleagues in different countries without the need to physically travel. Gradually, more countries will make use of cyberspace and allocate resources to digital diplomacy to take on the presented opportunities rather than being deterred by their potential risks.

Stakeholder Diplomacy

Diplomacy is a multi-stakeholder process that involves a variety of actors apart from the state. Although in many parts of the world, these stakeholders are part of the state system, gradually more stakeholders are acting independently from the state. These actors, including non-governmental organizations, private companies, academics, charities, and the media, often independently engage with their counterparts as well as other global stakeholders, which can play a considerable role in shaping a nation’s foreign relations. In countries where these stakeholders fall under the umbrella of the state system, the framework of action is pre-defined and the possibility of taking initiative is limited. However, independent agents can define their own raison d’être and identify countries, actors, and ways of engagement to create additional opportunities for their respective countries. Independence triggers stakeholders’ entrepreneurialism in global engagement and leads countries to increased opportunities.

Feminist Diplomacy:

Until 1946, women were excluded from the British diplomatic service on the grounds that they would not be taken seriously by foreign governments and would create insurmountable administrative difficulties, particularly in relation to their marital status. At present, feminist diplomacy remains an unpopular concept among diplomats in many parts of the world, but countries are increasingly inclined to adhere to the trends of modern diplomacy in which men and women are represented equally based on merit and standing.

Feminist Diplomacy reflects a whole society rather than simply men’s status and views of world affairs. Last year, Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallström announced that her government would pursue a “feminist foreign policy,” which has received a fair share of skepticism comparable to men’s dismissals of suffragettes campaigning for the right to vote in Great Britain a century ago. The 21st century is the century for the social, political, and economic empowerment of women around the world, and this will be manifested in diplomacy. The exclusion of the views and perspectives of women in foreign policy will gradually become more unacceptable, and the movement started by Foreign Minister Wallström will spread across the globe in this century due to its morality and pragmatism.

Smart Diplomacy does not illustrate how diplomacy is widely practiced in the world currently, but rather how diplomacy will evolve in this century. The concept will spread because it is far-reaching, efficient, and representative of our modern societies. In this way, we will be highly equipped to serve national interests of security and prosperity – the essence of foreign policy objectives. Post conflict reconstruction is one of the many areas that will benefit from Smart Diplomacy, allowing world leaders to address current failings in transitions from conflict to stability. These include the lack of involvement of victims (mostly women) and the lack of trust caused by the absence of stakeholder engagement. Independent charities, civil society, and humanitarian organizations can all play a major role in rebuilding trust in post conflict reconstruction through the nature of the work that they deliver on the ground. Smart Diplomacy will not necessarily replace traditional diplomacy as it is currently practiced among states, but will further traditional diplomacy to reflect the maturation of global engagement in societies, illustrating improvements in gender equality, the use of advanced technologies, and independent “multi-views-multi-stakeholder” engagement.

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Younes El Ghazi is the Founder and Chief Executive of the Global Diplomatic Forum, a London-based think tank specializing in contemporary diplomacy.

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