[WebDebate #46 summary] Unpacking the EU’s digital diplomacy and foreign policy


Stephanie Borg Psaila

Foreign policies have for many years served as countries’ compass in their relations with each other. With the fast digitalisation of most sectors of society, updating foreign policies to incorporate digital aspects – recognised both as a tool to facilitate diplomatic practice, and a theme on diplomatic agendas – is a natural progression.

In Europe, several countries have introduced strategies that focus specifically on digital topics; others have updated their strategies to include references to digitisation. At a regional level, the EU’s digital strategies are providing the backdrop for even more developments.

In WebDebate #46 (6 April 2021), we took a closer look at how the EU is tackling digital issues in its foreign policy. We looked at whether the EU should develop a dedicated digital foreign policy, and how to inject coherence into the way it coordinates its digital policies. We also asked whether there was a dissonance between digital sovereignty (clearly one of the EU’s ambitions) and digital interdependence (in light of how digitalisation is connecting countries and geographies, and the increasing calls for multilateral solutions).

Moderated by Dr Katharina Hoene, Diplo’s director of research, our WebDebate’s special guests were Dr Matthias C. Kettemann, senior researcher at the Leibniz Institute for Media Research, Hans-Bredow-Institut (HBI), and Dr Patryk Pawlak, head of the Brussels office of the EU Institute for Security Studies (EUISS).

What do we mean by digital foreign policy?

Many terms have mushroomed in diplomacy-related jargon, including cyber and digital diplomacy.. Pawlak noted that the terms essentially point to the same concept: diplomacy. Using such a range of terms is unnecessary because it leads to reinventing the mechanisms, instruments, and the whole set of discourses and narratives about diplomacy.

Does the EU need a dedicated policy for digital issues?

Mapping the EU’s digital policies is quite complex. Pawlak explained how foreign policy is dealt with by the vice president of the EU; in addition, two commissioners deal with the digital portfolio; plus, digital issues also have a strong international cooperation component.

Given the complexity, the EU needs to develop a cohesive digital foreign policy which serves as a unifying element that brings the institutional elements together, and serves as an awareness-raising exercise of what each arm is doing.

How can the EU improve the cohesiveness of its digital policies?

Kettemann noted that the EU has made great strides in setting normative standards and in laying the course for the next few years. These standards – such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) – are respected globally. Improving its strategic orientation would make its policies more cohesive, and would highlight more strongly its work on digital norms. This will enable it to exercise even more foreign policy influence on digital issues by using digital tools. Pawlak also highlighted the need for setting up a council on digital affairs, aimed at bringing countries together to discuss digital issues specifically.

Which objectives should an EU digital foreign policy have? 

Referring to his earlier studies, Kettemann highlighted the need to increase the self-determination of people as part of the digitalisation process. This includes informational self-determination, that is, the right of ownership over their personal data. The GDPR is a solid normative framework which has been exported to other countries.

The EU needs to strengthen the link between its strategic capacity to act in the foreign policy fields, and its goals. It also needs to ‘re-sovereignise’ certain parts of the digital landscape – including internet nodes, cloud infrastructure, and international standardisation processes – to allow Europe to continue shaping the rules.

Pawlak highlighted four guideposts, which were recently used to provide orientation for the newly launched Digital Compass, and which can serve to improve policy coherence. The first is sovereignty, which involves making choices that strengthen European technologies and alternatives, while taking a mature approach that explains its policy and tries to get more allies by its side. As interest in the EU’s policies increases, it also becomes more attractive – and hence a bigger priority – for the EU to strengthen its resilience against  cyberespionage or politically-motivated cyberattacks.

The third is to utilise the norms that are inherent in the EU’s regulation to inform a digital foreign policy. The fourth is to tackle the sovereignty/multilateralism dilemma which the EU will face, as a flip side of its digitally sovereign approach. In order to stand behind multilateralism, the EU will need to continue engaging with other countries, which would inevitably put certain constraints on what it can do as a digitally sovereign actor.

What is the diplomat’s role?

From the lens of an observer of EU Council discussions, Pawlak said how in recent years, diplomats with experience in negotiating cybersecurity issues have increasingly broadened the notion of cyber diplomacy to include non-security issues. Kettemann also noted the EU diplomats’ experience in navigating several national positions, making them well-placed to engage international actors with finding solutions to cyber issues.

Both Pawlak and Kettemann agreed on promoting the concept of digital ambassadors or digital attachés. They also noted that this requires a policy which unifies the EU’s efforts in the digital field, and which would then be able to guide the attachés’ work.

[WebDebate #45 summary] Visual storytelling for diplomatic practice


Katharina Höne

Diplomacy is often thought of as a practice centering on language. Yet, the visual image of diplomatic practice is increasingly important in a world in which images proliferate and videoconferencing has replaced face-to-face meetings. Diplomats need to be aware of the power of images, and need to have a sense of best practices and potential pitfalls when it comes to visual storytelling. Our 45th WebDebate ‘Visual storytelling for diplomatic practice’ took a closer look at this important topic.

There is no better example of the increasing importance of images and visual storytelling than last year’s opening of the 75th UN General Assembly (UNGA). Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, heads of states and governments were unable to travel to New York for the opening of the assembly. Instead, each country sent a video message that was displayed in the assembly hall.

With the help of our speakers, we took a closer look at how world leaders used images and visual storytelling to mark the occasion. We were joined by Ms Stéphanie Fillion, a journalist working on UN affairs, and Dr Massimiliano Fusari, an academic and consultant on digital media as a visual storytelling means.

How have countries utilised this opportunity for visual communication and storytelling?

Many countries used the added opportunities that the video messages presented in terms of visual communication skillfully. Fillion highlighted a number of best practices. Some countries, for example China and North Macedonia, used the background to convey a sense of the country’s culture, heritage, and landmarks. The video message from the Philippines contained additional images to underscore the president’s remarks. Small details, such as the placement of the country’s flag as well as the UN flag in the frame, conveyed a commitment to multilateralism. The use of visual communication and storytelling can be summarised as: (a) careful staging of the world leader, and (b) the intentional use of symbols.

What does a further analysis of the videos reveal?

Fusari presented some further analysis of the videos and highlighted the use of symmetry and the golden ratio. These visual elements provide a sense of coherence and balance and are pleasing to the eye. They are also used intentionally as a frame to direct the gaze of viewers towards key elements such as a person’s head and hands. Similarly, ‘framing the wings’ is a term borrowed from theater to describe choices made regarding the sides of the image. In some of the video messages, we could see very intentional choices for framing the wings to define the space in which the ‘performance’ was taking place. When arranging high-level video messages such as these, it is worth paying attention to these elements. They provide visual clues and important hints for the audience on how to read the messages of the video.

What are some other details that are worth paying attention to?

Fillion and Fusari’s analysis really showed that details such as camera placement, teleprompter placement, background, and lighting matter a great deal in conveying messages effectively. In addition, the video format, compared to being physically present in the UNGA to deliver a speech, also leads to more attention being paid to items of clothing and accessories and, therefore, necessitates very intentional choices

Who are the messages directed to?

As with every piece of communication and storytelling, it is important to define who the intended audience is. The example of the UNGA showed that video messages were often crafted with both the domestic and international audience in mind. In some cases, the choice of backgrounds and symbols can best be explained by realising that the speeches before the UNGA were addressed to more than one constituency.

What lies ahead?

Fillion highlighted how 2020 provided some substantial challenges to the communication of diplomatic practice. For example, in the absence of physical meetings, how can a videoconferencing or a phone call between world leaders be conveyed in an interesting way? Fusari stressed that messages can be crafted with good choices regarding symbols, staging, and framing, and how countries can engage in visual storytelling. The debate made it clear that this is more than a temporary situation and that careful thought needs to be given to the use of new technologies and  their communication and storytelling potentials.

Further resources

[WebDebate #41 summary] The UN at 75: Evolution or revolution?


Katharina Höne

We organised our September WebDebate, ‘The UN at 75: Evolution or revolution?’, to mark the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the United Nations. By looking back at the past 75 years of the world organisation, we zoomed in on two key questions. 

  • Are we seeing an evolution or a revolution in some of the key UN topics and how they are addressed? 
  • What future lies ahead for the UN, and what can we do to ‘build back better’?

The discussion focused on three core pillars of the UN: peace and security, human rights, and sustainable development. In addition, we explored digital co-operation as a cross-cutting issue connecting these three core pillars of the organisation. For this debate, we were joined by Dr Jovan Kurbalija (Executive Director, DiploFoundation), Mr Marc Limon (Executive Director, Universal Rights Group), Ambassador Asoke Mukerji (India’s ambassador and permanent representative to the UN in New York from 2013 to 2015), and Ms Irena Zubčević (Chief, Intergovernmental Policy and Review Branch, UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs).

Are we seeing an evolution or a revolution in some of the key UN topics and how they are addressed? 

According to Mukerji, there are good reasons to speak of evolution in the area of peace and security. Membership is universal and has increased from 51 founding members to 193 today. Through the UN General Assembly, a democratisation of international relations has taken place. At the same time, the UN Security Council is in dire need of reform and it is difficult to speak of an evolution in that area of the UN. 

Looking at the UN and human rights, Limon argued that we are seeing a somewhat mixed bag. It is useful to remind ourselves that the UN human rights system, and the idea that the UN should be able to address human rights violations by states, is revolutionary. At the same time, states do not like revolution, so for a number of political reasons during specific historical periods, such as the apartheid, the UN human rights system was never allowed to be as strong as it could have been. 

Zubčević reminded us of the revolutionary character of the sustainable development goals (SDGs) and the process of adapting them. For the first time, there was a global agreement on a universal agenda that holds true for developed and developing countries alike. The SDGs touch on all aspects of human life, and encompass the peace and security, human rights, and sustainable agendas. They represent a forward-looking agenda that – in its attention to people, the planet, prosperity, peace, and partnerships – is much needed at present.

Digital technology was a driver of international co-operation. However, the UN’s experience is a mixed bag, as Kurbalija, who headed the Secretariat of the UN High-level Panel on Digital Cooperation, argued. We can observe an evolution from the World Summits on the Information Society in the early 2000s, to the current emphasis on technology in the Secretary General’s RoadMap on Digital Cooperation. Kurbalija argued that the UN is now coming to a realistic understanding and relationship with technology. Technology should be seen as the connector between the three pillars discussed in the debate. 

What are the key points for the future of the organisation?

Mukerji argued that it is high time for the UN to become truly multistakeholder in structure and working. Further, in light of digital developments, we need to build a ‘digital home’ for the UN. And lastly, it is time to bring the UN back to the people. Limon argued that, in terms of human rights, we need to make sure that the human rights pillar does not stay confined to being the ‘small’ pillar in the work of the UN – only 3% of the UN’s regular budget is allocated to the human rights pillar compared to about 25% for both development and security. Zubčević issued a powerful reminder that we cannot imagine a world without the UN and that in order to make sure the organisation has a stable footing in the future, we need to strengthen multilateralism and global solidarity. Kurbalija returned to his suggestion regarding a digital home for the UN. He argued that a digital home for the world is needed and that there is no better place than the UN in terms of: first, a space for diplomatic online meetings and, second, a space where questions and concerns about digital policy can be raised and resolved. 

[WebDebate #37 summary] Multilateral diplomacy in times of COVID-19


United Nations

In our monthly WebDebate, which is organised in the context of the International Forum on Diplomatic Training (IFDT), we looked at Multilateral diplomacy in times of COVID-19. When we observe the responses to the COVID-19 crisis, we seem to encounter a paradox. On one hand, we have reports that shipments of masks and other key equipment are diverted from their destination countries. On the other hand, there are examples of enormous solidarity within societies and among countries. The work of the United Nations (UN) is clearly important in this crisis. The World Health Organization (WHO) has played a crucial part in responding to the crisis and UN Secretary-General António Guterres called for ‘a global ceasefire in all corners of the world’. He also launched a report on shared responsibility and global solidarity in response to the COVID-19 crisis.

Taking this as a starting point, in this debate we addressed:

  • the role of multilateral diplomacy in this crisis;
  • the specific role of the UN system and the WHO; and
  • the question how the multilateral system and the UN will emerge after the crisis.

Our speakers for this debate were Ambassador Umej Bhatia (Singapore’s permanent representative to the UN Office in Geneva), UN Undersecretary General Fabrizio Hochschild-Drummond (special adviser to the UN Secretary-General on the Preparations for the Commemoration of the United Nations’ 75th Anniversary) and Dr Owain Williams (senior research fellow in global health governance at the University of Leeds).

The need for multilateralism and solidarity

The UN system and multilateralism are facing a substantial challenge, yet for many small states multilateralism is a necessity, as Bhatia pointed out. The pandemic reminds us of our interconnectedness and therefore also demands for a global response. The harsh economic and development consequences of the crisis are substantial and this calls for greater solidarity between countries. However, while there are both worrying as well as hopeful signs, it is too early to tell how multilateralism will emerge from the crisis.

Bhatia also stressed that it is clear that we cannot return to the old way of doing things and that reform of multilateralism and reform of the UN are needed. Similarly, Hochschild argued that it is clear that we cannot go back to the status quo after the crisis. The status quo exacerbated the current situation through fragmented and disjointed approaches and the multilateral response to the next crisis needs to be better. Wiliams highlighted that the main impact of the crisis is about to be borne by the developing world, especially by those countries where public health and the public health systems are the weakest. This is another reason why solidarity and multilateral response are called for.

The UN system

Looking more closely at the UN system, Guterres’s report ‘Shared responsibility, global solidarity’ is an important call for increasing co-operation. Another signal for solidarity is the resolution on ‘Global Solidarity to Fight COVID-19’ passed by the UN General Assembly. It was initiated by Indonesia, together with Ghana, Liechtenstein, Norway, Singapore, and Switzerland, and cosponsored by 188 countries.

These expressions of global solidarity also carry a challenge. Looking at the broader picture, Hochschild argued that the UN needs and can do better when it comes to global challenges such as climate change, migration, demographic changes, and growing inequalities. More specifically, the current crisis further underlines both the importance of the UN as well as the need for reform. Before the background of the tragedy of the Second World War, the UN has learned from the shortcomings of the League of Nations. Similarly, this crisis might help in galvanising new commitment and much needed reform.

Especially before the background of the 75th anniversary of the world organisation, it is crucial to further reflect on this. While the current crisis demands immediate responses, its implications are much larger. As part of the preparations for the 75th anniversary, Hochschild’s team is conducting a global listening exercise to get people’s perspectives on where the world is heading and how international co-operation and the UN can do better.

WHO and global health governance

Zooming in even further on the UN system, Williams stressed that the WHO has risen to the challenge of the crisis. However, a lack of funding for the WHO is a big challenge. Across global health governance, additional resources are needed to make a critical intervention. These resources have been lacking for decades. While this crisis is of an unprecedented scale, it comes on the back of a number of serious pandemics. Lessons from those crises were not implemented and the needed resources were not put in place.

The space of global health governance is also a crowded one, with many new institutions, including many private actors, having emerged over the last decades. First, this carries with it the danger of incoherent and un-lead responses. Second, experience has also shown that the market mechanism alone is not working when it comes to developing drugs and vaccines. Both points are challenges of multilateral diplomacy in the health sector and will need to be addressed if we are to learn from the current crisis.

Final reflections

From my perspective as the moderator, I was impressed by the frankness with which speakers pointed to serious challenges of the multilateral system. There was a general agreement that the current crisis has exposed long-term challenges of the UN and the need for reform. It is too early to tell how multilateral diplomacy and the UN system will emerge from the crisis. However, it is clear that, as Hochschild emphasised, the world needs to do better when the next pandemic hits. In order to move forward, Bhatia suggested to be guided by ‘the better angels of our nature’. Williams pointed out that we need to question what we really value and act accordingly. These points serve well for further reflections as we move forward.

Further resources

During the debate, a number of resources were mentioned that are helpful in following up on the topic.


[WebDebate #34 summary] Exploring innovative teaching methodologies: Digital tools for teaching diplomacy

Digital tools have garnered substantial interest in the context of teaching and training in diplomatic practice. Tools such as video conferences, small online courses, and massive open online courses are changing the landscape of what is possible in the field. Conversations on digital tools for teaching diplomacy are important in order to keep diplomatic teaching and training up to date, offer the best possible experience for participants, and reach those that might have been excluded previously.

The key experts for this debate were Prof. Jaime de Aguinaga García (Professor of Practice of International Development, School of Global and Public Affairs, IE University) and Dr Katharina Höne (Senior Researcher and Lecturer, DiploFoundation). In particular, they explored the digital tools currently employed; the ‘how’ and ‘why’ they are utilised; the challenges and opportunities associated with them; and, best practices and lessons learned. The debate was moderated by Mr Marco Lotti (Project Manager, DiploFoundation and Geneva Internet Platform).

How are digital tools used in teaching diplomacy and training diplomats?

De Aguinaga highlighted that there are many ways in which digital tools can be included in the training and teaching of diplomacy. However, it is important to think about the implications of these tools for students and teachers. He explained that at the IE University, a variety of blended formats (such as mixing face-to-face contact with digital lessons) are explored. In this context, he stressed his belief that blended formats are often the most successful ones, as they can draw on the advantages of both face-to-face and digital approaches.

Highlighting some of the innovations explored at IE, he mentioned the use of apps to draw on the aspects of gamification in the learning process; facial recognition in order to tailor learning content by analysing the student’s reaction, and thus, increase the quality of teaching and the overall learning process; digital simulations of business negotiation cases; and, virtual reality.

He also explained the idea behind IE’s WOW-room which includes 48 screens, cameras, robots, holographic projectors, and the use of facial recognition. However, despite new possibilities due to technological innovations, he stressed that teachers and instructors need to be trained in the use of online and digital tools, because the human component is often what makes or breaks these tools.

Höne introduced DiploFoundation’s approach to online learning, which builds on small-scale courses with a maximum of 25 people, which last around ten weeks on average. These courses are highly interactive and highly collaborative. She explained that at the core of each course is the discussion of a tailored lecture text each week. Participants go through the text and highlight key words or phrases in places where they have questions or comments to deepen their understanding of the topic. Course lecturers, who are often also the ones developing the lecture texts, join the ensuing discussion to answer questions, respond to comments, and further drive the discussion.

She explained that three approaches are particularly important: asking and answering questions; weaving different topics together in order to create a tightly knitted discussion; and, summarising key points in the discussion. Each week, this practice results in discussion trees which are typically well over a hundred entries long. This approach puts collaborative learning at the core. The assumption is that everyone in the course has something to contribute and the course brings all of this together in order to construct knowledge jointly

What are the advantages and disadvantages and best practices that others can learn from?

Completion rates are a concern when it comes to online learning, and while there are various ways to address this, Höne argued that a ‘human approach’ might be the best solution to keep completion rates high. She explained that in Diplo’s courses, there are at least two people in constant interaction with course participants: one focusing on discussing the content, and one focusing on keeping the participants on track, managing their workloads, and providing support and guidance where needed.

The distinction between synchronous learning and asynchronous learning can also be usefully employed to provide the best possible training. Asynchronous learning content is content that can be accessed and interacted with at any time. Synchronous components of online learning require all participants to be online at the same time. Höne highlighted that asynchronous tasks help to include people who are geographically dispersed and living in different time zones. In this way, people from all around the world can be included. Building on asynchronous learning also helps in allowing participants to fit their learning around busy working lives or other commitments they might have.

Höne also cautioned that it might be tempting to see digital tools and online learning as a way to respond to an accelerating world. She argued that while it is true that these tools allow for providing just-in-time courses or learning units on current and emerging topics, this should not lead to neglecting other aspects of learning. She advocated that it is crucial to protect spaces for broader reflections.

De Aguinaga stressed that it is easier to teach face-to-face in a physical environment, and that it is crucial to realise that online teaching is not easy. He argued that, from his experience, in order to keep people engaged, the number of participants should not exceed 50 people. Furthermore, the right faculty and the right people in the classroom make a huge difference.

He also shared some of the key lessons from his work at IE. Flexibility and the willingness to update content continuously are important. Similarly, moving an existing course online requires some careful thought on how to build and sustain a community of learners. Learning from peers is often even more crucial than learning from a professor. In addition, careful thought needs to be put into the design, including considerations on format, timing, and attention spans.

Both speakers agreed that digital tools are not a panacea nor a magic bullet; they have to be chosen and tailored very carefully.

How can we decide which tools to employ?

Höne emphasised the need to start with a clear definition of the learning objective. Is the aim: (a) acquiring and remembering information; (b) developing analytical skills; or (c) practising problem solving-skills? Depending on the answer to this, different approaches are called for. She argued that recorded lectures and massive open online courses (key elements include watching a video or reading a text) are useful when it comes to acquiring and remembering information. A totally different approach is needed for developing analytical skills and problem solving-skills. In these cases, moderated discussions, essay-writing, experiments, and simulations are called for.

De Aguinaga pointed out that there is high demand for learning and an overwhelming supply of information. Yet, it is a whole other question to create effective learning and a community of learners and practitioners. He highlighted different dimensions that impact the decision for or against a specific tool: access, scalability and the question of how many people it is trying to reach, affordability – especially in terms of the marginal cost of the tools, possibilities for engaging the participants, evaluation of learning (in terms of knowledge and skills), possible actions that come after learning, and the value participants attach to certification.

In addition, questions around inclusion are important. For example, Höne explained that the work at Diplo focuses on diplomats and other officials from developing countries. In this context, questions around the digital divide and making sure that no one is left behind become important. Issues around the lack of access, lower bandwidth, and intermittent electricity or Internet access need to be taken into account when choosing learning tools.

And finally, de Aguinaga stressed that ‘you should be able to use the technology without having the feeling of using a new technology’; the setting should be intuitive and feel familiar.

Diplo alumni

[WebDebate #33 summary] The diplomacy of natural resources in the Middle East


Katharina Höne

In our November WebDebate, we discussed the diplomacy of natural resources in the Middle East. In particular, we focused on water in the Middle East and conflict and co-operation around this scarce resource. We were joined by Nadav Tal, water officer and Jordan Valley field co-ordinator at EcoPeace, and Lutine F. de Boer, senior advisor on environmental policy, urban planning, and water for the Dutch regional government, and DiploFoundation alumna (Master in Contemporary Diplomacy).

Regarding water security, what is the current situation in the Middle East and the world?

Water security is a problem around the world, but regions such as the Middle East and North Africa are some of the most affected. These regions in particular, face political instability due to water shortages. Population growth, immigration, and climate change add further pressure. In the Middle East, Tal identified a lack of transboundary water management and a lack of a comprehensive multi-sectoral approach, due to conflict and political disagreement. Unsustainable water management has, for example, affected the Jordan river significantly and there is a dire need for regional co-operation to rehabilitate the river. The Syrian war has added further pressure on the management of water resources in the region. The Nile basin is another example of political tensions between states around a shared resource.

How do we begin working towards successful water management?

F. de Boer began by pointing out that water can be a source of conflict. States might act as so-called basin bullies; water might become a tool in warfare; and, water can be used as a way of having power over others through more subliminal actions. She stressed that tensions and conflict around water resources will increase due to climate change, especially in vulnerable areas like the Middle East. This means that new strategies and ways of peaceful coexistence are needed.

F. de Boer offered a checklist for working towards successful water management. First, it is important to take a step back and (a) look at what defines good co-operation, (b) define (together with all the relevant partners) what co-operation means in the specific context, and (c) start at the community level to learn lessons that can then be applied at other levels of water management. Second, it is crucial to realise that economic inequity and power asymmetry are significant barriers to effective regional co-operation. In order to overcome this, the help of third parties, capacity building efforts, and objective standard setting can be useful. Third, the focus of water management should be on win-win solutions by finding ways to create meaningful exchanges and ensure the fair allocation of benefits from a resource.

What are the key elements for building regional water security?

Tal suggested that regional water security builds on five key elements:

      facilitating the exchange of knowledge and good practices of water management

      fostering the exchange of know-how and technology between countries

      developing and improving mechanisms of transboundary water management at the sub-regional level

      building a regional platform to identify and develop regional projects with shared benefits to all

      incentivising spill-over to other sectors

Looking at it this way, co-operation around water resources is a way towards peace. Historically, the development of the European Union out of the European Coal and Steel Community can serve as an example of how co-operation around resources can lead to lasting peace and deeper integration between countries.

Should political conflicts and resource conflicts be treated separately, or is there substantial interplay the two?

Tal highlighted that political will is needed in order to create co-operation. Regional and national interests need to be well understood. As the example of the Middle East shows, co-operation, Tal argued, is actually in everyone’s interest. F. de Boer stressed that the question is best addressed in a context-specific way. She gave the example of the Netherlands where the political management of water resources has been separated from the resource management side through the creation of a separate water board. In this way, she argued, water issues do not have to compete with other issues in the political arena. However, it is also clear that a total separation between the two spheres is not possible and often not desirable.

Does technology play a particular role in bringing about co-operation and managing scarce resources?

Tal attributed a key role to technology in solving conflicts around water. In the Middle East, desalination technology, waste-water treatment, and sophisticated irrigation techniques are key to providing enough water, reducing scarcity, and ensuring water security. Technology transfer and capacity building in these areas are key elements of co-operation. F. de Boer described how the Netherlands have invested in big data and open source mapping in order to ensure integrated resource management. Digital innovations for resource management are key. In this regard, availability of all the policy-relevant data and technological literacy remain challenges.

In conclusion …

It is clear that it is urgent to find ways to co-operate and overcome ignorance and conflict. Tal argued that co-operation can be built from the ground up by bringing people together and building trust one step at a time. F. de Boer stressed that a paradigm shift from competition to co-operation is urgently needed, and expressed the hope that any partnership can thrive, if approached in the right way.

[WebDebate #31 summary] Technology and diplomacy: Unpacking the relationship


Andrijana Gavrilović

Our July WebDebate aimed to unpack the relationship between technology and diplomacy, and to make suggestions for diplomats who want to understand and address the geopolitical, security, human rights, and economic implications of the rise of new technologies. Joining us for this discussion were Mr Daniel P Bagge (Cyber Attaché to the United States and Canada, National Cyber and Information Security Agency, Embassy of the Czech Republic, Washington DC) and Mr Vladimir Radunovic (Cybersecurity and E-Diplomacy Programmes Director, DiploFoundation). The debate was moderated by Ms Tereza Horejsova (Project Development Director, DiploFoundation). Right from the start, the participants stressed the importance of technology for diplomacy and then moved to discuss specific examples, such as the new 5G technology as it pertains to diplomatic questions. 

The importance of 5G

Radunovic stated that most users think about 5G as the next generation of telecommunications networks which is going to have a faster speed – 10 Gbps connections – compared to today’s 50 Mbps. The essential difference, he pointed out, will be in the latency of package travel, because 5G technology will enable users to receive and send information in almost real-time. The resulting reduction in latency allows real-time control of smart devices. 5G will thus enable connection of all smart devices and taking a step further towards a smart environment where everything communicates with everything – an Internet of Things (IoT) environment. Radunovic highlighted that this will actually be a step forward in artificial intelligence (AI) development, as IoT will generate high quantities of data from which AI can learn. He stated that the development of 5G technology is actually part of the race toward a more extensive IoT and, ultimately, to the race for dominance in AI. Bagge added that while 5G technology will increase the number of connected devices, which will generate this potential for data, for training AI, or machine learning, it will also create a lot of entry points that a bad actor might want to exploit for an attack.

The security concerns around Huawei

Bagge stressed that Huawei is not the only company capable of building 5G networks – Ericsson, Samsung, Nokia 5G networks are already in use, for example in South Korea (Samsung) and the US (Ericsson and Nokia). He cautioned that we must be careful about the inputs we bring into the discussion on technology and diplomacy so that they are not only technical or pertain to PR battles between competitors on the market.

Bagge also spoke about the warning the National Cyber and Information Security Agency (NCISA) of the Czech Republic issued over security concerns about Huawei. For two years, NCISA analysed the potential impacts of 5G and actors on the market. The warning was a heads-up to telco operators, almost a year ahead of the 5G spectrum bidding in Czech Republic, to behave according to the law. Bagge stated that 5G is very important as it will bring economic growth, it will qualitatively change how governments and societies function. For instance, governmental communication will be transferred over 5G and not fibre optics or landlines, because it will be not cost-effective anymore.

5G networks and trust

Radunovic spoke about the implications 5G networks will have for society’s trust in technology (for more information see our April GIP Digital Watch Newsletter). He agreed with Bagge about the future dependency of societies on 5G and other technologies. He noted that there is a risk of bad actor employing ‘kill switch’ meaning that a malicious actor could penetrate another actor’s communications or industry systems and undermine or shut those systems down in case of an open war. A less radical possibility is espionage – snooping on the communications and innovations of another country. Radunovic also highlighted that technology is a black box and users do not know what is inside it because it is very complex. Further ramifications are added by the fact that most technology also contains intellectual property. Western countries emphasise as a risk that Chinese companies, Huawei included, are required to cooperate with the Chinese government upon the government’s request. However, as Radunovic pointed out, the Snowden affair revealed that in the US as well, the private sector cooperates with the government – willingly or unwillingly – meaning that users are not completely safe with any technologies, anywhere.

Bagge stated that all technologies are vulnerable, but stressed that it is more important to discern whether they are vulnerable by design or by accident, and if the vendors are willing to fix a vulnerability found by security researchers. Another important question is perceiving underlying motive behind a company’s actions – whether they are profit-oriented or if there is another larger motive behind them. According to Bagge, the main issue is not the quality of the technology, but questions of trust, of what users entrust to the technology they are using. He also pointed out that vendor lock-in (which makes a customer dependent on a particular vendor for products and services) is complicated and financially and politically costly to get out of, and elected politicians might not be willing to pay this price.

Trade and technology

Radunovic stated that Huawei controls more than 25% of the global telecom market at the moment. He noted that the telecommunications market has already been established, and it is difficult to dismiss any corporative member. For example, cutting Huawei out of the telecommunications network in the UK is not simple, because the existing telecommunication network already depends to a large extent on Huawei. If a developed country decides to roll back its plans for 5G technologies, it could lose billions as well as the ongoing race to develop 5G networks, which leads to developing more extensive IoT, and then AI. But Radunovic also stated that Ericsson and Nokia said that they probably would not be able to make up for the lack of Huawei in the market should Huawei be banned in most countries. He noted that an important factor in the advancement in technologies during the last few decades was that institutions and experts worked together on a global level, with international projects and finances focussing on different parts of the supply chain. However, politics could break this supply chain and lead to a breakdown in the trust in the global effort in developing technologies. If everyone starts to build complex technology (hardware and chip industry) in-house, it could lead to the fragmentation of the market, which could further lead to a fragmentation in developing and implementing technologies, and deterioration of trade relations.

Bagge touched upon the issue of values, including the purposes collected data is used for. He pointed out that countries cannot think only in terms of security, but must also consider larger economic aspects. The balance between security and prosperity is reached in negotiations, he noted, but diplomats often cannot understand the nuances of cybersecurity as it is not a tangible concept. He stressed that diplomats do not have to be technically proficient, but must be able to understand the potential implications of a lack of strong cybersecurity.

Developing countries and 5G technologies

Developing countries are not in the race for AI at the moment. Often, the choice between telecom equipment vendors is made by considering the quality and the cost of the equipment rather than issues of trust. Although they do not usually produce their own equipment, they often equally (dis)trust foreign vendors. Because the USA has a strong culture of protecting intellectual property with trademarks and copyright, this is especially problematic with US intellectual property. He noted that many experts, scientists, and researchers from developing countries have worked on developing technologies and in some way co-own parts of global intellectual property in technological developments, but developing countries often do not legally protect this or try to use it in trade and political debates. He stated that the main problem in developing countries is that they rarely consider the digital aspects of diplomacy and international relations, because they consider digital aspects to be something that is present in developed countries only. He stressed that awareness must be raised on political and diplomatic levels to get involved in digital policy discussions.

Bagge pointed out that each country has different circumstances and conditions which affect the development of technologies. He noted that the Prague Proposals outline areas of interest that government or a corporate entity should have a look at if they are considering building a 5G network. The proposals are not country-specific and they are not vendor-specific.

Can the US technology ban kill Huawei?

Adding to the ban on the use of Huawei equipment in the USA, the US President has introduced a ban on the export of US technology to Huawei and other Chinese companies. Bagge believes that the bans could kill Huawei, but that in his opinion, will not. Radunovic noted that Huawei itself stated the latest ban would cost them billions, but that he is also of the opinion the company will survive. There are a couple of things Huawei could do rather quickly: emphasise software development and parts of chip design. Huawei might come out stronger in the long run, Radunovic hypothesised. An analysis of the Huawei ban by the USA, including prospects and consequences for Huawei, the US tech industry, and the global market, can be found in the May issue of the GIP Digital Watch Newsletter.

Looking ahead

Radunovic called the US decision to introduce the ban on Huawei ‘crossing the Rubicon’ because it clearly showcased that politics plays a big role in the technology development process – and reverting the ban will not undo this perception. The whole debate about Huawei crushed trust in the technological supply chain. In the future, we will need to begin with the knowledge that the trust in the global technological supply chain is gone, Radunovic noted. He concluded by reflecting on trust and values. 

On the one hand, our trust in technology has been ruined by states misusing technologies to undermine each other, to achieve their geopolitical interests, and wage hybrid wars (blending conventional and unconventional warfare). On the other hand, companies such as Huawei, Microsoft, and Kaspersky have started extending their ‘transparency efforts’, and that might mean that the corporate sector understands that it needs to be more responsible, transparent, and reassuring that their products do not contain backdoors. This might be a good move to increase trust. Each country has a set of values it stands for, and it is important to take them into account.

Bagge highlighted that the US ban on purchasing Huawei equipment for US infrastructure was not reverted, but that US companies will be allowed to sell components to Huawei again. He noted that transparency centres (for example at Microsoft) are meant to communicate with political leadership, and not users or tech professionals, and that the centres are – for numerous physical and technical reasons – useless in terms of cybersecurity. Bagge concluded there is a growing interest in cybersecurity and cyberspace from governments, as they realise it will be the backbone of future governance, future societies, and future economies. In the future, there will be more uncertainty in the international arena; but there will also be more efforts on the professional level by the technical community, think-tanks, international law organisations, etc. He also stated that he hopes to see many more courses for diplomats and decision-makers on these issues, as capacity building is needed in these areas.

Many of these topics are discussed in more depth in Diplo’s Internet Technology and Policy: Challenges and Solutions course scheduled for July 2019.

Horejsova concluded the WebDebate by inviting the audience to watch previous WebDebates and webinars, and visit the GIP Digital Watch observatory. She also invited the audience to attend the Digital [and] Diplomacy: How to deal with digital aspects of foreign policy conference organised by DiploFoundation in partnership with Swiss Confederation and the Republic and Canton of Geneva. 

[WebDebate #29 summary] Science Diplomacy: Preparing the next generation

In our May WebDebate, we discussed science diplomacy, focusing on the question of preparing the future generation of diplomats for this emerging field. We unpacked the concept of science diplomacy and discussed its growing implications and importance for the diplomatic community. We were joined by Dr Marga Gual Soler, who is an internationally recognised expert, advisor, and educator in science diplomacy and until recently has directed science diplomacy research, education, and training at the AAAS Center for Science Diplomacy. We were also joined by Dr Jean-Christophe (JC) Mauduit who is a lecturer in Science Diplomacy at University College London and a former AAAS visiting scholar. The debate was moderated by Diplo’s Senior Researcher and Lecturer Dr Katharina Höne.

What is science diplomacy and why does it matter?

Höne started the debate by giving a definition of science diplomacy: ‘Science diplomacy is the use of scientific interactions among nations to address the common problems facing humanity and to build constructive, knowledge-based international partnerships.’ A commonly used three-part framework for science diplomacy consists of:

  • science in diplomacy (the use of scientific advice for the practice of international relations)
  • diplomacy for science (where diplomatic efforts foster scientific co-operation and innovation partnerships)
  • science for diplomacy (where scientific co-operation is used to improve or foster foreign relations).

Gual Soler stated that interest in science diplomacy has taken off in the past ten years, but that it is not a new practice. Indeed, while the term science diplomacy was first coined at the turn of the 20th century and its definition introduced by AAAS and The Royal Society in 2010, scientists and diplomats have worked together for centuries. Science diplomacy is an umbrella term that allows us to understand how interactions between diplomats and scientists happen, how they can be successful and it turns science diplomacy into a discipline that can be researched, taught and operationalised

Most of today’s global challenges, from climate change through food security to global health, have scientific underpinnings and require collaboration between scientists, diplomats, and other stakeholders to be understood and addressed. Diplomats need to understand and adapt to the disruptive technologies impacting their work and changing the geostrategic landscape. Gual Soler mentioned The Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer as an example of a successful partnership between science and diplomacy. She further stated that we face the same type of challenge with climate change, in which all nations on the planet have to come together – diplomatically and scientifically – to find a common solution.

Mauduit stated that science diplomacy is an evolving field in constant search of its own definition. The three-part framework – science in diplomacy, diplomacy for science, science for diplomacy – is still a good reference point, but has continued to evolve over the last ten years. Countries might pursue science diplomacy approaches to advance national needs, such as national security or economic growth; but can also encompass actions designed to address cross-border interests, such as climate change, and actions primarily designed to meet the global needs, such as the sustainable development goals (SDGs). Interest in science diplomacy has recently reached the highest levels of governments and international organisations, particularly in countries in the Global South, as science, technology, and innovation are getting more integrated into international relations and diplomatic affairs.

Opportunities for capacity development in science diplomacy

Gual Soler led the science diplomacy capacity building portfolio at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Before  2014, there was only one course in science diplomacy at The Rockefeller University, but with the start of the collaboration between AAAS and The World Academy of Sciences (TWAS), experimentation in training in science diplomacy began. The first stage was bringing scientists and diplomats together, an exposure awareness-raising exercise to help build an understanding of each other, find a common language, and put across the idea that the work of scientists and the work of diplomats not only can be mutually useful but is becoming imperative to tackle cross-border challenges like the spread of pandemics, water management, nuclear security, or governing the global commons.

The key element is to know which audience is being trained and at what level – finding the right balance and a common curriculum for scientists and diplomats to train together is crucial. Today, an introductory science diplomacy course would cover the topics as diverse as climate diplomacy, global health, astronomy, nuclear physics, water management, or biodiversity conservation. It would serve to introduce participants to different drivers for science diplomacy, after which they can delve deeper into their area of expertise or interest. In 2017, AAAS launched a free online introductory course that has been taken by over 4000 people around the world. Gual Soler also noted that ministries of foreign affairs and diplomatic academies are expressing interest in adding science diplomacy tracks to their regular curriculum – in 2018 she helped develop a course for the Mexican Diplomatic Academy on the Fourth Industrial Revolution.


Mauduit noted that an issue in the field is that there is no formal educational pathway to study science diplomacy as a specific field. However, there are examples of programmes that examine the intersection of science and global affairs, especially at the undergraduate level. An example is the undergraduate programme in Science, Technology, and International Affairs (STIA) at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., which is oversubscribed every year, demonstrating the demand from the younger generations to be educated in this domain. Only a few programmes at the graduate level incorporate elements of science diplomacy, but those remain specific to certain thematic areas (e.g. health diplomacy, water diplomacy, etc.). Hence student-led university groups and clubs have taken upon themselves to organise and develop their own science diplomacy education curriculum. For example, students now have the option to graduate in a self-designed field study of science diplomacy at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University (Boston), thanks to the efforts of its Science Diplomacy Club. Mauduit also noted that there is a demand for educational pathways in science diplomacy coming from undergraduate students in science subjects that are also interested in international relations. Similarly, young diplomats increasingly recognise the need to gain a good understanding of science and technology issues, which are growing in importance in their line of work. Overall, the younger generation may be more attuned to science-driven global issues, such as climate change, which have been rising to the forefront of international relations in the last few decades, triggering their demand for science diplomacy education.

National approaches to science diplomacy

Gual Soler underscored that every country has different motivations and different goals for engaging in science diplomacy. She also observed a growing trend of countries developing their own roadmaps and national strategies for science diplomacy. She was recently part of the international team advising Panama’s national science diplomacy strategy, the first in Latin America. The Science & Diplomacy Journal of the Centre for Science Diplomacy at AAAS has published many of these national strategies, from South Africa to New Zealand to Spain and the European Union,providing a good overview of the different approaches that countries take in engaging in science diplomacy and how they view science as a tool for achieving their foreign policy goals. This is reflected in their diplomatic academies and new dedicated structures for science diplomacy being created in foreign ministries (Switzerland, India, Mexico and Pakistan are particularly good examples). A formal introduction of science diplomacy within foreign ministries will follow as countries understand the opportunities it provides.

Mauduit stated that many countries, like India, Brazil and Oman, are developing workshops, conferences, and events around science diplomacy in order to develop their own strategy or train their diplomats. Gual Soler stated that international spaces, such as the Arctic, outer space or the high seas, are growing areas of interest for science diplomacy, but also areas for increasing competition over resources – and we will see more orientation of science diplomacy strategies toward advancing national interests.

What should a curriculum for science diplomacy include?

Mauduit stated that a curriculum would be dependent on the audience, whether it is for scientists, diplomats or both, for early career professionals or senior, etc. Some basic elements that any science diplomacy curriculum should contain are the understanding of international relations, the fundamentals of diplomacy and negotiations, an overview of the scientific method and contemporary issues in science and technology, as well as examples and case studies of how science has been used as a tool for diplomacy or diplomacy as a tool for science.

Gual Soler added other elements such as an introduction to the policy cycle, the basics of global governance, understanding of international institutions, the management of the global commons, the peer-review process, and what constitutes scientific consensus.

The most effective training tool is negotiation simulations, where scientists and diplomats switch roles and step into each other’s shoes. This has been the basis of the success of the AAAS-TWAS annual science diplomacy summer course in Trieste (Italy), having trained almost 400 people from over 70 countries over 5 years. In 2019, the course evolved into a train-the-trainers workshop, aimed at mainstreaming science diplomacy education by providing the pedagogical tools and resources to institutions around the world interested in developing their own courses.

Looking forward

Mauduit stressed that by understanding science diplomacy, scientists learn to engage multiple stakeholders and to think from a broader perspective, while diplomats get a better understanding that science cuts across the foreign policy agenda. In turn, this contributes to building the necessary bridges between these two ivory towers of science and diplomacy, and leads to a better, more efficient and much needed interface. 

Focusing on the benefits of science diplomacy training, Gual Soler argued that scientists learn that science does not dictate policy, understand the competing interests at play, and get a better grasp of the world of diplomacy, with its negotiations and protocols. And diplomats learn to incorporate science and technology in their toolkit as an essential element of modern diplomatic practice.

Alumni Diplo alumni

[WebDebate #28 summary] Humanising immigration


Andrijana Gavrilović

Our March WebDebate explored conflicting narratives on immigration and delved into the challenges and opportunities of intercultural relations in the context of diplomatic practice. We were joined by Ms Ifigenia Georgiadou (Hellenic Culture Centre, Greece), Dr Atef Ahmed (Freelancer Educational Consultant, Egypt), and Dr Biljana Scott (Senior Fellow, DiploFoundation). The WebDebate was moderated by Dr Katharina Höne (DiploFoundation).

Georgiadou began by stating that immigrants and refugees leave their countries because of economic, environmental, or political crises. Europe, one of the chosen destinations, is a multinational society with a variety of ethnic groups, cultural groups, and a wide range of cultural expressions. European countries are attractive countries because of their economic wealth and because migrants from former colonies seek refuge in their towns and cities because they speak  the language spoken there. However, not all European countries have the same policy towards immigration and especially towards refugees, as the so-called refugee crisis in 2015 clearly showed.

Immigration is a challenge for Western countries. Both migrants and locals feel that their identity is at risk. Host countries face unbalanced situations in the labour market, health system, education system, etc., but migrants are more at risk as they seek justice and livelihoods, and a chance to live peacefully. Georgiadou underlined that financial resources and the political will to apply migration policies are needed, as well as education to teach intercultural skills.

Intercultural skills that everyone should develop include respect for oneself and for others; a sense of social justice and social responsibility; openness and curiosity towards diversity; tolerance of ambiguity; knowledge of culture, politics, and history; knowledge of human rights; knowledge of stereotypes, prejudices, and discriminatory practices; knowledge of cultural differences in communication; empathy; solidarity; critical thinking to check our own stereotypes; active listening; and how to deal constructively with conflicts.She referred to different training opportunities for intercultural training.

The changed perception of immigration

Ahmed stressed that immigration is a very old and natural phenomenon. It is the perception of immigration that has changed. It is no longer regarded as a humanistic social phenomenon that contributes to the transfer of cultures and the contact of peoples, but as a phenomenon that contributes to the transfer of violence, terrorism, destruction, and some would even say to the clash of peoples. Ahmed noted that it is understandable why many European countries are trying to address this phenomenon by adopting a security approach, applying preventive laws to protect their national security. He contrasted this with the right of every human to be secure and live a better life. In his view, media and European political parties have a very important role to play in depicting unorganised immigration as a threat to European countries. While host countries deal with risks in regard to terrorism, employment, culture, language, and religion, the image of immigrants as threats to the national security of European countries must be reversed. Ahmed underlined that the most important thing is to understand another human being by gaining insight into the conditions that made them who they are.

Conflicting narratives and logical fallacies

Scott underlined that immigration should be rehumanised. We need to refocus on the fact that immigration is about the human being in distress. For Scott, immigration covers the whole arc from the crisis points which lead to immigration, the transits of migrants and their terrible journeys, the difficulties at borders where walls and fences have been put up or where they are forbidden to disembark, the trials and tribulations of detention centres, and the inhuman treatment in zero-tolerance policy. Immigration also captures problems beyond entering and integrating into the host country, such as dreamers being sent back to their countries of origin (e.g. Windrush generation), people being deprived of their citizenship (e.g. the Rohingya), and the problem of whether citizens should be allowed to return to their country of birth and citizenship (British women involved with ISIS).

We seem to have an ambivalent attitude or perhaps a polarised attitude towards the problem of immigration, Scott stated. On one hand there is a narrative of humanising, including, caring, assuming responsibility, expanding the moral circle, and talking about immigrants as one of us, people we owe something to. On the other hand, an alternative narrative, equally prevalent and on the ascendant in populist countries, dehumanises immigrants by depicting them as the other, excluding them, barring them, denying them even human status. The two conflicting narratives – the tender versus the tough, Aylan Kurdi versus the snake – have always characterised human beings and they characterise the current debate on immigration equally well.

Scott researches how language frames the discourse on immigration, in particular logical fallacies. Logical fallacies are arguments which are misleading because they’re not fully rational, but which are effective because they’re emotionally persuasive. They are appeals to emotions such as compassion or fear. They can include slippery slope arguments, metaphors speaking through allegories and symbols, and appeals to essentialism (the idea that every culture has an essential defining quality and that every human being has an essential identifiable identity). Logical fallacies speak to our emotions, our fears, our sense of self and who are we in contrast and in comparison to others. Logical fallacies are shorthand and easy; they mean that we don’t have to think for ourselves as they’re recognised by others as valid arguments. To escape the grip of these logical fallacies, we must change the way we frame the story.

Changing the negative attitude towards migration

Georgiadou stated that politicians and diplomats should have the courage to push for different policies than those already in place. She emphasized the role of intercultural education in changing the negative attitude towards migration, underlining that intercultural education is important for all members of today’s multicultural societies.

Ahmed underlined that host countries should co-operate with central statistical offices of immigrants’ home countries to obtain data and knowledge about immigrants. Diplomats should co-operate with religious entities, because human values – empathy, tolerance, equality, justice, prosperity, mercy, charity, etc. – come from religions. Art also has a role in forming citizens’ perceptions of immigrants. Political media and political parties use false stories about immigration to influence elections and for other political interests, which is why unbiased media is needed.

The difference between (economic) migrants and refugees

The online audience asked our speakers to clarify the conceptual relationship between migrants and refugees. Georgiadou voiced her opinion that there isn’t a huge difference between them. They all come from countries that face different socioeconomic, political, and environmental problems. Refugees arrive in a harder, more traumatic manner from their home country to the host country. They also have different aims, as they don’t want to stay in the country they first arrived in. In Scott’s opinion, immigration covers both voluntary and involuntary immigration. However, there is the risk that refugees become second-order immigrants as opposed to economic migrants. This is problematic. Refugees have skills, talents, and a lot to offer to the host state and we have to do everything we can not to differentiate between first-order and second-order style of immigrants.

Fostering integration

Other questions from the online audience focused on ways of fostering integration. Georgiadou voiced her opinion that integration should be fostered by politicians through specific policies. Scott’s opinion is that integration is fostered by learning the host language, not establishing ghettos, and understanding the role of religion. She also underlined that there is much to be learnt and improved on, on that front, which is why countries should engage in an exchange of experiences.

What can diplomats do to humanise immigration?

Lastly, our speakers addressed the role of diplomats in ‘humanising migration’.

Georgiadou stated that diplomats should strive to work in such a way that their profession eventually becomes obsolete. They should try to stop wars and stop seeing other countries as former European colonies.

As stopping immigration or illegal immigration is impossible, Ahmed recommended that diplomats develop new policies for immigration. However, these policies must establish a balance between welcoming immigrants and protecting national security. Secondly, diplomats should co-operate with immigrants’ countries of origin, and help those countries in development, in teaching global education, in making them stable.

Scott noted that there are areas of diplomacy where a lot is already being done to humanise immigration: cultural diplomacy, public diplomacy, humanitarian diplomacy, second-track diplomacy. She also pointed out that the laws on immigration are changing under the pressure to humanise immigration. Scott wondered whether humanising immigration is a concern for mainstream diplomacy. She concluded by posing the concept of migration diplomacy as a central way of framing the relationship between diplomacy and immigration. In addition, Scott addresses some of the questions raised during the debate in her follow-up blog post

[WebDebate #27 summary] Arctic diplomacy: Approaches and lessons


Andrijana Gavrilović

In our February WebDebate, we looked at Arctic diplomacy. We were joined by Dr Danita Catherine Burke (Marie Skłodowska-Curie Individual Fellow at the Center for War Studies at the University of Southern Denmark), Prof. Paul Berkman (Professor of Practice in Science Diplomacy, Fletcher School, Tufts University), and Dr André Saramago (Invited Assistant Professor of International Relations at Coimbra University and University Beira Interior, Researcher with the Orient Institute). The WebDebate was moderated by Dr Katharina Höne.

Burke explained that she conducts research on the Arctic region from an international relations perspective, looking primarily at three themes: diplomacy and co-operation, non-governmental organisations, and identity. Her other work also touches upon indigenous studies and Arctic security issues. She underlined that the Arctic has some unique qualities, such as: the climate and its impact on the way politics operates in the region; and the indigenous people living in the region, their growing autonomy, and their role in the evolving diplomacy of the Arctic region. According to Burke, the Arctic Council stands out in Arctic diplomacy. At the same time, she stressed that it is important to continue researching the Arctic in order to understand the broader implications of Arctic diplomacy in international relations and diplomacy. Burke also founded the Women in the Arctic and Antarctic initiative (formerly Women in the Arctic) in order to highlight the role played by women in growing scholarships, networking, and information sharing. More information on the initiative can be found on its website – womeninthearctic.ca – and its Twitter account – @arctic_in.

The changes that we are seeing in the Arctic are threshold changes, Berkman stated. There is increased interest in shipping and resources in the Arctic Ocean and infrastructure development in the region. In Berkman’s opinion, the changes in the environment, such as melting sea ice and permafrost, are trivial compared to the lasting changes that will occur when infrastructures develop. The challenge is building infrastructure in a thoughtful way that will serve the interests of future generations. Berkman pointed out that the changes in the global atmosphere very closely parallel the growth of the human population, but also underlined that this correlation should not be confused with causation. In his opinion, the Arctic is a good example of nations balancing their interests.

Saramago pointed out that for many countries, the main avenue of engagement in the Arctic is science and science diplomacy. For East Asian countries, science is frequently looked at as a way of exercising soft power in the region. China’s example illustrates this: In its white paper on Arctic policy, China connects the conditions in the Arctic with conditions at home. However, the Arctic is also influencing China’s own internal and domestic policies, with China’s concept of ‘ecological civilisation’ also being relevant for the Arctic region. Ecological civilisation is a post-capitalist and post-industrial concept, highlighting that China aims to advance beyond what the West has reached in terms of civilisational development.

The Arctic Council

The Arctic Council was founded in 1996 and focuses on environmental protection and sustainable economic development, Burke explained. Its added value is the establishment of a space for open dialogue in the Arctic region. It consists of Russia, the US, Canada, the Kingdom of Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland, and Iceland. A unique factor of the Arctic Council is that indigenous peoples are permanent participants in the forum, which allows them direct access to key decision-makers and scientists, and allows them to speak freely without fearing they will lose their position in the council and access to regional diplomacy. The council also has observers, divided into (1) states; (2) intergovernmental organisations and inter-parliamentary organisations; (3) and non-governmental organisations. The observers are admitted on the basis of a consensus between Arctic states, with input from permanent participants. However, the Arctic Council does not have independent decision-making power, a centralised budget, or the means of independently implementing agreements made in the council, which leads to discussions on whether the Arctic Council should evolve into a decision-making body or whether it should stay in its present format.

National interests in the Arctic region

Saramago explained that China’s environmental and scientific engagement with the Arctic is not only an attempt at increasing influence in order to access resources, but that it is also connected to a wider ideological struggle with the West. China’s concept of ‘ecological civilisation’ is increasingly being portrayed as an alternative to Western ‘liberal environmentalism.’ Saramago underlined that national and geopolitical interests cannot be disentangled from wider ideological struggles. He pointed out that one needs to always be aware of the national and geopolitical interest of nations, but also stressed that one should not become too cynical of a nation’s discourse as it might be more than a mask for promoting its national and geopolitical interests.

Burke stressed that it is essential to remember that much of the Arctic is uncontested, because the majority of the region falls into recognised national sovereignty boundaries. The main question for the future will be on access to the Central Arctic Ocean, which at the moment is predominantly covered by ice, but is going to become increasingly accessible due to climate change. The high seas in the Arctic region are an area where there is uncertainty as to how geopolitical questions are going to unfold.


Saramago concluded that diplomats must understand the processes and competition in the Arctic but also the points of view of countries that engage in this region. In Saramago’s opinion, diplomats should be aware of another country’s geopolitical and national interests but should also try to understand how that country’s policies and approaches to a region relate to their wider concerns and dominant ideology.

Berkman concluded that the main challenge is to operate in a way that enables dialogue that allows adversaries and allies alike to communicate. The solution is to think in terms of building common interests and to identify where this engagement will actually achieve progress in terms of governance mechanisms or building infrastructure. According to Berkman, we face that challenge on a global level today and we cannot leave it to future generations.

Burke concluded that scientific reports produced by the Working Groups of the Arctic Council should be followed up. Burke said that states, diplomats, and international organisations should review the work of the Arctic Council and use it to make informed decisions and advance dialogue and diplomacy in the Arctic region.