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Thursday, February 23, 2006

ICT and modern diplomacy

Features of the week:

The importance of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in contemporary diplomacy cannot be over-emphasized at this era, reports REMMY NWEKE.

At this era of 21st century rooted in Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs), a major challenge facing the contemporary diplomatic community globally, is how to adapt to these technologies in their day-to-day activities.

Diplomatic service
Diplomats, according to the second edition of ‘A Dictionary of Diplomacy’ authored by the duo of professors’ emeritus of International Politics and Relations respectively, G.R. Berridge and Alan James, are "person(s) professionally engaged in the craft of diplomacy as members of the diplomatic service.

A diplomat, the experts also said could be either a ‘diplomatic agent’ or ‘official’ at a foreign ministry. Therefore, diplomacy is "the conduct of relations between sovereign states through the medium of officials based at home or abroad".

Diplo’s intervention
Based on the importance States attach to their relations with one another, otherwise known in diplomatic parlance as bilateral relations amidst other international affairs jargon and the need to foster peace as well as development in this era of ICT, Diplo Foundation with offices in Malta and Geneva, Switzerland, came up with a 10-day workshop on ‘ICT and Contemporary Diplomacy’ for members of the diplomatic community, comprising its Postgraduate Diploma candidates selected globally.

Diplo Foundation is a non-profit organization set up by the governments of Malta and Switzerland to assist all countries, especially those with limited resources to participate meaningfully in international relations, and based on multistakeholder approach involving participation of international organizations, civil society, media and other actors in international affairs.

The Foundation focuses on deployment of ICT through education and training programmes, research, conferences and professional publications.

The 10-day workshop held at the Coastline Hotel, Malta, was attended by participants from Libya, Nigeria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Romania, Malawi, Peru, Namibia, Bahamas, Burkina Faso, Barbados as well as Malta.

Contemporary diplomacy
This involves the use of modern technologies in diplomatic activities, be it exchange of information or negotiations, mostly between sovereign states. Thus the application of technologies from telecommunications down to multimedia, transcends mere communication on telephone to Internet chat and exchange of information in matter of seconds.

For Ambassador Kishan S. Rana, 21st century diplomat should be able to have a good, sound communications and relevant diplomatic reporting abilities, both verbal and written.

Ambassador Rana who also is a senior fellow at Diplo, noted that before the advent of ICT, every international relations begins with verbal communications, but pointed out that nowadays, it begins online via the Internet, even before the initial meeting of the concerns physically.

While advising diplomats to be concise in their writing, they must look out for key words because it pays to have a straightforward writing, at the same time as it all depends on who you are writing for and your audience.

Online negotiation
Director of Diplo Foundation, Dr. Jovan Kurbalija, noted that online negotiation is very important these days, and more often than not for the Least Developing Countries (LDCs). He called on developing countries to press for global acceptance of online negotiations’ mechanism as a successful means of engaging the rest of the world.

He specifically said that online negotiation is basically good for trade among other technical diplomatic issues, thus preferable to be handled online.

He also cautioned that by clicking on ‘Send’ on the Internet via electronic mail (email), means commitment for a diplomat of any State. Explaining further that online negotiation saves cost, hence it does not involve acquiring equipment for videoconference among other multimedia tools, but could simply be achieved by mere exchange of emails.

Security
Dr. Kurbalija, who is a former diplomat with professional and academic background in international law, diplomacy and Information Technology (IT), also advised contemporary diplomats to always ensure they have an IT person on their side with good rapport.

Emphasizing that the technology is there for man to use, but modern diplomats have a duty to convince their leaders and bosses to adapt, just as he noted that computer security is also there to battle with and "The best is to have a good encryption software".

Most of all, what this workshop brought to the fore is that ICT is inevitable tool in contemporary diplomacy, even as it is relevant in every citizens life as in diplomats.

And like Dr. Kurbalija stated, LDCs should optimize ICT not only because it is cost effective, it gives room for exploration of the available human resources at a State’s disposal.

One realization for contemporary diplomacy, as noted by the Maltese Foreign Minister, Dr. Michael Frendo, in his foreword in a book entitled, ‘MultiStakeholders Diplomacy" launched during the workshop is that the "face of traditional diplomacy has changed".

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