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Diplomacy in the Digital Age

Diplomacy in the Digital Age

Essays in Honour of Ambassador Allan Gotlieb
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Diplomacy functions best where it appraises and advises power, and does not attempt to substitute itself for the very real world of politics.
ROBERT BOTHWELL
 
Like authority, sin, Christmas, and winter, secrecy isn’t what it used to be. Secrecy has lost its sanctity.
ANDREW COHEN
 
The diplomatic pouch has been torn asunder by the digital age, which is characterized by immediacy, transparency, profligacy, and universality. . . . In the digital age – building on the industrial age – we move from the some to the many, from the stately to the frenetic, from command to influence, from deception to candour, and from interests to issues.
WILLIAM THORSELL
 
Open diplomacy and open policy development – building vast global networks to harness ideas and nurture support everywhere, all the time – are the hallmarks of modern diplomacy.
ARIF LALANI
 
A remarkable group of scholars, essayists, and practitioners have come together in this volume to celebrate Allan Gotlieb’s revolutionary contribution to the theory and practice of diplomacy in the last three decades of the twentieth century. They have come together to celebrate an outstanding intellect as well as a brilliant practitioner, a man who thinks lucidly and writes elegantly about diplomacy.
 
The contributors to this volume are also interested, as is Allan Gotlieb, in thinking forward about the future of diplomacy at yet another moment of significant change. Diplomacy is now being practised in the digital age. What does it mean to be a diplomat in a digitized world? What does a diplomat do differently in an age in which the information cycle spins continuously and hundreds of millions of people provide upto- date information and engage in discussion through interactive social media? We asked our contributors to look back at Allan Gotlieb’s seminal contribution in order to better understand the future.
 
This volume went to press in the aftermath of WikiLeaks and the beginning of the Arab Spring. WikiLeaks stunned the diplomatic community when it made public some of the more than a quarter million cables that it now has in its possession. Professionals worried actively about compromising sources, the threat to confidentiality, and the likely refusal of people to confide in diplomats now that there was no assurance that their identity would be protected. Secrecy, as Andrew Cohen puts it in his chapter, has lost its sanctity. How, diplomats worried, can they do their jobs, communicate confidential and valuable information, protect their sources, and provide the kind of analysis their governments need?
 
The public reaction to the leaked cables was quite different. Diplomats, people said with some surprise, are smart. “I didn’t get much new information,” one well-informed journalist told me, his voice tinged with envy and some uncertainty, “but, my God, diplomats write well.” Seasoned observers were certainly titillated by the occasional surprising morsel of gossip and entertained by some of the fripperies. Overwhelmingly, however, they were engaged and impressed by the analyses that they read. Even within the skeptical and occasionally snooty academy, colleagues grudgingly acknowledged that “these diplomats” really do provide thoughtful and incisive analyses.
 
Diplomats, in short, are not valuable because of the information they provide, but because of their authoritative knowledge and the quality of their analyses. Especially in a digital age awash in information, indeed drowning in information, knowledge and elegant analysis matter. They may matter even more than they did in the age of print, where editors traditionally assured the quality of what people read.
 
In the wake of WikiLeaks came the Arab Spring, one in a series of significant revolutionary waves in the digital age. Social media were important in helping demonstrators to organize, in feeding video to the world’s media, and in giving a platform to the protestors as they struggled against governments who were desperately trying to close off global access to disturbing pictures and stories. Al Jazeera, the Arabic television station based in Qatar, provided saturation coverage of the protest movements, but often its journalists were denied access or expelled as contestation deepened. It too relied on social media for the critical content that it needed. Diplomats, at times removed from the pitched battles in the streets, were well behind the flow of information. They were not behind, however, in the analysis their governments needed as they struggled to craft responses to rapid developments in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, Libya, and Syria.
 
In a Paris hotel room late in the evening of March 17, 2011, the top U.S. diplomat struggled to coordinate the international response to the advance of Colonel Moammar Gadhafi’s forces and the threat they posed to civilians in Benghazi, Libya. Initially opposed to any kind of military intervention, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton changed her mind after listening to some of her senior diplomatic advisers. She worked closely with the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, who had been urging a use of force to protect civilians from the vengeance of Gadhafi’s loyalists.
 
Rice worked the halls of the United Nations with classic diplomatic skills and promised the Secretary that she would get at least ten affirmative votes for a resolution that was far stronger than simply a no-fly zone. From Paris, Clinton worked to secure the support of Arab governments for the resolution that would be approved by the United Nations forty-eight hours later. It was this capacity to garner support for a strong resolution in New York at un headquarters, as well as Arab engagement that persuaded President Obama to move ahead.
 
It was very much old-school, classical diplomacy – hands-on, informal, private conversations that put together the coalition in favour of intervention in Libya. Skilled diplomats worked the phones, called in favours, and kept their political leaders informed of which country was where on what issue. They built the coalition and drafted political leaders to make the important high-level calls that were necessary to cement the deal. In the midst of a revolution that got its oxygen from social media, the protestors in Benghazi depended on the skills of professional diplomats to survive.
 
These two vignettes bookend the themes of this book. When Allan Gotlieb was sent to Washington as Canada’s ambassador three decades ago, he recognized immediately that the prevailing model of diplomacy would not be enough. Gotlieb continued to do what previous ambassadors had done, but also, as Marc Lortie tells us, vastly more. He reached out beyond the White House and the State Department to the Senate and the House of Representatives, to journalists and columnists and opinion makers, to the broad swath of people who influenced the open policy process with its many points of access in Washington. Sondra Gotlieb played a crucial part in this diplomatic transformation, becoming a Washington celebrity in her own right through her widely read column in the Washington Post and her talk-of-the-town parties.
 
How to manage the Canada-U.S. relationship remains a central question, perhaps even more complicated in the digital age than it was when the Gotliebs were in Washington. Colin Robertson looks at how the principles of Gotlieb’s diplomacy travel forward into the future. Brian Bow, Jeremy Kinsman, and David Malone engage in a lively and vigorous debate about restructuring Canada’s diplomacy as the world rebalances to include the newly rising powers of Asia and Latin America. How should Canada’s diplomats continue to pay the United States the attention it deserves but stretch to make space for Asia, Africa, and Latin America? Does the digital age enable new kinds of Canadian initiatives in parts of the world where historically Canada has not been a significant presence? Can digital platforms compensate for scarce resources? Or is Canada simply too late to a worldwide party that is well under way?
 
 

From the Hardcover edition.

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Becoming Canada

Our Story, Our Politics, Our Future
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“AMERICA”
 
 
Bookshelves are filled with advice on how to change ourselves—our looks, weight, clothes, spouses, kids, pets—and on how we live, how we think, and how to do life again.
 
How does a country change itself — How does a world? If some big realities about a country or about the world change and if old, ineffective ways don’t work any longer, what do we do then? To find an answer, for Canadians, it is instructive to look at the United States and Obama, and to the climate-change debate.
 
We live in a world where destruction is easy. Not just wholesale destruction by nuclear bombs, for example, but the killing of hundreds, if not thousands, by simple but deadly materials that cost almost nothing and can be put together in a basement or a shed. Where once this capacity for destruction had taken a country to afford its cost, to do its science, to deliver its blow, where once it had taken an army to unleash its devastating power, it now takes only one person who believes in something just as strongly as does a nation of a few hundred million and who feels his or her belief is no less worthy because he or she is only one person. This person may also believe that killing the right people in this life will lead to a better life for all eternity, while many of those he or she is fighting don’t believe in a life after this life and need to squeeze every possible second out of this one. One person has everything to gain; another has everything to lose.
 
We live in a world where we can no longer get away from one another. There is no mountain or desert or ocean that can’t be crossed; no wall built high enough, no fortress so fully defended, no political or economic boundary that can protect us. Information and viruses travel freely, as does envy and resentment. We can no longer isolate ourselves within our own language, culture, or religion. It is not possible to imagine transforming everyone else to make them just like us. No one is going to conquer the world. The only way is to listen, discuss, learn, respect, negotiate, compromise, work together. There is no way out but to get along.
 
We live in a world of nearly 7 billion people, a population that can sustain itself only as long as many millions die each year of malnutrition and many millions more of preventable diseases, as long as hundreds of millions have a life expectancy of less than fifty years, and as long as several billion don’t insist on living, or don’t have the capacity to live, a Western middle-class life.
 
What if the 2.5 billion people of China and India, twice the population of Europe and North America combined, were to have this capacity and insisted on living a Western lifestyle? Environmentally, we could not sustain the possibility—the planetary math doesn’t work. Yet year after year, we see both China’s and India’s capacity grow, we see that insistence increase—there are now 10 million cars in China, up from fewer than 1 million just eight years ago—and we see that destruction escalate too.
 
We live on a planet that was not made for—or even made especially for—human beings. A mere shift of three degrees in the world’s temperature—from 14°C to 17°C or -24°C to -21°C—a change not great enough to make us take off or put on a sweater—could melt glacier ice; alter evaporation and precipitation patterns; change ocean currents and atmospheric air flows; reduce available water for human consumption, agriculture, and energy use; generate more violent hurricanes and other extremes of weather and, in fact, more extremes of all kinds—floods, droughts, fires, diseases; and create deserts, destroy rain forests, and raise water levels. In short, this temperature shift would cause disruption, increase stress on people and structures, and generate more and more unknowns—turning a life we know how to live, even if it wasn’t always desirable, into a life we don’t know how to live. Only three degrees.
 
Human beings appeared on this planet only in the last 2.5 million years, which in Earth-time is hardly a blink ago. For almost all those years, we didn’t matter much. We were only a few million in number. We weren’t large or strong. We didn’t dominate our landscape like a saber-toothed tiger, woolly mammoth, or bison did. We lived only a few years. We were only one of countless other species—like an otter or a parrot.
 
For all but the last few hundred years, our existence on Earth has been modest. Other living beings had greater muscular power—they were able to run faster and longer and overpower their prey—or had greater physical weapons—bigger teeth, stronger jaws, powerful claws. Others could see or hear or sense far better. Not long ago, we developed our own greater power—to think—and with that to create memory, learn, conceive of the future, work together, plan, and make tools to do work that had once been beyond our capacity. We developed this greater power sufficiently to allow us to live longer, do more, make more, have more—and also to cut down, build over, pollute, and kill off other species, bringing about their extinction. As human beings, we are able to live for our own convenience, to create weapons of mass destruction, to change our climate, to put life at risk.
 
How does a world change its story? How does a country? This is what U.S. president Barack Obama was talking about during his 2008 election campaign. He didn’t ask the American people the question that all political challengers ask, “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?” He asked them, instead, to stop and look around at America itself: “Is this the real America we see?”
 
The war in Iraq? Torture? Health care that has no room for tens of millions of citizens? The exaggerated wealth and the exaggerated poverty and the exaggerated gap between them—is that what the United States stands for? Is this the American dream? Is the purpose of all this freedom and liberty only to accumulate more and more and more? More and bigger cars, more food, more things, more than Americans can use, more than they even care about, more than is good for them—as people, as a society, as a planet. This obesity of body, mind, and spirit that has crept into their lives and seems unstoppable. “Is this the real America we see?” Obama asked the American people. “No,” he answered. “We are better than this.”
 
More than being about economic prosperity, national security, the environment, or even justice or fairness, Obama’s message during the campaign was about “America”: “the land of the free and the home of the brave,” “the land of opportunity,” the “melting pot” for the world’s peoples. “America”: that special place of forever new frontiers—geographical, intellectual—of forever optimism, forever possibility, and forever becoming. The United States is a physical place; “America” is a place of the heart and of the imagination. “America,” Obama was saying, is their best story and their right story. And what makes “America” special is not its separation of powers and checks and balances, it is not its separation of church and state, or even its frontier. What makes “America” special is its “specialness,” that instinct and capacity always to do the important and necessary thing when it needs to be done. To reinvent itself, to be able and willing to go off in new, amazing directions, yet always to stay at the centre, still to be “America.”
 
Because the world changes, what is important and necessary is not the same at every moment. What made the United States special during the twentieth century, in the last age of empire, was its overwhelming economic and military power. The United States used its abundant resources, more abundant than anyone else’s, to make things the world would come to want. It made weapons that could win hot wars and cold wars. And because being bigger, richer, and more powerful had made the United States special, it seemed to most Americans that being bigger, richer, and more powerful was what special was. The United States kept on being that America in Vietnam, Kuwait, Iraq, and Afghanistan. It continued to be that America in creating suvs and sub-prime mortgages. It kept on being that America even as the world community was shaking its head, wondering where “America” had gone. All this came to a disastrously clear focus with George W. Bush, who, with his blue jeans, Texas ranch, and love of baseball, was the most American yet least “American” of all presidents—in image, a Teddy Roosevelt but a century out of time. The world had changed; what defined “specialness” had changed; and what America needed to do to be “America” had changed. George W. Bush hadn’t noticed.
 
Now we live in a global community in which no one country, not even the United States, is big enough or strong enough economically or militarily to control and dominate. In a global community, specialness is not the Iraq War or suvs; specialness is being smart enough to see the ice caps melting and to know that the age of carbon is coming to a close. It is being smart enough to launch “America” into “the next thing,” as if on a mission to the moon, to develop new benign energies, to restructure the economy, to change the way people live. It is being smart enough to change our relationship with the planet and with other nations and peoples, to get along with others, to get along with the planet, to get ahead and to stay ahead, yet to bring along others in the task.
 
And “America” is about succeeding. In “America,” you don’t just say something, you do it, and there is always a way. That is not optimism. That is not Obama’s legendary hopefulness. That is “America,” and that is Obama’s own life experience of “America.” “Yes, we can” is not so much a slogan as it is a simple observation. It was “America’s” phrase long before it was ever Obama’s because it had been America’s experience played out thousands of times a day, year after year. Succeeding is not about ideology; it is going where your best answers are, wherever they are. And specialness is about feeling the pride and excitement that were once a part of being American. Specialness is doing the important and necessary thing when it needs to be done.
 
Americans are good, Obama was saying. They need only the right story; they need “America” to make them better.
 
The son of a black father from Kenya and a white mother from Kansas, Obama embodied the story. The media tried to understand him as they do everyone else in politics, as a progressive or a liberal or a conservative, but “America” is what Obama is about. The public understands that, or at least they did during his campaign, and Obama knew this. He knew that what was inside him was inside them—“America”—and whatever he said and did resonated from that point deep inside himself to that point deep inside them. His words sounded like their words, words they hadn’t heard in a long time, words they didn’t even know were still inside them, words they didn’t know that they had been waiting to hear; words that made them feel that there is so much more in them as human beings, so much more in their country, so much more in their world. These Americans wanted to—and needed to—matter, and not only to themselves. They had known that about themselves, but something was reawakened in them during the Obama campaign. Life was not all about money; it was not all about things.
 
They wanted to feel empowered, that emotionless word that speaks of such an emotion-filled need. They needed somebody who was looking for the best in them.
 
It is easy to look for the worst and find it. Far harder and far more important is to seek out the best, appeal to the best, and bring out the best. People need that best in their own lives, and countries do too. But as a leader, you don’t bring out that best only by highlighting its need. You have to set out tasks that demand it, and if you set the challenge bar too low and ask for little, you will receive little in return. For these Americans, it had been such a long time since anyone had asked something of them. And Obama sounded so touchingly naive when he did. He made important things seem possible. He made people want to try. He made people believe that perhaps the future can be different.
 
Obama sought out the best in the rest of the world too. He sent a message to the world’s pariahs that he wanted to talk to them, to Iran’s Ahmadinejad, Sudan’s Bashir, and North Korea’s Kim Jong-il. These leaders may deserve to be pariahs. It may feel good for us to make them pariahs, in that too rare moment of superiority we’re unwilling to pass up. But this strategy hasn’t worked well in the past. These leaders have been able to handle anything that the world has been willing to throw at them—economic sanctions, criminal charges from international courts, and words. Tightening the screws on them and on their countries has made them only more pariah-like. To invade their countries would be another matter. Ahmadinejad, Bashir, and Kim Jong-il know, however, that the rest of the world would not dare. These pariahs would make it too costly, too deadly, with too uncertain results, and if any of the world’s countries did dare to cross their borders, the invasion itself would become the issue, and the invading countries would carry with them into the future the stain of being colonialists and imperialists and would never be trusted again. Other countries might one day see these invading countries as pariahs themselves and do the same to them.
 
When Obama sent out his message to these leaders, those experienced in the world saw it as one more sign of his weakness. This is not how the world works, they said. If you talk to these people, you give them a world audience; you legitimize them. But in Obama’s reading of the world’s history, of human nature, shutting off a rogue regime makes it only more rogue. Shutting off a fool only hides a fool. Letting a fool speak reveals a fool. By engaging these leaders, Obama believed, he would not legitimize them; they would de-legitimize themselves. He would act like “America” and do what other countries could not.
 
In September 2008, Ahmadinejad spoke at the United Nations. In January 2009, Obama, now U.S. president, announced he would reopen dialogue with Iran. In June 2009, after rigged elections in which Ahmadinejad had again been proclaimed president, millions of Iranians took to the streets, protesting day after day, the response of the government growing ever more violent. Maybe things can be different, these Iranians believed. These three events were not unrelated, and there was a fourth event too. In October 2009, Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The response from many in the United States, and from Obama himself, was one of surprise and embarrassment. Many others were angry. The prize was too much, or at least too soon, they said. In his nine months as president, what had he done? Yet there was little surprise in the rest of the world. It was the trips he had made and what he had said, in Cairo particularly, and how he had said it. The United States is part of the world, he told his audience, and the United States must think that way and act that way. But Obama’s real impact came from his tone and from the respect he showed his audiences. He treated the other countries as if they mattered. All the rest—negotiations, agreements—could follow. All the rest now had a chance.
 
Slowly during the campaign, and little by little during the first months of his presidency, without even knowing it, the public was developing an immense stake in Obama, perhaps bigger than in any other U.S. president. People watched and waited for him to fail. They were certain that he would, and hoped that he wouldn’t. They saw failure even when it was not there, and in doing so made failure more possible. They hoped so hard and feared so hard because if he did fail, imagine what that would say about America, and about the future. And who would take on the important issues now? Who would dare? Who would succeed? And why would the public ever believe anyone else who did try? Why would they believe that government could play any important role at all? Whether you are a Democrat or a Republican, whether you supported him or not, whether you agreed with him or not, one thing is undeniable: he is good. He has it all. If not him, who? If not in the United States, where? If not now, when?
 
During his first year as president, at times Obama had the look of a cartoon character being chased off a cliff, where, up in the air, with nothing visible beneath him, he just kept on running. And if, like a cartoon character, he kept on running and didn’t look down, he could keep on running, discovering as he did that there was more in him and more in others than anyone had ever imagined; as if the cliff had wondrously extended out beneath him. For Obama, the cliff was the always-solid ground of “America.”

From the Hardcover edition.

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The Wild West

The Wild West

Canada’s Legalization of Marijuana
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Canada’s Official Languages

Policy Versus Work Practice in the Federal Public Service
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