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Diplomacy in the Digital Age

Diplomacy in the Digital Age

Essays in Honour of Ambassador Allan Gotlieb
also available: Hardcover
tagged : diplomacy, essays
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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.
Like authority, sin, Christmas, and winter, secrecy isn’t what it used to be. Secrecy has lost its sanctity.
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.
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.
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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Global Ecopolitics

Global Ecopolitics

Crisis, Governance, and Justice, Second Edition
also available: Paperback eBook
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Preface to the Second Edition


Forty-five years after the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm, 25 years after the United Nations Conference on the Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro, 15 years after the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, and 5 years after the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, commonly known as Rio+20, it is high time to take stock of the evolution of global ecopolitics.


The idea of writing a short, concise treatment of global environmental governance was first broached by the University of Toronto Press, which was looking into a longer term project involving a series of short texts. Faithfully, I began working with the intention of creating just such a brief text. But I soon abandoned this idea as I realized that there was simply too much to say about too many complex issue-areas. I did strive to keep this text as short as humanly possible, however, and have presented but a fraction of the material, including historical analysis and policy option debates, that a reader should have access to if he or she wants a sound education in global ecopolitics. I enthusiastically refer the reader, therefore, to competing texts (Bodansky, 2010; Clapp & Dauvergne, 2008; DeSombre, 2006; Pirages & DeGeest, 2004), as well as to the Earth System Governance Project of the International Human Dimensions Programme on Global Environmental Change (Biermann et al., 2009), though I also hope this book will serve to both enlighten and encourage further reading, reflection, action, and resolve on our collective environmental dilemmas.


I focus on several themes in this book, and one of them is that of anxious uncertainty, which seems to animate much of the public discussion on planetary futures today; and the theme of justice looms large because a humane and fair response to the anxiety that accompanies crisis is what defines the best of the human spirit. Fears of cataclysmic events—ones related both to climate change and to more “natural” disasters—are certainly ripe and have been exacerbated by recent political events. They may almost be compared to the fear of nuclear annihilation that marked the Cold War period (a fear I recall quite clearly as a young scholar of international relations at that time). But I would suggest we suffer our primary angst because of the gnawing knowledge that we are slowly, by a billion cuts, diminishing the future opportunities of the next generation. We realize that some of the more pressing environmental problems, on a local and global scale, are literally out of control. We realize that the incessant belief in unrestricted economic growth is as passé as the blind faith in technology that once reassured the mildly concerned. It is commonly understood that species are nearing extinction or reaching it on a daily basis; that air, water, and soil pollution is increasing dramatically in some regions; and that the oceans are in ecological turmoil. Yet there is little corresponding sense of a collective plan to escape these predicaments, and key political actors seem at best to offer contradictory evidence that they care.


To be clear, this book does not provide this plan. But it does suggest that we are working toward one, that we can succeed, and that we must succeed. The sheer volume of work being done by diplomats, scientists, activists, bureaucrats, and others is, in itself, a sign of hope: never before has so much activity been concentrated on efforts to solve the pressing problems of environmental decay and ecological injury. Contrary to popular opinion, there is much being done at both the international and local levels, even though ameliorative actions may be uneven and often uncoordinated. I covered only a fraction of this work in the first edition of this book, and cannot hope to cover but a small parcel of what has been added since. Perhaps most remarkably, the ambitious 2030 UN Sustainable Development Goals have emerged as both a rubric for international guidance and a constant exhortation to move ahead in a progressive fashion. Though I suggest it is vital to use a critical eye when viewing global ecopolitics, I do not ascribe to the notion that we are helplessly watching the advent of a disaster. We can take positive steps, rooted in a nuanced understanding of green politics and international relations, to make things better.


We need to overcome relentless uncertainty and helplessness with firm, educated resolve. Given the foundational efforts at global governance described in this book, there is even cause for restrained optimism. I loosely use a parsimonious framework to analyze the collective governance that has emerged from global ecopolitics, observing legal and historical depth, environmental impact, cognitive evolution, and democratic legitimacy. In most of the cases I examine, there has been some measure of success in all of these categories. Of course, this does not diminish the reality of the ecological crisis we face, or diminish the size of the challenges ahead. But we can move on from here, even if we are also aware that there will always be drawbacks and limitations given the gloriously competitive but all too often unfair structure of the world economy. This book is intended as an analytic introduction to the dazzling promises, as well as the inherent weaknesses, of the international institutions and arrangements that color the fascinating landscape of global ecopolitics. But, above all, I hope it encourages readers to seek more knowledge—and take personal steps toward a greener lifestyle and a more humane world.

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