The Future of #Diplomacy, written by Philip Seib (2016)

in The Hague Journal of Diplomacy
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  • 1 Ph.D. Student of Communication Science, Catholic University of Chile, Part-time Lecturer, Universidad del Desarrollo, Santiago, Chile

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The Future of #Diplomacy, Cambridge: Polity, ISBN 978-150-950720-7, 154 pp., US$ 19.95.

In a world of the fastest evolution ever, Philip Seib, Professor of Journalism, Public Diplomacy and International Relations at the University of Southern California, contributes to the ongoing debate in diplomatic studies with a short yet very accurate and interesting title that mixes the current points of view on both, the communications’ and international relations’ epistemic communities.1

His book entitled The Future of #Diplomacy is composed of five chapters and an introduction, each written in an easy and accessible vocabulary so that even non-academics can understand.

The first chapter (‘Open Diplomacy’) argues that social media are not at the core of diplomacy as the reader might believe, and that the term ‘digital diplomacy’ is misused (p. 15), in accordance with Shaun Riordan,2 but in disagreement with Jovan Kurbalija’s ideas.3 Seib states that the use of ‘digital diplomacy’ gives the technology great impact in the diplomatic arena, but that diplomacy is still a matter of the five elements listed by Nicholas J. Cull: listening; advocacy; cultural diplomacy; exchange diplomacy; and international broadcasting.4 However, Seib supports the idea that ‘new technologies only provide an array of tools that make the process more efficient’, while he believes in the development of diplomacy side by side with the new media technologies. Here, social media play a central role, which in Seib’s opinion leads to the debate about open diplomacy. The internet and smartphones, security and privacy, an empowered public and connecting to the public are some of the topics discussed in this section.

The second chapter (‘The Rise of Public Diplomacy’) is a review of several aspects that appeared in scientific and practitioners’ debates after Open Diplomacy was established. China’s cultural outreach, Russia’s broadcasting, Israel’s policy-making and the United States’ grass roots outreach are some of the examples that Seib portrays in order to explain different practices and approaches that diverse states have chosen to expand their foreign policy, making good use of cheap and easy access worldwide to the internet. The debate under the subheading ‘Tomorrow’s Public Diplomacy’ (pp. 58-69) is especially interesting, because it makes an in-depth point on the credibility, speed, scope and results of the new diplomat’s job in the twenty-first century, something that Tom Fletcher addresses in more detail in his own book.5

A complete new set of ideas can be found in chapter three on ‘States and Non-States’, where Seib introduces new actors to the international arena and explains in general the way in which, for example, Facebook addresses diplomacy, as well as how traditional diplomats can adopt that platform. Seib also makes an analysis of the technological changes throughout history that have allowed people at different times to master war, pursue diplomacy and achieve peace. Yet the author goes specially in depth on the several factors that shape the new challenges for diplomacy in the twenty-first century, including new technologies in the information and communication field, the new types of wars and even the religious factor (not only Islam, but also Christianity and Judaism).

Chapter four — ‘Staying on Track’ — talks about the interferences and detours of which diplomats must be aware. Seib goes back to acknowledge the importance of analysis that is less focused on the technological aspects and better centred on the political duties of the diplomat’s job. Here he explains in lively terms how the selection and nomination of diplomatic posts and seats works in the United States, along with making a critique of the legislative branch and its prevention of political nominations (p. 104). Seib focuses in this chapter on the actors of traditional politics, and how they are embracing the new digital media. However, he does not talk about the role that corporations and traditional mass media play nowadays in the spread of international policy and foreign affairs. Perhaps he should have discussed more about the role of foreign communities in the diplomatic politics and agenda of the United States, since they are also important actors in the future of diplomacy. Notwithstanding, Seib makes an interesting point by the end of the chapter when he covers what a diplomat should know about new technologies of information and the changes that the diplomatic academies should adopt, especially when considering the characteristics of the New Public Diplomacy.

In his final chapter, ‘Shaping Diplomacy’s Future’, Seib returns to a broader point of view, recognizing that digital tools are not the only changes that public diplomacy is facing at present and in the short-term future. He also introduces a few other concerns that, of course, can now be better addressed by nations thanks to changes in how to execute dialogue between governments, such as climate change, access to water, global health initiatives, women’s issues, education and protection from rape during conflicts.

Hopeful is one way to describe the very end of this interesting book: ‘In this new era, diplomacy will not become obsolete. It will be essential in building a peaceful, prosperous, healthy world. Its traditions will be enhanced by new practices. For diplomacy, a promising future awaits’ (p. 143).

1

This book was awarded the International Studies Association’s 2018 International Communication Book Award.

2

Shaun Riordan, Cyber Diplomacy vs. Digital Diplomacy: A Terminological Distinction, CDP Blog (Los Angeles, CA: USC Center on Public Diplomacy, 2016), retrieved from https://uscpublicdiplomacy.org/blog/cyber-diplomacy-vs-digital-diplomacy-terminological-distinction.

3

Jovan Kurbalija, ‘Digital Diplomacy in Three Graphs’, Diplo (Malta: DiploFoundation, 2016), retrieved from https://www.diplomacy.edu/blog/digital-diplomacy-three-graphs.

4

Nicholas J. Cull, ‘Public Diplomacy: Taxonomies and Histories’, The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, vol. 616, no. 1 (2008), pp. 31-54, DOI: 10.1177/0002716207311952.

5

Tom Fletcher, The Naked Diplomat: Understanding Power and Politics in the Digital Age (London: William Collins Books, 2016).

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