Welcome to the era of tech diplomacy

Denmark and France eye a new generation of Diplomacy 3.0 ambassadors! Who’s next?

Earlier this month, WIRED featured Casper Klynge, Denmark’s new ambassador to the tech industry, possibly the world’s first-ever envoy to Silicon Valley and technology companies.

Explaining the novelty, Chris Stokel-Walker of Wired writes: “What’s different is who he’s lobbying” — as opposed as another country, like a bilateral ambassador would do, or an international organization for multilateral ambassadors.

From the time the world’s first permanent ambassador — the Spanish representative to England, who took up his post in 1487 — established residence in another country until today, they have spent most of their working days brokering relationships with national governments (or supranational bodies such as the United Nations).

“Now Klynge is attending to a small corner of a country, and a multi-trillion-dollar business sector,” Wired points out.

The idea of a tech ambassador is certainly new and Denmark, a country that has become an important tech hub in Europe, is trying to innovate the diplomatic space with a new ambassador role that relates and engages with what are now key players in foreign policy.

“Just as we engage in a diplomatic dialogue with countries, we also need to establish and prioritize comprehensive relations with tech actors, such as Google, Facebook, Apple, and so on,” Danish Foreign Minister Anders Samuelsen told The Washington Post in February.

Fun fact: the role was nicknamed ‘Google Ambassador’ at the beginning.

“The idea is, we see a lot of companies and new technologies that will in many ways involve and be part of everyday life of citizens in Denmark,” he continued.

And some [of these companies] also have a size that is comparable to nations.

“These companies are also policy actors, and indeed, foreign policy actors in their own right,” Klynge told GovInsider in September.

The interest from other countries around Klynge’s new role and posting seems to be quite high and, in an interview with Politico, he said: “Judging from the interest from other countries, I’ll probably not be the last one.”

And he was right. France too has now appointed its own tech ambassador.

French president Emmanuel Macron and his cabinet have named David Martinon “ambassador for digital affairs,” as announced by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

“This important decision gives Mr. Martinon jurisdiction over the digital issues that the Ministry deals with: international negotiations on cybersecurity, governance of the Internet and Internet networks, freedom of expression on the Internet, intellectual property issues related to the Internet, support for the export operations of digital companies, and France’s participation in the Open Government Partnership in conjunction with Etalab [the French task force for open data],” the Ministry announced.

A key priority will also be building and nurturing “a direct dialogue with major American digital platforms on combating the use of the Internet for terrorist purposes.”

The ministry explains that the “task is in line with the guidelines adopted by the G7 in Taormina last June, as well as the French-British action plan of July 2017 and requests made to these platforms by the French President and the British and Italian Prime Ministers at the High-Level Meeting on Preventing Terrorist Use of the Internet (held on September 20 in New York as part of the UN General Assembly).”

Is this the road towards Diplomacy 3.0?

“Diplomacy is more complicated and global challenges require multistakeholder cooperation and negotiation in order to construct solutions,” told us Ambassador Daniel Sepulveda, who served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State and U.S. Coordinator for International Communications and Information Policy in the Obama Administration. “This is part of the evolution of global governance.”

In my book on Digital Diplomacy: Conversations on Innovation in Foreign Policy (Rowman & Littlefield, 2015), I wrote: “Diplomacy 3.0 is not about technology or innovation. It looks beyond the use of social media. Diplomacy 3.0 is about the evolution of foreign policy into a networked environment where state and non-state are horizontally interacting with each other.”

Diplomacy 3.0 is shaping itself as a true startup environment, in which disruption shall not have a negative connotation. It is aimed at hacking and reinventing diplomacy while creating organic, collaborative ways to actuate foreign policy priorities.
Image credits: DJ Chung via Medium

“These two appointments are key milestones of the road to Digital Diplomacy 3.0,” told us Corneliu Bjola, Associate Professor of Diplomatic Studies at Oxford University and author of Digital Diplomacy: Theory and Practice (Routledge, 2015).

They are illustrative of the fact that states are increasingly aware of the importance of having good relations with Big Tech companies.

Bjola also warns: “However, for Digital Diplomacy 3.0 to work properly, Big Tech companies will need to develop diplomatic capacities as well.”

While the specifics about France’s ambassadorial appointment are not yet clear, one of the novelties regarding the new Danish ambassador is the global scope of the role. Ambassador Klynge is based in Palo Alto, California, but he’s already planning a global team with offices also in Copenhagen, the capital of Denmark, and Beijing, China.

“We will also be dealing with the Alibabas of China, or the tech start-up environment in Tel Aviv, or the small start-ups in Nairobi,” Klynge told McClatchy. “So we’ll be on the road quite a lot but with a core base in Silicon Valley.”

The global reach of the role — not different from at-large or ad-hoc ambassadors operating within foreign ministries in capitals around the world — makes it different from how other countries interact with tech leaders in Silicon Valley. That is through their consulates in San Francisco and via their embassies in Washington DC.

According to the McClatchy article, “industry veterans downplay any significance to the Danish diplomatic move, saying that big high-tech companies have been engaged globally for years.”

McClatchy cited Abigail Slater, general counsel for the Internet Association, a Washington-based advocacy group representing nearly 40 high-tech firms, as saying: “The internet, by its very nature, crosses borders, cultures, and economies, and that necessitates internet companies working with a broad group of stakeholders, including governments.”

In the US, home of Silicon Valley and large tech hubs like New York and Boston, the tech diplomacy ecosystem is fragmented. Tech companies have “multiple points of contact within our Administration,” told us Sepulveda.

Sepulveda, one of these “multiple points of contact,” explained that his job “was to understand domestic tech policy and advocate abroad for international policy that was consistent with ours and provided for the preservation of the Internet and the digital economy as an open, global platform.”

At the State Department, Sepulveda did not negotiate with private sector companies to try to change or preserve their private practices.

“They informed our international positions but I did not view my job as requiring diplomacy with them,” he said. “But what France and Denmark envision is something different I think.”

Sepulveda continued: “It would be useful for American tech companies to have a defined and assigned point of contact within governments for them to work with on policy — the higher the better because governments don’t speak for firms, and if a government has a problem or issue with a firm and wants to address that challenge directly, it should.”

So what’s next?

According to Bjola, “if 2017 has been the year when states have started to appoint their first Digital Ambassadors, 2018 may well mark the year when Big Tech companies will institutionally boost the role of their digital envoys as well.”