Robert Hester
Jul 26, 2018 · 8 min read


In my November 2015 essay, “Smart Diplomacy and the Future of Diplomatic Undertaking,” published in the Georgetown Journal of International Affairs, I introduced a new form of diplomacy combining the soft and hard power ideas of smart power with the “employment of new technologies, public and private partnerships, as well as diaspora networks at the center of diplomacy.” This strategic re-envisioning of power as it applies to international relations is what I termed Smart Diplomacy. Smart Diplomacy and non-traditional security partnerships (NTSPs) are currently two separate concepts, but there is a strong argument for NTSPs as logical extensions of Smart Diplomacy. This essay is a follow-up piece to my 2015 publication, written in partnership with my colleagues at Wright Thomas International. In it we highlight the ways in which embracing forward-leaning concepts that underpin Smart Diplomacy are the future of effective analysis and action within the security realm. The three pillars of Smart Diplomacy provide points for strategic interconnectivity within security, and can be powerful tools when utilised in concert with one another.Younes El Ghazi


Smart Diplomacy is differentiated by its strategic combination of coercive and soft powers, which incorporates modern technologies and public-private partnerships to achieve international goals. In the 2015 article, I (Younes) identified three pillars of Smart Diplomacy that represent critical components of the translation of smart power into effective leverage. The pillars included (1) Digital Capabilities; (2) Multi-Stakeholder Diplomacy; and (3) Feminist Diplomacy. All three of these pillars represent factors critical to the process of translating smart power into effective leverage in both bilateral relations as well as the larger international arena.

One area identified as being particularly likely to benefit from Smart Diplomacy is that of post-conflict reconstruction, where failings in transition from conflict to stability are rooted in the lack of involvement of the mostly female victims, and the absence of stakeholder engagement that

facilitates building trust. As described, Smart Diplomacy is the natural next step in the evolution of a diplomacy that aims to increase security and prosperity. Because of Smart Diplomacy’s “far-reaching, efficient, and representative” model, it offers strategic advantages over earlier diplomatic frameworks. Globalization has fundamentally altered civilization, inextricably

intertwining global citizens, governments, and economies. By adapting to this new reality, the realm of international diplomacy would be more effectively and efficiently capable of achieving shared security and prosperity.


In the context of international security, a non-traditional partnership is an arrangement of mutual utility among entities that generally do not have intersecting missions, goals, or functions. The value in establishing these non-traditional arrangements is to creatively leverage the collective strengths of each participating entity toward a meaningful outcome for security.

Non-traditional security partnerships (NTSPs) are equally relevant and useful tools in the diplomacy realm. The basic concept is that any entity with a stake in a certain outcome would be wise to identify others who have a stake in that same outcome, and to work together, drawing from their different sectors’ toolboxes to find methods of achieving the stated goal.

By increasing the pool from which to draw ideas and resources, there is a dilution of individual risk and mutual benefit from the combination of minds and experiences that exist at various levels of engagement. NTSPs recognize that a primary reliance on economic or military force is not always necessary, or even effective, in producing desirable outcomes. Rather, by strategically and carefully combining resources of the private and public sectors, individual strengths are better able to be leveraged.


There are many ways in which Smart Diplomacy and NTSPs complement each other, but there are some challenges to integrating the two concepts. One of the most significant challenges is that this strategic re-envisioning requires challenging norms and the complacency that can come with entrenched ways of thinking about security. Cooperation and creativity are important in creating the larger vision of security-impacting factors, including the identification of stakeholders who might not typically be considered. Although there is a learning curve in challenging the mind to think differently, a willingness to engage in dialogue will go a long way in making this work more efficient, and it will be buoyed by positive outcomes.

The greatest argument for the utilization of NTSPs and Smart Diplomacy in concert is that they ultimately will work in the best interest of all actors. These concepts incentivize innovative problem-solving and promote flexibility, which drives solutions targeted at specific systemic inefficiencies. The synthesis of these concepts has the potential to drastically shape how international and intranational actors behave and engage with each other, which can have long-term ramifications. Given this, the three pillars put forth in the original article hold increasing relevance for the capacity to address security, as follows.


Digital capabilities are crucial for capitalizing on both soft and hard powers because the internet increasingly creates fluid access to a global audience, impacting perceptions, perspectives, and behaviors. They create significant opportunities which do not necessarily exist within traditional security models, including access to populations of marginalized people around the globe, threat detection, real-time grassroots updates on critical situations as they unfold, and easing diplomacy-related conversations through online video conference calls and the like. Traditional security models are constrained by their lack of inclusiveness and methodologies that do not optimize the tools of modernity. Significant challenges include the viral tendencies of inflammatory false news stories and the internet as a tool for recruitment and manipulation by extremist groups. Increased reliance on technology as a replacement for human-to-human interaction can also hinder the development of emotional intelligence and empathy, qualities which are necessary for navigating complex issues in diplomacy and developing cross-sector relationships. The development of the Internet of Things (IoT) has resulted in an increase in devices’ abilities to collect and exchange data, a trend which enhances the ability of citizen-based movements to proliferate their messages and increase access to resources on a global scale. When the interim Yemeni government was overthrown by Shi’a Houthi rebels in 2014, the Minister of Information, Nadia al-Sakkaf, immediately took to Twitter to warn of the coup and that official information channels were compromised. Thanks to social media websites and internet platforms such as blogs and vlogs, groups of people who have traditionally been excluded from decisionmaking have gained the ability to communicate with a worldwide audience. This increased access also creates more opportunities for non-traditional partnership development and stakeholder engagement. This is an underutilized tool that could be used within a Smart Diplomacy framework to identify security concerns and engage more players.


Multi-stakeholder diplomacy includes actors from state and non-state systems, which offers strategic benefits to efficiency, flexibility, and stakeholder entrepreneurialism. Independent agents offer strategic advantages because they have fewer bureaucratic hoops to jump through than state agents. By using tools like the Smart Diplomacy Index to engage all relevant actors who have a stake in the same desired outcome, factors that impact goal attainment can be more effectively identified. With the rise of right wing populism in multiple G7 countries (Brexit, Donald Trump in the United States, Marine Le Pen in France) resulting in more isolationism and nationalistic political expression, there is a corresponding trend away from the development of a global discourse that recognizes the value in diversity and the strategic incorporation of non-traditional, inclusive security methodologies. At the same time, with the rising impact of climate change as a ubiquitous, cross-sector threat, and the increasingly complex nature of battlefields, be they literal or digital, there is an increased recognition that traditional approaches to diplomacy and security are no longer sufficient to meet the magnitude of these challenges as they manifest. Non-state actors are looking outside of the typical realms of diplomatic engagement to find opportunities and leverage points for change.


Feminist diplomacy is the diplomatic manifestation of social, political, and economic empowerment of women. This pillar recognizes the modern trend of countries to acknowledge and incorporate the important contributions that women make to diplomacy and stability, and to equally recognize both genders as legitimate diplomatic actors. Currently, there are ten elected female leaders of state in office around the globe, which is an encouraging trend towards equality, but it is still not representative of the global female population. In the year 2000, the UN Security Council created Resolution 1325, which addresses the inordinate impacts of war on women, as well as the critical role of women in conflict prevention, management, and resolution. This highlights the fact that the argument for gender equality is not simply one of ideology, but of practicality. Most extremist groups are quick to subjugate women, and actively express hostility towards them. Given how widespread this issue is, the push for female empowerment from groups that counter extremism is remarkably insufficient. Refugees and displaced women and children often become targets for rape and assault, which has enduring implications for their physical and mental health, as well as their ability to contribute in a meaningful way to society. One of many present day examples of the pervasive tendency to disparage women is that of the Rohingya minority fleeing Myanmar and experiencing what appears to be systematic rape by Myanmar’s military. The casual, rampant victimization of women does not exist in isolation; to the contrary, it has tremendous implications for stability, which the international community would be wise to recognize and respond to in foreign policies and strategies of diplomacy. Climate change will exacerbate this issue by acting as a catalyst for conflict and population displacement. The palpable global shift away from international cooperation and women’s empowerment, towards more isolationist and nationalist policies does not enhance the formation of publicprivate partnerships. Cooperation of non-state actors in conjunction with traditional diplomatic frameworks is the natural next step for national state interests as well as successful multilateral engagement in the modern world.


The use of Smart Diplomacy and NTSPs is valuable because it allows for a more accurate accounting of the factors that impact the ability of the international community to be stable and secure. The combination of these approaches with traditional diplomatic strategies enhances the ability of nation-states to prosper alongside their international counterparts. Stability and equality create better conditions for economic empowerment, investment, prosperity, and quality of life. In the years to come, it will be important to monitor legislation regarding privacy and accessibility as they relate to the internet so as to continue to facilitate global engagement. Climate change will impact communities across the globe, creating a more urgent, existential need for international cooperation and coalition building. The use of Smart Diplomacy and NTSPs, in addition to traditional diplomatic frameworks, will allow for a more effective, unified response to these challenges.


Younes El Ghazi is the Founder and Chief Executive of the Global Diplomatic Forum, a London based think tank specializing in contemporary diplomacy. @DiplomaticForum

Jorhena Thomas is the Founder and Principal of Wright Thomas International, a Washington, DC based research and consulting firm specializing in the use of non-traditional security partnerships. @WrightThomasInt

Marisol Maddox is the Climate Security Research Fellow at Wright Thomas International.

Tabitha Gillombardo is the Research Assistant Team Lead at Wright Thomas International.

You can find the original article here:

Global Youth Agenda

A youth perspective on official themes and publications of the Global Diplomatic Forum's Global Agenda.

Robert Hester

Written by

Founder at Appreciate | | Social Entrepreneur

Global Youth Agenda

A youth perspective on official themes and publications of the Global Diplomatic Forum's Global Agenda.

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