Tech diplomacy: cities drive a new era of digital policy and innovation

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Cities will be driving globalisation and innovation in the emerging world order.
28 November Studio/Shutterstock

Hussein Dia, Swinburne University of Technology

France recently appointed a tech ambassador to the Silicon Valley. French President Emmanuel Macron named David Martinon as “ambassador for digital affairs”, with jurisdiction over the digital issues that the foreign affairs ministry deals with. This includes digital governance, international negotiations and support for digital companies’ export operations.

The appointment is part of France’s international digital strategy, which is becoming a focus of its foreign policy. And France isn’t alone in doing this.

In early 2017, Denmark appointed a “TechPlomacy” ambassador to the tech industry. Casper Klynge is possibly the first-ever envoy to be dispatched to Silicon Valley with a clear mandate to build better relationships with major technology firms.

Read more:
Cities in the Future of Democracy

In an interview with Danish newspaper Politiken, Foreign Minister Anders Samuelsen said:

Big companies affect Denmark just as much as entire countries.

He isn’t wrong. According to geopolitical strategist Parag Khanna, the world’s top tech companies are achieving more international influence and economic power than dozens of nations put together. In 2016, the cash that Apple had on hand exceeded the gross domestic product (GDP) of two-thirds of the world’s countries.

Some of these global players are also influential policy actors in their own right. In 2016, Foreign Policy presented its Diplomat of the Year Award to Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Google parent company Alphabet Inc. The award was in recognition of Google’s contributions to international relations through empowering citizens globally.

What’s different about TechPlomacy?

The recent ambassadorial appointments signify not only the important socio-economic and political roles of technology, but also how diplomacy is evolving and adapting to the disruptive changes in our societies.

These developments mark the prominence of tech-cities on the global scene. Nation states are no longer the only players in international affairs; cities are also taking centre stage.

As opposed to lobbying governments in the world’s capitals, the new breed of diplomats will target tech-cities with multi-trillion-dollar technology sectors. They will also rub shoulders and nurture a direct dialogue with organisations that have gigantic economic impacts. In 2016, for example, Google helped to inject US$222 billion in economic activity in the US alone.

The so-called “Google ambassadors” won’t be targeting Silicon Valley only. The Office of Denmark’s Tech Ambassador has a team with physical presence across three time zones in North America, Europe and Asia. It will also connect with tech hubs around the world.

As part of an interconnected planet, these tech hubs will increasingly play a more active role in the global economy. Decision-makers are starting to recognise the imperative to establish good relationships and understand the tech giants’ policies and agendas.

Read more:
Creative city, smart city … whose city is it?

Cities as autonomous diplomatic units

The rise of cities as “autonomous diplomatic units” may be a defining feature of the 21st century.

Already, just 100 cities account for 30% of the world’s economy and almost all its innovation. New York and London, together, represent 40% of global market capitalisation. According to the McKinsey Global Institute, the top 600 cities generate 60% of global GDP and are projected to be home to 25% of the world’s population by 2025.

McKinsey expects that 136 new cities will make it into the top 600 by 2025. All these new cities are from the developing world – 100 of them from China alone.

These global cities appear likely to dominate the 21st century. They will become magnets for economic activity and engines of globalisation. Khanna argues:

… [C]ities rather than states or nations are becoming the islands of governance on which the future world order will be built.

He also suggests that connectivity through an expanding matrix of infrastructure (64 million kilometres of roads, 4 million kilometres of railways and 1 million kilometres of internet cables) will far outweigh the importance of 500,000 kilometres of international borders.

Still more questions than answers

As more cities assert their leadership on the world stage, new mechanisms and networks (e.g. C40 Cities) could emerge. That could signal a new generation of diplomacy that relates and engages with cities rather than bilateral collaboration between nations.

Read more:
This is why we cannot rely on cities alone to tackle climate change

The C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group connects more than 90 of the world’s major cities.
The Independent UK

Although these new diplomatic outposts have generated some profound interest, questions remain.

Will this era of tech diplomacy create collaborative ways to develop and achieve foreign policy priorities? Will it increasingly become a unifying global priority?

Do these appointments signify a transformation in international relationships? Will big tech companies also develop diplomatic capacities?

And will we witness the emergence of a post-national ideology of civic-ism, whereby people’s loyalty to the city surpasses that to a nation?

What comes next?

Not everyone will be excited by these appointments. Many would downplay their significance. Others would argue that tech companies have been engaged globally for years, and that they do this anyway as part of their “business as usual” activities.

Whether you embrace or object to it, a new world order is emerging around cities and their economies, rather than nations and their borders. These cities may ultimately chart pathways to their own sovereign diplomacy and formulate their own codes of conduct.

The ConversationIt is anyone’s guess whether the future will bear any resemblance to TechPlomacy or something else we haven’t yet imagined. The significance of these appointments will become clearer as the envoys go to work and we begin to understand the possibilities.

Hussein Dia, Associate Professor, Swinburne University of Technology

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Beyond sanctions: a diplomatic path to peace on the Korean Peninsula

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North Korea has placed the Kim regime’s survival before any other priority.

Michael Hamel-Green, Victoria University

The ongoing war of words between the leaders of North Korea and the US has created international fears of a potential nuclear catastrophe. But each side’s actions go well beyond words.


North Korea has conducted six nuclear tests since 2006, including its recent hydrogen bomb test and a spate of ballistic missile tests with ever-increasing range. The Trump administration, for its part, dispatched a naval armada to the region earlier this year, and recently conducted bomber flights close to the North Korean border.

But with much attention focused on both sides’ military moves, and on the rigorous enforcement of economic sanctions against North Korea, there has been little focus on calls for a diplomatic solution.

Further reading: Five assumptions we make about North Korea – and why they’re wrong

Where are we at currently?

Recent statements by the Trump administration and allies such as Australia appear to assume the impact of sanctions, coupled with demonstrations of overwhelming military capacity, will secure North Korea’s unilateral back-down.

Australia’s foreign minister, Julie Bishop, emphasised to the UN General Assembly recently that Australia would be vigorously pursuing sanctions of its own against North Korea. She argued such sanctions would “compel North Korea to abandon its illegal programs”.

Absent in Bishop’s speech, however, was an equally emphatic commitment to pursuing a negotiated diplomatic solution.

The most recent UN Security Council resolution against North Korea unanimously (China and Russia included) imposed a set of severe economic sanctions on the isolated country.

Less noticed in the US-drafted resolution was a quasi-military imposition of a naval interdiction of vessels transporting prohibited items from North Korea. This opens the way to a naval blockade of the country comparable to that imposed on Cuba at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. It also potentially creates a further source of military confrontation with North Korea.

At the same time, the resolution called for a diplomatic resolution of the crisis. This was little noticed in subsequent public debate.

The resolution seeks a resumption of the Six-Party Talks involving China, North and South Korea, Russia and the US on the basis of negotiating verifiable denuclearisation on the Korean Peninsula, a commitment to peaceful resolution of the crisis, mutual respect of sovereignty, and economic co-operation.

Sanctions might not work as they have in the past

Sanctions played a key role in the successful multilateral negotiation of the Iran nuclear agreement. However, they may not necessarily have the same impact in the case of North Korea. Its regime has long cultivated the ethos of self-reliance, and has made regime survival its top priority.

In this context, if war is to be averted, sanctions will need to be accompanied by a willingness to engage in substantive negotiations that might engage with the North Korean regime’s security and survival concerns.

Further reading: North Korea and Iran aren’t comparable – but Trump can’t tell the difference

It is sometimes argued that North Korea has never responded positively to negotiations. However, the 1994 agreement brokered by former US president Jimmy Carter did result in a significant pause in the North Korean nuclear program. There was verified compliance of North Korea’s ceasing plutonium production from 1991 to 2003.

The breakdown of the arrangement in 2003 was not wholly attributable to North Korea. The Bush administration’s delay in proceeding with agreed US oil shipments and full normalisation of political and economic relations played a key role.

What now?

In the case of the current crisis, it is unrealistic to expect North Korea to immediately surrender its nuclear and missile capabilities. Instead, it is important to initiate, without preconditions, a negotiation process involving phases.

Such a process would first seek an initial North Korean freeze on its current nuclear and missile testing programs in return for constraints on military drills close to its border. It would then move on to a possible longer-term resolution that tackles all parties’ legitimate security needs.

Experts such as Morton Halperin, a former senior security adviser to the Clinton, Nixon and Johnson administrations, have argued strongly for the need for a comprehensive agreement that would include elements like:

  • a Korean War peace treaty;

  • negotiation of a regional nuclear-weapon-free zone;

  • security guarantee inducements for North Korea to join such a zone; and

  • economic and energy assistance to North Korea.

Countries outside the region also have a key mediating role to play in breaking the current impasse on starting negotiations. Most recently, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has offered to play such a role, citing the process involved in the Iranian nuclear agreement.

The ConversationRather than talking of being “joined at the hip” in support of any US military “solutions” to deal with North Korea, Australia too could be far more proactive and constructive in promoting and facilitating multilateral negotiations to avert a catastrophic war or nuclear holocaust.

Michael Hamel-Green, Emeritus Professor, College of Arts & Education, Victoria University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


It would seem that Russia is continuing its military action in Georgia despite agreeing to a ceasefire and the presence of American military personal in Georgia. They seemed to halt for a moment when the Americans arrived, but have since continued their push into the heart of the country and onward towards the capital of Georgia, Tbilisi. It would seem you can’t trust the Russians at their word, which would make them very close to the Soviet era approach to world diplomacy.

Is the Russian Federation becoming a rogue state? That is the question facing the West. I would personally view the Russian Federation as being very close to being a rogue state, if not already a rogue state. Russia is acting more and more like a tyrant toward the former Soviet republics that have gained independence.

Not satisfied with acting the bully toward the former Soviet republics, Russia is now turning its thug-like activities to countries that were formerly part of the Eastern Bloc, with Poland being a particular target.

Russian general, Anatoly Nogovitsyn has suggested that Poland is now open to a strike (which could mean a pre-emptive nuclear attack) for entertaining the possibility of joining NATO and deploying an American anti-missile system on its soil.

It would seem that the Cold War may be returning in a new manifestation – perhaps Cold War II.