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Great Accomplishments in International Relations

A currently debated topic is the impact of the unprecedented advancements in breakthrough technologies on various areas of public policy.

Optimists praise how technology changes our lives through enhanced communication: empowering individuals, raising awareness and spreading democracy across the world.

Pessimists stress the repercussions of technological advancements, like tottering digital security, and the rise of inequality—especially in countries exposed to progressive technologies.

In the areas of foreign policy and diplomacy, technology has brought about a tremendous amount of change—as Hillary Clinton once said during her tenure as Secretary of State, “Just as the internet has changed virtually every aspect of how people worldwide live, learn, consume and communicate, connection technologies are changing the strategic context for diplomacy in the 21st century”.

This article aims at presenting the most pressing challenges that stem from the relationship between technologies and foreign affairs. Accelerating transformation can be seen in three significant areas: securityinstitutions and participation.

Security: Geopolitics Online

The widely proclaimed shift from state-centric politics to non-governmental identities, described as “shadowy networks of individuals”, was first addressed openly by George Bush in his 2002 National Security Strategy as President of the USA.

It is true to some extent that traditional underlying influences of state power are no longer the dominant catalysts at play: the evolution of technology has empowered individuals and created new commanding media that’s capable of challenging existing national supremacy, while directing a new world order.

Although powerful-through-technology individuals play an important role, international relations are still mostly dependent on geographical variables and related interests.

In the Information Age, what is certain is that the ever-increasing amount of global data and online storage of valuable information will bring incommensurable and occasionally conflicting value systems into ever closer contact. The proximity of country and entity online systems is increasingly hazardous for some parties.

In this era of fast information transfer, along with the rapid development of new-generation technologies, international relations among states are in conflict more so than a decade ago.

However, states are much weaker and less capable of mitigating arising challenges in controlling security, popular discontent and cultural fragmentation, it seems.

The recent U.S.-China Summit on cybersecurity exposed all of the aforementioned problems, and tensions between these two countries have concerned recent cyberattacks, mainly against U.S. government computers.

Presidents Barack Obama and Xi Jinping agreed that their governments refrain from online theft of intellectual property for commercial gain, but Obama emphasized that he might still impose sanctions if the Chinese continue to sponsor cyber-intrusions.

The Summit showed, however, that technology can bring concurring interests into constant confrontation without clear and sufficient evidence of particular guilt and responsibility.

It also presented how individuals like Edward Snowden—empowered by technology—can bring another dimension to state relations—the notorious whistleblower overshadowed evidence of the last U.S. cyber-espionage attack against China before the Summit and thus changed the negotiating position of the U.S. government.

Institutions: Redefining Actions by Institutions and Alliances

International organizations (IOs) and alliances like North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) benefit hugely from data-driven technologies, which enable them to deliver better service and exchange large volumes of information in real time.

One does wonder whether current IOs and alliances are prepared to tackle complex threats such as financial, development, online security and climate change challenges, though.

There is a growing concern that IOs founded after WWII, such as the United Nations (UN), International Monetary Fund, and NATO are out-of-date, stagnant and have ineffective decision-making processes to handle arising challenges. One cannot deal with today’s war-mongering neurotics with passive and verbose institutions.

Many IOs are increasingly losing their ability to govern and implement necessary measures to somehow control the unregulated realms that technology has created.

In her view, the UN needs reform, stressing the importance of new, more transparent working methods and claiming the need for permanent membership by African and Latin American countries: “How can we have a Security Council in 2015 that still reflects the geo-political architecture of 1945?” reflects Sushma Swaraj, the External Affairs Minister of India, in 2015.

This recent call for action is only one example of growing concern over the condition of the UN regarding the fact that real change will come sooner or later. 

Participation: Social Media and Online Platforms Drive Profound Change in Foreign Policies

Although many observers note how social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter change global connectivity, the reality is that new technologies do not necessarily create democratic evolution online. Three major obstacles have been identified: first of all, new technologies empower individuals but can breed clusters of extremism, abuse, xenophobia and violence expressed on a number of online media and channels—one recent example is the enormous number of fake and distorted images of refugees with mocking memes that have circulated online in response to the widely proclaimed action of welcoming refugees on Twitter (#welcomerefugees); secondly, authoritarians including countries and separate individualist entities benefit from technology—for instance, in Syria the internet is another weapon of war.

The control of connections and website content gives the government great power during the ongoing conflict—in fact, authoritarian governments are able to control technologies and use them to undermine social activism, thus gaining new forms of control and power.

And thirdly, the ineffective implementation of technology can be both a harmful and costly endeavor—this was the case of Healthcare.gov in the U.S., where even supporters of so-called “Obamacare” described the platform as a faulty and extremely overpriced governmental tech launch.

Indeed, governments and institutions often deal with poorly developed and protected platforms that cause more challenges than benefits.

The risks of both adapting and managing new technologies are as profound as ignoring them: a number of countries have experienced major repercussions from either not adapting or not adequately managing technological evolution in recent times.

With five billion more people set to join the digital world in the coming years, these challenges shall remain on political and global agendas for years to come. The question is, how will they affect international relations.

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