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By Kehkashan Dadwani, MPIA 2014

Mark Henshaw, Senior CIA Analyst, spoke at the Bush School last week on the topic of cybersecurity. During his lecture, he mentioned that, while a fair amount of research has been conducted on the effect information technology has had on military and social affairs, very little has been said about its effect on diplomacy.

So, what do you think? Has information technology, digital infrastructure, social media, electronic communication, information sharing, etc. left its mark on the cumbersome diplomatic bureaucracy? Has the U.S. brought its diplomatic arm into the 21st Century? Could technology today have a greater impact on relations between countries?

I spent the summer in Foggy Bottom - the Harry S. Truman building specifically – workplace of Madame Secretary and origin of U.S. diplomatic efforts. From my bird’s-eye view in the Office of the Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights (J), I noticed more than a modicum of 21st Century effort.

eDiplomacy: In March, Richard Boly also paid the Bush School a visit to talk about his revolutionary efforts within the State Department’s Office of eDiplomacy, which I was able to test out this summer.

eDiplomacy has made several resources available internally, including Corridor and Diplopedia. Corridor, the State Department’s very own social network, was set up to facilitate connections and collaboration between State employees; though it has promise, it has yet to attain a critical mass of more seasoned diplomats. Diplopedia is State’s answer to the wiki movement. Slowly but surely, the available Diplopedia articles are building (I even contributed!), keeping (particularly new) Foreign and Civil Service Officers informed on all things State Department and diplomacy.

Externally, eDiplomacy has created Virtual Presence Posts to “broaden engagement with key cities, communities, regions, and countries without an American embassy or consulate building.”

Started during the Obama Administration under the leadership of Ronan Farrow, boy genius and son of Woody Allen, the Office of Global Youth Issues at the State Department is making broad strides in the areas of social media. Current Special Advisor Zeenat Rahman hosts regular Google+ Hangouts and online discussions for youth and Youth Council members around the world. You can follow a steady stream of fascinating and relevant updates on GYI’s Facebook page.

Open Government Partnership: OGP is ”a new multilateral initiative that aims to secure concrete commitments from governments to promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption, and harness new technologies to strengthen governance.” The U.S. led the (now 57) participating countries in making government data easily and understandably available to its broader public online Data.gov. Begun in the White House, J has taken the reins, promoting participation in this global initiative as well compliance with country action plans.

This is only the beginning! I’d like to open the floor to you now. Have you observed the effects of technology on diplomacy? Have you seen civil society involvement in social networks affect state-to-state relations? Do you have ideas how the USG could better harness our technological advancements for more efficient or effective diplomatic efforts? Please comment!

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