Friday, March 23, 2018

Diplomatic Courier: The Rise of the Tech Ambassador

" The Rise of the Tech Ambassador"
W. Alejandro Sanchez
Diplomatic Courier: A Global Affairs Media Network
23 March, 2018
Originally published:

The government of Denmark has sent Casper Klynge, a career diplomat who previously served as the Danish ambassador to Indonesia, to Silicon Valley to strengthen ties between the IT industry and Copenhagen. A Wired Magazine published an article last year, described this initiative with a provocative title: The first Silicon Valley ambassador is out to make nice with tech giants.

Denmark’s Consulate General in Palo Alto is part of Copenhagen’s strategy to approach global technological hubs via the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Innovation Centre, which also has offices in New Delhi, Seoul, and Shanghai. Ambassador Klynge’s tasks as tech ambassador are  similar of any other diplomat: “he’s trying to encourage investment into Denmark from the West Coast tech companies, and to promote Danish exports to Silicon Valley StartUps. Along the way, he’s also hoping to push brand Denmark on to the world, convincing them there’s more to his home country than bacon, LEGO and Hans Christian Andersen,” the article explains.

Ambassador Klynge’s deployment could be the trend-setter, as other governments could choose to follow this initiative. On March 1, the Center for International and Strategic Studies in Washington DC organized an event titled “A National Machine Intelligence Strategy for the United States.” During the Q&A section, I asked if other governments could similarly deploy tech ambassadors to IT hubs like Silicon Valley, New Delhi, Shenzhen, among others, in the near future, to establish more direct government-industry relations. One panelist responded that it is important to have “direct outreach from governments around the world to the tech industry because there is a recognition that this technology has so much potential but poorly crafted policy could be detrimental to the development of the technology and to all of its benefits.”

Ambassador Klynge’s new post is a preview of the future of diplomacy. Government-to-government relations will generally continue as normal, with diplomats posted in capitals, trying to cultivate relations with the hosting government and promote their own country’s interests. Nevertheless, technological advances are affecting how diplomacy is conducted, as now diplomats can chat with their home governments instantaneously via text messages or WhatsApp, and foreign policy decisions can be made through the small screen of a smartphone—though of course, ostentatious ceremonies in which heads of state meet to sign major agreements will continue to take place.

Additionally, there is the issue of the rising importance of information and communication technologies (ICTs) as part of a government’s foreign policy strategy. There is growing academic literature dedicated to science diplomacy or innovation diplomacy, like, for example, the 2017 essay Exploring the future of innovation diplomacy by Jos Leijten of the Joint Institute for Innovation Policy. Leijten explains how “many, if not all, developed nations have special offices in their foreign services, which are responsible for science diplomacy actions,” because, as the author aptly argues, “with the rise of the knowledge economy or, to put it differently, with the growth of the role of knowledge as a factor in economic prosperity of countries, knowledge has become an increasingly important issue in the relations between nations.”

Diplomacy is an ever-morphing organism and governments need to adapt constantly in a changing world, especially nowadays. Hence, it is no surprise that commentaries about the future of diplomacy published in recent years stress the need for diplomatic officers to be open to new ideas.
Case in point, some governments may now wish to focus on improving relations with a specific industry situated in another country; hence a local diplomatic office, like a consulate, in situ will be necessary. After all, Washington DC is geographically distant from California, no matter the size of an embassy’s trade and IT offices in the U.S. capital.

The deployment of the Danish tech ambassador offers one additional positive option: Copenhagen can now communicate directly with Silicon Valley companies without having to go through Washington, at a time when U.S.-Europe government relations are at a low point.

Information Technology is a multibillion-dollar industry with hubs around the world. The government of Denmark’s decision to have a tech ambassador directly aimed at improving relations between Copenhagen and the world of IT in the U.S. is an intriguing initiative that could prove to be very (financially) successful. Copenhagen’s move also supports the argument that diplomacy is an evolving field as governments come up with new initiatives to both protect and promote their national interests.

About the author: W. Alejandro Sanchez is a researcher who focuses on geopolitical, military, and cybersecurity issues. Follow him on Twitter: @W_Alex_Sanchez.  

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and do not necessarily reflect those of any institutions with which the author is associated.

 The author would like to thank Brittney J. Figueroa for editorial assistance.

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