DIPLOMAT MAYJUNE 2021 WEB READY - Flipbook - Page 38
38 DIGITAL DIPLOMACY
DIPLOMACY IN THE
AGE OF ZOOM
Former UK Ambassador Charles Crawford CMG considers how
diplomacy and technology complement each other... or not
SO, THE UK IS DOWN TO
HOST THE NEXT BIG UN
COP26, IN GLASGOW IN
But wait! Doesn’t that mean lots of people actually
sitting together in large airconditioned rooms, inhaling
and exhaling particles and germs and COVID-flavoured
molecules? Isn’t that REALLY DANGEROUS? And
doesn’t it also mean delegates flying to Scotland from all
around the world, pumping out vast CO2 emissions in their
multitudinous vapour-trails, thereby rather discrediting the
whole point of the exercise?
Reckless madness. Can’t we do the whole thing by Zoom
instead? Save the Planet, by both words and deeds!
It’s interesting to ponder how diplomacy and technology
complement each other, or not. Diplomatic protocol dates
back to ancient norms of hospitality and reciprocity. Kings
and emperors and popes had no choice but to communicate
with each other by messenger. They duly created elaborate
rules to agree how to treat messengers and their messages.
MAY/JUNE 2021 } DIPLOMATMAGAZINE.COM
Had King Leonidas of Sparta and King Xerxes of Persia
both had WhatsApp, world history might well have been
Diplomacy-at-a-distance continued nicely for some
2,000 years. But then along came technology. Telegrams.
Telephones. Aeroplanes. Distances shrivel up. What does
distance even mean these days?
Leaders and their diplomatic services have installed
hotlines, dedicated telephone-lines for direct confidential
communication. Using these telephones used to be like
chatting underwater, with constant strangled gargling
sounds on the line. The Cold War movie Dr Strangelove
famously showed us the US and Soviet Presidents using such
a hotline, in a moment of high emergency:
Now then Dimitri. You know how we’ve always talked
about the possibility of something going wrong with the
bomb. The bomb, Dimitri. The hydrogen bomb.
Well now what happened is, one of our base commanders,
he had a sort of, well he went a little funny in the head.
You know. Just a little… funny. And uh, he went and did
a silly thing. Well, I’ll tell you what he did, he ordered his
planes… to attack your country.
Well, let me finish, Dimitri. Let me finish, Dimitri. Well,
listen, how do you think I feel about it? Can you imagine
how I feel about it, Dimitri?