Tech Diplomacy: Navigating Democratic and Rational Technological Future

Published On: October 23, 2021 06:30 AM NPT By: GP Acharya

Tech diplomacy can be an effective tool for a country like Nepal that would not only help in coaxing ‘techno-economic cooperation’ but also in attaining economic and security success in the long run.

Technology, particularly information technology (IT), has been playing a crucial role in the ‘state of affairs’ since the 1980’s. Technology has been a cutting edge of the economy while the ‘cutting-edge technology’ has been (re)defining diplomatic affairs and international relations between the countries. Technology and foreign policy are mutually related- technology has been influencing foreign policy while foreign policy is also inducing the development and deployment of technology. 

Technology has been a very powerful tool for countries to contain or dominate their adversaries. The powerful countries, that are equipped with the clout of Artificial Intelligence (AI), have been so confident today that they are more likely to defend their ‘national security posture’ and dominate world politics, economy and diplomacy. AI and Nano-Technology have been a very powerful tool to define a state’s capability. The states started massively using AI in military and security, particularly the post 9/11 incident. Since then, AI and foreign policymaking are more closely interlinked.

Techno-digital sovereignty

Technology and digital capabilities have been largely exploited by some powerful countries against their rivals. They are perpetrating crucial tech threats against prey nations such as: cyber threats- cyber-attacks and cyber-surveillance (threats to cyber sovereignty); the misuse of AI- data harvesting (unethical assembling or leaking of data) and surveillance (against other countries citizens); disinformation- online terror content (undermining democracy through social media campaign); and transnational threats-theft of intellectual property and attack on various critical infrastructures such as telecom, power-grids, banks, airports, and medical research among others. The Pegasus hacking and massive data leak by the use of spyware,in the past months,is an example of ‘Cyber-Tech Diplomacy’ turning into ‘Spy-Tech Diplomacy’. The cyber-tech threat is posing grave concern to national security, digital sovereignty, humanity and personal sovereign dignity. The wicked use of technology and cyberspace have been posturing crucial threats to the democracy and economy of the powerful nations as well. For instance, the US, a tech superpower, expressed grave concern over the hacking of the presidential election in 2016. Likewise, Saudi Arabia blamed Iran for perpetrating a devastating cyber-attack on the Saudi Aramco oil company in 2017. The misuse of technology- both by state and non-state actors- have added more terror and threats to national security. The physical and psychic surveillance of the AI systems have dictated every personal space of nations and their nationals.

The Tech and social media giants hosted some nationalist and radical leaders in the Silicon Valley in 2017, meanwhile many of their citizens were protesting against their muscular nationalism back at home. Clearly, the goal of these leaders was to spread their nationalistic agenda through social media. This shows that tech and social media are undermining the democratic norms by contributing to ethnic and religious nationalism induced by violent religious and ethnic nationalism, writes Siva Vaidhyanathan in his book “Antisocial Media: How Facebook Disconnects Us and Undermines Democracy”.

The more advanced technology we develop, or the smaller the supercomputers become in size and faster the microprocessor functions, the more complex human life is becoming today. The higher the countries develop intelligent machines, the more their citizens are facing a crisis to emotional intelligence and witnessing bigger threats to humanity, peace and emotional wellness. The increased use, misuse, or abuse of social media and technology has injected socio-emotional or socio-psychological detachment among the people. Many people are living online, working online, celebrating online, dating online; but unfortunately some are dying online. Many people are using the platform of Facebook Live video streaming to announce their suicide, while many others are dying out of digital technology. Social media has been a new medium through which we “come alive” if we’re seen online throughout day and night, or even people assume that we’re “socially dead” if we’re offline for long, or continue to exist (on social media) even after “biological death”. As like the ‘digitized friendship’, death is also likely to be digitized now.

Social media is dominating the minds and lives of a large section of people around the world. The fabricated joy and happiness expressed on social media is making people unhappy, angered, irritated, and frustrated in a true sense. Most of the contents on social media are directly affecting the emotional brain of humans, which is gradually affecting their thinking brain.An internal research conducted by Wall Street Journal (September 14, 2021) revealed that social media, particularly Instagram and Facebook, are contributing to the mental health crisis in teens.

Nevertheless, technology alone cannot bring drastic change in human life and wellbeing, a ‘conscious and responsible behavior’ is essential in every human being including tech users, technocrats, and policy makers.The tech policies and strategies need to reflect democratic values that advances liberty, and respect human rights and people’s personal sovereign dignity.The potential psychological threats, social impacts and emotional wellness of every individual need to be cared and considered as part ofAI ethics,human rights, and tech and social media regulation. More importantly, an official and diplomatic channel (multilateral channel) needs to be formed such that countries develop responsible and ethical technology, while the honest and ethical use of digital technology and social media will certainly advance people’s lives. Technology however has brought dramatic transformation in human life, economy and state affairs.

Techno-economic-diplomatic clout

Some tech companies are becoming significant players in diplomacy and economy like nation-states. They are emerging so powerful- both economically and diplomatically- that they are likely to play a role similar to that of nation-states in international affairs. Tech giants and multi-national companies are achieving wider international influence and economic power and are in the verge of setting a new world order as nation-states do. Companies like Apple, Google, and Microsoft among others are likely to challenge governance, diplomacy, and economy in the future. For an instance, the tech giant Apple had market capital worth USD $2.08 trillion, which is more than the GDP of Australia($1.397 trillion), Canada ($1.736 trillion), Brazil ($1.84 trillion), or Italy ($2.003 trillion) in 2019. Apple alone had a hand-cash more than the GDP of two-thirds of the countries in the world in 2016. Apple’s annual turnover was USD $274.3 billion, which is more than the GDP of Finland ($269.3 billion) in 2019. The e-commerce giant Alibaba, which has 1.18 billion active consumers worldwide, had USD $74.1 billion in sales in a day (November 11), which is more than Oman’s GDP ($63.19 billion) in 2020. Another e-commerce giant Amazon has 310 million active users, which is more than the population of Indonesia (273.5 million). Facebook, which has more than 3 billion users (3.51 billion product users: at least one- Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, or Messenger) and 60 thousand full-time employees (as of August 2021, Statista), has a net worth of USD $138.227 billion and market capital of USD $1.21 trillion. Now, imagine what would be the state of economic and diplomatic clout of countries having lesser credence than that of those tech giants in the international sphere?

Some countries are deputing Tech Ambassadors with an aim that they could strongly advocate and mediate between governments and tech companies, and also deal with foreign and security policy. Denmark appointed the world's first Tech Ambassador in 2017, while France appointed Tech Ambassador to Silicon Valley in early 2018. Since then dozens of countries have appointed Tech Ambassadors in different destinations. International digital strategy has been a new focus in foreign policy of many countries now. Denmark has envisioned that the Tech Ambassadors can play multiple roles- a government representative with tech-industry, and an advisor to the government regarding latest technological developments that can be introduced in devising foreign and security policies at home.

Promoting national-tech interest

Many countries have been deputing computer scientists, engineers, and tech experts in their diplomatic missions with an aim that they could promote technical cooperation between the respective countries. Considering the sensitive geo-location and geo-tech-environment, Nepal needs to appoint diplomats having sound diplomatic cum technical knowledge such that they can proceed with smart diplomatic dealings with more confidence and affluence, which help influence the host countries to promote national-tech interest.

More importantly, Nepal needs to initiate a tech co-operation framework in the region and beyond, and appoint tech envoys to specific countries. Since there is a close link between technological development and diplomatic affairs, Nepal needs to think ahead of sensible tech diplomacy. Tech diplomacy can be an effective tool for a country like Nepal that would not only help in coaxing ‘techno-economic cooperation’ but also to attain economic and security success in the long run. Likewise, Nepal has to work aggressively to introduce ‘Data Protection Regulations’ such that every individual’s private data could be protected, which not only enhances citizens’ personal sovereign dignity but also help protect national security. Yet, a national tech foreign policy needs to be defined such that it could navigate a democratic and rational technological future. 

(GP Acharya, who holds an MSc in Computer Science, MSc in Statistics, completed MA in International Relations & Diplomacy, studied MPhil in General Management and currently pursuing research on Philosophy, Psychology and Scientific Thought, is a researcher and analyst. He can be reached at: gene_sharma@hotmail.com)


Leave A Comment