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Words from Charlie - Foreword to the Aspen Institute Dialogue on Diplomacy and Technology 2017 Report

When Marc Nathanson and I started this series of Aspen Institute Dialogues on Diplomacy and Technology it came from a conviction that the apparatus at the U.S. State Department, and frankly, the diplomatic tools of other countries, were outdated at best, and firmly mired in the past, at worst. Over the past decade, we have seen ambassadors tweeting, countries creating Facebook presences, and similar incremental advances. But a full embrace of the new technologies in the realm of diplomacy is still in the earliest stages.

This realization comes as the network form has become a dominant organizational form in the 21st Century. More organizations are moving to some form of network structure, whether in business, military or civil society. Networks permeate borders, reach huge audiences instantly, and flatten lines of communication. They can be incredibly effective, e.g., in setting international standards, communicating grievances, but not always for good. Viruses also flow through networks, as do messages of hate speech and false or misleading statements. As in all advances, there are opportunities and dangers which must be sorted out by anyone in the arena.

Years ago, I co-authored a piece entitled, “Netpolitik: What the Emergence of Networks Means for Diplomacy and Statecraft” for the Aspen Journal of Ideas. It suggested that in a networked world, diplomats needed to understand and employ network principles. It followed the work of Anne-Marie Slaughter, Joseph Nye, and Jessica Matthews and others who had understood the broadening of powerful actors in the international relations field, and the new tools needed to influence them.

This report, following our Aspen Dialogue on Diplomacy and Technology for 2017, explores these very issues. How should leaders think about networks in the world of diplomacy and vice versa? What are network principles, and how does one employ them? What are noxious elements that can be spread more easily in networks, from viruses to memetic warfare? And how can diplomats ply their craft, asserting national interests in this new world of “netpolitik”?

I want to thank the Nathanson Family Foundation for its anchor funding of this series of Dialogues, and specifically Marc Nathanson, who has inspired others with his leadership on this issue. We thank Dean Christopher Hill and the Josef Korbel School of International Relations at the University of Denver for partnering with us again on this series. Thanks to Richard Adler, who added his own research to the job of writing up the conference in a concise and understandable manner. Thanks, too, to Vahaken Mouradian, Nathanson Fellow at the University of Denver, for editing a set of readings for the participants at the Dialogue. And thanks to Kiahna Cassell, project director, who ably brought this important project of the Aspen Institute Communications and Society Program together, as well as Tricia Kelly, Managing Director, who oversaw production of this Report.

Charles M. Firestone
Executive Director
Communications and Society Program
The Aspen Institute
February 2018

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