Virtual Diplomacy: Rethinking Foreign Policy Practice in the Information Age

Publication Type:

Journal Article


Information & Security: An International Journal, Volume 7, p.28-44 (2001)


noopolitik., Virtual diplomacy; foreign policy in information age; empowerment by networks; rise of non-state actors; realpolitik


Driven by information and communications technologies, the emerging global economy distributes information, ideas, values, capital, goods and services to people unevenly, across geopolitical borders and citizenships. As a result, the environment in which today’s diplomacy must operate assumes engagement in a variety of asymmetrical relationships among and between state and non-state actors—that is, anyone anywhere connected to and affected by any of the information and communications media. Diplomatic agents range from the conventional ones—developed, stagnant, friendly, disaffected and hostile nation-states and regional and international organizations—to influential and independent multinationals, coalitions of shifting and diverse allegiances, networks of citizens of various identities and diasporas. Moreover, diplomacy increasingly involves issues that are perceived as global and interdependent but primarily experienced at the local level, including migration, environmental degradation, terrorism, drug trafficking, weapons proliferation and cyber harassment. Thus, foreign and domestic affairs are inextricably and complexly intertwined. The authors argue that this new environment demands a profound transformation of diplomatic practice within the traditional foreign affairs institutions.
Several recent studies of the US foreign policy establishment have offered recommendations to reform, reinvent, and reengineer an outdated, crippling bureaucracy. At the time of the inauguration of President George W. Bush, two more were released: one, produced under the leadership of former Defense Secretary and National Security Advisor Frank Carlucci, calls for reform of the Department of State, and the other, directed by two former senators, Democrat Gary Hart and Republican Warren Rudman, proposes a transformation of the national security structure of the United States. The authors of the article discuss the recommendations of both reports as efforts to realign diplomatic practice with emerging trends and review recent congressional debates and actions by the executive branch of the US government to renew the foreign affairs structures. The authors conclude that Washington decision-makers appear to apprehend the significance of the reports’ findings and to initiate changes that will lead to a more responsive, and thus more effective, diplomacy.

Last updated: Wednesday, 13 February 2019