21st Century Statecraft

New Paper on "Internet Freedom" & "21st Century Statecraft"

Hot off the inter-presses today is a new paper from NDN & the New Policy Institute by yours truly looking at the State Department's "21st Century Statecraft" and "Internet Freedom" initiatives. The paper is more overview than analysis-- something I decided was necessary after reading the July essay on digital diplomacy in Foreign Affairs that I took down in a blog post and then delicately deconstructed for Foreign Policy. From the executive summary:

Not intended to be comprehensive or critical, this paper attempts to define and clarify these initiatives and the arguments supporting them, and offer a platform for further debate. These are new, evolving but crucially important issues, and informed conversation about the role of technology in our world is critical if these technologies are to be a positive force in history.

I mean, right? The hope is that this paper will be a resource for people new to these issues, and a fact-based starting point for further debate.  So here it is. Enjoy.

21st Century Statecraft & Digital Diplomacy

On Friday I responded to an ill-informed Foriegn Affairs article that levelled mostly unfounded criticism at the State Department's "21st Century Statecraft" initiative. Apparently I wasn't the only one irked by the article, and the editors at Foreign Policy asked me to expound upon my response, and offer a different perspective of digital diplomacy.  So I did.  Here's your teaser:

This summer, techies across Africa are racing to develop mobile-phone "apps" that make their users' everyday lives just a little bit better. The best among them will be chosen as the winners of the "Apps <4> Africa" contest, sponsored by the U.S. State Department and three local technology communities: the Nairobi-based iHub, Kampala-based Appfrica Labs, and the Social Development Network, which works throughout East Africa. Judged on such criteria as their "usefulness to the citizens, civil society organization or government of East Africa," the winner will receive "a small bit of fame and fortune" and the tools to keep honing his or her craft. What the United States hopes to get out of the project is a little bit of grassroots, bottom-up development driven by nothing more than African ingenuity and the continent's mobile-phone network.

This is "21st Century Statecraft," a new diplomatic initiative that U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has fully embraced over the past year. Forget the grandiose name; the idea behind it is actually a modest, practical one: In today's interconnected world, individuals and organizations -- not just countries -- can play a defining role in international affairs, and the State Department needs to capitalize on this new landscape. Ultimately, Foggy Bottom plans to infuse its mission with an understanding of how the global communications network ties the world together; for now, the initiative consists of a series of smaller projects designed to use the Internet, mobile phones, and social media to promote U.S. foreign-policy goals.

But to read the whole thing, I'll have to encourage you to visit Foreign Policy. Enjoy!

Are Free and Open Societies in Retreat?

The Economist has a thought-provoking article in this week's edition which discusses the findings of a new Freedom House report, "Freedom in the World 2010: A Global Erosion of Freedom."

The article has this compelling passage:

For freedom-watchers in the West, the worrying thing is that the cause of liberal democracy is not merely suffering political reverses, it is also in intellectual retreat. Semi-free countries, uncertain which direction to take, seem less convinced that the liberal path is the way of the future. And in the West, opinion-makers are quicker to acknowledge democracy’s drawbacks—and the apparent fact that contested elections do more harm than good when other preconditions for a well-functioning system are absent. It is a sign of the times that a British reporter, Humphrey Hawksley, has written a book with the title: “Democracy Kills: What’s So Good About the Vote?”.

A more nuanced argument, against the promotion of electoral democracy at the expense of other goals, has been made by other observers. Paul Collier, an Oxford professor, has asserted that democracy in the absence of other desirables, like the rule of law, can hobble a country’s progress. Mark Malloch-Brown, a former head of the UN Development Programme, is still a believer in democracy as a driver of economic advancement, but he thinks that in countries like Afghanistan, the West has focused too much on procedures—like multi-party elections—and is not open enough to the idea that other kinds of consensus might exist. At the University of California, Randall Peerenboom defends the “East Asian model”, according to which economic development naturally precedes democracy.

Whatever the eggheads may be saying, there are some obvious reasons why Western governments’ zeal to promote democracy, and the willingness of other countries to listen, have ebbed. In many quarters (including Western ones), the assault on Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, and its bloody aftermath, seemed to confirm people’s suspicion that promoting democracy as an American foreign-policy aim was ill-conceived or plain cynical.

In Afghanistan, the other country where an American-led coalition has been waging war in democracy’s name, the corruption and deviousness of the local political elite, and the flaws of last year’s election, have been an embarrassment. In the Middle East, America’s enthusiasm for promoting democracy took a dip after the Palestinian elections of 2006, which brought Hamas to office. The European Union’s “soft power” on its eastern rim has waned as enlargement fatigue has grown.

But perhaps the biggest reason why democracy’s magnetic power has waned is the rise of China—and the belief of its would-be imitators that they too can create a dynamic economy without easing their grip on political power. In the political rhetoric of many authoritarian governments, fascination with copying China’s trick can clearly be discerned.

I have believed for some time now that the way the world was developing would inevitably force President Obama and his Administration to become much more spirited global advocates of political freedom and liberty than was their initial instinct. Why?

For the great political dynamic of the early 21st century is what Fareed Zakaria has called "the rise of the rest" - or the increasingly rapid rise in power and socio-economic status twenty years of globalization has brought to many developing nations.  In these nations there are billions of similarly "rising" people, individuals and families who though this process of modernization have seen a dramatic rise in their affluence, education levels and access to information.  It seems inexorable that these rising citizens, tied to the world through the rapid beat of global technology, media and commerce, will increasingly demand greater openness, transparency, accountability and democratic institutions from their leaders.  They will want more than affluence and stability - they will want the political self-determinination and freedom they see in other nations.

As I have written before, I think the emerging ideological struggle in the world today is more open society versus closed, than it is a replay of the 20th century construct of left and right.  As this Freedom House report reminds us, it is at this moment in history, when so many nations and peoples are rising and reinventing old and less modern societies, when America and its ideological allies must make their case for their vision of how humanity will best prosper together in a very different century ahead.  We really don't know how the 21st century will turn out.  But with the world being so young now, and with so many nations going through profound transformation, we have to see this struggle to ensure successful transitions of these rising nations to modern, democratic, and free countries as the next stage of the great battle we waged to defeat totalitarianism, communism and fascism in the 20th century.  Our work, my friends, is not yet done.

In that regard I think it is critical, essential, required that this President and this Administration make it crystal clear to the people in these rising nations that America stands with them and their aspirations; that we want to work side by side with them in forging better nations with greater opportunities and freedom; that we will be patient but resolute in our commitment; for at no moment can an authoritarian government which denies basic freedoms to their people ever be considered better or even an acceptable alternative to well constructed democratic societies which offer liberty, democracy itself, free markets and the rule of law.

Of course we cannot be foolish in how we advocate for this traditional American creed in the new world of the 21st century, but nor can we ignore it.  Too many people across the world are waiting to hear from us.  And I dismiss the idea that this discussion is about "human rights," or "universal rights," as if these things are somehow secondary to the important things great powers discuss when they meet.  The firm and resolute advocacy of open and free societies has to be the very cornerstone of America's foreign policy at this critical - and exciting - juncture in human history.  It is not something left to the coffee after the diplomatic main course.   There has been no moment in our history in fact when so many people and so many nations have had the chance to rise to the level of freedom and self-determination the 21st century offers; which is why the effort to help them achieve it should be seen as the great geopolitical opportunity for America of this new era, one which must be enthusiastically seized.

We will get a sense of the state of the Administration's thinking on all this Thursday, when the very able Secretary of State will deliver an important speech on internet freedom.  My hope is that she goes big, is bold, and makes clear what is at stake, and helps us all understand the historic opportunity in front of us today.

Reflections on 21st Century Statecraft

In recent months, Secretary Hillary Clinton's State Department has been undertaking a series of actions under the heading of State's new "21st Century Statecraft" initiative. In brief, 21st century statecraft is a strategy of expanding diplomacy beyond traditional government-to-government relationships and including everyday people around the world in the business of international affairs-- often through the use of mobile and web-based technologies including social networking, online video, blogging, and SMS.

To help explain and better understand what, exactly, 21st century statecraft is, and to provide what I hope will be a useful reference, I've compiled below the initiatives of the Obama Administration that fall under this heading:

  • Nowruz Video - In March, President Obama released a video on YouTube in which he spoke directly to the people and leaders of Iran on Nowruz, the holiday marking the Iranian New Year. His address acknowledged the troubled history of the U.S.-Iran relationship, and welcomed "new beginnings" with Iran. The video has been viewed over 100,000 times, and was well-received in Iran.
  • Swat Text - After Taliban forces took over Pakistan's Swat Valley in May, the U.S. committed $100 million in humanitarian support to aid refugees. But they didn't stop there-Secretary Clinton encouraged regular citizens take part in the relief effort; by texting "swat" to the shortcode 20222 from any mobile phone, any American could automatically donate $5 to the UN Refugee Agency.
  • Virtual Student Foreign Service - In her speech at New York University's graduation ceremonies in May, Secretary Clinton announced a new initiative that connects American college students with American embassies overseas, and empowers those students to act as diplomats by engaging directly with citizens of foreign countries.
  • Cairo Speech - Shortly after Secretary Clinton unveiled the 21st Century Statecraft initiative in late May, President Obama gave a much-anticipated speech in Cairo on the relationship between the U.S. and Muslim people (not governments) around the world.
  • Twitter in Iran - The world watched rapt in June as thousands of Iranians marched in opposition to their government, which had just baldly and boldly stolen a hotly contested election. With no control over traditional media outlets, Iranian people took to Twitter to broadcast-in words, pictures, and videos-the power of the uprising and the violence of the government's suppression. With Twitter scheduled to go down for maintenance in the midst of the uprising, the State Department intervened in support of the freedom of information, as Jared Cohen, who works with Alec Ross at State, contacted Jack Dorsey at Twitter, and urged them to keep Twitter online so as not to silence the protesters in Iran. The Twitter executives obliged, and Twitter was taken offline for maintenance in the early morning hours in Iran, rather than during the mid-afternoon.
  • Congo - Alec Ross visited the eastern Congo in September, the site of one of the longest, deadliest conflicts in the modern era. He returned with ideas for two new initiatives. The first was high-tech: a mobile banking system, to allow the government and international agencies to pay their soldiers, without depending on unreliable cash deliveries through the jungle. The second was low-tech: The State Department would help put ex-combatants on the radio to use their credible voices to speak directly to the militia members and encourage them to demobilize.
  • Cuba -The means of the Obama Administration's new engagement with Cuba employs some of the tenets of 21st century statecraft-- easing remittances and travel restrictions for Cuban-Americans permits people-to-people dialogue. Additionally, relaxing sanctions on telecommunications with Cuba by allowing undersea cables and permitting cell phone carriers to do business in Cuba will empower individuals with information and communications technologies.
  • Mexico Initiative - A new collaborative effort between the State Department, the Mexican government, a Mexican telecom firm, and Mexican non-profits will address one challenge of the drug violence in the border region-the inability of citizens to anonymously and securely tip off the police. The groups, in partnership, will establish a free SMS short-code, to which Mexican citizens will be able to anonymously text tips reporting on incidences of drug-related crime, which would be published to a public database and acted upon by local police.
  • Humari Awaz - Speaking in Islamabad in October, Secretary Clinton announced American support for a mobile-phone based social network in Pakistan. The network is called Humari Awaz, which means "our voice," and it is accessible via a free SMS shortcode on all five mobile networks. Pakistanis will be able to use these networks for purely social purposes, or to pursue business, media, agricultural, and other ends. The US government will pay for the first 24 million text messages sent through Humari Awaz. The program has met with unexpectedly quick success, with half of the free texts being used in the first few weeks.
  • Civil Society 2.0 - A short time later in Marrakesh, Secretary Clinton unveiled a new "Civil Society 2.0" initiative, in which the State Department will provide funding and expertise to allow grassroots civil society organizations around the world use technology to grow and work more effectively.
  • Shanghai Townhall - On his recent trip to China, President Obama held a townhall meeting in Shanghai, at which he addressed a group of students. While the event was not broadcast as widely as the U.S. government surely would have liked, the very act of an American president speaking directly to Chinese students, and addressing, if gently, the issue of online censorship in China is a disruptive and empowering intervention for young Chinese who have never had a government official ask them what they think.
  • Addressing Afghans - A portion of President Obama's December speech on Afghanistan was directed at Afghans themselves. Naturally, very few Afghans tuned in live on TV or on the internet (broadband penetration is around 2%), but the White House took advantage of the fact that about 30% of Afghans have mobile phones: They clipped out the 45 seconds of the speech in which he spoke to the Afghan people, and dubbed the video in Arabic, Pashto, and four other languages spoken in the region. The videos, which are available over mobile networks, have reached thousands who would not otherwise have heard Obama's words.
  • Texting Haiti - Just hours after an earthquake rocked Port-au-Prince, Haiti, the State Department had successfully coordinated with mGive, a mobile donations platform, to establish a shortcode so that all Americans could donate $10 by sending a single text message. Within days, a million people had sent the word "HAITI" to 90999, raising over $10 million for the Red Cross in their relief effort.

I'm greatly encouraged by the State Department's focus on this mode of engaging with the world. Since 2006, NDN and the New Policy Institute have been writing and speaking about the power of mobile technology to change our world. The application of this technology in pursuit of our foreign policy objectives is indicative of remarkable foreward thinking, and the fruit these initiatives have already borne are testament in themselves to the future potential of this kind of statecraft.

Good Guys and Bad Guys with Powerful Tools

Alec Ross spoke at Brookings this morning on 21st Century Statecraft. His speech was good, and similar to the one he gave at PopTech earlier this year. If you want to get the gist, I'd encourage you to check out the video from that conference, or wade through my live-tweetery from today's event.

I do, however, want to delve into one particular aspect of the speech-- something he spent more time on with his DC audience than he did with the techies in Maine: the potential for new technology to be used by bad actors to nefarious ends. This is a subject that almost always seems to come up when I'm talking about technology and statecraft, particularly when I'm talking to folks schooled in low-tech ways of doing things (read: old people). 

Computer TerroristIn a few recent blog posts, I've written about ways social networks, mobile phones, and other technology can and have been used by authoritarian governments, terrorist elements, and other bad guys to do bad things.  My point, basically, is that these technologies are just tools-- neither inherently good, nor bad-- and they should never be the ends of any initiative in themselves.

A pretty unbelievable new case of the undesirable use of technology was reported in today's Wall Street Journal. Militants in Iraq and Afghanistan have been using inexpensive, off-the-shelf software to tap into the video feeds broadcasted by our drone aircraft.  They can't control the aircraft, but they can see what we see, and can remove the advantage of surprise we gain from having the drones in the air. Most unbelievably:

The U.S. government has known about the flaw since the U.S. campaign in Bosnia in the 1990s, current and former officials said. But the Pentagon assumed local adversaries wouldn't know how to exploit it, the officials said. (h/t HH)

As they say in Iraq, all the stupid insurgents are dead. Ten years ago, it might have been safe to assume that a militant hiding in a cave in the Hindu Kush wouldn't be able to hack into the video feed of an unmanned drone. Now it's foolish and dangerous to make that assumption.

In his response to questions about bad actors using new technology, Ross made one very good point, very clearly: The fact that al Qaeda, the Taliban, Hezbollah, and the Iranian government are using new technology is all the more reason to do the same ourselves. Indeed, if we fail to engage people using the increasingly ubiquitous tools that tie our world together, we immediately cede that battleground to our enemies.

Tomorrow: Alec Ross at Brookings on 21st Century Statecraft

At Brookings tomorrow, Alec Ross will be introducing the State Department's 21st Century Statecraft initiative to Washington.  He's given speeches on it in New York and Camden, Maine, so the assumption must be that DC is ready to handle it. The event is full, but I'll be there live-tweeting and post-blogging, so if you can't make it, tune in for updates.

Alec RossIt's still a somewhat vague, ill-defined concept, but 21st Century Statecraft is a hot topic for technology nerds and foreign policy wonks alike. (A big shout out if you also fall in both categories) Essentially, it's about leveraging new technology-- like SMS, social networking, online video, etc.-- to expand diplomacy beyond the traditional government-to-government relationships, and include everyday people around the world in the business of international relations.

I don't think it's too bold to say that NDN played a role in developing some of the ideas that underpin 21st Century Statecraft.  In particular, a 2007 paper co-authored by Ross and Simon Rosenberg argued that our world is increasingly tied together in a single, global information and communications network-- a change facilitated largely by the rapid adoption of mobile phones-- and that our government had to do a better job working in this changed world, and preparing its citizens to operate in this world.

This concept of a fully networked globe has been at the core of the new 21st Century Statecraft initiative that Ross will talk about tomorrow. If nearly every person on earth has access to the same information, and the same basic tools of communication, this opens radically new doors for American diplomacy, and can facilitate entirely new ways for our country to advance our interests and promote our values around the world.

Nobody said this technology wasn't disruptive. Like I've said before-- it's changing everything.

Addressing Afghans

Missed this last week, but a portion of President Obama's speech on Afghanistan was directed at the Afghan people (speaking directly to foreign peoples-- a cornerstone of 21st Century Statecraft).  Obviously, not a lot of Afghans were watching the speech live, but the new media folks at the White House figured a way to make the President's words accessible to many everyday people in Afghanistan. From Katie Stanton (soon to be of the State Department):

Looking at data on Whitehouse.gov, we don’t have a lot of traffic coming from Afghanistan and Pakistan because Internet penetration in the region is relatively low at 2% and 11% respectively. However, mobile penetration is much higher. 52% of the 177 million people in Pakistan have at least 1 mobile device and 30% of the 28.4 million in Afghanistan.  Given this trend, we produced short video clips of the President’s segment to Afghans and had it dubbed in Arabic, Dari, Pashto, and Urdu in order for them to be distributed locally on mobile devices.

I do wonder how many people in Afghanistan have cell phones that are capable of playing video, but I think this is important regardless. Yet more evidence that our government is thinking seriously about engaging not jut governments, but peoples around the world.

Thinking about 21st Century Statecraft

In recent months, I've been writing a lot about 21st Century Statecraft, the new initiative of the State Department that leverages the expanding global information network to communicate with and empower people around the world.  It's about expanding diplomacy and development beyond the traditional government-to-government rubric, and involving regular people in the conversation. It's about asking-- when there are more 3G networks in Goma, Congo than there are in Camden, Maine, what does this mean and how can we use this fact to empower everyday people around the world?

You can expect more thinking and writing on this subject from Global Mobile, but in the meanwhile, check out this video of Alec Ross-- the State Department's primary exponent of 21st Century Statecraft-- speaking at the PopTech conference back in October. This is, I'd say, the clearest exposition of what exactly 21st Century Statecraft is, and what it means. Enjoy:

PopTech 2009: Alec Ross from PopTech on Vimeo.


Calling on Chinese Bloggers

The President is in Tokyo today, and will be in China for the first half of next week.  In advance of the trip, our State Department hosted simultaneous press conferences in Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou for audiences composed primarily of bloggers-- a first for the U.S. in China. The attendees-- a mix of English- and Chinese-language bloggers-- were able to openly ask questions and comment on China's internet restrictions, and several bloggers live-Tweeted the proceedings.

Obama Air Force OneThis is yet another example of the very smart 21st Century Statecraft being plied by the Clinton Department of State. Rather than limiting ourselves to interacting strictly with the governments of foreign countries, we can engage directly with people around the world. By lending credence to China's bloggers, we help them in their effort to become a respected and efficacious voice for change in their own country. Even in cases in which our own objectives don't quite line up with the ideals of the bloggers themselves, empowering a multitude of voices is a big step in the right direction.

We do, naturally, seem to be getting a bit of pushback from Beijing. When he stops in Shanghai next week, President Obama is hoping to hold a town hall meeting with Chinese youth in his typical free-flowing, agenda-free format.  Rumors abound that the Chinese and U.S. officials are having some trouble agreeing on the terms for the event, and it may be scuttled as a result. Fine. I, for one, would rather see the town hall ditched than see a phony compromise event in which the attendees have no freedom to speak their mind.

Secretary Clinton Announces "Civil Society 2.0"

Speaking today in Marrakesh, Secretary Hillary Clinton announced a new initiative of the State Department, "Civil Society 2.0." Under this program, State will provide funding and expertise to allow grassroots civil society organizations around the world use technology to grow and work more effectively.  From the press release:

“Civil Society 2.0” includes the following components:

  1. Deploying a team of experienced technologists to work with civil society organizations around the globe to provide training and support to build their digital capacity. The competencies developed in the trainings will include:
    • How to build a website
    • How to blog
    • How to launch a text messaging campaign
    • How to build an online community
    • How to leverage social networks for a cause
  2. Partnering these technologists with local civil society organizations and governments to develop and implement technology-based solutions to local problems.
  3. Publishing interactive “how to” programs and curriculum online to help organizations that do not have access to in-person assistance.
  4. Creating a curated open platform that allows any citizen or company to develop, share or suggest content for the curriculum.
  5. Allocating $5 million in grant funds for pilot programs in the Middle East and North Africa that will bolster the new media and networking capabilities of civil society organizations and promote online learning in the region.

In the past, this kind of capacity building would have been undertaken by Western governments and NGOs. By letting foreign peoples and governments tackle their own problems, it's much more likely that those problems will be addressed and solved in effective, locally-relevant ways. What's more, this spread of technology will help promote American ideas, and make the U.S. a more sympathetic actor in the eyes of those around the world.

This is yet another element of the very savvy "21st Century Statecraft" that Secretary Clinton and her advisor Alec Ross are applying around the globe, and a part of the "Smart Power" approach to global leadership that the Obama Administration has embraced.

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