Suddenly, we’re finding out how much can be done virtually. The coronavirus lockdown has forced businesses and governments to adjust, relying much more (if they are able) on teleconferencing and remote working. For many sectors, however, the coronavirus has essentially pressed “fast forward” on trends that were anyway taking place.

Even before the lockdown, technology had been changing diplomacy. Global news and social media mean that information about what’s happening on the other side of the planet is available practically in realtime. Leaders can communicate directly with one another and diplomats can work from their home country.

On the other hand, so much diplomacy is about personal relationships. It’s really hard to share a coffee and network informally over Zoom. Living in a country gives you a much better sense about the mood and general direction governments and societies might be heading. Can you replicate that digitally?

What do our readers think? We had a comment come in from Stadex, who points out that diplomats must generate a lot of carbon emissions flying all over the world. Wouldn’t it be better for the climate (and the public budget) if their activities were conducted remotely?

To get a response, we spoke to Prof. Corneliu Bjola, Associate Professor of Diplomatic Studies at Oxford University in the UK. What would he say?

Next up, we had a comment from Jthk, who argues that President Donald Trump is basically running the United States by Twitter. Does that extend to foreign policy? Is there a risk of diplomats being sidelined or undermined by “Twitter diplomacy”?

To get a reaction, we spoke to Prof. Sieglinde Gstöhl, Director of the EU International Relations and Diplomacy Studies Department at the College of Europe. What does she think?

Finally, we wanted to get the opinion of a diplomat on this topic. So, we spoke to Gunnar Wiegand, Managing Director for Asia and the Pacific at the European External Action Service (EEAS). What are his thoughts on whether diplomacy can be conducted remotely?

Are diplomats still relevant? Wouldn’t it be better for the climate and the public budget if their activities were conducted remotely? And is there a risk of diplomats being sidelined or undermined by Twitter diplomacy? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!

IMAGE CREDITS: BigStock – (c) Mangostar

52 comments Post a commentcomment

What do YOU think?

  1. avatar

    I absolutely agree with Prof. Gstöhl, the emphasis should be on the changing roles and transnational, liberal approach when answering these questions. Mostly what scholars questioned regarding the policymaking and state relation concepts and predicted the importance of the transnational in the early 90s are BAU procedures today. Obviously there is a discord between the classic diplomacy concept compared to present practices.

  2. avatar

    They’d be, but we don’t have them!

    • avatar

      the quality of politics and diplomacy. The level of the mendacity of the “elite”. Elite not only in meaning of the life standards the single persons and families, the same as well as intellectual and more. I don’t accept this elite and the hegemony of such persons for to leading of myself. I hope my statement was helpful.

  3. avatar

    A better questions is – are diplomats actually lobbyists, and why are they allowed at all?

  4. avatar

    Well, embassies still play an important role in providing services for citizens in foreign countries, or foreigners looking for information on a country they want to visit or move to. What I find objectionable is the concept of diplomatic immunity or the idea of an embassy as sovereign soil of the represented nation. This is being used as a means for espionage and smuggling, most disturbingly in the novichok incident in the UK perpetrated by Russian agents with utter impunity.
    I think you can still make a case that full-time ambassadors have more intimate knowledge of the society and government than could necessarily be afforded by more impersonal forms of gathering data, and so they are still useful to an extent. But the concept of immunity should be ended. It is being abused.

  5. avatar

    Depends whether they are representing their own personal bias or if they can represent the government of the day. A great example being olly robbins who was so pro EU he didn’t negotiate but capitulate versus our diplomats now who represent the actual will of the UK public

  6. avatar

    Maybe the question would be more engaging if both gloves were from real countries. The eu isn’t a country and your constant trying to ignore the nation states which make up the eu and are actual countries just makes people turn away even more. Creating a fake flag and anthem doesn’t make a country

    • avatar
      Debating Europe

      Well spotted, the EU is not a country. But it is a recognized actor in global diplomacy, with delegations in over 140 countries and a diplomatic service, the European External Action Service – EEAS, who we contacted to answer the question “Can diplomacy be conducted remotely?”, which was sent in by one of our readers.

    • avatar

      so do the member states which are real countries

    • avatar

      By that same logic, if it can be called that, the U.K isn’t a country either, it’s an amalgamation of Wales, England and Scotland, currently occupying a part of the island nation of Ireland, ruled over by a covidiot fulfilling the role of prime minister because the queen is too busy eating duracell.

    • avatar

      when was the United Kingdom formed? Does the eu have the same power as the UK government to raise tax etc no. The eu is a false construct and looks like its on its way out.

    • avatar

      Whatever bojo boy

    • avatar

      lol is that your best comeback, enjoy your failing eu. Maybe if you came from a country that actually paid for it rather then takes you would understand the UK doesn’t want to pay for your country, your kids or your roads. Sort it yourself

    • avatar

      enjoy larger contributions now you don’t have all those lovely British pounds to waste

    • avatar

      oh by the way, NATO delivered peace in Europe, nothing to do with the eu mafia. They just deal with bankrupting countries and putting their youth out of work

    • avatar

      You can keep your pounds, it’s a favorable trade off to not having Brits throwing a tantrum every time we try to achieve something.

    • avatar

      I’m sure your NHS can REALLY use those pounds you save right now, I bet you could invest like 350 million pounds a week into your NHS now that you left the Union…right?!

    • avatar

      already paying more than that into the nhs following the election of a government that supports its citizens rather that bowing to Brussels. I’m sure the 8/9bn net contribution will come in handy though. Enjoy your eu money printing though, especially if the Northern countries decide to split from the euro with a new currency . At last an end to free movement of benefit scroungers. Leaving the European mafia was the best thing this country could have done and we will benefit enormously being able to manage our economy for our needs after covid, whereas all you lot are tied to a declining market. Especially now German citizens and ditch citizens are getting tired of paying the bills too. In every way country that actually pays in money, anti EU sentiment is growing daily. Italy now anti EU, France on its way, Germany sick of paying, Netherlands sick of paying. Will the eu be so great when you actually have to pay a net contribution instead of gaining from other tax payers

  7. avatar

    The EU has the boot of the USA, as expected by the founders of the EU always on the sale of the USA and especially always behind them

  8. avatar

    The main functions of diplomats are: representation and protection of the interests and nationals of the sending State; initiation and facilitation of strategic agreements; treaties and conventions; promotion of information; trade and commerce; technology; and friendly relations.

  9. avatar
    EU Reform-Proactive

    Is a holder of a diploma or qualified in something called a “Diplomat”?

    A politician or a diplomat?

    The Maltese envoy to Finland recently set an example of how diplomacy should not be practiced and what a diplomat should not do in the EU. He was politically not correct.

    We know that sovereign countries have a Diplomatic Corps & given diplomatic immunity for their political missions abroad. The EU, not being a country, has to project an image of one- through costly representation.

    Does the EU have a foreign policy- what is it?

    The cost of the geographical spread, huge numbers, and duplicating diplomats seems wasteful. Leaner times are here for all- politicians & diplomats alike.

  10. avatar

    EEAS staff enjoys up to 18 weeks of paid leave per year. On top of this, EU officials are, on average, 19 days per year on sickness leave. Do the math.

  11. avatar

    Embassies still play an important role in foreign countryside.

  12. avatar

    Do you know the meaning of ” LOBYISTS ” ??????

  13. avatar

    Technology brings rationalization.

  14. avatar

    Never been, have none, educate health professionals up to specialists

  15. avatar

    My country has lots of diplomatics all over rhe world. But it sounds like that when they are needed they do nothing to ease the problems

  16. avatar

    Maybe it’s important to feel the other person to get a feeling of whom you are dealing with. If that was the case we would have solved everything by phone decades now

  17. avatar

    Of course. Why do you think Bulgaria lost two world wars 100 and 75 years ago? Because historically we have strong army and weak diplomats. Unlike Greece which has extremely skillful diplomats who make them the Great Powers favourites.

    • avatar

      Христо, it’s always our complaint that we have useless diplomats whereas Turks have great diplomats and therefore win diplomatic “wars”

  18. avatar

    Diplomats representing Eu would be far enough and money saving for a change.

  19. avatar

    Yes. Just a bit different role, more about analysing and communicating than collecting info, and probably, more about making sense of reality in a world of fake news. Read this for inspiration…/dp/0008127581

  20. avatar

    EU should give an example on that

    • avatar

      And it gives a good demarcation in the gaspilage of money pollution with an execution of people walking between Brussels and Strasbourg with a motorcade of truckloads of paperwork that doesn’t serve. fill the scenery, following good lunches to reinforce forces to return after a fateful day of work, so much work that before leaving Strasbourg, it smells like Brussels perspiration!.

  21. avatar

    Where never relevant…just moneytakers

  22. avatar

    Good question, time to rethink and time to save tax payers money for other purposes

  23. avatar

    Yes, diplomats are still relevant and diplomacy is still well and alive! LR

  24. avatar

    are EU politicians still relevant ???? For sure NO

  25. avatar

    Yes, they definitely are and will be relevant. The presence and eye to eye conversation, a handshake, and time at the table make representatives and nations get together and make collaboration easier and smoother.

  26. avatar

    Apart from expense accounts, EEAS has never achieve a tangible result since it was created.

  27. avatar

    We don’t need no diplomacy. We need Democracy.

  28. avatar

    we no longer want this Europe, these politicians and European politicians with outrageous remuneration, indecent privileges, total irresponsibility, who do everything for their individual interests and egoes and nothing for the citizen and who are poisoning our lives

  29. avatar

    LETS COME OUT OF UE, eurozone, NATO. Let’s put an end to the people’s poverty by these unelected people.

  30. avatar

    Rich people who live generously and do nothing but have fun. Get rid of it!

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