Moving beyond traditional diplomacy is the true challenge that awaits Senator Kerry. Traditional diplomacy is characterized by an excessive faith in the potential benefits of ‘engagement’ with rogue regimes and dictators. Rather then dealing exclusively with governments, Secretary Clinton opened the engagement to the masses, the people, civil society, think tanks, the business sector, and the growing communities of innovators and coalitions.
Secretary Kerry will have to face this new way of actuating foreign policy in a world where governments are not the only interlocutors. Let’s call it social diplomacy, where social actors play as important a role as Presidents and Prime Ministers.
This shift is partly linked to the spread of technology and how innovation – not just technology per se – has changed the way we now see the world. Social media and mobile communications have increased the speed of the information cycle as well as how widely available news and information have become. They have also empowered citizens making their voices louder while bringing change all around the world and bridging the gap between the people and the democratic structures they want.
We’ve seen it the importance of technology in foreign relations in what is now known as the Arab Spring. From the town of Sidi Bouzid, where the 2010 Tunisian Revolution originated – spreading out to social networks like Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube – to the protests in Egypt, Libya, Yemen, and Syria.
Technology was not the cause of these movements, rather it accelerated the process, but they showed the power of the best of old ideas allied with the best of new technology – iFreedom. As technology for the sake of technology is not the final objective, the focus should be on complementing traditional diplomacy with new tools and a clear vision on the road ahead.
The latter is where John Kerry, whose life seems like audition for Secretary of State excels.
“In a sense, John’s entire life has prepared him for this role,” President Obama said of Kerry, when he announced his pick to succeed Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. Kerry has traveled around the globe on behalf of the Administration to mend frayed relationships and has played a central role in every major foreign policy debate for nearly 30 years.
“I’ve appreciated John’s partnership in helping to advance so many of my foreign policy priorities, including the ratification of the New START Treaty,” as Obama highlighted. “I’ve called on his talents and diplomatic skills on several occasions, on complex challenges from Sudan and South Sudan to the situation in Afghanistan. And each time he has been exemplary.”
But Kerry’s high profile diplomatic skills will have to face a new balance between the old and the new, between tradition and innovation, between the power of policies and the power of ideas.
Today’s State Department, as shaped in the past four years by Secretary Clinton, works on different fronts. It has incubated innovation and ideas to create a better balance between the “Billiard Ball World” and the “Lego World”.
The first is “a world in which states are reduced to their heads of state, their foreign ministry, and their army, and they interact with other states almost entirely in terms of power,”. The second is “a world in which states come apart […] and have the ability to network or partner or make an alliance with social actors. […] It is a horizontal world. There are no ladders because there are no hierarchies.
In other words, rather then focusing only on policies – most times forged at the White House and actuated at the State Department – Secretary Kerry will have to familiarize himself with a world in terms of “Lego” bricks and to harness the power of innovation. It is a challenging task that Clinton was able to address quite successfully – but not without set backs and criticism.
Clinton initiated a veritable revolution in the way diplomacy is implemented, not only in the United States, but also all around the world. Hillary Clinton helped re-focused the State Department to better understand – as well as interact with.
While John Kerry is very familiar with the behind-closed-doors diplomacy, he’s not a novice when it comes to technology and harnessing innovation.
Kerry has everything in place to forge a new era at the State Department and leave a long-lasting imprint in American foreign policy. Innovation and ediplomacy are part of Hillary Clinton’s legacy. What will Secretary Kerry’s be?
By Guylain Gustave Moke