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Modern means of communications

For many observers, the modern means of electronic communication constitute the most obvious structural change to the environment in which diplomats operate. The diplomat will never win in a speed race against the journalist. Nor should he or she. The press is not the enemy. The media and diplomacy need to be seen as complementary to each other; they also depend on each other. The modern diplomat is aware of that and will consciously integrate the press into his daily work.

Diplomats will use their special confidential contacts, the empathy they have developed vis-à-vis the receiving state and its political class to report on long term trends, analyze developments and, more importantly, to propose modalities for reaction, to describe scenarios for future developments and also to sound warnings if these developments may be disadvantageous or even dangerous for the interests of his or her own country. Diplomats must have the courage to also be the bearers of bad news, although many of their predecessors in ancient times suffered direly from such actions. In particular, diplomats should also have the necessary integrity to use their foreign vintage points to signal developments back home that may harbor problems for the future of their country’s interests.

The effects of information technology (it) on the operation of the diplomatic service

At first glance it might look as if diplomacy has not changed all that much due to the advent of IT, as if diplomacy were to resist change. To some extent this is true, since there are no doubt retarding factors, such as a slower generational change in comparison to the business sector but also the particular relevance of the temporal factor in diplomatic procedure. In diplomacy, probably more than in other professions, a fast decision is not necessarily the best decision. Most importantly, however, we should keep in mind that - again in diplomacy more than in other professions – human input, the human factor has considerable importance. Thus personal contacts, human expertise and experience, in-built controls and feedback mechanisms, characteristic for diplomatic procedures and not necessarily fast or highly efficient, will continue to exert influence over diplomacy making the re-engineering of diplomatic procedures a more subtle and complex exercise[23].

At the same time even in very traditional diplomatic services many changes due to the advent of IT have already occurred, sometimes not easily noticeable since they follow trends that we are observing also elsewhere in society. Some changes are in the early beginnings, so that their true impact has not yet gained too much attention within the diplomatic community. In the following, in view of their likely importance in the near future, these developments and emerging trends will be described in some detail.

Internet as information tool for the diplomat:

Today it has become quite standard for the modern diplomat to have a tailor made mosaic consisting of the web sites of different national and international news agencies on his or her computer desktop or laptop and to consult them first thing in the morning. Secondly, every diplomat needs to have the homepages of all organisations and institutions, relevant for his work, ready on her or his list of ”favourites”. Diplomats today will be electronically connected with colleagues all over the world and thus can quickly and informally gather important information. A tremendous shift in the main focus of diplomatic work occurs: no more factual reporting, no tele-copying of documents that in former times would have been obtained only after using a lot of diplomatic charm on some insider. Internet access increases the amount of information readily available. However, this information needs to be sorted and also be put in context. Factual reporting is best left to the public media. Diplomacy, even more than it has done hitherto, must concentrate on in depth analysis and drafting recommendations for action and reaction

While information gathering has become so much easier, information management has and will continue to become much more important. The days of the old filing procedures are gone; new electronic procedures need to be worked out and established. They need to make collected and saved information accessible to all those within an organisation who need to have access to them. The danger that only highly personalised storage systems are developed must be countered. Easier information access brings more knowledge, which must be administered and managed well. Information managers need to be educated and given adequate places in the hierarchy of foreign ministries.

Let us turn now to the question of working procedures within a ministry: what has the introduction of Intranet systems changed, where will the development go? In the Austrian Foreign Service today, as a matter of course, every officer up to the highest echelon and the great majority of officers abroad are linked up and have easiest electronic access to each other. In addition to electronic mail, electronic files have been introduced in the ministry; speeding up the decision making process without paper that has to be moved up and down the ministry’s scale of hierarchy.

The introduction of Intranet-systems has brought about most important changes for the diplomatic service. Among them:

- direct contacts between all officers, without the need for prior authorization, to get a message, an inquiry, an information note out or to get it received. The welcome results are higher motivation, no loss of time and greater sense of responsibility among younger colleagues;

- development of an informal reporting style;

- teamwork: officers can – independently from their geographic location – work together on a report to the minister, a draft statement, a position paper. The strict delineation between central authority and missions abroad is slowly vanishing;

- ministerial structures and lines of command at missions are being redefined, flatter authority, more delegation of responsibility are necessary by-products;

- introduction of task-oriented structures independent of the physical location of the diplomats involved: limited and geographically dispersed experience or academic background in particular areas (e.g. international law) can more easily be pooled together electronically, thus also creating incentives for the continuous upkeep of specialisation (particularly important for smaller services);

- the introduction of Intranet systems leads to flatter lines of authority and increased possibilities for team working. Task-oriented organisation will change the relationship between the ministry and missions abroad;

- missions ought to be better integrated into the overall structure of the ministry, including decision making;

- integrated resource management needs to preserve the standard functions of missions abroad in relation to their geographic location and combine these functions with new tasks relating to the available expertise in individual missions, which can be employed for specific projects.

Within the EU the ”COREU” system (Correspondence Européenne) is used for exchange of information and position shaping in the context of the Common foreign and Security policy (CFSP). All foreign ministries, the Council Secretariat and the Commission are interconnected. Per year some 13.000 COREUS are exchanged. Over the last years this number has undergone a steady but fairly slow increase. The number of COREUS initiated by individual countries figures between app. 300 and 700 according to size and related foreign policy importance. Countries holding the rotating presidency generate higher numbers of COREUs. The COREU-System has quickly developed into an excellent information network, an important means for substantial co-ordination and an operative tool to draft and finalise position papers, EU Statements and demarches.

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