Global digital cooperation
The UN Secretary-General engaged member states and all stakeholders broadly towards the design and launch of his Roadmap for Digital Cooperation. During the launch in June 2020, the UNSG delivered call for action for all “to connect, protect and respect people in the digital age.”
As part of this effort, the UAE and Germany consulted over a hundred countries and numerous stakeholders from November 2019 to July 2020 on the future of global digital cooperation. They found that the world is aligned on the need for effective global cooperation that is transparent and agile, and that enables us to maximize the potential of technologies as force multipliers for good across all walks of life and across industries.8'1 Interest was also garnered in building on existing platforms through the UN’s Internet Governance Forum, with provisions to support inclusion and meet development needs, and bridging multiple initiatives at the regional and national levels. Members of the IGF community have been proactive through the Working Group on Strategy and Strengthening in working towards this goal.
Nonetheless, it is clear that the piecemeal approach to digital governance is insufficient, and that any shocks exacerbate what we currently have. What is needed is a systemic approach, an honest consideration of HOW we govern. This has emerged in the logical layer of governance — where no one “owns” the internet but we have a way to collectively benefit from it. Former concerns by states about the US Department of Commerce having the final say on ICANN activities have been mitigated, and the multistakeholder model works well. The economic and social layer, however, are unsolved. There are regional ways of cooperating, and some national efforts. Yet no system currently exists with the ability to develop regulations that can keep up with internet speed. The IGF itself is not designed for that. The top-down historic UN approach may not meet the speed either. So perhaps a mechanism is needed to identify protocols that we might work with?
A renegotiated social contract could also pave way for decentralized governance, where people are empowered to develop protocols and solutions. Shifting the paradigm of power from power over countries to power with other countries could be a strong opportunity to strengthen multilateralism, and address global challenges as climate action, pandemics, and digital cooperation, as advocated by Joseph S. Nye.83 Nye has advocated for a focus on “smart power” — defined as a powerful blend of defence, diplomacy and development in the toolkit of global influence, the authors here would add a fourth “d” for “digital” as a force catalyst moving forward.
Digital holds numerous possibilities for diplomacy. To note one example: big data may be used to digest information and insights, with diplomats identifying what constitutes “relevant” information. Media analysis may be used to predict and prevent threats before they happen, and by having a stronger pulse on what people want, governments may be able to respond more effectively.86 As such, one could foresee opportunities for public trust in authority to grow.
Former UK Ambassador to Lebanon Tom Fletcher poses an optimistic way forward, as new technology provides opportunities to jump-start the connection between the public and public servants, dependent on “authentic, engaging, purposeful” communication. Fletcher famously tweeted 10,000 times in his four-year term in Lebanon, explaining “I’m in a battle with ISIL in the digital space [who sent 40,000 tweets in a day as they overtook Mosul]... Digital has transformed our work as diplomats, if we don’t fill the digital space, others will.”87
Ultimately, in looking to the future, we must consider the human element, and how technology can ensure that no one is left behind. The future of digital cooperation must include voices from around the world, particularly from developing countries, in the dialogue on global digital cooperation, so that the models we build are representative of the world, and the hopes and aspirations of all people. If technology is changing the relationship between governments and citizens, it is on governments to drive a positive, empowering change.
It is also clear that a multistakeholder approach is more relevant in the “new multilateralism” that has emerged in recent years.88 The standing ofnon-state actors working hand-in-hand with diplomats on matters of governance both online and offline also becomes increasingly relevant.89 Hierarchies become less relevant than “networks” of cooperation in an increasingly interdependent world.90
Ultimately, the promise of digital technologies depends on digital cooperation that is people-centred and multistakeholder.
Three key recommendations are, first and foremost, meaningful access and education. People all around the world should have the capacities to be content creators and participate fully in the digital space. The numerous efforts underway, including the GIGA public-private partnership led by UNIGEF and the ITU to connect all schools, is an excellent start. This must remain at the top of the policy agenda.
Second, in order to allow for the enjoyment of technologies by all people, adequate, coordinated regulation is necessary. These regulation mechanisms need to benefit from lessons learned around the world, and remain agile to be able to evolve at the same speed as technology itself. Regional agreements on privacy and cybersecurity may offer a baseline for nonnative agreements, with more needed at the global level.
Finally, all of the above is dependent on cooperation between and within states, companies, user communities and the United Nations. This chapter has demonstrated that no single actor can address the growing challenges or harness growing opportunities alone, and the promise of the Charter of the UN agreed in 1945 depends on our ability to cooperate in the digital space. Will the future of diplomacy be digital? Unlikely. However, the future success of diplomacy depends on our ability to adapt the practice to a hybrid model that better leverages digital technologies as a complement to in-person interactions.
Much of history has been dominated by a narrative of power “over” one another. The United Nations was one of the first global attempts at a concept later defined by Joseph Nye as “Smart Power,” or power “with” one another.91 With COVID-19 and digital technologies acting as great equalizers, it is clear that the same cooperative spirit is needed for our digital future, driven by diplomacy.
Special Article by Doreen Bogdan-Martin