Published in July 2016 issue of Prospect Magazine
“Diplomacy is Darwinian: its practitioners need to evolve to survive.” This is the first line of Tom Fletcher’s excellent new book on diplomacy—or perhaps more correctly “statecraft.”
Fletcher was a British diplomat for many years serving as ambassador in Lebanon between 2011 and 2015. Early on in the book, he describes the evolution of his career: “When I started, we had to consider how policy would look on the Sky News ticker at the bottom of the screen: 140 words,” he writes. “By the time I left, we were judging how it would look on Twitter: 140 characters.”
At the heart of it all is connectivity. The “tweeting Talleyrands,” as he calls them, need to interact with their audiences. Diplomats must learn the language of this new digital terrain in the way they once learnt Mandarin or Arabic. And for this they need to give their audience information on platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.
But all in moderation. Quoting BuzzFeed founder Jonah Peretti’s dictum that brands are harmed when they give their audience content they don’t want, the reader comes to realise that diplomacy is becoming yet one more “content provider”—and has to play by the rules accordingly. Keep the audience interested; keep them clicking.
The future is digital: hierarchy and traditional authority are being challenged as never before. Fletcher argues that as “Socrates claimed to be ‘not a citizen of Athens or Greece, but of the world,’” so we should be aiming for a period of “citizen diplomacy.” This is a time when Fletcher’s definition of diplomacy—promoting coexistence—is becoming an increasingly important part of everyday life.