Face-to-face diplo­macy isn’t nec­es­sary any­more.

The Washington Post Sunday - - OUTLOOK -

Ac­cord­ing to a 2012 At­lantic ar­ti­cle, “dig­i­tal diplo­macy . . . faces such high ex­pec­ta­tions as a sup­pos­edly rev­o­lu­tion­ary tech­nol­ogy.” In­deed, af­ter the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion pri­or­i­tized dig­i­tal diplo­macy, and with some hail­ing it as a way for “gov­ern­ments and ci­ti­zens to com­mu­ni­cate faster and more ef­fec­tively,” one might come to the con­clu­sion that high-tech diplo­macy could soon edge out old-fash­ioned diplo­matic work.

So­cial net­work­ing is use­ful as a diplo­matic tool, but only as a com­ple­ment to the work of face-to-face con­tacts with key au­di­ences and de­ci­sion-mak­ers. There comes a point in hu­man re­la­tions (par­tic­u­larly when deal­ing with an­other so­ci­ety and culture) when you must en­gage face to face, in the lo­cal lan­guage, to de­velop the trust and com­mit­ted re­la­tion­ships that we need to dis­cuss se­ri­ous in­ter­na­tional is­sues (in­clud­ing, as an ex­treme ex­am­ple, mil­i­tary and/or diplo­matic sup­port).

For in­stance, then-Sec­re­tary of State John Kerry didn’t Skype in to Ukraine but in­stead vis­ited that coun­try twice in re­cent years, first in March 2014 in the face of the Rus­sian cam­paign to an­nex Crimea and then in July 2016 to pro­mote sol­i­dar­ity with the United States amid sep­a­ratist fight­ing. He per­son­ally took his mes­sage to Kiev, mak­ing his point more force­fully than if he had de­liv­ered it through an elec­tronic trans­mis­sion. We ob­vi­ously didn’t roll back the Rus­sians, but it was a clear demon­stra­tion of where we stood and our will­ing­ness to send per­son­nel in the flesh to make our point.

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