21st Century Statecraft with Alec Ross

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Published on 11 Nov 2010, 19:10
While the title of Senior Advisor for Innovation at the State Department may sound vague, the problems Alec Ross and his colleagues tackle are very real; from poverty to pandemics, from disaster to diplomacy.

The department is cognizant that there are seismic shifts occurring in how information and people interact and engage with one another and it requires a broadening of the practice statecraft to include the enabling and support of relationships between non-state actors. That is a fairly radical idea when you think that the department still has many corners of the world to which a diplomatic cable is the way information gets transmitted between representatives. The notion is quite a bit more elaborate than giving diplomats Twitter training, or simply using social media to push "the message" out, it is as much about connecting people to resources, be they NGOs to technologists, private companies to governments or people to aid, directly, efficiently and effectively.

There are some dollars that pour through for new acts of digital diplomacy, but more often, the State Department has used its clout to become a convener of sorts, a technology matchmaker bringing bright minds from the private sector as well as the NGO world together in a series of Tech@State conferences. Previous ones have included gatherings revolving around leveraging mobile technology, finding and empowering technology assistance to a the recovery of Haiti and more recently rethinking Civil Society.

Whether it be figuring out ways that witnesses and victims of narco-violence can safely and anonymously report crimes in Mexico, or victims of rape can face their attackers through virtual courts in the Congo, or whether food can reach those in the wake of a natural disaster in Pakistan, what Ross argues that supporting these efforts is crucial to how statecraft will function going forward.

As much as technology can facilitate communications in the scenarios outlined above, agents, be they state actors or non-state actors are already figuring out the same tools and techniques to further their own anti-American agendas, and part of Ross' role is to keep the State Department aware, if not to help counter those messages.

For more background on what the State Department defines as 21st Century Statecraft check out a fascinating essay titled America's Edge (requires one-time free registration) by Anne-Marie Slaughter in Foreign Affairs. It was published around the same time that the former Dean of the Woodrow Wilson school at Princeton University was appointed as the new Director of Policy Planning at the State Department. There is a more recent essay by Eric Shmidt and Jared Cohen of Google titled The Digital Disruption also in Foreign Affairs which may help inform the challenges facing diplomacy. Jared Cohen only recently moved to Google, his previous work was with Alec Ross at State pushing 21st Century Statecraft. The New York Times profiled the duo this past summer. Think tanker Sam Dupont of NDN gathered a list of 21st century statecraft initiatives in early 2010.

Matthew Kielty edited this video. Follow Hari and Alec on Twitter.
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