The Era Of ‘Tech Diplomacy’ Is Here
Technology is the new frontier of international relations. The interaction is bi-directional: technology is defining diplomatic matters while diplomacy is also influencing the development and deployment of technology.
Take semiconductors as an example. This is a technology that forms the foundation of digital economy, national security, and productivity in almost all industries. Global supply chain in the semiconductor industry is shaping U.S. foreign policy. Conversely, America’s diplomatic effort has been redefining the supply chain.
Tech diplomacy is different from science diplomacy, which became a key pillar for the U.S. and other countries since World War II. Scientists participated in treaty negotiations, engaged in bilateral summits and served as attachés at embassies. Primary topics included nuclear proliferation, super-collider construction, human space exploration and environmental science.
In this decade, new topics have taken center stage in foreign policy: chips, 6G, AI, autonomy, digital health and advanced manufacturing. How we craft foreign policy and how we develop these critical technologies are intertwined. It is time for a clear mission, enduring strategies and effective actions on tech diplomacy.
The foremost premise of American tech diplomacy is that technology must advance freedom. Technological advancements do not necessarily reflect values of a democratic society or contribute to human rights. Quite the contrary, they are increasingly abused to suppress liberty around the world and to lock in the Orwellian “1984” with digital authoritarianism.
Tech diplomacy needs to keep scoring crucial wins for democracies, free enterprises and fair markets throughout the globe. It also needs to engage the private sector, here in the U.S. and in partners and allies, much more actively than science diplomacy typically did. Most critically, it needs a talent pipeline, both within the career foreign service and outside, to build the capacity for policymaking that benefit from those essential engineering details of the corresponding technology.