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Words From Charlie - Foreword to the Dialogue on Diplomacy and Technology 2013 Report

This report emanates from the second annual Aspen Institute Dialogue on Diplomacy and Technology. The Dialogue addresses ways that diplomacy can and should incorporate new information and communications technologies (ICT) in the days and years ahead. Given the social, many-to-many nature of these new technologies, it naturally focuses on public and citizen diplomacy, though not exclusively. In the first year, the Dialogue explored how technology has changed the nature of diplomacy in all its facets: traditional, public, citizen, cultural and business diplomacies.

The topic for the 2013 Dialogue examined how social networks, peer-to-peer and mobile technologies can change the landscape of diplomacy, particularly in the uses of soft or smart power. The group focused on the contrasting approaches by the U.S. and China in the context of Southeast Asia, and explored the ways in which ICTs are affecting diplomacy in the region. On the concluding day of the Dialogue, the group of 25 diplomats, business, non-profit and academic leaders from the United States, China and Myanmar/Burma engaged in a role-playing simulation of the U.S. and China rivaling for diplomatic advantage in a hypothetical skirmish in Myanmar/Burma. The purpose was to see what lessons they might learn from exploring the role of new technologies in a highly-charged diplomatic crisis.

The group concluded by calling for a reinvention of the apparati of public diplomacy in the United States. This will be the topic for the next Dialogue.

The Dialogue owes its origins and thanks to the support of Aspen Institute Trustee Marc Nathanson. Since his tenure as the first Chairman of the U.S. Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), Nathanson has been concerned with how American diplomacy could more rapidly embrace the changing world of social media and other technologies. We also acknowledge and thank Ambassador Christopher Hill, Dean of the Josef Korbel School of International Relations at the University of Denver, Aspen Institute Trustee Madeleine Albright, and Aspen Institute President, CEO and former Chair of the BBG, Walter Isaacson. We are thankful for our association in this Dialogue with the Korbel School, and the guidance and leadership of Secretary Albright, whose father is the namesake of the School.

As is the case with almost all of our Communications and Society dialogues and roundtables, the aim is to frame issues, gain insights and make recommendations for important public policy issues at the cutting edge of our society. We do not take votes, however, and the report is the rapporteurs’ take on the topic as amplified by participants’ remarks. Therefore, not all of the opinions expressed in the report are subscribed by each of the participants or their employers. Unless someone is specifically quoted, it should not be assumed that he or she adheres to a particular position, but rather such statements are the rapporteur’s sense of the group in general.

In addition to the above leaders of the Dialogue, I would like to thank Ms. Shanthi Kalathil, our excellent rapporteur; the Nathanson Scholars, Laura Jagla and Emily Winslow, who designed the materials for our simulation at the Dialogue; and Kiahna Cassell, Aspen Institute Communications and Society Program Senior Project Manager, for organizing and managing the dialogue and this report itself. Finally, we thank the Jane and Marc Nathanson Foundation, which is the senior sponsor of this project.

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