The words warfare and diplomacy are by definition diametrically opposed.
One is meant to prevent, or at the very least, pre-empt the other.
This is something I gave great thought to when I was invited to speak at NATO’s Public Diplomacy Forum in Brussels, Belgium on 16 February 2015.
But the more I thought about the structures, conduits and tradecraft of modern diplomacy, the more I realised I’d been looking at it through the eyes of a student of the cold war. My perception of ‘diplomacy’ predates my birth by some twenty years!
But then, the diplomacy I know – #diplomacy – isn’t about diplomacy at all.
It’s about influence.
Information Warfare disguised as Diplomacy
Warfare can no longer be considered entirely asymmetrical.
In the social media battle-space, everyone is armed with the same weapons of modern warfare and the ability to exert influence in audience segments that are precisely targeted.
Wars are no longer fought within the geographical confines. You might be firing rockets in Iraq, but firing tweets at Europe may actually have more impact because rockets have a defined maximum range: tweets do not. Tweets land in people’s offices, lounge rooms and by virtue of the smartphones we carry around, information warfare is occurring in our pockets and handbags.
Diplomacy – or the historical concept of what it stood for, was the engagement and meeting of adversaries or sides to a conflict or grievance to seek a mutually agreeable outcome.
But times have changed.
What used to start with a handshake now starts with a hash-tag, well after the battle-lines have already been drawn in the news media.
Social media is THE convergence point for #diplomacy influence. It’s a war we fight in a civilian battle-space with civilian collateral in the form of foreign nationals being religiously radicalised, our youth being desensitised to the horrors of war and young women being lured into marriages of abuse, sexual exploitation and poverty.
While terrorists use #diplomacy as a weapon of war and up the anti from crucifixions, to beheadings to burning people alive to retain social and news media traction; WE must pre-emptively engage in our physical and cyber areas of operation before the boots of our troops hit the ground.
We need to lay the #diplomatic groundwork by being authentic, being truthful and being socially accessible. Governments can no longer afford to spout bureaucracy in 140 character bursts – it’s not enough. It’s not influential. It’s a wasted opportunity for genuine outreach and engagement.
To win the hearts and minds; to win the war of words, images and videos being waged on social media – we need to proactively drive online and social media engagement. The success of our offline diplomacy efforts depends on it.