A third great revolution has been described as enveloping the world in modern times (Wriston 1997) and the catalyst has been technological change. Technology, or telecommunications, has astoundingly affected the sovereignty of governments, the world economy, and military strategy. What took a century for the Industrial Revolution to do is nothing like what the combination of computers and telecommunications has been achieving in the Information Age. Information technology has been eradicating time and distance and for which there as yet appears to be no antidote to this spread of networks throughout the world. Unlike previous inventions, which were designed to solve specific problems, the inventions of the Information Revolution are driven and driving in a different direction. It is changing the very manner of doing things but what these things are. Moreover, it has formed a global village and traditional diplomacy.
In this global village, sovereignty has been swiftly eroding (Wriston 1997). It was quite different in the past when former U.S. President Woodrow Wilson ordered his postmaster-general to take over transatlantic cable lines to censor news from Europe while he negotiated the Treaty of Versailles in Paris. Now, no nation and no one can control or stop the inflow and outflow of information across national boundaries. Special interest groups of all kinds can and do bypass communication channels and sovereignties. The convergence of computers and telecommunications created this global community, where rich and poor, north and south, east and west, city and countryside are linked together by a global electronic network, through which they can share images at actual or real time.
Global conversations and opinions exert pressure on sovereign governments, which are seen to gradually influence political processes throughout the world. This thrilling and miraculous Information Revolution is, in fact, threatening the power structures of the world. It is also vulnerable and open to attack in forms not previously realized in the history of conflict. About 90% of military traffic is open to this vulnerability and it is moving over public computer networks, where it is getting harder to distinguish the military from civilian infrastructure. The U.S. increasingly relies on more massive networks and thus, opens itself more and more to attacks.
This new technology will not disappear but will get better, according to the Moore's Law (Wriston 1997). The Law states that microchips will double in density and speed every 18 months. Bandwidths are projected to grow even faster. What has dramatically increased is the amount of information accessible to policymakers and it can only be hoped that the information that reaches and gets processed by diplomats will be used to produce real or positive knowledge and wisdom (Wriston).
Significant changes have occurred in diplomacy to which the mechanisms of traditional
Diplomacy have yet to adjust to (Schmitz 2005). Crisis management and commerce have been the major functions of diplomacy but the response of the U.S. foreign policy to the changes in the nature of these functions has not been up to par. Trends indicate that the U.S. Department has not examined the basis missions of the U.S. diplomacy or even asked them how to function in current-day situations. The U.S. government keeps focus on American diplomacy as a cost center and symbol rather than a collector, evaluator, transmitter and disseminator of information. The U.S. official diplomacy has been observed to be painfully slow to react to computer-related communication revolution occurring around it. It is quaint that, despite overwhelming political, technological and economic changes in the past years, U.S. foreign relations are being conducted today in about the same way they were in earlier decades. The embassies it maintains in almost every country are full of functions and personnel. New communication technologies, the end of the Cold War and lessons learned from a broad and assertive foreign policy of the 20th century all suggest that much smaller, more efficient and less expensive foreign policy mechanisms should be installed.
A primary function of an overseas consulate or embassy is to gather information about political competition in the foreign country but there are few effective feedback mechanisms, which will ferret out valuable from worthless information (Schmitz 2005). In the absence of these mechanisms, the flow of low-value or no value information and gossips tends to increase over time. The number of people who make the information, read, write, analyze, index, store, retrieve and declassify it also increases. The superfluous information gathered in the bureaucracy has no real-world purpose. A typical embassy today has officials who gather information and conduct liaison work on practically all matters. The volume of material is large, accurate and well-presented but often of no pertinence to government decisions that have to be made. When received by the proper institution in the mainland, the U.S. admires the inflow of information without asking for any end-use who may find value with it. This gesture would have value in the past, but today, the huge volume of information made available by technology from public and commercial sources indicates that there is less need for officially reported or produced information.
What policymakers need is to access accurate information about and influence internationally significant events and beyond outside U.S. borders (Schmitz 2005). These places require official presence for strategic and economic reasons or grounds. But beyond these areas, there is no need for the United States to install and operate a full embassy. Neither does it need to maintain an embassy in every foreign political capital or in every place where the U.S. has some interest. Modern technology or telecommunications already make access to information for policymakers to understand and assert influence from a distance. The U.S. government can now afford to close many foreign missions and attend to American interests through telecommunications and occasional visits. Washington's need to maintain consular agents to provide services to U.S. citizens and pre-screen visitors through modern technology, such as interactive television or a videotape. The U.S. can and should also now withdraw from superfluous and obscure official memberships in international organizations and attendance of unnecessary conferences on trivial themes. Most of the work can be done right at the Washington base and at a much lower cost. Only a small amount of diplomatic information has remained sensitive and the rest are simple reported events or gossip.
When the mission personnel has been downsized, the government should just subscribe to news wire services for general information and to hire local writers or stringers for additional information on specific or special topics of importance to Washington (Schmitz 2005).
Cost-cutting and the intent to maintain embassies in practically every country's capital in the world, the State Department had to close 29 "lesser posts" since 1990, although some of these "lesser posts" were in important economic centers (Schmitz 2005). An assigned diplomat must receive a high salary, benefits, retirement, housing schooling for his or her dependents, shipment of household possessions, office rental, security, and clerical and administrative support. There are those who argue that diplomatic information must be exclusive to the countries and that, therefore, the foreign ministry of each country must have its own information agent there. The result is a huge volume of information duplication, identical reports and judgments sent simultaneously to numerous foreign ministries. There is no reason why information acquisition cannot be made by accepting reports from embassies of friendly and trusted countries. And there is every reason why the U.S. should make more use of modern communications technology and undertaking the much-needed and overdue change (Schmitz).
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