By Stefanos Skamagkas
Nowadays, it has been noticed, globally, that a transitional phase is taking place in every aspect of the national, regional and international function. This new reality has been titled with the name “Industry 4.0” and it is referring to the lighting technological expansion. Therefore, the diplomatic field, which is based on a variety of humanitarian factors, is changing gradually, as it has to meet the necessities of the new technological order. In actual fact, the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, the embassies and the rest of the diplomatic agencies are entering a phase of digitalisation. Already more than 132 MFAs and 4100 embassies have created a Twitter account, while at the same time the diplomatic personnel are keeping track of this situation closely through personal and collective actions.
First steps of diplomatic digitalisation
More than a decade ago, specifically in 2007, the very first digital actions of diplomatic nature took place in a MMORPG type of video game, Second life[¹][²]. The NGO Diplo created an extensive diplomatic environment in this platform with the name Diplomacy Island. From a construction point of view, this initiative has created a variety of diplomatic venues, such as a diplomatic library, a diplomatic museum, a diplomatic academy and even an Internet Governance Village for the sessions to take part. Furthermore, that innovation took delight in a transatlantic range as Asian states, such as Maldives and Philippines, as European countries, like Malta, participated in the inauguration of an e-embassy on the Diplomatic Island. Conclusively, the main goal of this initiative was to provide the ability to states without a significantly extensive network of diplomatic relations to elevate their status in the international system.
Moreover, Sweden took the opportunity and launched the “Second House of Sweden” project, which was basically a digital embassy in Second life once again. After 5 years of operation and multiple events, the Swedish government decided to put a closure on this online diplomatic representation and move forward with new initiatives[³].
Digital world Transformation
The forthcoming partial conversion of the physical diplomatic world into a digital one has already started through the actions of numerous governments both on bilateral and multilateral bases. It has already been a decade since the US government launched a virtual embassy in Tehran, Iran. Although it doesn’t have a formal status, it’s mainly tasked with providing legal, political and cultural information to the Iranian people[⁴]. Another example of digital transformation is the MyConsulLive Services of the Greek MFA, as a helpdesk for Greek citizens abroad through which you can get in touch virtually with official diplomatic personnel[⁵].
Continuing, Barbados constitutes a great example of a state with limited diplomatic range entering the Metaverse in order to fundamentally develop their diplomatic appearance. Specifically, in November 14 of 2021 Barbados and ‘Decentraland’, a crypto-based platform, reached, bilaterally an agreement for the launch of the very first embassy in the Metaverse, a situation which denotes the efficiency of the cooperation between public and private actors. Besides that, the government of Barbados is developing a digital currency, the DCash, currently present in half of the counties of the Eastern Caribbean Currency Union[⁶][⁷].
Digital world and cultural heritage
A bunch of diplomatic missions have already accomplished the promotion or even the protection of cultures with the help of the digitized sector. To start with, an essential achievement for Ecuadorian culture is the collaboration between the Ecuadorian Government and the U.S. Embassy and Consulate in this country with the launch of the “Touring the Qhapaq Ñan – the Andean Road System” initiative [⁸]. This digital project is aiming to protect and correctly inform the people about the legacy of the Qhapaq Ñan and its locations of relevance, which are Ingapirca and Pumapungo in Ecuador and the Aypate Archaeological Complex in Peru.
Moving further, The Embassy of France to the Philippines and the Alliance Française de Manille restarted “Les Jeudis culturels/Cultural Thursdays” in order to maintain their cultural diplomacy efforts during quarantine. However, this time it took place on a digital platform and specifically on Youtube [⁹]. This project, as it is understandable from the title, shares the French culture and especially the musical heritage of this nation through the implementation of cultural diplomacy, while in this digitised edition, we witnessed a combination between the cultural and digital type of diplomacy.
Finally, the Japanese Cultural Expo constitutes a vital point in the collaboration between cultural and digital diplomacy[¹⁰]. The creation of an actual digitised event with a variety of exhibitions and similar venues achieved the promotion of the 10.000 years artistic and cultural heritage of Japan. At the same time, the “condensation” of space with the Metaverse is providing the opportunity not only to the Japanese people globally to enjoy their culture, but also the rest of the world, letting us all engage with this fruitful and precious legacy.
Climate change and Metaverse
The case of Tuvalu and numerous other island nations, which are in danger of extinction, because of the rise of sea levels from climate change, are lately on the front-pages[¹¹]. During COP26, the MFA of Tuvalu, Simon Kofe, argued, while he was half inside the sea, that if a drastic and truly efficient change doesn’t take place immediately, in order to change the course of climate change, his nation will be moments away from drowning. A year later, during COP27, Simon Kofe brought to the table the option of the Metaverse. As he quoted “Our land, our ocean, our culture are the most precious assets of our people and to keep them safe from harm, no matter what happens in the physical world, we’ll move them to the cloud”. An innovative and dramatic initiative, as the digitalized world is giving the opportunity of “state – existence” to a country facing an unparalleled peril.
Bilateral and Multilateral cooperation in the digital era
Estonia, Luxembourg and Microsoft got to an agreement for the creation of an Estonian data embassy in Luxembourg, as in this specific way the government of Estonia will achieve a paperless archive of diplomatic data with a multi-layer of cyber-security, while taking into account the numerous cyber attacks and general dangerous digital environment of the area [¹²].
In addition, Israel and South Korea, to celebrate six decades of bilateral relations, decided to co-create a Metaverse venue in order to put on display their achievements and their cultures and even created a second floor filled with rooms, as a way for their people to come into contact and expand their horizons bilaterally[¹³].
Platforms, Embassies and MFAs
The variety of platforms and applications for communication created a unique status for each one. Firstly, research has shown that Ambassadors of the United Nations prefer the WhatsApp platform, as a way of facilitation of their work, while the Norwegians Ambassadors use Skype to keep in touch with university students, a situation that indicates the value embedded in the combination of digital and cultural diplomacy. From a cultural perspective, the MFA of India develops video games for their young population outside of the country in order to maintain contact with their homeland and at the same time the Georgian Diaspora Ministry promotes e-courses in their native language, as a way of maintenance of their cultural identity[¹⁴].
Generally, the official diplomatic agencies have expanded their presence on numerous platforms. Firstly, Twitter, an environment of continuous political action, is hosting thousands of Embassies and MFAs around the globe, while a similar activity has been noticed lately on Facebook, as well. Secondly, Telegram is in the spotlight nowadays, as it is a truly efficient way to create a direct contact between Embassies and the people in order to inform them correctly about recent policies, cultural actions and historical events of the country in which they are accredited. Lastly, Tik Tok with its huge base of users constitutes a land of opportunity. It is worth noting that the Embassy of France in the US has created a Tik Tok account, “Frenchness Embassy in the US”, in an effort to adapt to the current technological developments and concurrently create a path of communication with the younger population[¹⁵].
Inferentially, the whole diplomatic field, MFAs, Embassies, Consulates etc, are adapting to the new digital world order, as it is vital for their maintenance and in expansion it’s essential to respond to the new necessities and developments. So, as the overwhelming majority of the population follows the digital developments, the extended knowledge of the use of platforms from the diplomatic world is its next step to the turning point that we are facing nowadays.
However, it is no secret that, even individual hackers can leak confidential diplomatic information and destabilise systems and communications. As a result, efficient and proactive cyber security of the digital diplomatic agencies constitutes a fundamental factor for their stable functioning, as, not a few times, governments have fallen victims of cyber crime. Who said enemies won’t be spawning in Metaverses?