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Gilmore: Are diplomats needed in the digital age?

By: /
17 October, 2011

The consensus, on this page and beyond, is that more diplomats are always welcome at the cocktail party. I, too, will throw my top hat into that ring, but then add the question: “Who is a diplomat in the digital age?”

Even before email began to replace the telex, the definition of diplomat began to expand. Embassies began to fill with officials from departments other than the Foreign Office. Increasingly, as international relationships become more diverse and deeper, they require more diverse and deeper knowledge to manage them. Gradually, the generalist in pin stripes has been replaced by the specialist in agriculture, technology, and finance.

The definition continues to expand as non-state actors such as corporations, NGOs, cities, and individuals play increasingly pivotal roles in diplomacy. US author Parag Khana has gone so far as to argue that in the age of Twitter and Facebook we are all diplomats now, that in a post-Westphalian world we can all drive international agendas and change. As a former diplomat myself, I agree with this, and believe I have a bigger impact on the issues I care about now, than I did when I had a burgundy passport.

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Journalism in Canada has suffered a devastating decline over the last two decades. Dozens of newspapers and outlets have shuttered. Remaining newsrooms are smaller. Nowhere is this erosion more acute than in the coverage of foreign policy and international news. It’s expensive, and Canadians, oceans away from most international upheavals, pay the outside world comparatively little attention.

At Open Canada, we believe this must change. If anything, the pandemic has taught us we can’t afford to ignore the changing world. What’s more, we believe, most Canadians don’t want to. Many of us, after all, come from somewhere else and have connections that reach around the world.

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