Get ready for the new wave!
Denmark has recently appointed the world’s first ambassador to Silicon Valley. The first “tech-ambassador” on this earth, Casper Klynge, will most likely be joined soon by his foreign counterparts.
We seem to have entered a new period, the so-called “technology era.” In the near future, technology giants will be as just important as countries. In other words, a country’s relations with a tech-company will matter as much as its relations with another state.
This is due to the fact that today a country’s global status is closely related to its use of technology. First of all, foreign policy is becoming more and more affected by technology. While the first pillar of diplomacy is traditional (i.e. between states), the other one is public diplomacy, which operates between states and people. And the latter is today in the grip of technology.
Nowadays, foreign affairs are managed overwhelmingly through social media. This is why the foreign ministries of many developed countries have formed units called “digital diplomacy” or “tech-diplomacy.”
These units develop strategies toward communicating their policies to the people of other countries. Alas, Turkey lacks such a structure.
Secondly, the age of technology has transformed foreign policy fundamentally, since it has changed the security paradigm that forms the basis of foreign policy. Cyber security has become one of the main security threats that countries have great difficulty coping with. Russia’s intervention in the U.S. elections is one of the most recent examples.
This new security gap has made countries much more vulnerable. Moreover, a virus developed by a specific country is prone to be used later against that same country. For example last week the virus called “Wanna-Cry,” developed initially by the National Security Agency (NSA) in the U.S., was stolen from the NSA and has hacked the institution’s computers like a boomerang. After all, this new security environment requires a completely new structuring and mentality.
Thirdly, technology today affects a country’s relations with other countries and its global status to a great extent. This is due to the fact that international relations are based on the balance of power, and technology has the potential to change this international equilibrium.
“The latest global wave we have faced has been globalization, which has transformed the world fundamentally. Some countries have ridden on this wave, and during this period power started to shift slowly from the West to the East,” said Sinan Ülgen, the founder and chairman of the Ankara-based Centre for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies (EDAM). He reminds us that there have been losers and winners both inside the countries and around the world from this global wave.
In his book “Governing Cyberspace,” Ülgen writes that we are now facing a new wave. He foresees there will also be losers and winners from this era. Over the next 10 years, a country’s global status will be determined to a great extent by its ability to attune to this new period, he argues.
As a result, those who produce and effectively use technology will be the new, rising powers. The rest will be completely liable to them and to the new technologies. For example, last week the EU fined Google a record of 2.5 billion euros on the grounds of “unfair competition.” Ülgen argues that the EU only took this step because it has not itself been able to come up with a “Google.” Europe is socially and economically much more conservative than the U.S. and tech giants such as Google tend to rise from the U.S. or China.
According to Ülgen, entering this age mainly has three requirements. The first one is reforming the education system by transforming the memorization-based education system, such as the one in Turkey, to one based on questioning and problem-solving. The second requirement is to be open to progressive and new ideas. For example, Uber has recently broken the monopoly of taxis. In other words, it is crucial to embrace ground-breaking and iconoclastic opinions. The third requirement is to create an eco-system that is consistent with this new era. For example, closing down digital platforms such as Twitter, YouTube and Wikipedia every time they do something out of sync with Ankara is a huge misstep because such practices kick the country out of the new ecosystem.
However, the most important requirement would be to create a “digital agenda” and to keep it alive. There are supporters of such an agenda in the private sector, the most prominent of which is Turkish Airlines, which has been supporting science by organizing events like “Science Festivals.”
In order to have a long-term and sustainable technology policy, it is vital to have a political champion of this agenda. The government therefore needs to adopt it, first and foremost by forming a special ministry and developing tech-diplomacy.
The alternative is to simply get trapped in the new wave.