Digital Diplomacy: The Impact of the Internet on International Relations

20 Pages Posted: 13 Jan 2009

See all articles by Nicholas Westcott

Nicholas Westcott

U. K. Foreign & Commonwealth Office

Date Written: July 1, 2008


International relations have always been profoundly affected by technology. The Internet - 20 years young - is having just such a profound impact. It constitutes, along with the IT systems it connects, a quantum leap in people's ability to communicate both one-to-one and one-to-many. Just as ocean-going sailing ships enabled the expansion of Europe in the 16th-18th centuries, the telegraph underpinned the empires of the 19th century, and the aeroplane, radio and TV have transformed international relations in the 20th century, the Internet creates a new set of opportunities and risks for the world. The main difference is that the changes will happen faster. It is still early to identify the Internet's impact on the relations between people across borders and between states. But it is necessary to try. Establishing a framework for analysing the changes - as business has done - will help governments and other international actors take strategic decisions based on reality, rather than on an outdated view of how things happen. Prediction is a poor basis for strategic planning, but a more sophisticated risk analysis of how the Internet is changing international relations will help improve strategic decisions, and indicate how to engage better with international actors to achieve the desired ends.

Keywords: Internet, international relations, government, policy

Suggested Citation

Westcott, Nicholas, Digital Diplomacy: The Impact of the Internet on International Relations (July 1, 2008). OII Working Paper No. 16. Available at SSRN: or

Nicholas Westcott (Contact Author)

U. K. Foreign & Commonwealth Office ( email )

London, SW1A 2AA
United Kingdom

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