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International Relations


  • 09 Jun 2020
  • 4 min read

Why in News

Recently, the first India-Australia Virtual Leaders’ Summit was held where important strategic decisions, ranging from military interoperability to jointly tackling the pandemic, were made.

  • The summit was noteworthy for its novel modus operandi after the dangers posed by Covid-19 have compelled the traditional summit diplomacy to adapt to new digital ways.

Key Points

  • e-Diplomacy (electronic diplomacy) is the use of technology by nations to define and establish diplomatic goals and objectives and to efficiently carry out the functions of diplomats.
    • These functions include representation and promotion of the home nation, establishing both bilateral and multilateral relations, consular services and social engagement.
  • The pandemic has forced mankind to maintain physical and social distancing, leading to a shift towards work from home mode and using online platforms for education (online classes), business (e-Commerce) and other daily things.
    • Just as corporations and educational institutions have migrated to online mediums, nation-states are left with no choice but to do the same by conducting virtual or e-summits.
  • Advantages:
    • These are physically safer for leaders because there is no need for any physical contact with anyone.
    • The process is time-saving as the leaders can attend the summits and conferences from their offices without having the need to physically reach the venue or other country.
    • These economise events by avoiding costly physical journeys and event management.
  • Challenges:
    • It is doubtful that major breakthroughs or deals requiring the direct intervention of leaders can happen without all the protocols and structured dialogues in person.
    • There is a possibility of e-diplomacy becoming less productive as online summits will simply not satisfy the broader political goals and bigger objectives that heads of state carry with them.
    • Threats related to cybersecurity also come in the picture:
      • E-diplomacy is riskier and could be subject to hacking of classified content.
      • This could reduce the spontaneity and openness of the conversations.
      • In pre-Covid-19 times, summit venues were debugged to prevent sensitive foreign policy content from being spied upon or leaked.
  • Apart from the virtual summit with Australia, India has had a few multilateral e-diplomacy rounds since the Covid-19 outbreak. For example,

Way Forward

  • The British scholar Ernest Satow dubbed “summits a permanent feature of diplomatic topography”. It has been a maxim in diplomacy that face-to-face interactions at the highest level mark the zenith of foreign relations.
  • In-person summits will restart one-day but the online interlude has to go on because diplomacy has to go on.
  • However artificial and unsatisfying the video conferencing medium is, having some summit is better than no summit at all. Key partners have to get on with it and hold high-level meetings as part of their strategic signalling.

Source: TH

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