- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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,
- 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.