What can we learn from digital diplomacy?

One of the major questions arising from the study of digital diplomacy deals with its practical application. In other words, what can we really learn from digital diplomacy? In the past, I have conducted several analyses which suggest that MFAs now routinely follow one another on twitter. As such, MFAs may be using social media in order to communicate with one another, as well as with the international community. Secondly, journalists covering international affairs also follow MFAs, embassies and diplomats on twitter. Thus, it has become one more avenue for nations looking to communicate policy to the media.

As MFAs follow one another on twitter, the social media content they publish may be a tool for analyzing relations between nations, as well as monitoring world crises. Over the past year, Russia and the US have found themselves engulfed in two such crises: one over the fate of east Ukraine and the other over Syria.

Since the beginning of the Ukrainian conflict, both Russia and the US have used their numerous twitter accounts in order to communicate their respective policies. Specifically, both the US and Russian missions to NATO have highlighted their governments’ differences. According to the US mission, Russia has violated international law and has forcefully annexed a part of a foreign country in an attempt to re-establish a regional sphere of influence. According to Russia, it has simply returned home as Eastern Ukraine has always been a part of Russia.

When following the US mission to NATO’s twitter feed, one usually gets the feeling that the world is on the brink of war. Each day new images of sophisticated weapons, global missile defense systems and military exercises are posted online.

From Lisbon to Warsaw, NATO is on the march.

Yet this week brought with it some change, on both the US and Russian accounts. For alongside the images of tanks and submarines, another sentiment was expressed.

While tweeting statements from President Obama’s address to the UN, the US mission to NATO echoed a sentiment of rapprochement. In one such tweet, Obama claimed that the US cannot solve the world’s problems alone while in another he stated that choosing cooperation over conflict is a sign of strength, not weakness. Finally he argued that extremism was an affront to all nations alluding to the US and Russia’s need to jointly wage war on ISIS.

Finally, the President also called directly for US and Russian cooperation. As can be seen below, this call was highlighted by the US mission to NATO.

Russia’s mission to NATO seems to be transmitting a similar signal. On the 30th of September, while President Putin was at the UN, the mission tweeted that Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov met with NATO officials and told them that the struggle against ISIS should unite countries rather than tear them apart. On the 29th, Lavrov stated that all actions in Syria would soon be coordinated; perhaps suggesting that Russia was willing to work with the US in order to defeat ISIS.

The Russian Mission also highlighted a recent meeting between Lavrov and his US counterpart, John Kerry.

Finally, the mission also re-tweeted President Putin’s call to create an anti-terror coalition similar to the anti-Hitler coalition which was based on US-Russian military cooperation.

Indeed, nothing unites nations more than a shared threat or a common enemy.

The recent tweets highlighted in this post may indicate that the US and Russia are moving from one mode of relations, open adversaries, to another, cautious allies. As the threat of ISIS moves the two parties closer together it may also give birth to a solution to the Ukrainian conflict. Necessity is after all the mother of all diplomatic pacts.

On the other hand, such tweets may represent an attempt by both nations to portray themselves in a certain light in the media, to frame themselves as rational actors willing to overcome their differences while presenting the other as an obstacle to global stability and peace.

This week saw a meeting between the Presidents of Russia and the US and between foreign ministers Lavrov and Kerry. Thus, it is fair to assume that any collaboration between these two nations should become evident in the next few months. Therefore, these months may also offer an initial answer to the question- can we use SNS to analyze relations between nations or are SNS simply new public relations tools?

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