Telecommunications and Diplomacy Term Paper

Telecommunications and Diplomacy

Telecommunications is the science and technology of communications at a distance by electronic transmission of impulses, as by telegraph, cable, telephone, radio or television (Lexico Publishing Group 2005). Up to the 1800s, information was sent through pigeons and horse-driving couriers and visual systems, based on observation of flags, lanterns, heliographs and semaphore signals (Caslon 2005). But these proved difficult to perform and often subjected to natural conditions, which interrupted transmissions during bad weather or animal movements. Experts believe that the current Information Age began in 1844 with the invention of the telegraph by Samuel Finley Morse, which sharply separated the speed of information from the slowness of human travel (John Seely Brown and Paul Duguid 2000 as qtd in Caslon). Morse first demonstrated his telegraph in Congress in 1837, gained funding to construct an experimental line between Washington and Baltimore. By the 1860s, all advanced economies used telegraph networks and electronic communication was the base of the growth of major businesses and new financial markets, which in turn, affected the conduct of war and peace time diplomacy. In the early 20th century, the International Telegraph Union and the Radiotelegraphy Union entered into an agreement to encourage and regulate these new international communication technologies. Later in the century, Alexander Graham Bell and associates invented the telephone, which stimulated speculative changes and corporate restructuring. By 1892, there were 240,000 telephones installed and in use in the U.S., increasing to 3.13 million Bell system telephones and 2.98 independent telephone companies in 1907 (Caslon).

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The introduction of electric telegraphy substantially changed the conduct of diplomacy in the 19th century (Bureau of Public Affairs 2001). It was at this time that telegraphy came to be a device for converting messages into electric impulses, which traveled instantaneously by wire to distant receivers, where these were converted into readable texts. It was already being used by European foreign ministries in the early 1850s, but it first became an important tool in the diplomacy of the U.S. after successfully sending a transatlantic cable in 1866. The most essential feature of the telegraph was its speed: it traveled like lightning through continents and oceans and became available in a few hours after sending, despite the time needed for coding and handling. Policymakers found it quite useful in swiftly responding to crises in distances, which in previous periods, they would have been kept ignorant of for weeks. But this particular feature of speed also placed pressures on political leaders, because the same message reached the media and the public just as quickly. It challenged foreign ministries, which often used delay as a resolving too in confronting international crises and used long pauses in previous forms of communication to allow hot tempers to cool and use the time for careful and methodical diplomacy and more creative approaches to problem situations.

Telegraphy also centralized the work of foreign ministers (Bureau of Public Affairs 2001). Before these speedy technologies, these foreign ministers could take months away from their central superiors. But with these miracle technologies, they were forced to make pressing decisions before they could even receive instruction from their superiors. In those situations, they had to exercise much power, even acting as policymakers. The weight shifted after the introduction of the telegraph. The invention reduced the independence of diplomats along with their prestige and reputation. When instruction came to them slowly, they exercised some autonomy over difficult situations until the instruction reached them. The telegraph slowed down the policymaking process and reduced the chances of rendering wrong major decisions. Foreign policy is a high-risk endeavor where any miscalculation can lead to a disaster, like war or diplomatic defeat, hence foreign ministers exercise extreme caution. But foreign ministers were able to adapt to the telegraph. In 1859, Britain’s Foreign Office had resident clerks handle telegrams after business hours. The U.S. Department of State put up a telegraph office in 1866 after its first successful transatlantic transmission. Diplomats had to learn how to write concisely so as to reduce telegraph costs and used codes to preserve the contents of these telegrams from spies. New technologies in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, such as networked computers and fiber optic cables, took its place in diplomacy. But it must be remembered that it was telegraphy, which introduced the high-speed era of electricity into diplomacy (BPA).

Disadvantages encountered or associated with the use of the telegraph and the telephone included damaging physical effects, like baldness, reduced potency, increased blood pressure, anemia, sterility, piles and neurasthenia; risk of exposure to magnetic rays, electrocution and quaint spiritual experiences; social erosion; lazy thinking habits; weaker national moral fiber; criminal activity; psychological addition and poor grammar (Caslon 2005). Telecom operators also confronted difficulties like disconnections, deceits and betrayals.

Besides the phenomena; speed of transmission, electronic communications are also versatile, accurate and capable of sending virtually simultaneous feedback (Revision-Notes 2003). The facsimile machine or fax can send textual message, number, graphics, artwork and photographs all on one side. These communications convey accurate data while instantaneously reading and checking electronic circuits that operate between sending and receiving equipment during the time of transmission of high speed. And computerized telecommunications allow virtually simultaneous information exchange and responses. These are their major advantages. Their major disadvantages include an increasing and fast volume of information, which personnel are unable to cope with or absorb; costs of development and hardware investments; legal implications; and emotional upsets over irretrievable loss of sent data.

The mass media, specifically photojournalism, is another development in modern telecommunications. Photojournalists now use digital imaging, which allows them greater flexibility and extends their deadlines, whereby they can stay longer on location for better pictures (Fahmy 2003). This technology enables them to delete and send photographs from the location itself and lets them participate in the picture editing process itself. It may also enhance and increase information sharing in the newsroom. These capabilities likewise allow them to leave one assignment earlier and shoot less photos, knowing if the image is usable or not. But like others, photojournalism has a number of disadvantages. Interviews have to be conducted on a cautionary perspective. Digital imaging has limited storage for all the prints and this has always bee an issue.

Limited storage and limited budget compel photographers to delete image right on location and reporters or respondents are apprehensive about its ability or inability to store all the images to jibe with historical record. These will be unsolved problems until the news or magazine organization moves the images to a new storage media technology and this will mean additional time, effort and money, which are further concerns. Whatever time is saved in the processing simply goes to the archiving process. Reporters also feel that CDs containing images can become obsolete and render the recorded digital images inaccessible. Digital imaging also incurs limitations on long-term projects, because film is still easier to review and archive. Editing positions may also become obsolete, and photographers may not be present in the newsroom, increasing the sense of isolation among photojournalists. but, on the whole, the benefits derived fro extended deadlines and the flexibility made possible by this new technology overcome the disadvantages. It is generally considered a boon in the journalism industry or mass media and viewed as remarkable by those interviewed. Photographers must get used to digital imaging and present difficulties are calculated to vanish. Experts are of the opinion that the trend will be more and more editing from the screen and less on a light table (Fahmyr).

One more method of internal electronic communication is video conferencing. This is an interactive tool that uses video, computing and communication technologies, which allow people in different locations to meet face-to-face and perform what those who meet in the same room or place can (Revision-Notes 2003).

Diplomacy involves verbal discussion with the intent of influencing and transmitting a position or negotiation on a particular issue or situation for a mutually acceptable result (Brahm 2003). Many call diplomacy an art because it is a blending of empathy, persuasion, bluster and cajoling. Diplomacy was first a method of conducting interstate relations, consisting of discussions and negotiations between heads of states or their representatives for the purpose of serving national interests. Most everyone is aware that these efforts are not always sincere but that these efforts are always aimed at keeping channels of communication open, especially in disputes and violent situations. Modern diplomacy is more complicated with intergovernmental organizations IGOs and non-governmental organizations or NGOs and with recent developments in the globalization of communication and transportation in the conduct of diplomacy.

Routine diplomacy consists of interaction of state and/or official actors in an official capacity with the authority and on behalf of the state or IGO they represent (Brahm 2003). This has been called Track I wherein issues do not reach crisis level. The state or entity represented may have interests in a particular dispute or situation and wishes to incline the other to favor it. Usually, third parties get involved in the discussions in a common aim of reaching a stalemate or open communications. Track II diplomacy takes over when Track I fails.

A third great revolution has been described as enveloping the world in modern times (Wriston 1997) and the catalyst has been technological change. Technology, or telecommunications, has astoundingly affected the sovereignty of governments, the world economy, and military strategy. What took a century for the Industrial Revolution to do is nothing like what the combination of computers and telecommunications has been achieving in the Information Age. Information technology has been eradicating time and distance and for which there as yet appears to be no antidote to this spread of networks throughout the world. Unlike previous inventions, which were designed to solve specific problems, the inventions of the Information Revolution are driven and driving in a different direction. It is changing the very manner of doing things but what these things are. Moreover, it has formed a global village and traditional diplomacy.

In this global village, sovereignty has been swiftly eroding (Wriston 1997). It was quite different in the past when former U.S. President Woodrow Wilson ordered his postmaster-general to take over transatlantic cable lines to censor news from Europe while he negotiated the Treaty of Versailles in Paris. Now, no nation and no one can control or stop the inflow and outflow of information across national boundaries. Special interest groups of all kinds can and do bypass communication channels and sovereignties. The convergence of computers and telecommunications created this global community, where rich and poor, north and south, east and west, city and countryside are linked together by a global electronic network, through which they can share images at actual or real time.

Global conversations and opinions exert pressure on sovereign governments, which are seen to gradually influence political processes throughout the world. This thrilling and miraculous Information Revolution is, in fact, threatening the power structures of the world. It is also vulnerable and open to attack in forms not previously realized in the history of conflict. About 90% of military traffic is open to this vulnerability and it is moving over public computer networks, where it is getting harder to distinguish the military from civilian infrastructure. The U.S. increasingly relies on more massive networks and thus, opens itself more and more to attacks.

This new technology will not disappear but will get better, according to the Moore’s Law (Wriston 1997). The Law states that microchips will double in density and speed every 18 months. Bandwidths are projected to grow even faster. What has dramatically increased is the amount of information accessible to policymakers and it can only be hoped that the information that reaches and gets processed by diplomats will be used to produce real or positive knowledge and wisdom (Wriston).

Significant changes have occurred in diplomacy to which the mechanisms of traditional

Diplomacy have yet to adjust to (Schmitz 2005). Crisis management and commerce have been the major functions of diplomacy but the response of the U.S. foreign policy to the changes in the nature of these functions has not been up to par. Trends indicate that the U.S. Department has not examined the basis missions of the U.S. diplomacy or even asked them how to function in current-day situations. The U.S. government keeps focus on American diplomacy as a cost center and symbol rather than a collector, evaluator, transmitter and disseminator of information. The U.S. official diplomacy has been observed to be painfully slow to react to computer-related communication revolution occurring around it. It is quaint that, despite overwhelming political, technological and economic changes in the past years, U.S. foreign relations are being conducted today in about the same way they were in earlier decades. The embassies it maintains in almost every country are full of functions and personnel. New communication technologies, the end of the Cold War and lessons learned from a broad and assertive foreign policy of the 20th century all suggest that much smaller, more efficient and less expensive foreign policy mechanisms should be installed.

A primary function of an overseas consulate or embassy is to gather information about political competition in the foreign country but there are few effective feedback mechanisms, which will ferret out valuable from worthless information (Schmitz 2005). In the absence of these mechanisms, the flow of low-value or no value information and gossips tends to increase over time. The number of people who make the information, read, write, analyze, index, store, retrieve and declassify it also increases. The superfluous information gathered in the bureaucracy has no real-world purpose. A typical embassy today has officials who gather information and conduct liaison work on practically all matters. The volume of material is large, accurate and well-presented but often of no pertinence to government decisions that have to be made. When received by the proper institution in the mainland, the U.S. admires the inflow of information without asking for any end-use who may find value with it. This gesture would have value in the past, but today, the huge volume of information made available by technology from public and commercial sources indicates that there is less need for officially reported or produced information.

What policymakers need is to access accurate information about and influence internationally significant events and beyond outside U.S. borders (Schmitz 2005). These places require official presence for strategic and economic reasons or grounds. But beyond these areas, there is no need for the United States to install and operate a full embassy. Neither does it need to maintain an embassy in every foreign political capital or in every place where the U.S. has some interest. Modern technology or telecommunications already make access to information for policymakers to understand and assert influence from a distance. The U.S. government can now afford to close many foreign missions and attend to American interests through telecommunications and occasional visits. Washington’s need to maintain consular agents to provide services to U.S. citizens and pre-screen visitors through modern technology, such as interactive television or a videotape. The U.S. can and should also now withdraw from superfluous and obscure official memberships in international organizations and attendance of unnecessary conferences on trivial themes. Most of the work can be done right at the Washington base and at a much lower cost. Only a small amount of diplomatic information has remained sensitive and the rest are simple reported events or gossip.

When the mission personnel has been downsized, the government should just subscribe to news wire services for general information and to hire local writers or stringers for additional information on specific or special topics of importance to Washington (Schmitz 2005).

Cost-cutting and the intent to maintain embassies in practically every country’s capital in the world, the State Department had to close 29 “lesser posts” since 1990, although some of these “lesser posts” were in important economic centers (Schmitz 2005). An assigned diplomat must receive a high salary, benefits, retirement, housing schooling for his or her dependents, shipment of household possessions, office rental, security, and clerical and administrative support. There are those who argue that diplomatic information must be exclusive to the countries and that, therefore, the foreign ministry of each country must have its own information agent there. The result is a huge volume of information duplication, identical reports and judgments sent simultaneously to numerous foreign ministries. There is no reason why information acquisition cannot be made by accepting reports from embassies of friendly and trusted countries. And there is every reason why the U.S. should make more use of modern communications technology and undertaking the much-needed and overdue change (Schmitz).


Brahm, Eric and Jennifer Aiken. Diplomacy. Intractable Conflict Knowledge Base Project. Conflict Research Consortium: University of Colorado, 2003.

Bureau of Public Affairs. U.S. Diplomacy and the Telegraph. U.S. Department of State, 2001.

Caslon Analytics. Communications Revolutions. Caslon Analytics Profile: Caslon Analytics PTY. Ltd., 2005.

CSIS Advisory Panel. Reinventing Diplomacy in the Information Age. Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Class WWS 471. The Future of International Crisis Diplomacy. Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs: Princeton University, 2000.

Fahmy, Shahira. Photographers Note Digital’s Advantages and Disadvantages. Newspaper Research Journal: University of Memphis, 2003.

Peters, Katherine McIntrie. Online Diplomacy. Advantages and Disadvantages of Electronic Communications for Businesses. UK-Learning, 2003.

Schmitz, Charles a. Changing the Way We Do Business in International Relationships. U.S. Institute of Peace, 2005.

Wriston, Walter B. Bits, Bytes and Diplomacy. United States Institute of Peace, 1997.

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