TechPlomacy: A new strategic priority in Danish foreign policy / Anders Samuelsen

Anders Samuelsen, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Denmark 
https://twitter.com/anderssamuelsen

Denmark is going to appoint a specially designated Tech Ambassador. The Tech Ambassador will spearhead a new ‘TechPlomacy’ initiative, making tech and digitization a priority across the Foreign Service, including at our embassy network around the world. Resources will be allocated at headquarter level and abroad. Make no mistake: This is not symbolic.

Just as we engage in a diplomatic dialogue with countries, we also need to establish prioritized and comprehensive relations with tech actors such as Google, Facebook, Apple and Alibaba; start-ups in epicentres and powerhouses such as Silicon Valley, Shenzhen and elsewhere; and last but not least universities, NGOs, cities and regions who have valuable insights and experience in this field.

Tech companies are not the only relevant actors in this domain, but they are important. Not to suggest that Denmark shares interests with leading tech companies all the time. Just as in our bilateral discussions with foreign governments, there will be things we agree on and things we don’t. In parallel, we will promote the tech agenda – its possibilities as well as political dilemmas – through ‘classic’ diplomacy vis-à-vis nations and in multilateral organizations.

But why?

Artificial intelligence, machine learning, big data, blockchain, the internet of things, robots, driverless cars. The pace of digital technology development is mind-blowing. We therefore need to make sure we understand and take into account the enormous effects that tech is having on our societies. And it is not an option to just wait and observe.

Tech and digitization needs to be a foreign policy priority for at least two reasons: (1) We cannot approach technology and digitization in a black box in Denmark. And (2) Denmark has something to offer.

Denmark has to a very large degree taken advantage of digitization. The EU Commission’s 2016 Digital Economy and Society Index ranked Denmark as no. 1. In a diplomacy vocabulary, this is ‘soft power’. But we also have challenges. Too many of our companies haven’t yet jumped on the digitization train, we need more IT specialists in our workforce and our e-trade balance is negative.

An important aspect of TechPlomacy will be to use our embassies as outposts feeding information into our policy formulation at home. This could be in the foreign and security policy sphere (cyber, drones, data protection etc.) and in development policies (taking advantage of new technologies in humanitarian aid and as a driver for economic growth in developing countries). But equally important, within many other both public and private sectors of society – such as the labor market, environment, energy, healthcare, education, transportation and critical infrastructure.

We have seen a number of the world’s biggest IT companies deciding to establish new facilities in Denmark. An illustration of the importance of tech as a priority in our investment policies. But time has come to broaden and elevate this to a cross-cutting foreign policy priority.

The purpose of TechPlomacy is clear: To increase our knowledge of global developments in a crucially important area where Denmark has vital interests at stake – and to use Denmark’s strengths to promote our interests, values and visions in the relevant spheres of influence. That is the raison d’etre of not only TechPlomacy but diplomacy in general.

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