Traditional diplomacy is about territory. It works on the assumption that human communities are organized in sovereign nation-states with clearly defined borders. Such diplomacy is much more comfortable with geography than with anything else.

Introduction

Traditional diplomacy is about territory. It works on the assumption that human communities are organized in sovereign nation-states with clearly defined borders. Such diplomacy is much more comfortable with geography than with anything else. Diplomats love to work with maps.

So in a way there is something strange about a diplomat addressing the concept of virtual diplomacy, of going beyond traditional diplomacy. Territory has been the currency of diplomacy. Traditional diplomacy may be ill equipped to look at a world where territory is no longer the defining principle.

We are witnessing today an event of a magnitude similar to that surrounding the invention of the printing press by Johann Gutenberg. The invention of the printing press destroyed the pretense of the Latin language to universality. It fundamentally changed the relationship between a universal learned class of clerics and the people at large. It changed the relationship between religion and power. One could even say that the eventual birth of the modern nation-state was in some ways a consequence of that event.

What will be the impact of this new revolution in information and communications technologies? Just as Gutenberg's contemporaries, we are not yet fully aware of all its long-term implications. We are too immersed in it to really understand this revolution. I will, however, characterize what might be the implications of this revolution.

About the Author

Jean-Marie Guéhenno

Transcript of a presentation at the 1997 Virtual Diplomacy Conference
April 1, 1997

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