Amb. Gérard Araud and the US on Twitter

France appointed Gérard Araud as their ambassador to the USA in September of this year.  After his tenure began, I started to follow him on Twitter and added him to my list of European ambassadors to the US.  I was immediately struck by his use of digital diplomacy and the fact that he replied to tweets; so much so, that I tweeted about it.

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This past week, however, I noticed that many of his tweets concerning the US sent a mixed message.  Some seemed to praise the relationship between the US and France, while others were fairly negative towards the US.  This got me thinking about the purpose not only of ambassadors and traditional diplomacy, but also the use of digital diplomacy.

Here are the two tweets that seemed fairly positive towards the US:

Now for the “negative”:

The message to me is this, “The US is important for the French economy, but it has some pretty messed up domestic policies.”  We use a system of measurement that very few people in the world use, our gun laws are horribly archaic and inept, and people in the US are not expected to live as long as our European friends.  Before I continue, let me be clear, I agree with Ambassador Araud’s attitude regarding our policies.  We need stricter gun control laws and better healthcare and other social policies.  I have no problem at all with the Ambassador’s positions.  My concern is whether or not this is the best way to go about stating these opinions on Twitter.

Let’s start with the purpose of an ambassador- the highest representative of one government to another with the goal of representing the home country’s interests and policies while perhaps trying to maintain and strengthen relations between the two countries.  Add to that the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ thoughts on digital soft diplomacy, “Our soft diplomacy is aimed notably at promoting France’s image and thus defending our economic, linguistic and cultural interests.”  In my opinion, there seems to be a disconnect between the Ambassador’s tweets, and the purpose of an ambassador in general and the mission of the French MFA.

Perhaps a more effective use of Twitter would have been to promote France’s gun control laws and other social policies.  If you’re going to criticize somebody, at least make it constructive.  Tell us why France’s policies are examples of good governance.  Explain to us how our two governments can work together to improve citizens’ lives on both sides of the Atlantic.  Make the case for the US to adopt the metric system instead of just, “Everybody else uses it.”  Tell us the secret of France’s success in having a longer life expectancy.  Is it due to the French healthcare system, social welfare policies, the diet?  This is a great opportunity for the Ambassador to tweet to Americans about French culture (I should also add that the embassy already does a great job of this with their website, French Culture and Education in the US).

Again, I agree with the Ambassador’s sentiments that we Americans can learn from the French, and from Europeans in general, when it comes to social policies.  I just wonder if perhaps he wants to rethink his use of digital diplomacy so as to not infuriate easily offended Americans (see for example Americans’ responses to Newcastle’s #IfWeWon campaign).

Thanks for reading.

Introducing Digital Diplomacy to High School Students

In July, I wrote a piece on possibilities for bringing digital diplomacy into the classroom, so this year, I am making it a point to follow through with some of those ideas.  Some times, as teachers, we have really great ideas that we want to try, but once the school year starts, we go into survival mode and forget about how we’re going to transform our classrooms to become the next John Keating.  Due to my interest, however, in digital diplomacy, I have tried hard to actually bring my ideas to fruition.

One of the courses I am teaching this year is The History of US Foreign Policy.  The curriculum for the course begins with the Seven Years’ War and continues up to the present.  Since we’re going to eventually talk about current US foreign policy, one of my goals is to incorporate digital diplomacy and talk about how the US State Department and other diplomats, embassies, and ministries of foreign affairs use social media as a tool.  To give my students a taste of what that might look like, during our unit on the War of 1812, I showed them the following tweet from the British Embassy to the US–

British Embassy Tweet Burning DC

and their follow-up tweet–

British Embassy Apology for Tweet

To formally introduce students to the concept, I am going to give them two handouts- 1) excerpts from Twitter for Diplomats, by Andreas Sandre, who works for the Italian Embassy to the United States, and 2) the “Executive Summary” from Twiplomacy Study 2014.  After reading them, students should be able to explain what digital diplomacy is and the difference between using social media as a tool for information versus a tool for engagement (one-way communication vs two-way communication).

The next step is to show them how digital diplomacy is being discussed today by its practitioners.  First, I plan on telling them about the Stockholm Initiative for Digital Diplomacy.  This is a great example of how states from around the world are coming together to discuss the possibilities on using social media as a tool for diplomacy.  Next, I am going to show them the UK FCO’s website for social media policy, and focus on what they say about why social media matters.  After that, I plan on showing them the video of the G+ Hangout, “Should Leaders Tweet Personally,” hosted by Matthias Lüfkens of Twiplomacy.

Instead of me summarizing here what the participants said about the topic, you can read my brief thoughts on it from an earlier piece, “US Ambassadors to Europe on Twitter.”  I will also show them that there are a handful of other videos about the topic on YouTube, but due to time constraints, I plan on only actually showing the one.

By now, students should understand what digital diplomacy is, so the next step is to show them the magnitude of the social media presence by a few ministries of foreign affairs.  Since we’re here in the US and the course is on US foreign policy, I plan on starting with the State Department’s “Global Social Media Presence.”  The list of channels should give them a good idea of the role social media plays in both spreading US policy and sharing American culture around the globe.  Since I will have shown them the FCO’s website, I’ll follow that up with their site that lists their accounts.  As I mentioned in an earlier piece, “European Ambassadors to the US on Twitter,” I really like how the France MFA, Italian Embassy to the US, and the Netherlands MFA have found different ways of sharing social media with followers; so, I plan on showing those sites as well.  Finally, given the prevalence of Russia in current world news, I plan on showing students the Russian MFA’s site for their social media.  I’m sure that other countries have done some pretty interesting things to showcase their use of social media for digital diplomacy, but as I’ve already mentioned, I do not have the time to go through all of them (if you know of one that I should absolutely add to my list, however, please let me know).  By the end of this part, students will pick a few social media accounts to follow to begin looking at the ways embassies or MFA’s use it.

The final step in all of this is to actually talk with the practitioners themselves.  So far, I have lined up Skype sessions with the following: Graham Lampa of the US State Department, Andreas Sandre of the Italian Embassy to the US, and Lithuania’s Ambassador to the US, Zygimantas Pavilionis.  I have reached out to the US Ambassador to Lithuania, Deborah McCarthy, but I am still waiting to hear back from her.  Once we get closer to our unit on present-day foreign policy, I hope to have a Skype session with the US Mission to NATO.

The big question now is, will it work?  Will students see that social media can be used as an effective tool for information and engagement?  Or, will they see this as an attempt to take away the “fun” from their use of social media?  Will they become more interested in foreign policy, and perhaps even in the world around them?  I’ll let you know once the semester is over.

If you work for an embassy or ministry of foreign affairs and want to reach out to US high school students to teach them about your country and its policies, culture, etc., please click on the “About” tab at the top of the page to see the various ways to contact me.

Thanks for reading.

**You may have noticed that all of the people I plan on talking to and the websites I plan on showing are either from the US or Europe.  Given my passion and strong support for transatlantic relations, I am also using this unit to teach students about the importance of the transatlantic community.

Digital Diplomacy in the Classroom

One of my goals as a teacher is to increase my students’ interest and awareness in global affairs and cultures, as well as break down stereotypes.  I also encourage them to use their knowledge to engage with our leaders and officials by writing letters.  Additionally, I try to show them how social media can be used as an effective tool to engage with others in meaningful ways.  With all of that in mind, I propose that digital diplomacy offers some great opportunities to combine both of those action pieces (using social media to engage with diplomatic officials and leaders).

I’ve used social media in my classroom for the past two years (since I’ve been on Twitter).  Mostly, I’ve used it in the context of giving my students the “dual-screen experience” during political speeches and debates.  I would have them watch the speech/debate on television and follow along on social media.  In class the next day, it gave us an opportunity to discuss both the content of the speech/debate and talk about how the politicians/parties/journalists were trying to frame those events with questions like- What were they tweeting?  How does that shape our conversations about the event?  Who won on social media?

I also developed a unit where my students compared the use of Twitter by politicians and parties in the US and the UK over the same period of time.  After they examined the tweets, they had to score them on whether or not they- 1) were informative, 2) engaged with constituents, and 3) were entertaining (i.e. snark).  To top it off, and to bring in the perspective of somebody from Europe who knows a thing or two about social media in politics, I asked Jon Worth to Skype with my students.  Any time students can engage with an expert in a field, they are going to have a more meaningful learning experience.

This brings me to how we might incorporate digital diplomacy into the classroom.  With most embassies and ambassadors on Twitter or Facebook, there are more opportunities for engagement and learning about other countries and cultures.  Since Facebook is blocked in many schools (mine included), I’m going to focus on Twitter.

First off, teachers would have to find all of those Twitter feeds for their students.  That can be a time-consuming process, and as we all know, teachers do not have loads of time on their hands.  Thankfully, others have already done that work for us.  Diplomacy Matters has created a monthly Twitter Guide with the names of countries, their ambassador to the US, the embassy’s Twitter handle, and the ambassador’s Twitter handle.  Additionally, they put the national days for each country that month on the guide.

Now that we have that information, we need to begin asking how we can use it in the classroom.  Let’s start with the national days from the Diplomacy Matters Twitter Guide.  Students can research the history behind those national days and report back to their classmates.  If it’s during the school year, take some time (it doesn’t have to be a lot of time) to celebrate the national day.  Tweet what they learned and share pictures of the celebration with the embassy.

Another idea is to have students analyze tweets to see how embassies and ambassadors use Twitter.  Do the content of the Tweets differ between the embassy and the ambassador?  Are they using Twitter as an informational tool only, or do they engage with US citizens?  Do we get any sense of their country’s values?  How do their values compare with those of the US?

Teachers can also supplement current events with social media.  Besides the traditional news outlets, what do the embassies/ambassadors say about a given event or topic?  This a great opportunity to teach point of view to students as well because even though countries might be in the same region, they might have different approaches to the same event/topic.  Why might that be?  Let’s use Europe as an example and the events in Ukraine.  Why might tweets coming from the Eastern European embassies differ from those coming from Western European embassies?  What role does history play in shaping current events and policy choices?

Finally, and this is pie-in-the-sky thinking here, but maybe, just maybe, educators could contact embassies to see if they could hold a Twitter chat.  This could be with the ambassador or with embassy personnel, but either way, you’re giving students a way to engage with diplomatic officials to learn about another country and its culture.  The closest I’ve come to this is when my Model UN team visited the Greek Consulate in Chicago during one of our conferences.  They were able to spend about an hour talking with the Consul General, Ioanna Efthymiadou, asking questions about Greece’s foreign policy and its role in the world.  Of course, my students had questions prepared in advance, and to make a Twitter chat flow nicely students would have to do the same.

Model UN team at the Chicago Greek Consulate, February 2013

Model UN team at the Chicago Greek Consulate, February 2013

To close, I see a lot of possibilities to bring digital diplomacy into the classroom.  This is a great way to increase students’ awareness of the world around them and to teach them how to use social media as a tool for engagement.  If you have any thoughts on this, I’d love to hear from you.

Thanks for reading.

Educating Future Generations of Atlanticists: A Response to Tobias Bunde

I recently came across an excellent (and important) essay by Tobias Bunde titled, “Will There Be Another Generation of Atlanticists?”  In it, Bunde points out the concern felt by many that the under-40 generation do not seem to appreciate the transatlantic relationship as much as their parents’ or grandparents’ generations.  He also proposes that leaders on both sides of the Atlantic need to do more to point to the future of the transatlantic relationship and not focus as much on the past.  While politicians, economists, and other government officials are surely important for the transatlantic renaissance, we must ask ourselves how we are going to ensure future generations see the benefits and understand the special relationship.  I propose that one of the most important ways to accomplish this is through education.

At one point, Bunde argues that “just telling ourselves again and again about our glorious common history will not suffice to build the ground for a strong transatlantic partnership.”  He is correct in that if we want to move forward with Atlantic community, we cannot continually look to the past and all of its successes.  The past is important, however, if we are going to educate a future generation of Atlanticists.  It is crucial that the under-40, or for that matter the under-20 generation, understand where we came from to better understand where we might possibly go.  In this regard, I am reminded of what John Lewis Gaddis wrote in the preface to his book, The Cold War: A New History.  He said that the book was “meant chiefly… for a new generation of readers for whom the Cold War was never ‘current events.’”  If we want our youth to understand why the transatlantic relationship matters, we must first start with educating them about its past.  For many years, I taught three courses on European history- AP European History (1400-Present); Europe in the Era of Two World Wars; and The Cold War and the Collapse of Communism (in which I assigned Gaddis’ book).  If high schools offered courses like these, we would build a solid foundation for future Atlanticists.

As Bunde mentioned, however, the past alone will not suffice.  We must therefore take it upon ourselves to educate students about the present-day transatlantic community.  (Since I teach in the US, I am going to limit my discussion here to what we can do to teach about Europe and NATO.)  Since NATO is a cornerstone of the transatlantic alliance, teachers should educate their students about the basics and current missions.  The NATO website is fairly easy to navigate and even has resources called LibGuides, “web-based research guides that contain publicly available information.”  I am a bit surprised, however, that I could not find any sort of resources specifically geared towards teachers.

In addition to NATO, students in the US should learn about the EU.  The Delegation of the EU to the US has great resources for teachers.  Personally, I have used the “EU Guide for Americans” and “Europe in 12 Lessons” with my students.  If schools are within thirty miles of Washington, DC, teachers could have one of the diplomats who work at the Delegation visit their classroom.  I was fortunate enough to have Dr. Christian Burgsmüller, Counselor Head of the Energy, Transport and Environment Section, visit my class when he was in Madison for a different event.  Finally, high school students can learn about the EU and Euro by participating in the Euro Challenge.

Teachers should also encourage students to attend seminars and conferences about the transatlantic community and global issues.  Just recently, students and young professionals had the opportunity to attend the Danish Atlantic Youth Seminar.  The goal of the seminar was to “update the post-Cold War generation on current security challenges facing the Alliance and the rest of the world.”  We need seminars like that here in the US.  Additionally, students should participate in Model UN or Model EU (although the latter are usually for post-secondary students).  Being able to delve deeply into one country’s foreign policy and learn how it approaches a variety of issues, can lead to a better understanding of not only other states, but also other international organizations.

Since teachers can play a pivotal role in maintaining and strengthening the transatlantic relationship, institutions and agencies, think tanks, and embassies involved in US-European relations should give teachers an opportunity to learn about them.  Before I read Bunde’s essay, I wrote a piece titled, “Teachers and the Transatlantic Relationship,” for the German Marshall Fund Blog Competition, arguing that teachers (both from the US and Europe) should travel across the Atlantic to learn more about our friends on the “other side of the pond.”  I was extremely fortunate to have been part of a EU study trip to Brussels one summer, but at only five days, it was not long enough for me to create a lesson or unit from my experiences.  I suggest that trips should be three to four weeks in length, with teachers creating a lesson plan at the end of each week based on their experiences.  Let’s say a group of twenty-five teachers goes to Brussels for three weeks.  At the end of that trip, those teachers would have created a combined total of seventy-five lesson plans on various aspects of Europe.  Those teachers will go back and teach many, many students each year about the transatlantic community, thereby educating a future generation of Atlanticists.

I agree with Bunde and others over their concerns regarding the future of the transatlantic relationship.  I also agree with Hillary Clinton when she wrote in her book, Hard Choices, that “For America, our alliance with Europe is worth more than gold.”  We just need to convince our youth why it is so valuable.  Finally, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said recently that we need to “deepen our personal and cultural links.”  We can accomplish this by educating our students about the transatlantic relationship and by increasing the amount of teacher exchanges.

Thanks for reading.

Follow up note, July 15, 2014: I neglected to mention that I learned about Tobias Bunde’s essay via a tweet from Joerg Wolf, editor-in-chief of Atlantic Community.

Nuclear Disarmament and Non-proliferation

As the international community becomes increasingly globalized, the issues that states must contend with transcend national boundaries. To address these issues, leaders must decrease competition and increase cooperation with other states. One of the most important issues that world leaders must address in the next decade is nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation.

Since the Cold War, the threat of nuclear war has loomed over statesmen as one of the most important international security issues. As the U.S. and Soviet Union increased the size of their nuclear arsenals, other states began to build their own, thereby increasing the aura of fear surrounding the possibility of a nuclear attack. In the late 1960s, as the world watched the U.S. and Soviet Union build up their stockpiles of Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) and Anti-Ballistic Missiles (ABMs), states began discussing ways to decrease the chances of proliferation and testing of weapons, while working towards disarmament.

These efforts resulted in a number of treaties, including the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) and the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) between the U.S. and Soviet Union, and eventually, the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), and a number of Nuclear-Weapon-Free-Zones (NWFZs) around the world. The NPT is based on three main ideas: 1) non-proliferation, 2) peaceful use of nuclear energy, and 3) nuclear disarmament.  The SALT I and SALT II meetings led to agreements by the U.S. and Soviet Union to limit the amount of nuclear weapons in their respective arsenals. The CTBT calls for states to ban conducting tests of nuclear weapons. Finally, there are five NWFZs in effect for Latin America and the Caribbean, the South Pacific, Southeast Asia, Africa, and Central Asia. Talks are currently going on to create one for the Middle East.

Even though the international community for the most part agrees that nuclear weapons should be limited and kept out of the hands of non-nuclear weapons states, disarmament has proved to be elusive. There are eight states known to have nuclear stockpiles- China, France, India, Israel, Pakistan, Russia, United Kingdom, and the United States- five of which have not signed the CTBT. In addition to those states, North Korea has tested nuclear weapons but does not have an arsenal. Most recently, the global community has expressed concern over Iran’s possible program to gain nuclear weapons.

When it comes to the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, there are a number of high-priority issues, most notably the possibility that terrorists may acquire and use them and the current concern over Iran’s program. In order to prevent terrorists from seizing nuclear weapons, or even nuclear materials to build the weapons, states must take measures to ensure their nuclear energy facilities are properly guarded. States must also cooperate to crack down on the black market trade for radioactive materials and resources. When states do not cooperate, people like A.Q. Khan are able to sell materials to rogue states like North Korea.

States can take any number of actions towards Iran, including diplomacy, covert action, sanctions, preventive strikes, opposition support, public diplomacy, and do nothing (allow Iran to move forward with its plans). Leaders should start with small ideas before working up to bigger ones like encouraging democratic reforms and taking military action. One example would be to set up an exchange between teachers of both countries. If we can somehow encourage people from both countries to gain a better understanding of each other instead of feeding into the misconceptions, then perhaps options like diplomacy would be more feasible in the future.

Before states reduce or even eliminate their nuclear arsenals, there are a number of other issues that will have to be addressed. First, states must ensure that their actions are transparent and need to allow others to verify any such actions. In this case, leaders would do well to remember the words of President Reagan, “Trust, but verify.” The IAEA plays a pivotal role in verification, but states must be willing to allow inspectors into their borders and visit nuclear facilities. Iran’s willingness to allow inspectors to visit Arak in December 2013 was a small step toward greater transparency and verifiability.  States that are not transparent about their nuclear programs will most likely face punishment; in the case of Iran, punishment was in the form of sanctions.

A second major issue surrounding disarmament is negotiations. Leaders and officials must be willing to sit down at the negotiating table to come to agreements. While bilateral negotiations are important, multilateral negotiations are more crucial for global disarmament. Bilateral negotiations between the U.S. and Russia, the states with the two largest arsenals, have been instrumental in leading to treaties like New START in 2010. The goal of New START was to limit and reduce the size of each state’s nuclear weapons, thereby bringing the world closer to disarmament. Other states that are historical adversaries, like India and Pakistan, need to be willing to negotiate to reduce their own arsenals. In the case of those two countries, this is especially important given the prevalence of terrorist networks in the region. Multilateral negotiations, like the P5+1 with Iran, must also continue to shape the future of disarmament. The more states that come to agreements regarding these matters, the greater the possibility of a comprehensive solution.

Multilateral negotiations can also lead to the establishment of NFWZs, another important factor in the issue of nuclear disarmament. The important aspect about those talks is that any agreement must come from the parties themselves; they must have ownership of the agreement. If more NFWZs exist, then there are fewer states involved with the proliferation of weapons. If fewer states have nuclear arsenals, then the chances for nuclear disarmament increase.

The role of security must also be taken into account when discussing disarmament. If a state feels that its security is weakened as a result of disarmament, then it might be less likely to engage in talks. For example, Israel might feel that its nuclear stockpile is one of the few variables guaranteeing its safety in the Middle East. Giving up those weapons would therefore be detrimental to its existence. This is especially the case given the concerns over Iran’s program.

Despite the international community’s goal of nuclear disarmament, states are hesitant to reduce or eliminate their stockpiles. In this situation, where nobody wants to take the first step for fear of weakening security, states must come together and cooperate. They must be transparent and agree to verifiability. Leaders must be willing to negotiate with adversaries, both past and present. Finally, states must rethink their military strategies so that the use of nuclear weapons is not an option.

Is this topic the greatest threat to international security, or do you think there are other more pressing matters?

Thanks for reading.

Editor’s Note: I wrote this post as a way to organize my thoughts as I prepared a lesson on this subject for the next school year.