The second ambassador’s roundtable brought together Dr Jon Fanzun (Special Envoy for Cyber Foreign and Security Policy of Switzerland), Amb. Tobias Feakin (Ambassador for Cyber Affairs and Critical Technology of Australia), and Amb. Nathalie Jaarsma (Ambassador-at-Large for Security Policy and Cyber of the Netherlands). Dr Katharina Höne (Director of Research, DiploFoundation) moderated the roundtable in which participants provided a snapshot of the current situation regarding the digital foreign policies of their respective countries, insights into their work, and a look at the key challenges and future possibilities regarding digital foreign policy.
Australia, the Netherlands, and Switzerland have comprehensive digital foreign policy strategies. Why should countries develop such strategies or similar instruments, depending on their context?
‘Digital’ is unmistakably part of a modern foreign policy. Fanzun highlighted a number of fundamental shifts that create a need for governments to establish clear lines of thinking on digital issues in their foreign policies. First, the digital transformation of societies is happening with increasing speed. Second, we see an increasingly fragmented world around digital issues, and geopolitics has returned in the form of digital geopolitics. Third, the private sector plays a crucial role in this area and governments need to find effective ways of engaging with technology companies and other actors. Fourth, while it is well established that international law also applies to cyberspace, what that actually means needs to be further clarified.
What are the advantages of having such a strategy?
Feakin argued that a comprehensive strategy is first of all useful in helping all relevant domestic actors and global partners to have an understanding of the foreign policy goals and the values associated with the country’s digital foreign policy. Second, it helps create transparency around how governments are addressing a variety of digital issues, including cybersecurity. Third, by including all relevant stakeholders in the drafting process, strategies can serve a coordinating function and create buy-in for implementation.
What are some of the key elements of the work of digital and cyber ambassadors?
Jaarsma described her role as having five key elements. First, there is the contribution to furthering and negotiating the international normative framework on digital and cyber issues. Second, the role coordinates the diplomatic response to, for example, cyberthreats, with other countries. Third, it is about support for other countries to increase their cyber resilience and to be able to partake in international discussions effectively. Fourth, human rights and individual freedoms, regarding, for example, online disinformation, internet shutdowns, algorithmic decision-making, and freedom online, are important areas of focus. Lastly, the role addresses challenges associated with new and emerging technologies such as 5G, artificial intelligence (AI), and quantum computing.
What are the main challenges at this point?
The three ambassadors agreed that coordination, both domestically and internationally, remains one of the main challenges. Making use of available data sets within foreign ministries and across ministries in order to foster evidence-based decision-making and include digital tools, such as big data analytics and machine learning, remains a goal to strive towards. In addition, capacity building to enable meaningful participation in global forums and negotiations on digital issues remains high on the agenda for all three countries.
How can the (perceived) tension between promoting universal values and fostering national interests be addressed?
Feakin suggested that everyone involved should be clear on the norms, values, and principles that they represent, and that universal values and national interests do not need to be thought of as contradictory. Fanzun pointed to the need of advancing values with relevant partners and using areas of common ground in order to move forward on specific digital issues. Jaarsma highlighted the importance of being transparent about how the country interprets and applies international law in cyberspace.