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Updating diplomacy

It is time for a clear mission, enduring strategies, and effective actions on global tech diplomacy. 

Today’s big tech companies are some of the most valuable corporate entities in history. With user bases far larger than the population of many countries. They are expanding both in size, reach and services with the result that technology has never been more pervasive in the lives of people around the globe. New technologies change how people interact and how societies function, and they reshape how we engage with the world.


Technology is an integrated part of our lives as well as an increasing parameter for competition on the geopolitical stage, challenging existing power structures. This has created new avenues for foreign policy, and diplomats are now discussing chips, 5G, AI, the Internet of Things and digital health.

Therefore, states must rethink their diplomatic approach. They must recognize the political influence and impact of the tech sector, and seeing technology as a crosscutting foreign and security policy priority. It is time for a clear mission, enduring strategies, and effective actions on global tech diplomacy. Technology should assist humanity in solving the shared global challenges of the 21st century. To ensure this we must increase the cooperation within tech diplomacy between likeminded countries that share a commitment to democratic ideals.

In my view, there are three waves to modern diplomacy. The first one started at the Vienna conference in 1815 and consisted of bilateral diplomacy where diplomats were   sent to other nation states. The second was after World War II, when we established relationships with multilateral organizations and posted scores of new diplomats in cities like New York and Geneva to engage not with individual countries, but new geopolitical structures where inter- and supranational bodies makes decisions on foreign and security political matters.


Now we are in the third wave, where foreign policy is not only decided by countries or international organizations, but where we as diplomats and Governments deal with corporate non-state actors who have a huge influence and impact on our societies.

The EU is currently debating large digital regulatory packages (chiefly the DSA and the DMA) and simultaneously works at the international level with other global players to shape the developments of the internet and the telecommunications world.

In the U.S., President Biden has made a number of high level appointments known for their focusing on regulating tech, and has focused on renewing US international engagement. At the Summit between the United States and the European Union in June, President Biden, European Commission President von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel announced the formation of the U.S.-EU Trade and Technology Council (TTC), with the aim of shaping the global tech future. It indicates a new avenue in the EU-US relationship focused on alignment within technology and digital development.

The TTC has been created at a time where the development and deployment of new technology is increasingly critical for our shared future. The issues at stake are many - How can we secure democratic values, cyber security and create a healthy online environment for citizens in the digital age? With an increasing number of colleagues in Silicon Valley and all over the world, there is new possibilities for cooperation and it is clear that we speak with an increasingly stronger voice.


Denmark’s TechPlomacy as a first mover

In mid-2017, Denmark became the first country in the world to appoint a tech ambassador. In the time since 2017 the environment and rhetoric around tech companies has shifted.

Since 2017, we have had massive cyber security incidents, a dramatic increase in ransomware attacks, unflattering corporate leaks, hacks of consumer data as well as various scandals with a long shelf life in the media. Our perspective on how technology is changing our society has evolved along with all of these occurrences. Therefore our experience is that technological diplomacy, as a policy priority, has become more important than ever.

Overall I have learned four key lessons from the past years of tech diplomacy.

1) Head quarter access makes a difference – but building networks and gaining access to the right level takes time and effort. It is well worth it however, when your government needs to solve a specific issue where big tech plays a role. Something I suspect will happen with more frequency.

2) There is a need to bring something to the table – and the industry is genuinely interested in better understanding concerns of governments.

3) Tech companies are as different from each other as countries. They have different business models, corporate cultures and different levels of maturity.

4) Tech diplomacy is not only important and useful from a foreign policy perspective, but also an important and valued contribution to Denmark’s tech policy development, where the MFA tech unit plays a central role. It has raised the awareness of the foreign-, security- and geopolitical aspects of tech among DK line ministries, and routinely contribute to national tech policy development.

Technology evolves incredible fast, therefor we cannot wait 8, 10 or 15 years to act on how we want tech to shape our democracy and future society. There is understandable public concern about how technology is impacting society, and that requires us to strive to make a difference here and now, and to explain what we are doing. Therefore, Denmark’s tech diplomacy has laid out a three-year strategy with 21 specific key performance indicators that are publicly available. In doing this we show the Danish population, and stakeholders everywhere, the difference we seek to make.

The era of tech diplomacy has arrived. Let us collaborate between countries and work with Silicon Valley and the global tech sector to ensure that the interplay between technology and society is a force for good in the 21st century.



// Anne Marie Engtoft-Larsen, Tech Ambassador of Denmark