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Within the next decade, over 90 percent of all people on earth will own a mobile phone, tying the world together in a single information and communications network. The rapid growth of this network is changing every part of our lives and our societies, and is putting incredible power into the hands of individuals to understand and impact the world around them. For the U.S. Department of State, our increasingly interconnected world presents both new opportunities and challenges different than those faced in the 20th century.
“21st Century Statecraft” is a new mode of thinking at the State Department that understands the world as a networked place, and sees an opportunity to embrace the technologies that are tying together the world’s people. Over the past 18 months, the State Department has taken advantage of the global network to conduct public diplomacy, strengthen civil societies, improve security and promote economic development around the world. More broadly, the objective of this new strategy is to give newfound voice to individual people in global affairs.
Based on this view of the global network as a powerful tool for connecting people across borders, the State Department came to see online rights as equal in importance to their offline analogues. Freedoms of expression, assembly and commerce can hardly be imagined in the 21st century without their extension to the online sphere. In January, 2010, Secretary Clinton laid out a vision for “Internet Freedom,” arguing that the defense of online liberties must be seen as integral to the defense of American values, strategic objectives, and economic goals.
This paper is an overview of the State Department’s use of new technology in the conduct of U.S. foreign policy, with a focus on the “21st Century Statecraft” and “Internet Freedom” initiatives. Not intended to be comprehensive or critical, this paper attempts to define and clarify these initiatives and the arguments supporting them, and offer a platform for further debate. These are new, evolving but crucially important issues, and informed conversation about the role of technology in our world is critical if these technologies are to be a positive force in history.