Ukraine-Russia-West Conflict: Citizens Bypassing Official Channels Using Technology to Connect Conflicting Parties

By Adnan Zuberi, March 23, 2015

How did ordinary citizens organize live diplomatic broadcasts between:

– An Ukrainian national in Kyiv that is a journalist and now an elected MP,
– Canada’s military college defense chair and UN peacekeeping panelist, and
– a former diplomat and advisor to the Russian Administration on missile defense?

The answer lies in the realization that only a basic mastery of freely and widely accessible communication technologies is needed, as well as a genuine interest in opening diplomatic channels. There isn’t even a pebble in the way of establishing communications.

Although financial sanctions implicitly signal restrictions on communicating with “the other”, new credible and transparent channels are emerging to allow interconnectedness by increasing communications as a means to make armed conflict less possible.

One of many successful efforts includes the NGO known as ICDiplomacy, pronounced “I See Diplomacy” and formally “International Channels for Diplomacy”. With the support of notables such as Peter D. Scott, a former Canadian diplomat and Professor Emeritus at the University of California Berkeley, and Ambassador Edward L. Peck, the former US Chief of Mission to Iraq, simple networking through social media and emails is now making possible rapid contact-building and dialogue. ICDiplomacy has hosted and continues to host live diplomatic discussions that are viewed by civil societies around the world on the ICDiplomacy.com website.[1]

But there is more to the story of how important website broadcasts are conducted on important issues like the Ukraine-Russia-West conflict. As social media tools are integrated into the ICDiplomacy website, viewers around the world can now have a say in discussions with high level personalities by submitting their questions and comments about peace strategies in real-time, as was shown in a recent broadcast with the NATO Council of Canada, and government advisors in the Ukraine and Russia.

The range of social media applications is infinite, and televised mainstream media, which doesn’t have this capability of integrating viewers into the discussion, is at a disadvantage.

Students can now go beyond their educational programs in international relations, diplomacy and history, by actually seeing and interacting with academic and diplomatic personalities, while learning diplomatic history as it unfolds. ICDiplomacy also provides students internships so that they can actually organize diplomatic discussions and build a resume based on putting theory to practice.

Citizen diplomats are sometimes asked what meaningful value they can contribute, given that they do not have official powers. This attitude is reflected in the literature as well, in which the history of diplomacy has involved mainly letter writing and in-person discussions that have been confined to official diplomats. The book Diplomacy: A Very Short Introduction (2010), published by the Oxford University Press, with the exception of one page discussing civil society organizations near the end, does not make any mention of the existence of average people playing a role in foreign affairs.[2] As citizen diplomats have no powers, it may indeed appear unusual to involve them.

But as the medium in which we communicate has changed towards a more transparent online world, the nature of official channels is having to change as well. In Diplomacy in the Digital Age, Arif Lalani, Canada’s Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, writes:,

“Social media and the networks they spawn are sprawling, messy things, and they threaten to rearrange the comfortable hierarchical distinctions we value too much. They also undermine our control of the policy making process. Our old networks were tame and shuttered affairs, closed both by conviction and the practical difficulties of bringing large numbers of trusted collaborators to the table. This is no longer the case, and consultative networks can quickly take on a life of their own, leaving policy makers scrambling to catch up.”[3]

Ordinary citizens are pioneering web apps that are reshaping the communications paradigm, and that can facilitate foreign affairs discourse.  Many citizen diplomats see themselves as global citizens first, which means that their participation allows them to be independent and neutral balancers on foreign affairs.

The contacts of countless organizations and officials are publicly available, and officials are often willing to participate if a professional forum is provided. This goes to show that, when official diplomatic channels are limited and counterproductive, officials are open to alternative channels supplied by citizen diplomats.

Adnan Zuberi
Citizen Diplomat
Toronto, Canada
e: director@icdiplomacy.com
w: www.ICDiplomacy.com

Notes

[1] International Channels for Diplomacy. www.ICDiplomacy.com

[2] Siracusa, Joseph M. Diplomacy: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2010. Print.

[3] Stein, Janice Gross., Colin Robertson, and Allan Gotlieb. Diplomacy in the Digital Age: Essays in Honour of Ambassador Allan Gotlieb. Toronto: Signal, 2011. Print.

Disclaimer: Any views or opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the authors and the news agencies and do not necessarily represent those of ICDiplomacy. This article is published for information purposes only.