The diplomat is an envoy, a carrier of messages. It is only the medium that changes with the times. The messenger and the message endure regardless of the situational shifts. Diplomacy is a fine art, used for deal-making, system making, peacemaking, and to avoid conflict. For centuries, diplomats have had a face-to-face relationship with a pen and their negotiations in their hands. The 21st century has expanded its evolvement on so many levels that even diplomacy has become and part of it. Social Media has made diplomacy more transparent and people-oriented. It is the age of the ‘naked diplomat’ as famously defined by Ambassador Tom Fletcher. It is the era of citizen diplomacy, the population at large is supported by the freedom of the internet and the online, digital world. Public diplomacy is a buzz that has been around for decades but has found its significance through social media. The diplomats become more interactive with the population. Diplomacy in an age of social media is beginning to leave its ozone chamber and its protected past. Google, at some stage, make a case for membership to the UN security council.

The US president has helped to uplift the status of social media. He first shares his opinions with the world before sharing it with his advisors. The diplomates around the world have to stay on alert 24/7. On 12 January 2016, two US Navy patrol boats wandered into Iranian waters in the Persian Gulf. Iranian military forces detained the ten mariners onboard on Farsi Island. Parallels were quickly drawn between Iranian actions in this instance and a similar episode in 2007 when British sailors and marines entering Iranian waters were detained for over two weeks.

A swift resolution seemed extremely unlikely, particularly given an incident in December 2015 when an Iranian military vessel fired on several ships including a US aircraft carrier and destroyer.

Yet, remarkably, by the next morning, Iran had released the two vessels and their crews. While some suggested the quick resolution was due to gains made through US President Obama’s strategy of engagement with Iran, others such as Senator John McCain suggested that such an inference was ‘ludicrous’ and that the ‘administration’s craven desire to preserve the dangerous Iranian deal at all costs knows no limit’.

Regardless of opinion on how it came about, the swift and peaceful solution to the intrusion into Iranian sovereign territory by US sailors came as a surprise to many. Even Secretary of State John Kerry, himself a key figure in diplomatic efforts to secure the release of the mariners, alluded to the unprecedented nature of Iran’s decision, stating: ‘We can all imagine how a similar situation might have played out three or four years ago.’

Kerry and his counterpart in Tehran, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, were central to the surprising release of the US sailors, speaking on the phone at least five times in the hours immediately following the incident and announcing the successful outcome on Twitter. Kerry posted that the ‘peaceful and efficient resolution of this issue is a testament to the critical role diplomacy plays in keeping our country secure and strong’ while half an hour later Zarif stated that he was ‘happy to see dialog and respect, not threats and impetuousness, swiftly resolved the #sailors episode. Let’s learn from this latest example’. Not only did twitter help create a positive outcome, but Kerry and Zarif could communicate freely.

Diplomates can use this platform as a way to make an impact and make the world a better place. They can use their political power as a way to potentially improve lives around the world. They can help to coordinate counterterrorism efforts, provide aid during disasters, security, and upliftment for women and children, address food insecurity and nutrition.

Twenty-first-century diplomacy needs amplification. The traditional diplomatic tasks continue, but we ignore the new technology of communication. The doors to the future have opened. No irrational fears of social media are necessary.

Contributed By- Tehreem Khaku, Content Writer @ Mitti Ke Rang

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