Princeton Professor Anne Marie Slaughter recently wrote a blog post discussing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s remarks during a recent United Nations Security Council meeting calling for a resolution to end the violence in Syria. While diplomatic relations are typically addressed from government to government, Secretary Clinton decided to speak directly to the people currently oppressed from a brutal regime.
Speaking to the Syrian people, Clinton stated: “Syria belongs to its 23 million citizens, not to one man or his family.”
While this isn’t groundbreaking statement that will receive front page headlines from The New York Times, it represented a dynamic shift in 21st Century Statecraft. A high ranking official of the United States government speaking directly to the people of a country during a UNSC meeting represents a changing paradigm in how diplomatic relations are taking place. When a government fails to take care of its people, alternative measures must be taken.
The fascinating aspect of this for me is the role that technology plays and will continue to play in digital diplomacy. Civilians in Syria have evolved into journalists in their own right, utilizing camera phones and video cameras to upload videos of the government crackdowns on its people, serving as an upfront reminder that these atrocities are occurring everyday. I believe that Secretary Clinton’s remarks during the meeting reflect that cry for help, and a recognition that our world body must act swiftly and collectively to prevent more killings of innocent people.
My hope is that greater exposure to atrocities will somehow catalyze action from our world leaders, despite clear political and social restrictions. Taking Egypt for example, the “Twitter Revolution” as it was called, coordinated Egyptians gathering in Tahrir Square that brought about the inevitable fall of President Hosni Mubarak, and served as a message to forces outside the country’s jurisdiction to voice their objections to anti-government crackdowns. Despite this, it was the Egyptians internal plight that resulted in the downfall of the autocratic leader, rather than calls from world leaders for the recalcitrant Mubarak to step down. Does this mean that technology plays little to no role in coordinating third-party political action to result in democratic reform? Surely not.
What the Twitter Revolution did in fact help us understand was that the massive amounts of people coordinating using social media and technology focused the world’s attention on the issue, pressuring Mubarak to step aside. The combination of Egyptians protesting in the streets, and people around the world (including world leaders) voicing their opinions directly concerning the issue produced a result that ended up benefiting greater Egyptian population.
Reverting back to Syria, it becomes imperative that the people are given every opportunity to voice their opinions, and utilize technological tools in order to do so. Just as Secretary Clinton chose to use the UN as a platform for connecting with the Syrian people, so too must the Syrian people with the limited tools and bandwidth they have, continue to coordinate action and realistically personify the headlines in the streets of Homs and Damascus.