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While preparing for a new project, I came across a 2017 press bulletin of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark announcing the designation as the first-ever Tech ambassador as part of its new #TechPlomacy initiative.
Mr. Casper Klynge, a Danish career ambassador, arrived in the summer of 2017 in Silicon Valley. Things were not as smooth as they could be, as it took him nine months to meet with a senior official of a tech giant only to have a campus tour and a bag full of company goodies instead.[i]
In January 2020, the ambassador resigned for a post in Brussels working for Microsoft, a company that seems to better understand his role, according to Adam Satariano in his article The world´s first Ambassador to the tech industry as he frequently talked with the company´s president. [ii]
In August 2020, the Danish Foreign Ministry appointed Anne Marie Engtoft as the new Tech ambassador.[iii] She is the youngest ever ambassador of Denmark.
Why Tech companies?
At first, it seems odd that it was specifically a Tech Ambassador, as there has never been Oil Ambassadors or Finance Ambassador from different countries. But the article “Big tech companies are so powerful that a Nation sent an Ambassador to them” explains very clearly why these tech mammoths[iv] are incredibly different from the rest of multinational corporations:
“It isn’t just their sheer size and scale that place tech companies alongside nation-states. They are categorically different from the industrial corporations of previous eras. They are transnational entities that deal in data and information, more than physical products. This allows them to slip the bounds of national origins much easier than any other company. And both their structure and their form differ from those of their ancestors.”[v]
Digital platforms are “infrastructure for markets, communication, and information dissemination… [and as such they] mediate between communities, they are able to set rules and regulations that govern the behavior of markets, publishers, people, politics and so on.”[vi]
They also “govern the spaces they control. And by developing new technologies that are deployed as platforms, they can govern entirely new spaces before national governments are even aware that a new governor has emerged.” (ibid)
So, these businesses are totally different from traditional ones, so Ambassador Klynge is correct in stating that “These companies have moved from being companies with commercial interests to actually becoming de facto foreign policy actors.”[vii]
According to a report,[viii] the ambassador had some traditional duties of any high-ranking diplomat in charge of trade and investment in an embassy, a consulate or trade or Investment promotion office abroad. It means that among his responsibilities were the promotion of Danish export and foreign investment attraction.
But the main objectives of the tech ambassador position are to establish a dialogue and create relationships, not only with the tech giants but think tanks, universities, among others, and to relate information about the fast-changing technology that could have an impact on Denmark.
“…Part of the job involves intelligence gathering to help his government design policies before companies roll out new technologies such as advanced artificial intelligence, facial recognition tools, new health care platforms or autonomous vehicles in Denmark.”[ix]
These tasks are not constrained by a geographical district, like a regular embassy or consulate, as the office has a global mandate[x] that included overseeing offices in New Delhi, Seoul, and Shanghai.[xi]
Ambassador Klynge, in an interview, explained that “We had to build a new team, we had to establish our own policies, we had to find out how to penetrate the tech companies in a way [that] you can have a strategic political discussion.”[xii]
Understandably, some companies took a while to understand the tech ambassador´s role because there are not used to this type of international engagement. One definition of Diplomacy is a system of communications and norms, so a country known precisely what are the duties and responsibilities of any ambassador of a foreign nation. And are traditions, such as granting immunity to the envoy, since the Greek city-states times.
In the context of arranging meetings, in the “real” diplomatic world, high ranking officials understand that they would have to meet with an ambassador, considering the basics of reciprocity. In the tech world, there is not such a thing as reciprocity.
Officials of most countries would have difficulties arranging a meeting with senior management of the tech giants, as most of them only meet at the highest level, e.g., heads of state and top ministers. This could be an impossibility for small nations, even for a highly regarded country such as Denmark. So, naming an ambassador to Silicon Valley makes a lot of sense, with global responsibilities.
However, as mentioned, this innovative approach could cause some confusion. I imagine Mr. Klynge was recognized by the U.S. Department of State as the Danish Consul General in Palo Alto, California, where his office is located, or some sort of Special Envoy, as there cannot be another ambassador besides the one accredited to Washington DC.
It would also be interesting to see how China, India, or other countries where he travels recognized him as ambassador, with all its privileges, including inviolability and immunity.
As the excellent introductory essay of The Oxford Handbook of Modern Diplomacy explains, there have been many changes in the diplomacy of the 21st Century, but the States are still the leading players.
Even with the massive increase of actors in the international arena, including companies, and the blending of borders, the States maintain their importance. Technology platforms are creating their own digital worlds, controlling most of the rules of engagement, establishing its governance, regardless of the users' nationality or location. No wonder there is a growing push for greater regulation of these new powerful international actors.
Interestingly, while announcing the designation of a new tech ambassador, the Danish Foreign Minister recognized the need to adjust this initiative, explaining that it “require[s] a new strategy and a relaunch of the tech initiative. We [Danish MFA] simply need to produce a tech version 2.0 and attain a more goal-orientated Danish effort to encourage the tech giants to become good, ‘global community’ citizens.”[xiii]
Innovation is essential, and a Tech ambassador could be a new form of diplomacy, particularly with the Tech giants that are not your ordinary multinational corporation such as Ford, Shell, or Bank of America.
[i] Satariano, Adam, “The world´s first Ambassador to the tech industry”, New York Times, September 3, 2019.
[ii] Kristensen, Carsten, “World´s First Tech Ambassador resigns”, Inside Scandinavian Business, January 20, 2020.
[iii] W., Christian, “Denmark to get new tech ambassador”, CPH Post, August 24, 2020.
[iv] The five U.S. tech giants are: Alphabet (Google), Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Microsoft. To learn about their economic power and competitive edge, see Crescioli, Tommaso, “Tech Giants and Competition: A Political Economy Perspective”, E-International Relations, October 27, 2020.
[v] Blumental, Paul, “Big tech companies are so powerful that a Nation sent an Ambassador to them”, Huffington Post, June 23, 2018.
[vi] Blumental, Paul, ibid.
[vii] Satariano, Adam, ibid.
[viii] Stokel-Walker, Christopher, “The First Silicon Valley ambassador is out to make nice with tech giants”, Wired, November 6, 2017.
[ix] Blumental, Paul, ibid.
[x] Denmark names first ever tech ambassador, Denmark MFA, 2017.
[xi] Sanchez, Alejandro W., “The rise of the Tech Ambassador”, Diplomatic Courier, March 23, 2018.
[xii] Johnson, Khari, “Tech giants, small countries, and the future of techplomacy”, Venture Beat, October 8, 2019.
[xiii] W. Christian, ibid.
DISCLAIMER: All views expressed on this blog are that of the author and do not represent the opinions of any other authority, agency, organization, employer or company.
Rodrigo Márquez Lartigue
Diplomat interested in the development of Consular and Public Diplomacies.