iskoric on Wed, 16 Apr 1997 13:15:06 +0200 (MET DST)

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<nettime> Virtual Diplomacy

Internet, despite being perceived as a sort of an anarchist tool,
firstly developed as a military gadget and it went top to
bottom.  So, in sixties all the infrastructure (copper wire) was
already laid down and number of users was a joke.  It seemed
that the possibilities are endless. Today with the number of
users that increased hundred-thousand-fold and largely the
same infrastructure, the net behaves more and more sluggish. 
Yet, upgrading the infrastructure costs money.  And the ever
increasing usership drives down the prices.  It seems that the
market would not saturate before it collapses.

Soon, a hand held satellite telephone is going to be available
(from Iridium) enabling wealthier globe-trotters to have a
single telephone number regardless of location, yet, still, 50%
of all Internet use is in the U.S., and 50% of people on the
planet will not even make a voice phone call in their lifetime. 
And the state structures like military, intelligence and
diplomacy lag heavily behind the private sector and NGOs in
the Internet use, who rapidly fill in their role of mediators
between nations - not only in the Third World countries or
former communist bloc, but also here, which prompted
organizing of Virtual Diplomacy conference at the Omni
Shoreham Hotel in Washington DC on April 1-2.

The meeting gathered members of various governmental
agencies like USIA, non-governmental organizations like World
Vision (that poured over $ 10 millions since 1992 in its
reconciliation, relief and reconstruction programs in Bosnia),
academia like George Mason University, military, UN, business
and media.  It was a type of thing with having George Schultz
over for dinner (Al Gore dissed the lunch event cutting his
losses after the China visit), and I was the only guy in a T-shirt.


When the moderator asked the public who among us belonged
to diplomatic circles or academia or business or government,
there were just a few hands up.  Then somebody suggested
NGOs and half the hall had their hands up.  Apparently, NGOs
constituted 50% of the conference attendance.  That make
sense.  They are the future of government, and, therefore
diplomacy.  NGOs are structured like little governments (which
is also a paper-shuffling not-for-profit corporation like them),
yet, unlike the government, which pretends to know and can
do everything, each NGO picks up one narrow mandate and
sticks to it religiously (and perhaps finds followers/interns -
who would do the job on voluntary basis, or are expected to do
just that).  So far the government is reduced to handling
military, intelligence and telecommunications (which all may
be subject to privatization by NGO-s of the future).

Of course, with complex humanitarian emergencies, prevalent
in the post-cold war period, where countries simply implode to
a chaos which aspects are impenetrable to any single agency,
dozens of organizations react at the same time, NGOs, military
and other organizations agendas sometimes violently overlap
or crash into each other.  For that purpose The Center for
Advanced Concepts and Technology (National Defense
University) suggests CiMiLink: enhancing the civil - military
interface.  Entwinement of military and civilian objectives and
responses was the issue at much of this conference, actually:
putting the military and intelligence apparatus in the service
of humanitarian and conflict resolution needs.

U.S. interests in, for example, Mexico are shaped by 32
government agencies (and many independent NGOs).  Ideally
they'd be able to coordinate.


Afternoon of the second day was divided in concurrent
sessions.  The televised one (SPAN aired all events from
Regency room live) - Conflict Reconciliation -  was hosted by
Aryeh Neier (Open Society Institute, formerly Human Rights
Watch), and featured Veran Matic, Belgrade Radio B92
director.  The other two were Conflict Management and
Conflict Prevention.

Conflict Reconciliation:
(moderator) Aryeh Neier - OSI - NGO - Soros project
Kevin Klose - IBB/USIA - US Govt..
Veran Matic - Radio B92 - Foreign - Soros project
Henry Perritt - Villanova U.  School of Law - Academia - Soros
John Wallach - Seeds of Peace - NGO - Elie Viesel
-> by the number of NGO participants in this session one may
conclude that this is where conference organizers saw NGO-s
and particularly people like Soros and Viesel in the matter of
conflict resolution: reconciliation.

Conflict Management:
(moderator) Anne Solomon - State Dept. - US Govt.
Adolfo Dunayevich - La Neta - NGO
Richard Johnson - US Army Ret. - US Govt.
Warren Strobel, Tiffany Danitz - Washington Times -
Walter Stadtler - GMU - Academia
-> moderator from the State Dept.  and a retired US military
man makes me think that this is what organizers considered
the job for the U.S. in conflict resolution: management.

Conflict Prevention:
(moderator) Enid Schoettle - UNDHA - UN
Sharon Rusu - ReliefWeb - UNDHA - UN
Ted Okada - Food for the Hungry - NGO
Michael Reagan - USAID/Off. of Foreign Disaster Assistance -
US Govt.
Donald Krumm - Refugees International - NGO
Gordon Smith - foreign minister of Canada - Foreign
->emphasis on UN based agencies and related non-governmental and US governmental organizations suggests
that organizers saw here the role of the future UN in conflict
resolution: prevention.

The organizers were United States Institute of Peace, the
organization created and funded by US Congress, which Board
of Directors is appointed by the President and confirmed by
the Senate - so it can be safely assumed that views of the
USIP do not differ widely from the American foreign policy

They definitely share the whining stance greatly summarized
in George Washington's sentence printed at the back of USIP's
booklet: "My first wish is to see this plague of mankind, war,
banished from the earth."  Since Washington said that,
America lead many wars and built the strongest military force
in the world.

Joseph Duffey (Director of USIA) said at the conference that
many people do not understand America.  He didn't elaborate. 
He just said that USIA's job is to teach the world about
America.  Well, USIA is notoriously slow to change, so let me
help them here.  Like, in the U.S. tough decisions are simply
postponed.  Particularly tough ones are rather passed on to
the next administration.  And consequences are gladly viewed
[on CNN] but not in our own backyard.

Bosnia was a quagmire.  It was waited for the next
administration to take on the issue.  They too were reluctant
to do much besides the take-it-or-leave-it session at Dayton
air-force base.

This conference showed some tools that negotiators would
have in the near future at their disposal to prevent, manage or
reconciliate conflicts without use of military force in its typical
role.  In fact the military will cooperate with humanitarian
operation and merely police the effort.  Making Washington's
wish closer to reality than ever (of course, if it works...)

Of the first allied 200 soldiers deployed in Normandy only 15
were able to continue to fight after the first hour.  With
today's political priorities (that our boys should not die) the
Invasion of Normandy would not be possible.  With tomorrow's
technologies it might not be necessary.


In prevention of conflict information from a number of sources
is collected at the monitoring place, where the information is
verified/authenticated and further disseminated and analyzed. 
Obviously the authentication is crucial.  Usenet as it is so
clogged with crap to the point that it is near useless.  People
sometimes post false information under a respectable header
that they pasted from the real message, then they send that
post through an anonymous remailer.  Even with information
being correct - there are too many messages to make anything
relevant: "knowledge is lost in information" - as Sharon Rusu

Essentially, the main problem with the Net based information
is its authentication, and the ways to get it without
compromising privacy.  It is like a land for peace swap in the
Middle East and in the Balkans: here it is privacy for security
swap.  In order to have serious business - like peace
negotiations - conducted on the Net: all parties must be
absolutely sure that the messages they get are coming from
those names that show up in the header.

I gathered that the participants expected the "management" to
come after the "prevention", or at least an attempt on
prevention, so the "Management" session put an emphasis
more on dissemination/distribution/political
mobilization/marketing than on verification: by the
"management" times the sources and the authentication
protocols would already be established and we should
concentrate on forging alliances.  As a nice example of conflict
management Richard Johnson, a retired US Army colonel,
offered PowerScene, a software tool used in Dayton to help
Croats, Bosnians and Serbs find acceptable ways for peace in
Bosnia.  PowerScene, which will be commercially available the
end of this year for Sillicon Graphics platform (the Windows
and Mac versions will follow), combines satellite images, aerial
photographs, maps, topographical data, to provide the most
realistic view of any region, then it lets you fly right over it,
view it from different angles and zoom levels.  It feels like
high-end 3D first person computer game.  Yet, it's for real.  

Media picked up on the story that PowerScene coerced
Milosevic to accept wider Gorazde corridor.  But PowerScene
was tool used all the time, although Milosevic, Izetbegovic and
Tudjman refused to work off screen - so the maps had to be
printed for them while they slept.  The next day they'd find
something else to disagree, drew some new lines on the map -
no problem, the revised maps waited for them in the morning.
$4 million worth electronic equipment was at their service. 
30,000 color maps were printed (Johnson said they greatly
missed the new Epson's 1400 dpi printer).  And all their
changes were instantly recalculated (10 minutes delay) with a
0.003% margin of error to see if they fit the 51:49 division of
Bosnia agreement to which all parties seemed to cling
religiously.  They also mostly liked the UNPROFOR's map of
Bosnia which accidentally had 1% vertical stretch, making
Bosnian territory 1% bigger (probably that's why they liked it).
PowerScene was also used by NATO pilots to preview their
targets in Bosnia - reportedly each bomb hit its target and
nothing else in their later sorties.  

Unrelated to PowerScene at the conference another mapping
system was shown: Relief Emergency Mapping System
(, that is
designed to help relief organizations organize emergency
deliveries most efficiently.  REMAPS Edit pull-down menu
includes commands like "Move refugees by hand."

Besides being a showcase for PowerScene, Dayton peace
agreement was also a good example of time compression in
shuttle diplomacy: instead of traveling from one to another
leader by airplanes, Holbroke just walked a short distance
from one leader's accomodation to another, greatly reducing
the time which would otherwise be wasted on travel.  In some
future negotiations that could be done through
teleconferencing (the conference offered plenty of
teleconferencing options with the most expensive one and the
closest to real meeting being TELESUITE by IBM Global
Network - where your interlocutors appear "sitting" on the
opposite side of the table real life sized on the big screens...).

Paul Strassman (Information Economics Press) at another
session calculated that Internet reduces cost for 80%: 12
hours 40 person working party in Geneva costs .5 a million
dollars while the same "virtual" meeting would go for $43,000!

The "management" would then continue into "reconciliation"
phase, where, obviously, the dialogue is everything.  When it
comes to Bosnia this phase is NOW.  George Soros's (and
other NGO's) money is evidently expected to be the vehicle for
that reconciliation.  One of the projects presented was the
Villanova University School of Law Project Bosnia
( would it work?  Who
knows.  Hundreds of donated computers will however certainly
make Bosnian law students very happy, and happy people are
more likely to make peace than the unhappy ones.

The star of the Reconciliation session was, however, Veran
Matic of Radio B92 (  As the USIA's
Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy puts it - the "right
audience" for American ideals of multicultural civil society
abroad more and more is not in the foreign ministry:
increasingly it's the Internet bound NGOs like Radio B92. 
When Serbian government decided to shut down Radio B92
during the student and opposition protests over the
government's rejection of the election results in which the
opposition won a few major cities, B92 decided to encode its
broadcasts in Real Audio and post it on the World Wide Web
(using satellite telephone if necessary).  B92, also, made
arrangements with the Voice of America, Radio Free Europe
and the Deutsche Welle to pick-up their program and
rebroadcast it back to Serbia on shortwave.  Suddenly,
Milosevic was faced with B92 program heard in the entire
Serbia and through the Internet in the entire world.  Faced
with such an ungainly perspective, in just 24 hours Serbian
authorities turned B92's transmitters back on, apologizing
that they were down due to "flooding."

It seems that USIA saved B92 and Veran's ass.  Wrong.  B92
saved USIA and Duffey's ass.  VOA and RFE lethargy during
the Croatian and Bosnian wars was shameful.  In the
beginning it was believed (particularly by the partisan
Croatian lobby) that this was either the consequence of an
unclear American policy which swings between its moral and
real-political prerogatives, or the consequence of the old pro-Yugoslav editorial cadre, but it soon became clear that the
problem was deeper: the cold war inflexibility was not confined
to political agendas - it was a system-wide problem of not
accepting new ideas, new technologies, new ways in general. 
The apparent uselessness of USIA's international broadcasting
in the post-cold war period prompted Congress to consider
cutting funds and tinkering with maybe dismantling the VOA
or RFE altogether.

Crucial help that VOA and RFE delivered by rebroadcasting
B92 to the Serbian opposition proved their ultimate
usefulness.  Too bad they didn't do it earlier.  Like if they put
together Radio Zid (Sarajevo), Radio 101 (Zagreb) and Radio
B92 (Belgrade) a few years ago, maybe they could stop or even
prevent the war.  In 1994, good 4 years after the wall fell, the
USIA decided to restructure for the new world order. 
International Broadcasting Act (IBA) that became a law that
year initiated the consolidation of the US international
broadcasting.  Over $400 millions are saved since then. 
Today, operating costs are 20% less than in 1994.  IBA
executor, Kevin Klose, moved RFE from Germany to Prague,
saving millions in rent, and, besides, RFE somehow belongs in
Prague anyway, doesn't it?

Since B92 became the USIA's success story, Veran is now in
the U.S. every two or three months giving speeches,
participating at panels, etc.


Would the lack of success of virtual diplomacy be followed by
the virtual war, or would wars still be real?

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