By Viviana González Vargas – International Relations Student
We can’t deny the truth: this virus changed everything. It changed our personal lives, our economic systems, our health system, and so much more aspects of the complex way our world works. However, a lot of us probably haven’t perceived that it impacted the way international relations work as well. The diplomatic dynamics had to adapt to the new reality that COVID-19 gave us, just like almost everyone and everything in the world. Now, many may say that they don’t care about diplomacy, so what’s the point on caring about it? But all of us should care. We might think that their dynamics don’t impact us, but we need to be aware of the fact that the failure or success that they have could make the difference between whether a war exists or not. With this being said, if I caught your attention, you may be asking yourself: so, how have diplomatic dynamics have changed since COVID-19? For this question I would say two words: virtual meetings.
Before the pandemic, physical diplomacy was most countries’ go-to option. But, once states closed their frontiers, and institutions their doors, there was a huge shift in this dynamic mostly due to virtual meetings because if they wanted to respect their nations’ measurements to combat the virus, they had to use virtual tools.
I would like to mention Manor (2021), who presents a valid and important point this shift. It’s very likely the normality that virtual meetings have acquired during this time will outlive the virus. This is expected because it’s probable that the world will face another crisis like this one soon due to another virus or maybe due to environmental issues. Another shift that virtual meetings have made in diplomatic dynamics is that, as Labott (2020) says, the need that states have for digital diplomacy and virtual meetings during the pandemic has proved that there’s too much reliance on face-to-face interaction to conduct business, not enough technology, and there’s a lack of digital communication skills.
Another important aspect of how virtual meetings altered the way diplomacy works has to do with the fact that they have reconfirmed what we already knew. Some countries don’t have the capacity to adapt to crises. In this case, virtual meetings are a part of this confirmation because, as Labott (2020) mentions, during these meetings there’s now more conversation amongst countries about the problems that this pandemic has exacerbated, like human rights, security, healthcare, or access to technology especially in developing nations.
In all of this, there’s one aspect that I need to clarify, which is that of course, digital diplomacy existed before the pandemic. However, the impact that COVID-19 had on it was that in previous years it was an option. In 2020, it was the only alternative that most diplomats had in order to conduct meetings, conferences or any type of interaction with other diplomats or with people in general. Another point I need to make clear is that it’s true that virtual meetings aren’t the only factors that have changed diplomatic dynamics during the pandemic, but since they’re the way that allows diplomatic exchange amongst states, it’s definitely the most important one.
As a conclusion, once again, I need to reiterate the importance of educating ourselves on the obstacles that diplomacy has faced between 2020 and 2021. I say this because I seriously believe that a lot of us constantly overlook the importance of international relations. Even historically speaking, diplomacy has played a huge role in peaceful and effective evolution and now the world is even more connected than before, we need to pay attention to this area. We might think that diplomacy belongs to diplomats, but that’s not true. We need to be informed on how states work, because as citizens, what happens politically, socially and economically between nations, will impact our daily lives one way or another.
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Labott, E. (2020). Redefining Diplomacy in the Wake of the COVID-19 Pandemic. https://www.meridian.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/Redefining-Diplomacy-Report-v3.pdf
Manor, I. (2021). The Digital Legacy of Covid-19. https://www.e-ir.info/2021/04/02/the-digital-legacy-of-covid-19/