Lowy Institute
Digital Disruption

When you look at the global response to the threat of ISIS, a glaring gap is the cyber domain.

The internet has been critical to the terrorist group's success. It allows it to communicate unfiltered to the rest of the world, for onward mass dissemination by the media. It helps the group radicalise and recruit fighters and financiers. It also allows recruits to organise and network in the field and maintain ties when they return to their countries of origin.

For these and other reasons, ISIS's command of cyberspace needs to be aggressively contested, as I argued in this recent paper.

Yet some counter-propaganda efforts have been shown to have questionable impact, and others risk making things worse. There are, however, multiple ways to combat ISIS online, including:

  • Structural disruption: current efforts to hinder ISIS communications online are rudimentary. Twitter began deactivating ISIS accounts in September last year, but as my Brookings colleague JM Berger recently showed, this hasn't worked because it failed to grasp how ISIS is using Twitter. A more informed approach would make it much harder for ISIS to communicate and recruit.
  • Targeted counter-propaganda: in a brilliant piece in The Atlantic, Graham Wood makes the case that the key to understanding ISIS is discerning its interpretation of Islam. This includes the revival of what ISIS calls '"the Prophetic methodology," which means following the prophecy and example of Muhammad, in punctilious detail.' It is readily apparent that ISIS's ideology is bankrupt, but the centrality of its archaic interpretation of Islam makes it even more important (and easier) to highlight its hypocrisy. The State Department has started, but there is scope for a much more targeted local response and to join up efforts.
  • Regional cooperation: Australia is not alone in needing to combat ISIS online. The State Department has already announced a partnership with the UAE to combat ISIS online and others are keen to join forces.

In June last year, TIME dubbed Australia 'the biggest per capita contributor of foreign jihadists to ISIS'. Given this, and the fact ISIS and its members continue to exploit the internet almost unchallenged, it makes sense for Australia to make a modest investment in an ICT offensive to complement other efforts. The Government's announcement of $18 million to do just this is right on point. It is critical that it be implemented effectively, that it draws on top tier technical and area expertise, and that it leverages existing resources, including the emerging efforts of other countries.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user U.S. Department of State.


The US Embassy in Pakistan has just cracked a diplomatic milestone, becoming the first mission in the world to pass 1 million fans on Facebook.

Its rise to top spot has been swift. The Embassy only decided to make social media a priority in late 2011. Following a request to Washington for technical assistance from a social media expert, Tim Receveur was sent to Islamabad, moving the page from 20,000 fans to more than 500,000 when he left in the summer of 2012.

Its closest competitors are also all majority Muslim states led by US Embassy Cairo, which has around 800,000 fans, Jakarta (just under 600,000), Dhaka (around 530,000) and the Consulate General in Lahore (383,000).

The success of the page has in some respects been against the odds. Its audience is young (half are 18-24 years of age) and 93% are located in Pakistan (Saudi Arabia and the US are the next largest audience locations). Yet in contrast with the anti-Americanism commonly associated with Pakistani views of the US, in an email interview for this post, Kellee Farmer, a press officer with the US Embassy in Islamabad, wrote: 'the main surprise is how active Pakistanis have been in sharing their stories and experiences on the site. We have thousands of young Pakistanis who sincerely seem to be interested in interacting with us.'

Technical hurdles have also been overcome. As Farmer noted: 'Our biggest surprise has been how fast social media has expanded across Pakistan despite massive and ongoing electricity shortages and limited information infrastructure, such as the lack of a 3G network.'

Read More

Getting to 1 million has involved a range of techniques. The Embassy attributes it to initially bringing in a social media specialist, targeted Facebook advertising and an emphasis on compelling photos. Regular postings and constant engagement were also important. As Kellee Farmer put it:

We post content at regular intervals, primarily in the evenings when our audience is online, and try to engage consistently on each one. Every post elicits questions or comments that can easily be addressed and, while we do not respond to polemics or vitriol, we try to answer all the questions that we can. We don’t remove comments critical of the US or its foreign policy.

So what's been the point behind building this capability? Farmer answers:

While social media has helped bridge the 'last three feet' with Pakistanis on a daily basis, it has also served as a major tool to engage face-to-face with other entities in Pakistan who are also trying to figure out how to best use social media to reach audiences. Our social media team actively reaches out to bloggers and prominent social media personalities in Pakistan as part of our media outreach. We have also conducted briefings and workshops for numerous entities within the Pakistani Government, non-governmental organizations, media organizations, students and political parties across the spectrum.

Social media allows us to reach out directly to – and engage in a dialogue with – young Pakistanis that we might not be able to reach through traditional media. It is one part of a wider public affairs strategy to reach the broadest number of Pakistanis that we can on all media platforms.  This site is a force multiplier in promoting directly to Pakistanis the value of the US-Pakistan relationship.

The US mission in Pakistan's Facebook page has a few lessons. First, with a good strategy and interesting content, a large audience can be built relatively quickly, even in apparently difficult operating environments. Second, with the top five US diplomatic Facebook pages in Muslim majority countries, there appears to be a concerted effort to strengthen ties with young populations in the Muslim world (these five sites account for 16% of the State Department's 20 million total Facebook fans). Finally, it shows the advantage of social media as a tool for communicating with large and young populations that have traditionally been beyond the reach of diplomatic posts.

This piece has been cross-posted on the Brookings Institution's UpFront blog.

Photo by Flickr user The Reboot.



So unfolded the abhorrent events on the Boston Police Twitter feed today. The feed – with its updates, instructions and attempts to crowd source — went out to the Police Department's 110,000 followers. Through Twitter's network effect, many, many more were able to see the Boston PD's messages (the tweet calling for video was re-tweeted over 3000 times).

Social media was used by a range of other services too, such as the Emergency and Medical Services, the City of Boston, and the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency, reflecting the way social media has increasingly become integrated into government communication.

As has become typical for tragedies nowadays, non-government groups also quickly stepped in to help online, Google's Person Finder being but one example.

Read More

As Bill Braniff, Executive Director of the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Response to Terrorism, put it: 'Authorities have recognized that one [of] the first places people go in events like this is to social media, to see what the crowd is saying about what to do next. And today authorities went to Twitter and directed them to traditional media environments where authorities can present a clear calm picture of what to do next.'

The communication value of social media can, however, rub up against security considerations. An early AP report claimed mobile coverage had been shut down to prevent detonation of other explosive devices (this later proved to be inaccurate). But this is increasingly a consideration for police forces in dealing with incidents like these. And it is a response that has already been used in protest situations: in August 2011, San Francisco's Bay Area Rapid Transport authority shut down cell phone coverage to prevent a protest; Prime Minister Cameron also considered it in response to the London riots.

Hopefully, the same tools will prove helpful in apprehending the perpetrators of this horrific crime.


I've spent the past week in Yangon, Myanmar. It's a country where you can almost see the change happening.

Take the headlines from The New Light of Myanmar ('The most reliable newspaper around you') on Monday 5 November: 'Denmark Opens Embassy in Yangon'; 'Norway Embassy established in Yangon'; 'President U Thein Sein holds talks with Finnish PM in Vientiane'; 'Myanmar, Luxembourg keen on economic cooperation'.

In other areas, too, change is evident. The cost of mobile phones is steadily falling from completely unaffordable for the average person to increasingly accessible (I bought a temporary SIM for about $20, while a permanent one costs around $250, down from over $3000). Business leaders talked of fatigue from meeting all the incoming foreign business delegations. In meetings with government, officials are impressively frank about all that still needs to be done. There are pictures of Aung San Suu Kyi everywhere, from taxis to cafés.

In the past year restrictions on importing new cars have been lifted, with predictable consequence for traffic. The Monday paper carried an article that made traffic sound like it is still a novelty: 'Traffic Rules Adherence in Yangon Questioned'. The article offered a range of speculative explanations, from speed to corruption.

Unsurprisingly, the changes are winning the Government praise abroad and at home. On the home front, there may also be a tendency towards overly favourable coverage of the Government*. Thursday's paper carried just two articles on the front page. The lead was 'President U Thein Sein Arrives Back in Nay Pyi Taw'. Nearly an entire column of the story was devoted to a list of all who had farewelled the President at Laos airport. The minor article, below the fold, was 'Obama Wins Re-election as US President'.

Photo by Flickr user avlxyz.

* This sentence added later for clarity.


Stop procrastinating and throw away the typewriters. That's the message from the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade's inquiry into Australia's overseas representation, which has just recommended DFAT establish an office of ediplomacy, modeled on that of the US State Department.

Having looked at DFAT's use of ediplomacy several times over the years, this time the Committee showed a little more frustration with the pace of modernisation.

After noting the Lowy Institute comment that DFAT's websites are 'among the worst websites hosted by any arm of the Federal government', the Committee went on to observe: 'DFAT agreed that some of the Lowy Institute's criticisms of their websites were justified.'

It went on to state:

The Committee notes DFAT’s advice that in the current budgetary situation improving its websites was less of a priority than increasing on-the-ground diplomatic representation. The Committee responds that it is not a competition between e-diplomacy and increasing on-the-ground representation.

It went on to recommend DFAT 'immediately refurbish Australian embassy websites'.

Read More

Although it recommended DFAT's 'funding be increased in the long term to a set percentage of gross domestic product', it simultaneously dismissed DFAT's argument for putting off innovation, noting:

The Committee is sympathetic with DFAT's view that it would put any additional funding into increasing Australia's diplomatic footprint rather than into an office of e-diplomacy. The Committee considers, however, that better engagement with e-diplomacy requires cultural change and is not necessarily resource intensive. It should not be a choice between extending Australia's diplomatic network and an office of e-diplomacy.

And while the Committee recommended the Department make better use of social media and take note of the importance of preparing for national brand-damaging incidents, it also took an appropriately broad view of ediplomacy:

E-diplomacy is commonly perceived as the use of social media to promote government messages overseas. The Committee, however, agrees with the Lowy Institute that e-diplomacy encompasses a far broader range of activities and raises the issue of the balance between DFAT controlling information as opposed to exchanging information.

It's a strong report, worth reading and worth taking action on.

Photo by Flickr user Foxtongue.


Fergus Hanson is a non-resident fellow at the Brookings Institution.

As with many new things, a lot of foreign ministries were initially skeptical of ediplomacy. What did 140 character messages and social media have to do with serious diplomacy?

There have now been more than enough social media infused international crises to silence those critics. When the tweets of an angry pastor in Florida can catalyse deadly riots around the world, a Weibo message by an assaulted Chinese student in Australia can threaten a massive export industry and an obscure NGO can reshape the global narrative on Uganda and the Lord's Resistance Army, foreign services need to adapt.

The diplomatic operating environment has changed. And one foreign ministry in particular is taking up the challenge with some intriguing innovations in ediplomacy: the US Department of State. In 2011-12, I was lucky enough to spend nine months in the US researching ediplomacy at Georgetown University and the Brookings Institution. That included time embedded in the Office of eDiplomacy at the US State Department where I conducted interviews with nearly 100 State Department officials. Today, Brookings has published the culmination of that research.

Read More

The underlying message of the paper is this: the point has now been reached where a foreign ministry will fail the national interest if it does not adapt to this new operating environment.

The paper zeroes in on the three areas at State where ediplomacy has so far attracted the most resources and greatest innovation. The first is public diplomacy.

Social media is opening up access to a traditionally difficult to reach diplomatic audiences: the general public and youth. State now communicates directly with over 16 million people on Facebook and Twitter, double the 8 million it was reaching at the end of January 2012. The paper identifies six different ways it is using this new capability.

The other two areas the paper covers – internet freedom and knowledge management – receive far less public attention, but are both striking examples of bureaucratic innovation.

The internet has rewritten traditional foreign policy issues such as taxation, privacy and intellectual property, but it has also created new foreign policy issues: among them internet freedom. State's policy in this area is gutsy. In one respect it is simply applying its offline support for basic human rights to the online world. But spending nearly $US100 million since 2008 on directly countering efforts by governments around the world to filter and censor the internet is not what many associate with orthodox diplomacy. Unsurprisingly, this policy has created some challenges, one of which is when close allies such as the UK pursue inimical policies.

Knowledge management is where State's innovation has attracted the most private sector interest. The State Department has essentially set up a research and development facility aimed at overcoming some of the most difficult informational challenges technology is throwing at large organisations the world over. So far, it has produced an intriguing suite of solutions.

The detail is in the paper: Baked in and Wired: ediplomacy at State. I hope you enjoy reading it.

 Photo Reuters. 


Shannon Smith's post on Australian ediplomacy raises some excellent and often overlooked points on social media. There are also a few that I take a slightly different view on.

Most strikingly, his post points to the modernisation of Australia's government generally. Shannon provides a whole list of great digital initiatives from different arms of the Australian Government operating overseas. The notable absence (with the exception of the new Facebook page) was DFAT, although even that is changing and clearly the embassy in Jakarta gets it. AusAID could also have been added to the list. It has been working hard on the technology transition.

Shannon's last point is also critical: 'With only 22% of Indonesians accessing the internet, e-diplomacy is no solution in itself to the decline of Australia's broader public diplomacy capabilities — it is simply a necessary supplement.'

There seems to be a perception in some areas that social media is a replacement for public diplomacy, and a related view that just having a Facebook page or Twitter feed means you're all done and dusted, no strategy or work needed. Anyone who holds those views is likely to be very disappointed. Murrow's emphasis on the 'last three feet' is as relevant today as it was back in the pre-social media world. But I am afraid I don't share Shannon’s analysis of the US Embassy Facebook strategy or its utility.

Read More

Shannon seems to dismiss the US Embassy's 485,000 Facebook fans because they represent only 0.21% of the Indonesian population and because Indonesian celebrities have so many more fans. That is a bit simplistic to me. Because Kim Kardashian has a zillion more Twitter followers than Mitt Romney, does that mean it's a useless tool for him in his election campaign and he should stop using it? Or because The Australian newspaper reaches less than 2% of the total Australian population (according to Roy Morgan data) and people who buy it self-select, does that mean it has no influence?

Shannon also argues that 'social media can only do so much and reach so many. Social media only reaches the influential few, and reinforces their positive notions towards Australia.'

I'm a bit more uncertain about these claims. Social media can certainly help reach the influential, but it is also one of the best tools embassies have ever had to speak directly and daily to a wider audience. Social media certainly has its limits, but the reaction of governments around the world to the Arab uprisings, particularly the sharp ramp-up in filtering and monitoring of these tools, suggests they at least see them as powerful platforms.

And while not everyone uses social media, reach through these platforms is pretty staggering. There are now over 900 million active monthly users on Facebook. And while most of the world does not yet have smart phones, that is rapidly changing as costs decline.

What I assume Shannon means is that the audience for foreign ministry tweets is probably pretty small and will soon be saturated. That's entirely possible, but it remains a largely untested proposition. The State Department's Facebook and Twitter audience reach continues to grow as it modifies and grows its content. Australia might choose not to allocate resources to competing seriously in this space, but that doesn't mean the audiences aren't there to be reached.

But Shannon's wider point is the most important: these tools are only a supplement, not a replacement for diplomacy.

Photo by Flickr user veo_.


The 8th annual Lowy Institute Poll was released this morning. As usual, it covers a large number of foreign policy issues, but one fascinating set of findings dealt with the perennially controversial issue of migration.

There's been a stink over the granting of some 1700 skilled migrant visas for Gina Rinehart's Roy Hill iron ore project, but the Lowy Poll found that most Australians (62%) are in favour of the Government allowing in extra workers from foreign countries when there are shortages of workers in Australia and companies in Australia cannot find enough skilled workers.

The White Australia Policy is all but a distant memory. Presented with six hypothetical criteria for determining which migrants should be allowed to come to Australia to live, practical preferences prevailed. Work skills is the criterion most (65%) say is very important, followed by English language skills (60%), having similar values to Australians (57%) and education (47%). Just 15% say religion is very important and only 10% nominate race.

There are some intriguing generational differences. Australians 60 years or older are three times more likely than Australians 18 to 29 years old to say race is a very important criterion (15% compared with 5%). They are also twice as likely to say having similar values is a very important criterion (72% compared with 36%).

There are too many results to cover here, but here are a few of the most interesting:

Read More
  • Results relating to the US: we prefer Barack Obama to Mitt Romney to become the next US president, by 80% to 9%. Meanwhile, 74% are in favour of up to 2500 US soldiers being based in Darwin. Across a range of questions, younger Australians were slightly less supportive towards the US.
  • Australians believe it is important to be liked by our neighbours. Two-thirds (68%) say it is very important for Australia to be seen in a positive light by people from countries in our region, with another 26% saying it is somewhat important. 
  • 82% of Australians say they are in favour of the Australian Government funding broadcast services or other programs to communicate with people from countries in our region, with the aim of improving relations with those countries. 
  • Some Australians appear blasé about democracy. Just 60% of Australians say democracy is preferable to any other kind of government, and only 39% of 18 to 29 year olds.
  • One of our longest-running questions, on global warming, this year revealed a remarkable long-term shift in Australian opinion. Presented with three options for dealing with the issue, those favouring an intermediate response to global warming for the first time outnumber those favouring the most aggressive form of action. Put another way, since 2006 we've gone from a situation where two-thirds (68%) of Australians wanted the most aggressive form of action to a point today where just over a third (36%) of us do.

There's a lot more. You can read on here.

7 of 13 This post is part of a debate on Australia-Indonesia relations

Sam has provoked a nice discussion on the relationship with Indonesia, which I recently argued in The Australian 'must rank as one of our greatest foreign policy failures'.

I agree with what Malcolm Cook, Stephen Grenville and David McRae have suggested. These ideas all contribute towards Stephen's 'spiderweb of ties'. While this is critical, I think two there are two other crucial requirements: a jolt to accelerate a shift towards closer ties and a long-term framework to help keep progress on track.

A lot of evidence shows how bad relations are: whether it is trade, investment, government-to-government relations, or public attitudes (although interestingly, Indonesians are now more positive towards Australia than we are towards Indonesia). This is not to criticise the excellent work of Australia's impressive diplomats in Jakarta. But there is only so much they can do. Making serious gains in this situation requires political leadership.

So, to answer Sam's first question: 'What specifically should we do to improve our relationship with Indonesia?' In March 2010 I made four suggestions: (1) negotiate a multi-decade vision for the economic relationship; (2) use the projected increase in Australia's aid program to fund a new Colombo Plan for Indonesia; (3) rethink public diplomacy and (4) develop an outward-looking and positive agenda of cooperation with Indonesia. Read More

My thinking remains mostly the same. Economic enmeshment – following Stephen's 'spiderweb of ties' concept – is the most critical. But to achieve this, Australia and Indonesia need to set ambitious goals (like making Indonesia one of our top trading partners in 10-20 years) and map a course to get there. Getting an agreement to get us there and overcoming the many barriers to the free flow of goods and services will require serious political commitment and engagement.

On the new Colombo Plan idea, I was almost persuaded by Hugh White's recent argument that treating our region as a 'charity case' shows how little we understand the Asian Century. The fact we give aid to Indonesia does create the wrong dynamic in the relationship in plenty of circumstances, but given poverty rates in Indonesia and Indonesia's critical importance to us, I think on balance it is still better to give in a big way, particularly towards higher education. And to perhaps address Hugh's concerns, it is not as though rich countries limit their higher education scholarships to developing countries. 

On the public diplomacy front, there needs to be an inversion of the current approach. Politicians need to stop trashing the relationship for purely domestic political advantage and instead promote a more realistic and accurate image of Indonesia, similar to the way we treat that other giant, the US.

Other ideas: perhaps we could look at a joint peacekeeping force that would deploy together on UN missions. Our soldiers could also look to build a joint regional emergency response team. This might help move perceptions of Indonesia as a security threat.

Onto Sam's second question, 'What harm is done by doing nothing?'

I'd say a lot. Indonesia's future matters a lot to us. Just think of the many different trajectories it could take: disintegration into several smaller states (East Timor has about a million people and look how hard it has been managing its transition; Indonesia has over 200 million) or return to autocracy or military rule. Then there's the possibility of the election of a president who whips up anti-Australian sentiment and perhaps does nothing about the small group of extremists. Or how about economic malaise and resulting increases in extremist sentiment? Or what about continued 6%+ economic growth and tens of millions joining the middle class that we can trade with? It's a no-brainer.

Of course, Australia only has limited influence, but why not use what influence we have to push for the outcome most clearly in our interest?

Photo by Flickr user Agianda.


I visited Hangzhou recently for a summit about ediplomacy, and got to experience China's high-speed rail system first-hand.

I'm no train geek, but you couldn't help but be impressed. The photo below is of the ticket counter in Hangzhou – I walked in and my heart sank. There were 30 lines and each was at least 20-deep (yes, I counted). Six hundred people in line before me – how long would this take? From a long and tortured experience of train travel in Australia, I was anticipating a very, very long time.

Well, as it happens, I timed it. Exactly six minutes. And for the pleasure of travelling at 300km/h in 45 minutes to Shanghai on a train that kept Swiss-time, it cost $11.65.

For anyone who has done the Sydney to Canberra commute (or, here in the US, the Washington-New York route), it's enough to make you cry.


There's been a lot of scoffing at Invisible Children's Kony 2012 campaign. It contains factual errors. It simplifies things. The group doesn't give enough of its funds in direct aid. Its filmmaker dances in the street naked.

I have never heard such accusations leveled at filmmakers or aid groups before (perhaps with the exception of naked street dancing). But ultimately, those criticisms are irrelevant, because the vast reach Invisible Children has achieved has done more to shape perceptions about an obscure, decades-old conflict than any government or NGO, ever.

Whether or not you agree with the group's portrayal of the conflict and its prescription for addressing it, this small NGO has become a major shaper of debate on this conflict. So much so that, just the other day, President Obama announced during a speech at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum that 'our advisers will continue their efforts to bring this madman (Joseph Kony) to justice and to save lives.'

Social Media wizard Clay Shirky laid a bet on Twitter on 20 March: 'I'm just going to put this here, so it's time-stamped: I bet they catch Kony in the next three months. Will follow up either way.'

This is not the first time the internet has been harnessed to give NGOs an outsized voice in foreign policy. The Ottawa Convention banning landmines is often held up as an example of web-based mobilisation of activists. Another NGO-led feat is the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

The Kony 2012 campaign is in this spirit, but also differs. This seems to be the first example I can think of that a single NGO, and a pretty obscure one at that, has come to so completely dominate discussion of a foreign policy issue.

Does this mean we should stand by for an explosion of global discussion about the plight of the Transnistrians or life in Dahala Khagrabari, the world's only international counter-counterenclave? Probably not. Invisible Children had a pretty decent network before the Kony video came out, which no doubt helped it get the word out initially. It would probably also be harder for other NGOs to capture so much attention by just copying Invisible Children's approach.

It's not going to be possible for just any NGO to sweep in and drive its agenda on every foreign policy issue imaginable. But Kony 2012 does open up a whole new scale of campaigning potential and demonstrates the consequent emerging empowerment of individuals and small groups facilitated by the internet. For foreign ministries, it's another reminder of how dramatically new connection technologies are altering the diplomatic space. So far, most have been slow to realise this new reality.

Photo by Flickr user Chun Lam.


Bob Carr delivered his first major address in Washington today at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. 

As someone who used to spend his university lunch breaks watching NSW parliamentary question time just so I could see the man's debating skills in practice, it was a bit disappointing to not see the same Carr on display.

It was a solid speech, but did not harness the Carr potential. He exuded an obvious interest in US, Australian and Chinese history. The speech ticked off all the required US alliance bullet points: solidarity on Afghanistan, Iran, North Korea, the EAS and non-proliferation. But for someone as knowledgeable on the US as Carr, it was a missed opportunity. His speech seemed like it was drafted by committee; a bit disjointed with odd bits tossed in at random and a few abrupt segues. 

The notable points were repeated emphasis that Australia was not withdrawing from Afghanistan but merely 'transitioning', perhaps suggesting a bit of concern about the meaning behind Prime Minister Gillard's recent announcement. Another was Carr's focus on ocean management, which he made a decent effort of pushing onto the agenda. 

The speech was also a sign of just how much detail a foreign minister needs to get on top of to master their portfolio, no matter how experienced a politician they are. When asked a question on Fiji, Carr had to resort to reading from some clumsily written talking points.

Hopefully, next time Washington will get to see one of Australia's greatest orators in action.


Secretary Clinton's Senior Adviser for Innovation, Alec Ross, was kind enough to launch my latest ediplomacy paper today, appropriately enough via Twitter.

While social media is certainly an aspect of ediplomacy, what I hope this report will highlight is that it is much, much more. In fact, after spending four months in Washington, DC researching ediplomacy, I counted and met with 25 separate ediplomacy nodes at State Department headquarters, which collectively employed over 150 people. Overseas, more than 900 use ediplomacy to some extent.

Far from focusing only on social media, I found eight broad uses ediplomacy is being put to. Public diplomacy (a big user of social media) is a major employer of ediplomacy personnel and also a remarkable user of social media: State now operates 600 Facebook, Twitter and YouTube platforms reaching over eight million people (when you include other social media platforms, this number is even higher). Pages like eJournal USA and Global Conversations: Climate Challenge reach over one million people each.

But other areas are equally prominent in the ediplomacy space. Knowledge Management is a big employer (over 50 staff) and Internet Freedom has been well funded, having been allocated over $US70 million since 2008, with much of this work outsourced.

How, specifically, is State using these new technologies?

Read More

Well there are lots of examples in the report, but here are a few I liked. In the area of arms control, State is looking at crowd-sourcing (via InnoCentive) to try and help close some of technological gaps that have been frustrating the area for years. Another official working on US libraries abroad realised how costly it was to send books across the globe and cut a deal to get ereaders delivered instead. And over in the original Office of eDiplomacy – now in its tenth year of operations – a US$2 million annual fund has been set up to crowd-source innovations from State Department employees themselves, with awards and submissions already received demonstrating how much latent talent there is to tap.

Research for the report was generously funded by a DFAT-sponsored Professional Fulbright scholarship and the findings could be used to guide DFAT's own nascent efforts in this area. Key suggestions would include:

  • Establish an Office of eDiplomacy to lead knowledge management indicatives across DFAT and to act as an information hub for all ediplomacy activities, given they generally cut across so many areas.
  • Top-down leadership is essential. Ediplomacy at State has been driven by three successive Secretaries of State who foresaw the need for change early on. Australia's new Foreign Minister, Bob Carr, like his US counterpart, should empower his Department to innovate and insist that 21st century tools are adopted.
  • There is a lot of latent talent within foreign ministries. Empowering staff to innovate would help DFAT save money, do things better and improve outcomes for Australia.
  • There is a need to move beyond a fixation on Twitter and Facebook and their largely imaginary risks. These could be great tools for DFAT, and Ambassadors should be required to use them, but ediplomacy is a lot more than social media. 

The Lowy report, Revolution@State: The Spread of ediplomacy, can be downloaded from the Lowy website.


Today the Lowy Institute launches what I think is one of the most compelling and challenging polls we've ever conducted. It was a survey carried out across Indonesia following up on a poll we did there in 2006. The changes the poll records are remarkable, and responses to a series of new questions challenge some entrenched stereotypes about Indonesia.

But first, consider just how bad relations are with our most important neighbour. At a political level, there has been a spectacular failure to capitalise on Indonesia's remarkably smooth democratic transition and its pro-Australian President.

Instead, the relationship with Indonesia has been repeatedly trashed for temporary domestic political advantage. Whether it is asylum seekers, cows or Australian drug smugglers, Indonesia is treated like a miscreant Pacific atoll, not a country fundamental to Australia's future prosperity and stability with a population ten times our size and a larger economy in purchasing power terms. When the Government panicked and cut all live cattle exports to Indonesia, Indonesian officials weren't even consulted. Likewise when the Coalition announced it was going to turn back boats.

The tone of the relationship is often completely back to front, with a focus on how many threats Indonesia poses and how much aid we give it. Take this line from the introduction to the relationship on the DFAT website: 'Australia and Indonesia cooperate in practical ways on a wide range of international issues, including counter-terrorism, illegal fishing, people smuggling, avian influenza, climate change and interfaith dialogue.'

Or, my personal favourite, this speech from 2008 titled 'Australia-Indonesia Relations: A New Partnership for a New Era' by then Foreign Minister Stephen Smith, which characterised this approach under three headings: security cooperation, regional disaster response and Indonesia's development challenges. And that was delivered to an Indonesian audience.

Read More

It is no wonder such a patronising, short-term approach has failed to deliver for our national interest. Unfortunately, as a Policy Brief I wrote back in 2010 set out, business and people-to-people ties do not provide a more positive counterweight and, if anything, are much worse.

This new poll challenges many core assumptions about Indonesia. For a start, Indonesians actually like Australia. Of nine foreign countries, we were the second-most trusted to act responsibly in the world. Australia was also the fourth-most warmly regarded country (of 21 included in the survey), moving from a lukewarm 51° in 2006 to a warm 62°.

Indonesians support a much broader relationship than the current one based around threats. Big majorities are in favour of a focus on education (95%), health (92%) and trade (87%). Indonesians are also natural democrats. Nearly two-thirds (62%) say democracy is preferable to any other kind of government and there is near universal support for core democratic values like the right to a fair trial (97%), free expression (96%) and the right to vote (95%).

Like Australians, Indonesians worry about China. A majority (56%) say it will likely become a military threat in the next 20 years (44% of Australians said this when asked the same question last year).

The news is not all good. While 88% of Indonesian adults say the suicide bombing attacks that have occurred in Indonesia were never justified, in one hypothetical question, 12% were in favour of the Indonesian Government encouraging militant groups to attack Australia. This minority of extreme anti-Australian sentiment will be a major concern to Indonesian and Australian policy-makers, but it is hugely counterproductive to construct the entire relationship around it.

Australia has a critical national interest in seeing Indonesia emerge as a stable, democratic, and economically thriving neighbour. But the opportunity presented by the pro-Australian presidency of Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has almost been lost. This poll should act as a reminder that Indonesia is ready for a mature, contemporary relationship and that, across almost every facet of the relationship, Australia-Indonesia ties are badly underdone.

The full poll can be downloaded from the Lowy Institute website.


Whatever you might think of Kevin Rudd, he was certainly active internationally, both as Foreign Minister and as Prime Minister. But what were his achievements and what will his legacy be?

This post is intended to kick-start a discussion of what Rudd achieved in foreign affairs and begins with his China policy. We want to hear from you too, so please write in: blogeditor@lowyinistitute.org .

A major aspect of the Rudd years was China. At the time of the Chinese Olympic torch protests in Australia, I received an unusual call to come to the Lodge on an unrelated matter, and remember waiting for some time as Rudd dealt with the shenanigans the Chinese were pulling. When eventually we sat down to talk, it was not hard to discern that the Chinese were clearly (and seemingly pointlessly) rubbing the new PM the wrong way.

But almost from the get-go the media got Rudd wrong on China. Far from being the Manchurian Candidate, WikiLeaks cables revealed him to be as clear-headed about China and Chinese negotiating strategies as he was in private during that meeting at the Lodge.

According to officials, Rudd led serious Cabinet-level contemplation of Australia's approach to its single largest trading partner, and although it has not been made public until today, produced the first ever (and still secret) Cabinet-approved strategy mapping out our approach to China.

Under his watch, Australia also produced a highly ambitious Defence White Paper, setting up what is essentially a Marine Expeditionary Force designed to be plugged directly into any major US operation in the Pacific (read defence against China). And although it was his successor as PM who ultimately oversaw the delivery, Rudd must be credited with laying some of the groundwork that has seen the US establish what is basically a permanent military base in Australia. 

But Rudd was not all muscle and no diplomacy. His Peking University speech was an attempt to engage the Chinese Government in a new style of dialogue. And he allocated $100 million to establish a China Centre at the ANU that should aspire to be the world's leading research centre on the subject.

Read More

For all the claims about being the Manchurian Candidate, Rudd's approach towards China was about as hard-nosed as you are likely to see from either side of Australian politics. It was brutal in its acknowledgment of the downside risks China's rise presents while championing the opportunity.

What also seems noteworthy about Rudd's approach was that in most instances he stood his ground with the Chinese Government. Even as China overtook Japan to become Australia's largest trading partner, Rudd did not succumb to the temptation to lie down when the Chinese tried to steamroll Australian principles and values.

In the torch relay dispute, despite repeated attempts, the Chinese Ambassador failed to exercise Chinese sovereignty in Australia. What's more, Rebiya Kadeer got her visa (and the Chinese Government made her and her cause famous in Australia), and even if it was untidy, China was unable to buy a larger stake in Rio Tinto. The Dalai Lama was the clear exception to this values-based diplomacy, but maybe Mr Rudd and his ministerial successor agree he is just a 'Cunning Monk'.
What will Rudd's China legacy be? Well, if 'Thoughtlines' is any indication, his successor has a somewhat different approach towards China. That might see the corners of the Rudd approach smoothed. But ultimately, Rudd's China policy will be used by all states with a major stake in the Asia Pacific region. China's authoritarian leadership and massive development challenges make predictions about whether it will rise peacefully a best guess only. Any prudent government will have to hedge.

Pictured, a bust of Kevin Rudd on Prime Minister's Avenue, Ballarat.