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Digital Diplomacy and Statecraft (DigiTraL Diplo): Leg I of GIGA Digital Transformation Lab (DigiTraL) - A Global Approach to Digitalisation

Digital Diplomacy and Statecraft (DigiTraL Diplo) is funded by the Federal Foreign Office. It is the first leg of a larger research endeavour, envisioned to include Digtal Warfare and Development at a later stage. DigiTraL Diplo focuses on how digital transformation offers new opportunities, challenges, and instruments for foreign policy. It will identify the chances and (security) threats of digitalization to advance adequate responses of (digital) diplomacy.
FFO, 2021-2023


Federal Foreign Office

Research Questions

Digital technologies are fundamentally transforming societies worldwide. The Global South is taker and important shaper in this change. The GIGA Digital Transformation Lab will analyse drivers and consequences of the global digital transformation and deliver useful impulses for German foreign policy.

As DigiTraL emerges in close collaboration with the Federal Foreign Office (FFO), we believe it will serve as a vital resource for researchers to better understand the connections and implications of a global digital transformation, and for diplomats and practitioners to handle and shape these transformations effectively. DigiTraL Diplo will investigate both the challenges and opportunities that emerge from two trends.

On the one hand, digital platforms are facilitating the emergence of a far bigger set of actors with amplified voice. This “flattening” effect of digitalisation considerably complicates the process of foreign policy making and diplomacy and its implementation for all states. On the other hand, interdependence gets weaponised and some states emerge as hubs of information networks, power imbalances between states increase.

DigiTraL Diplo will investigate both the challenges and opportunities that emerge from these trends. It will analyse the implications of fragmentation of the global digital space in an era of increasing decoupling and growing nationalism. It will study the possibilities of reforming and updating multilateralism to work in a digital age. In doing so, it will explore current debates on connectivity and data protection but also on digital interference.

Contribution to International Research

Digitalisation and new technologies will carry power shifts. German foreign policy has an interest in making partnership-based offers of cooperation on digitalisation to countries in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East. A digitally sovereign Germany will be able to foster exchange and build global partnerships. Diplomacy with its world-spanning apparatus could become an access point to an overlooked and unused potential. This could help in the promotion of values that Germany and Europe stand for.

Analyses of both the drivers and the political, social, and economic consequences of this global digital transformation abound. However, the actions of countries, companies, and citizens from Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East have hitherto been a blind spot of most analyses on the topic. They are takers and also important shapers of the digital transformation. GIGA, with its long-standing expertise in these regions and on global issues, seeks to correct the existing imbalance. Because digitalisation is a global phenomenon, it needs multilateral regulation, and it needs to take into account actors from around the world. DigiTraL will analyse the drivers and consequences of the global digital transformation comprehensively and develop ways for adequately regulating the informational space at the global level.

There are promising initiatives in Sub-Saharan African countries, e.g. Ghana, Ruanda, Ethiopia, Kenia, South Africa, large parts of Latin America, South East Asia, and India. With its specialization in the regions and the findings of DigiTraL, the GIGA can contribute to advancing standard-setting debates. It is one of our central aims to help raise awareness of a various countries in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East as possible partners and shapers of digitalisation, and devise ideas for successful collaboration amidst intense global competition. Such collaboration and impactfully steering the debate will no longer be possible without strongholds in and influence on the digital space.

Research Design and Methods

DigiTraL is envisioned with a tripod structure.
Digital Diplomacy and Statecraft (under the lead of Prof. Dr. Amrita Narlikar),

Digital Diplomacy and Statecraft (continued)
Digital Development and Sustainability (under the lead of Prof. Dr. Jann Lay), and
Digital Warfare and Peace (under the lead of Dr. Christian von Soest).

Naturally, the linkages across these three work packages will be an important factor once DigiTraL is established in its entirety (Phase 2) and as the research progresses. The findings will be related back to the initial goal of delivering useful impulses for German foreign policy and our global digital future.

DigiTraL is both an interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary project. The three legs of DigiTraL will work together as the political, social, and economic dimensions of digitalisation cannot be understood in isolation. They will be explicitly connected via the shared theme of economic statecraft.

The term “Lab” signals collaborative work and a practice-oriented structure that enables innovative research. The work is experimental and forward-looking, as existing theories are applied to problems that we anticipate but which have not yet (fully) emerged (and vice versa). A “continuous conversation”, a constant exchange of ideas for innovative solutions among our institutions will be the aim of this project. A small working group with members of both institutions (access points are at Policy Planning Staff and at the office of the GIGA President, respectively) will fruitfully connect to existing activities (e.g., on digital diplomacy at the FFO, research, publications, and events at the GIGA).