By Andras Juhasz
Twitter played an important role in Donald Trump`s election campaign with his spontaneous, frank and occasionally over-the-top tweets that energised his followers and generated headlines in the US and beyond. Since election night, the President-elect`s Twitter account has also attracted a different kind of audience: diplomats all over the world have clicked the “follow” button in hope of getting clues to his foreign policy thinking and agenda.
What is emerging from @realDonaldTrump has both puzzled and shocked foreign leaders and governments. His tweets are raising eyebrows in Beijing, Brussels, Berlin, Paris and raising hackles in Warsaw and the Baltic states while reportedly bringing smiles to faces in Moscow.
Public reactions to Trump`s social media messages from these governments, however, have been diverse. Shortly after he tweeted on Beijing’s economic and military policy, China’s state-run news agency`s ran a headline that said, “An obsession with ‘Twitter foreign policy’ is undesirable,” atop an article that pointed out what many were thinking, “…foreign policy isn’t child’s play, and even less is it like doing business deals.” Closer to home, following Trump’s tweet suggesting Nigel Farage should be the British ambassador in Washington, Downing Street issued a – more muted – statement that there was “no vacancy” for the job.
Clearly, Trump`s new approach to communication will change how diplomacy works. The American president has the central role in U.S. foreign policy making and Trump appears to be attached to his smartphone.
Tweeting can be a valuable tool for any leader and has been used by presidents, prime ministers and diplomats for years. It provides an open, quick and direct way of communicating to the public. It is an excellent medium, for instance, to announce a breakthrough after lengthy negotiations.
But Twitter is also a limited, one-way messaging tool whereas diplomacy is a two-way or multiparty dialogue usually taking place behind closed doors. Diplomatic communications reflect the complex and sensitive nature of foreign relations and policy making which is very difficult, if not impossible, to reduce to 140-character messages.
Many fear that Donald Trump`s tweeting, when combined with his, mildly-put, spontaneity and unfamiliarity with world events, makes an explosive mix in the foreign policy arena. With the inauguration this week, the world holds its breath to see if @POTUS will follow the complicated, unwritten rulebook of successful diplomacy – or whether the world will adapt to the @realDonaldTrump.
Andras Juhasz is currently studying for a MSc in Risk Analysis at King`s College, London