In May 2017, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of Denmark appointed the World’s first ‘tech ambassador’ to Silicon Valley.
The decision was quickly criticised in Denmark for providing a unnecessarily prominent platform for direct dialogue between the state on the one hand and non-democratically elected multinational companies on the other.
The Danish government withstood the critique by arguing that these very companies already wield more influence on the career prospects, social lives, and security of Danish citizens than is the case for many countries. By June 2017, the government had consequently elevated its Techplomacy Initiative and related activities to a ‘strategic priority’ in its new, overall foreign and security policy strategy for 2017-2018.
In the tech ambassador’s own words (whose official title is Ambassador for Technology and Digitalization), his representational office in Silicon Valley can be described as a listening post. In this sense, the office monitors closely the technological evolution and makes suggestions to how society in Denmark might become better prepared for what the future may bring, for example, in relation to artificial intelligence (AI) and the gradual adjustment to what the World Economic Forum (WEF) has called the fourth industrial revolution.
At the same time, the tech ambassador’s office seeks also to promote Denmark as an IT-friendly place for investment and to build a diverse network that includes civil society, and public and private actors for an informed debate about public policy, regulation, and global governance on digitalisation and emerging technologies.
For that reason, along with his growing number of staff, the tech ambassador is not bound by a specific geographical designation (such as to Silicon Valley or the USA). The ambassador engages in meetings around the world and has a separate office in Beijing and a secretariat in Copenhagen.
In the USA, economic and political relations on the subnational level are furthermore being prioritised by the setting-up of two new Danish consulate-generals in Silicon Valley and Houston, TX, while the new network Denmark Bridge is specifically aiming to connect private companies in Silicon Valley with businesses in Denmark.
In general terms, the Danish Techplomacy Initiative may appear as the technologically oriented continuation of Denmark’s arguably ever-growing reliance on economic diplomacy, and export and investment promotion in her foreign policy. However, the current overall foreign and security policy strategy of Denmark also states that the initiative shall be related to development policy.
A foretaste of this dimension of the Techplomacy Initiative became apparent when a grant from the Danish Minister for Development was announced in late November 2017 to a collaboration between IBM and the Danish Refugee Council. Intentionally, this partnership shall increase the effectiveness of planning of Danish humanitarian work and produce an analytical tool that can help give early warnings of prospective migrant and refugee flows.
It seems evident that the co-operation between states and tech-enterprises in Silicon Valley has only just begun.
Mads Mateusz Jaszczolt Fritzboeger is a Young Leader in Foreign and Security Policy Fellow at the Geneva Centre for Security Policy (GCSP) and a multilateral security policy analyst with Concord Consulting.
Related events: Diplo & GIP at RightsCon Toronto 2018