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TECHNOLOGICAL CHANGE, THE RISK OF IRRELEVANCE, AND THE CONTINUING NEED C H A P T E R E L E V E N 127 I t is possible that the craft of diplomatic political analysis is dying, although it would be unfortunate if this were so. A variety of developments during the modern diplomatic period, which I would define as the period from the end of World War II to the present, have combined to challenge both the relevance and efficacy of this form of political analysis. These developments span the political, structural, and technological realms. In order to illustrate these changes, we are going to turn our discussion again to imagining the fate of George Kennan’s historic Long Telegram sent from Embassy Moscow in 1946 if that same document had been sent in 1990, at the time of Embassy Moscow’s “abyss cable.” We will then look at the impact of more recent technological changes and imagine the effects of those that will become part of the diplomatic landscape in the near future. But first let us try to put diplomacy into the broadest possible technological context. TECHNOLOGY AND DIPLOMACY In the broadest sense, diplomacy is simply a subset of the process of moving people, ideas, and goods from one location to another. During the course of history, technology has produced a few qualitative, revolutionary changes in how things are moved, but not many. Some years ago, I sailed for a week in the Caribbean just before departing for an assignment to Moscow. With good wind, I averaged about six miles (or knots, for the nautically inclined) per hour. Looking out over the sand, the palm trees, and the clear warm waters of the Francis Drake Channel at the end of that vacation, I recognized that my sense of time and space had reverted to the one shared by all of our 128 ———— THE CRAFT OF POLITICAL ANALYSIS FOR DIPLOMATS ancestors until less than 200 years ago. It was jarring to come to grips with the fact that within twenty-four hours I would be in Moscow, a world removed in so many ways from that tranquil island setting. Six miles per hour—that is about the pace at which people, ideas, and goods could move over any substantial distance for most of human history, whether by land or sea, and then only after the domestication of animals to pull or carry. Techniques and technology could improve this speed—perhaps even double it—for especially valuable things. An emperor, or his orders, could be relayed across his domain. Roman roads were an engineering marvel, but a marvel with a purpose: to move armies, goods, orders, and people across a vast empire. Ultimately, they did not suffice, and the empire was divided to make it more governable. Columbus did not move appreciably faster to the New World than Odysseus to Ithaca, albeit with a better sense of direction. Not until the 1830s, as the construction of railways began, did it become possible to contemplate a tenfold increase in that rate of movement, to sixty miles per hour. Over the next several decades, that promise was achieved, and average people and goods, not just kings and silks, could move across the earth at speeds that a generation or two before would not have been conceivable. Interestingly, despite all of humanity’s advances since, that tenfold increase remains close to the best achievable speed for moving goods and people over land. Yes, as in earlier eras, techniques and technology—the bullet train, the autobahn, the BMW—can double that in exceptional instances, but not on average. At about the same time, discoveries were being made that eventuated in the commercially successful telegraph messaging system. By the 1860s, information could literally move across continents at the speed of light, although relays and the operator limitation of forty to fifty words per minute limited the speed in practice and rendered the technology not especially practical as a means of transmitting complex ideas. The next tenfold increase in the movement of people and goods became a widespread reality only in the post–World War II era, with the commercialization of jet flight. That 600-mile-per-hour limitation remains generally in effect today, although once again technology and techniques can double that for high-value goods and people, as the Concorde demonstrated. Thus far, only nuclear warheads have been considered sufficiently valuable cargo to be transported at the speed of the next tenfold increase...


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