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Call for Evidence

Tech and the future of UK foreign policy

New and emerging technologies are fundamentally altering the nature of international relations and the conduct of diplomacy. The growing influence of private technology companies and the backing nation states are able to give them increases the number of actors who must be engaged with, challenging traditional levers of influence and channels of diplomatic engagement.

Cryptocurrencies are decentralising the ability of the state to create and enforce contracts and payments. This already challenges sanctions regimes that can now go round the dollar and US banking controls to enable parties and states (such as Venezuela and North Korea) to evade controls. Control over technologies will determine the rules that govern their use, also changing the norms of interaction between states and other actors. The US and China are competing to take the lead in global standard-setting, which could see trade and control shift in the direction of the most successful, potentially creating a new global order. The EU is pursuing technological sovereignty, seeking to reduce reliance on US and Chinese technologies. The US and EU are not currently aligned in their response to China’s aspirations and have divergent approaches to regulating artificial intelligence, data sharing and the conduct of social media companies. Decisions taken in the US relating to social media and other technologies are changing interactions around the world and could see a rise in technology nationalism and a resulting shift towards fragmentation of global digital systems. This would be a source of competition and divergent standards, ethics and behavioural norms, disrupting global businesses models and foreign relations.

The UK has traditionally been at the heart of the international system. The developments outlined above present significant challenges to the UK’s security, prosperity, diplomatic relations and global influence. They also offer new opportunities for innovation in the way that the FCDO projects the UK’s influence, builds alliances and engages with our competitors. The UK Government has explicitly stated its intention to be a world leader in shaping international rules and behavioural norms relating to new technologies, and has prioritised investment in cutting-edge technologies and positioning the UK as a global leader in new technological frontiers.

This inquiry will focus on how the UK should respond to the opportunities and challenges presented by new and emerging technologies, and how the FCDO should be leading that strategy including: how it can help build alliances with those who share our understanding of current and future needs for standards shaping technological frontiers; how it can support the development of, and adherence to, rules and norms for the responsible use of new technologies; and how it should adapt the role and influence of international organisations to shape the new order through diplomacy and engagement; how it can advise other departments on the threats to the existing order.

 The Committee welcomes written evidence on:

  1. What technologies are shifting power? What is the FCDO’s understanding of new technologies and their effect on the UK’s influence?
  2. How can the FCDO engage with private technology companies to influence and promote the responsible development and use of data and new technologies?
  3. How can the FCDO engage with private companies to encourage internationally accepted norms for the use of social media as well as to maximise the benefits for diplomacy presented by social media?
  4. How can the FCDO use its alliances to shape the development of, and promote compliance with, international rules and regulations relating to new and emerging technologies? Is the UK taking sufficient advantage of the G7 Presidency to achieve this? 
  5. Should the Government’s approach to meeting the challenges of technology nationalism and digital fragmentation be based on self-sufficiency, joining with allies or like-minded nations or supporting a coherent global framework?
  6. What opportunities and challenges do cryptocurrency and distributed ledger technologies such as blockchain present for the way the FCDO does diplomacy (for example, enforcing sanctions), and how can the FCDO harness these technologies as new tools of influence or to promote compliance and transparency in international agreements?
  7. How can the FCDO help build resilience in civil society, in Government, business and foreign relations against the threats posed by abuses of new technologies by state and non-state actors? Can the FCDO support trust-building networks?
  8. What would the implications be of the dollar losing its dominant position for international transactions? Will digital currencies force a change in the balance of power?

Your submission should:

  • be concise - if over 3,000 words, include a short summary as well
  • include an introduction to you or your organisation and your reason for submitting evidence
  • not already be published

If you would like to ask the Committee to accept your submission anonymously (meaning it will be published but without your name), or confidentially (meaning it won't be published at all), please say at the start of your evidence which of these you want to request, and tell us why. 


This call for written evidence has now closed.

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