Generally when we think about an embassy, we think about a group of humans who are transferred to another location and set up their own space within that country, which is to be respected as though it were the border to the country itself. But in times when an actual embassy becomes too dangerous or when the practical applications of actually living in another country are no longer practical an alternative may be necessary. And the US government has come up with a novel approach to the idea of diplomacy by making a “virtual embassy.” But while the idea may seem odd for our own planet, it may be a brilliant solution to one of the problems of sovereignty and diplomacy on other worlds.
If we were to establish a colony on the moon or Mars, we have up until now assumed that communication would happen naturally and organically through video channels and a long several minute delay. But it seems any endeavor where multiple nations may be distantly guiding the actions of a select few from each of those nations, there may be reason to communicate through open channels in ways very similar to the way embassies do on Earth. If, for example, the colonists were to split apart and go their separate ways on the planet’s surface, there may be reason to intervene and enact a diplomatic solution to what might otherwise become a violent problem in a very delicate environment. And without diplomats regularly stopping in on rocket-ships with messages to the colonists, virtual embassies may be needed to deal with matters of importance.
Of course the virtual embassy in Iran proposed by Hillary Clinton is partially in response to the actions of militant students who, in 1979 took over the US Embassy in Tehran shortly after the Iranian revolution. And already there are several critics of the idea, including the Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. But while it certainly has its shortcomings compared to an actual embassy, there are advantages as well. For one thing, it is quite possibly the safest form of diplomatic relationship possible. Its resources can be as comprehensive or as limited as is necessary to do the job.
But there are limitations as well. Just as other web sites have come across hacking problems in the past, so too can a digital embassy. In the long run, this could potentially be a danger – but one that may be corrected if both parties involved in the diplomatic relations are willing to discuss it.
And in the future these embassies may be the only option if one nation is attempting to reach out to another which is extremely remote such as in the case of a Martian colony. Not only would an online embassy allow people to limit their communications, but it would also allow ordinary people to contact the embassies directly. Will this avenue of communication catch on? Perhaps in time we will be able to see.