Using Artificial Intelligence to Modernize American Statecraft

How the Department of State can use AI today to address the biggest global changes

A joint publication from Deloitte and Google Cloud.

“If Netflix can predict what TV show my wife and I might choose to watch next, I think data can also help us and help the department predict maybe the next civil conflict, the next famine, the next economic crisis, and how we can respond more effectively.” – US Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken.

Secretary Blinken’s remark reflects the direction in which ministries of foreign affairs around the world are headed. Several European countries now use AI to manage and process visa and passport applications; Canada has fully automated approvals for many temporary residence applications since 2018 using artificial intelligence; and China is also integrating AI into many decision-making processes, including the location and size of Belt and Road Initiative investments.

What could AI look like at the US Department of State and how might the department integrate AI into its work? A first step to consider would be to pinpoint practical ways State can use AI today. We have developed a simple framework to aid State Department leaders in doing so. Using this framework, we have identified several AI use cases for the department to consider and how leadership can work to implement them effectively.

The potential of AI at State is expansive—and the need for it is critical. The State Department faces as daunting a set of global issues as it ever has. Renewed great-power competition is testing American diplomacy, economic competitiveness, cybersecurity, and military power. Infectious diseases, including COVID-19, continue to infect millions and restrain human development everywhere, especially in the poorest countries. Climate change is producing near-term physical and political effects that are likely to worsen as temperatures are predicted to rise 2 degrees Celsius by around 2050. International migration, driven by war, economic distress, and environmental degradation, strains border security and widens political fissures at home and abroad.

A fully digitized agency capable of continuous learning can better meet today’s increasingly complex and interconnected challenges, as well as anticipate those of tomorrow. Crises are growing in frequency and intensity, with civil wars, cross-border refugee flows, and countries in democratic decline all recently reaching new heights, pushing American diplomats to reach for new tools. This compound problem set complicates analytic and response considerations for foreign policy decision-makers trying to reshape or reverse these trends. As the political scientist Eliot A. Cohen recently observed, today’s foreign policy landscape demands “a fine-grained comprehension of the world [and] the ability to quickly detect and respond to challenges.” These challenges are also emerging in an ever-evolving information landscape. Whereas the traditional obstacle to foreign policymaking was data scarcity, America’s diplomats, civil servants, and consular officers are now awash in data. What’s needed are better ways to make the most productive use of data.

AI is a crucial part of State’s modernization agenda. AI is already familiar to many Americans as the technology that helps streaming services recommend movies and TV shows, robots vacuum floors, and doctors diagnose disease. Its abilities to rapidly address problems and perform cognitive tasks similarly to humans are “a source of enormous power for the companies and countries that harness them,” the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence said in 2021. Other countries—both US allies and competitors—have already recognized this potential, with Canada and China among those accelerating their use of AI in foreign affairs.

The Department of State has the opportunity to harness AI to transform American statecraft, from diplomacy to foreign assistance to consular affairs. The department can maximize AI’s ability to turn big data into valuable insights to advance US foreign policy priorities. Moreover, by embracing AI, State can drive a culture of learning and adaptation necessary to navigate accelerating change and preserve America’s advantages in international affairs.

Using Artificial Intelligence (AI) to Modernize American Statecraft

Get in touch

Tasha Austin
Principal | Deloitte & Touche LLP
+1 202 270 8379
Sean Davis
Specialist Leader | Deloitte Consulting LLP
+1 571 882 7724
Will Frankenstein
Specialist Leader | Deloitte Consulting LLP
+1 202 486 9811

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