States, Boundaries and the Globalisation of the Internet.
(c) Jerry Everard 1997
Unpacking this short question suggests immediately two possibilities: either the state could wither away (without the 'h'), or it could have a future that might be a little different from what it seems to be today, hence whither (with the 'h'). If the latter, then what role will the state play in a globalised economy?
To address these questions I want to divide this paper up into a set of themes. To that extent I intend to frame this paper more as a map for further research, rather than seek at this stage to attempt to provide definitive answers. Firstly I want to examine the nature of the state as information - a 'discourse formation' which will both allow for the operation of history (the state's essential 'contestedness') and emphasise the contingency of the state.
Secondly I want to disaggregate the state into multiple facets, in order to show why the idea of the decline of the state can be both evident and wrong depending on which facet of the state is being considered; and finally I want to examine the globalisation of internet in terms of its potential impact on the state's various facets. In doing so I hope to counter some of the more extreme hype about living in a 'wired' world, while examining some of the real changes that are occuring as I write.
Don Tapscott, Chair of the Alliance for Converging Technologies, and author of The Digital Economy opens modestly with this claim:
Certainly a shift is occurring, as it does with the widespread introduction of any new technology, but whether it will surpass the revolutions brought about by writing, or by movable-type printing, or by railways, telegraph or telephone, is debatable.
In recent debates about globalisation and about the global spread of telecommunications several themes are presented in sets of binary oppositions: sovereignty as against the borderless society; public access to information as against privacy; the state as against individual interests; the virtual as against the real; and so on. Such binaries , as we shall see, can lead to misunderstandings or overstatements.
The State as Hyperreal
The State in many respects is like a piece of software - it seems stable enough while the power is on and it hasn't run into a major bug yet, but interrupt the power supply, or corrupt it and it falls apart with startling rapidity. According to Rousseau, if at base it is about its own preservation, the sovereign state must have 'a universal and compelling power to move and dispose of each part in whatever manner is beneficial to the whole.'2 Moreover, he argues that, in the same way that people have power over their own limbs, so too the social contract gives the state, as body politic, absolute power over all its members. It is this same power, Rousseau argues, when directed by the 'general will' is termed sovereignty.3 For him the 'software' of the social contract is corrupted when the best interests of the majority are not invoked by the general will of the people. The question of how to identify the 'general will' of the people when the people are engaged directly with global economic processes at a speed and in a manner barely discernable by the state is not addressed.
For Machiavelli4 the international society of states consists of competetive states that either become conqueror or conquered. The Prince must be powerful and skilled in military affairs in order to continue ruling the state, and the Prince is the person who holds the monopoly over the legitimate use of force. Machiavelli was well aware of the state as an essentially contested term, which is another way of saying that the state is historically contingent. He understood that the state was subject to rearticulation and that it required vigilant maintenance in order to survive as a viable identity. What Machiavelli doesn't address is how the security state can act nationally when the economic bases of its power are controlled offshore.
Thomas Hobbes5 posits the state as a 'Persona Ficta' which exists within an anarchical system of states, each competing for diminishing resources. From this perspective the life of the state would be unstable, nasty, brutish and short. The state, for him is an idea - a legal fiction - that operates as an identity to which the domestic polity subscribe in order to marshall its resources more efficiently for the good of the people. What Hobbes' Leviathan fails to address is how relevent that identity will remain when people are forming international communities and joint-ventures based around 'virtual corporations' that effectively by-pass the state in most of its dealings - the domestic polity is becoming increasingly globalised.
So we have a number of problems confronting traditional Realist approches to the State and to (inter)national. These problems have a lot to do with the location of identity in an increasingly globalised and 'wired' world. Identity is produced through practices of boundarymaking, practices that divide the idea of self from the idea of the Other ('us' as against 'them').
States, under this rubric, might be viewed as 'symptoms', or outward signs of their boundarymaking practices. From this it follows that the state will have a multitude of facets - each reflecting aspects of what it means to be a state from a particular point of view. The state therefore would need to be conceived in a dis-aggregated form, existing as a function of its differences and dispersions, rather than as the rational, unified originary actor of modernist realist discourse.
The other side of this process is that the identity produced/invoked by practices of boundarymaking itself forms the locus for further boundarymaking practices. Which came first historically is less important than the recognition that these processes occur. Moreover these processes become arguably one of the key mechanisms of history - if states sprang fully formed from some ideal type there would be no shifting of boundaries across time.
Collective identities in the form of states can be invoked for specific purposes, such as treaty-making in international law, or the state setting of interest rates. But one aspect of this view of states as identities is that these identities themselves become visible where they are weakest - where they reveal a contested and contingent site of absence. The idea of state-hood is arguably most strongly invoked when the place or importance of the state is placed in question by an Other identity, whether internal (insurgent) or external (from other states).
If states, and other identity formations are at base produced through their boundarymaking practices, then maintenance of those boundaries by those legitimated to act in the name of the state becomes a matter at least of credibility, and at the extreme, of state survival. So states (or more properly those who speak in the name of the state) are concerned to have internal policing and security mechanisms to ensure that those who are legitimated to speak for the state retain a monopoly on the power to do so.
So, whether about military or cultural violence, two points become clear: first, that nation-states have always been, in one form or another about the prince or his analogue having a monopoly over the the legitimate use of force. Such force has always been about policing and maintaining boundaries between Self and Other. Indeed, it is no accident that the words 'policing' and 'policy' derive from the same roots.
Cognisant of this derivation, the Napoleonic-era strategist Carl von Clausewitz came to his now classic formulation of war as 'a continuation of policy by other means'.6 Clearly Clausewitz was aware of the discursive nature of war. Thus the State as traditionally conceived in Realist accounts of international relations is perhaps more accurately termed the 'security state'. I shall consider other modalities of state (economic, cultural, political) later in the paper.
Second, in the foundational texts of Realist discourse, the state has always been recognised as a discursive formation - a legal fiction - articulated to (re)present the will of the people as an overarching identity to which the domestic polity subscribe. It follows from this, that the state in realist discourse (at least by the founding fathers - and I use the gendered term advisedly) has always been at its most visible at its moments of challenge, that is, at its boundaries. At the heart of this are sets of practices that speak the state7. Indeed, as Dillon has recently argued, the constitution of what he terms (inter)national political order is a creation of power8.
Considering that the development of internet arose from basic research sponsored by the US Defense Department to improve computer processing performance through networked computers, and considering it was taken up as having almost coincidentally solved a potential military problem9, and considering virtual reality technologies are still at their most advanced within military systems, the globalisation of the internet seems to continues to have rather a lot to do with nation states and power. Indeed security - a term arguably at the core of what international relations traditionally has been about - is still most usually defined in terms of military security. So I read with interest when writers, such as the Director of MIT's Media Lab, Nicholas Negroponte, assert the following:
He goes on to assert that:
What Negroponte seeks to point out here is that with the globalisation of the internet, there will be, as there are now, multiple sites of political activity.
Along with many classical Realist theorists of International Relations, Negroponte conceives of the nation-state as a unitary object. Something that, to use his terms, is tied to 'atoms rather than bits'. He refers to the state as being tied to space and place, geometry and geography'. In other words he sees states in terms of the physical traces - the manifestations in the walls, rivers, or mountains -of their boundaries or borders.
Rereading Machiavelli, Hobbes and Rousseau, one can locate a view along the lines that states are like software programmed to run in the wetware of the people who subscribe to the identity of the state. Like software the state exists while it is 'run' and maintained. It is a very complex piece of software written in a number of programming languages, such as economics, military security, environmental discourse and so on. These exist as articulations of a particular mode of defining self and Other. It is about sets of relations between those who are included - us, and those who are excluded - them. It is about locating a sense of self and a sense of belonging - loosely and traditionally interpreted as a sense of place. It exists primarily as the result of a set of boundary-making practices that invoke and are invoked by the people subscribing to the idea of the state. And this probably explains the emphasis placed on military security when terms like security and sovereignty are invoked. But security is broader than military security.
States are above all cultural artefacts, or information produced by and through practices of signification - from the writing of foundational documents -constitutions - to the discourses of smart bombs and the global spread of coca-cola. Sovereign identity, then is comprised of bits rather than atoms.
Moreover, it is relations of power that have characterised relations within the domestic polity; between the domestic polity and the broader interests of the State; and between states within the global system.
We can begin, then, to construct a grid to illustrate something of the nature of the complex of relations between actors. Such a grid arises from the boundarymaking behaviours in which people participate in order to articulate their relations as identifiable 'bodies' with respect to the issue areas they invoke.
On the one hand we can look at issues of size or scale (individual, sub-state actor, state, system of states, transnational organisations or corporations, and the global). On the other hand we can look at a set of issue areas, or arenas in which these identities are produced (security, economic, cultural, environmental...etc). What becomes mapped as boundaries are those areas where relations between identities/actors come into conflict or collusion with other actors at the individual, state, transnational corporation or NGO levels, or within and between issue areas, for example, where environment and economics conflict. Add to this the additional dynamic of economic first world/developing world and the extent of complexity becomes clearer. Under this rubric we can examine aspects of the globalisation of communications technologies epitomised by internet in functional terms, rather than as an integrated set of overhyped assertions.
In the process of disaggregating the state, it becomes defined in terms of its relations with individuals and sub-state actors, with groups of states (such as APEC or the European Community), its relations with transnational organisations and its relation to global issues, such as refugees, pollution and so on. The State is also defined in terms of its ability to mobilise its sub-state actors to provide for their safety, economic well-being, cultural identity and its environmental concerns, such as emissions controlled/regulated by domestic legislation, and by the agreements signed in its name with other states, such as, for example, the Biodiversity Convention.
When people start to think in terms of the death of the state - usually they are saying that one or another of the facets of the state is taking a more prominant role with respect to an issue area - ie transnational corporations are becoming more prominant in the arena of capital flows around the world. That does not, of course mean that the state is necessarily less powerful in other issue areas, such as military security for example.
Pollutants do not recognise national boundaries, as was shown so poignantly by Chernobyll in 1986. Narcotics traffic and organised crime seem to cross national boundaries with impunity. With the development of sophisticated technologies of communication, international economics has taken a quantum leap, rendering states seemingly increasingly powerless to control their own resources, and with the globalisation of internet, even the cultural identity of individual nations is coming under threat. Pornography and the spread of the English language raise legitimate concerns in the hearts and minds of the developing world. I want to suggest that It is these questions among others that concern states, and that shape their reaction to the globalising power of internet.
This indeed seems to be the case, whether discussing the exercise of or struggle for power, the sanctioning and continuation of inequalities displayed in and through war -even down to the narratives of peace that serve to institute and inscribe a status-quo - these too are narratives of the effects of the conflicts that established these sets of relations through the inscription of boundaries by an arrainment of forces. Such a view becomes particularly evident when one analyses what various states have said about the growth of internet and what it means for them as states.
Cyberspace10 may be conceived as a space without a place, or perhaps a placeless society. It is a notional realm in which data becomes accessable from almost any point on the globe (for those with access, let us not forget). Cyberspace in this sense is a map of relations between people. Although spatialised metaphorically, cyberspace is in fact more properly viewed as a set of relations that converts data to information to achieve particular ends. These relations may also exist between people at widely dispersed sites. Data and people -both arguably cultural artefacts, although in different ways.
Through email discussion lists the internet allows people to share ideas quickly across the world. It can be likened to a group of people in a room who pass notes to each other that can be seen by everyone in the room. Everyone gets to have their say making it more democratic than conversational turn-taking. Whole virtual communities have become established. That is to say that the communities are real - with real people, but they are geographically scattered across many states, many countries. There have been such communities before, eighteenth century diarists, for example who would exchange manuscripts from drawing room to drawing room. What has changed is that these people can now be on separate continents and their communications are highly time-compressed, and on a scale previously inconceivable.
But amidst all the hype, to what extent is the internet a global phenomenon? There is no disputing that the internet is big, but that is a relative term. There are now around 30-40 million users of the net worldwide - about twice the population of Australia, or about twice the population of London, and that number is growing prodigiously, doubling about every 18 months. Nonetheless it is still a minute proportion of the world's population, and not all countries have the infrastructure, let alone the desire to become more easily accessed by the wealthy West.
There are currently nearly 5 million host computers, or 'net nodes' around in just over 50 countries around the world. But that isn't the whole story. Advocates of the net like to think of it as a neutral and universal technology, but with only 3 percent of the developing world's population having telephones, and only a minute percentage of those having internet access, it can be useful to ask: for whom is it neutral? Let's look for a moment at how these nearly 5 million net nodes are distributed.
3.4 million of them are in north America, just over one million in Western Europe, compared with just 46,000 in Eastern Europe, 27,100 in Africa (three countries), 16,000 in central and South America, 13,800 in the Middle East, 150,000 in Asia and nearly 200,000 in Australia11. It is useful to bear in mind the kind of ethnic mix this indicates. The Internet is culturally predominantly American, ethnically white, middle-class and above all, English-speaking. When we think of the internet as global, it must always be with the caveat that the internet is a western construct - as is the term 'global' used in that context. When countries such as China with 25 percent of the world's population (1.2 billion) have only 4 net nodes, when only three out of Africa's nearly fifty nations are connected, and Cambodia, Laos, Burma and Vietnam have yet to be fully connected, the 'global' picture begins to look premature.
Countries such as Cambodia, Mozambique and Somalia will have particular difficulty getting on-line insofar as they have all suffered severe infrastructure damage from years of war and insurgency, and the legacy of landmines makes the construction of even a basic telephone system extremely difficult, even if the countries could afford the bill. Cambodia and similar countries that have particular infrastructure problems could potentially be served by VSAT (very small aperture terminal) satellite or wireless networks12. Such systems, however, are expensive to operate, rendering internet access available only to a small, powerful and corrupt elite, doing little to solve village-level problems.
In Africa Western power generation companies have played so strongly on myths of modernisation, that villages are getting electricity and television at the expense of health care programmes and regular water supplies.13 Regardless of what that might say about the sense of priorities being exercised by officials in these countries and about the morality of western value systems in this pre-modern context, it does signal a possible - indeed probable -future in terms of the way internet is being marketed.
In India, sometimes held up as the shining light of a country leap-frogging into the twentieth century, with a thriving software and computer production industry, the picture is very uneven. India's population of 860 million is served by about seven million telephone lines, mainly concentrated in three or four major cities. While many countries are increasing bandwidth through the installation of a fibre-optic network, India cannot provide basic telephone dial tone to two-thirds of its villages. India's waiting list for phones now extends to some two million people. Moreover, where telephone infrastructure exists, it is delicately balanced at capacity and based on analogue copper wire technology that, for the most part will not be upgraded to provide a broadband digital capacity.14
In addition, the cultural spread of internet looks set to reinforce the current divide economically between North and South and equally on a cultural/political divide between East and West, which suggests that the demographics of the net are not encouraging. English language software is overwhelmingly dominant, with marginal consessions to French, Spanish and, perhaps surprisingly, Finnish language. Some kanji software is available, but in terms of WorldWide Web sites, English is overwhelmingly dominant.
He argues that people will think of themselves in terms of their time from each other, rather than their physical distance. This is already beginning to happen with office gossip sometimes being heard across the globe before it has got down the corridor. To that extent people are clearly engaging with each other in communal activities in precisely that manner. Where this affects states is in those areas that affect the local communities that go to make up states, particularly with respect to criminal activity that could be seen to threaten the state, or in the spread of news about human rights abuses perpetrated by or in the name of the state.
Concerns about information technology are not new. Plato, writing in 370 BC had some prescient remarks on the subject:
According to his argument, people will become shallow, have short attention spans, be unable to create anything original and will wind up a burden to society. Unauthorised people, even children, will have access to the wrong information, perhaps pornography, and those who spend their lives immersed in it will not have real interactions with real people. Versions of this argument have been brought out with the introduction of every new information technology, from printing presses to radio and television, and now internet17.
Some Consequences of a Globalised Internet
In this section I want to examine some consequences of a globalised internet in terms of a number of functional themes with a view to sketching out some of the scope of the changes we face in such a world. Much of this material is common to other commentators on 'net matters, but I intend to situate this discussion within some broad functional structures that relate to the matrix of relations I have sought to construct between levels of discourse and some of the functional areas that affect intra to inter-state relations in a globalised economy.
States Versus Economy. To say that because of international trade, the state is a spent force (an assertion made several times in Negroponte's work) is to ignore the history of the international economic system.
I want to suggest that economic globalisation (or at least economic internationalisation) does not necessarily lead to the loss of political sovereignty - states do not lose their power as traditionally conceived, and secondly, I want to suggest that the economy has always operated somewhat independently from the state as an institution.
If we examine the levels of state involvement in the domestic economy (government spending as percentage of GDP) we simply get a read-out of the government's economic philosophy - more or less welfare spending, taxation structure and labour market policies. This seems to vary markedly depending on whether you are discussing the US or Sweden.
For those who suggest that pressures of integration (such as European union) have reduced the state sector, the evidence (drawn from figures in the Economist) seems to be in the reverse direction, with public sector spending increasing since the 1980s from from an average of 36 percent of GDP to around 40 percent of GDP. The suggestion here is that governments are tending to control more as integration increases, rather than the other way round.
Markets do have an influence on a government's spending plans, but then they always have had. Part of the government's role is to set conditions for a stable economy to ensure that investment monies will not be evaporated by high inflation or low interest rates. From this it follows that government policies will always be to some extent constrained by the economic environment that provides their own economic resource base. Governments have always been torn between either controlling interest rates or currency value - but not both at the same time.
Perhaps that is even more the case now that capital can move so much more rapidly around the globe. The argument remains, however, that only a few internet-based industries would be so flexible as be able to move their fixed assets at short notice. Industrial and primary production require major infrastructure which is not so easy to move rapidly.
The West sees a number of economic features to be desirable about increasing economic globalisation, which is facilitated by the spread of internet. These are: the idea of a level playing field; transparency in commerce; and competition. Arguments for more of each of these have been used to persuade countries to join internet. One then has to ask: transparency for whom? Whose 'level playing field'? What kind of competition? - this last suggests that labour becomes the one competetive asset held by developing countries - competition that seems unlikely to do much to improve the living conditions of those employed under these terms.
It is not entirely one-way, however, as India's 'Silicon Plateau' has discovered. India now produces software for around two-thirds of the major global computer companies18.
Internet for the developing world does raise significant questions to do with economic security. Will internet mean providing more low-paid data outworkers? Will it provide access to information of most relevance to these countries, rather than another marketing forum for development dreams? This raises questions of access. What access will there be for women? Will this be a tool for spread of Western notions of democracy - perhaps considered by developing countries as destabilising. And can the information be trusted by those countries as accurate?
Global financial and share markets are going online. The opportunities for investors to put their money into foreign equities are increasing dramatically, far outstripping national checks and balances. This raises the question of how regulators can protect investors from fraudulent practices in overseas markets without seeking extra-territorial powers (that would almost certainly infringe sovereignty). These markets could potentially become vulnerable to manipulation from unscrupulous traders. This is without considering the potential vulnerablility to terrorist virus attack which could wreak havoc with a country's economy in a form of information warfare - cyber wars as some have dubbed it.
As more banks and financial institutions enter the market for digital cash, several issues emerge, with implications for both the state and the individual. For the individual digital cash is only as secure as the encryption standard that protects it. Without physical tokens, it will become increasingly difficult to trace losses caused either through system failures or theft. For banks and similar institutions, there are efficiencies and security in handling digital cash. With fewer tokens actually being transported to banks the risks of hold-up are diminished. Fewer staff can be employed as more transactions are done at point of sale or through ATM machines, and there are efficiencies in reduced levels of physical counting of paper or coin tokens. As Jonathon Aronson points out, however, electronic money is created outside the purview of central banks which have traditionally controled monetary policy. There are a number of implications to this. Firstly, it could render the money market more volatile and accentuate market fluctuations; secondly even calculating money supply could become more difficult, leading to difficulties for Central banks wihch could lose control over a significant part of their domestic monetary supply; and thirdly, by operating 'as anonymously as cash' there is potential for fraud and money laundering on a far greater scale than ever before, and in a form that is more difficult to trace than other forms of financial transaction that leave extensive paper trails.
Unlike credit cards, transactions performed on internet and through computerised 'cash cards' are not recorded, so money can be moved invisibly across national borders, bypassing the banking system, allowing for the virtually untraceable laundering of drug and arms money.
Credit card security on internet was compromised following the October 1995 cracking of NetScape's security code by a computer enthusiast using a single commercially available PC. Two weeks later another enthusiast used a small network of 140 PCs to accomplish the same feat.
What all this presages is a significant shift in the relationship between governments and markets, posing problems for regulation and new challenges for national-level economic stability and security.
Sectors and Firms.
Jonathon Aronson suggests that at the sectoral level, firms that embrace new communications and information technologies and that move through the process of redesigning their business processes should win out in the end. But as he also points out, it is one thing to assert this at the sectoral level, it is quite another to predict the impact on specific firms. He does suggest, however, that on a national basis:
What is clear, is that poor countries with low literacy rates and low levels of access to global telecommunications systems will be increasingly left behind in the global economy. Moreover, the gap within countries between the wealthy and wired and the poor and unwired will also grow.
The world is not the way it was. The focus of conflict is changing. It is moving away from territorial conflict, and towards maritime resources. Intellectul resources will also become an increasing focus for potentially novel forms of conflict. Resources such as financial markets, databses, monetary transactions and information of all kinds could be swept up into arena of inter and intra-state resource conflict. With the globalisation of telecommunications the resources of a wired world might also be fought over by extra-territorial means in a war that could cripple an economy without a shot being fired. The nature of sovereignty is itself being qualified by electronic telecommunications media and warfighting will take on a different character. With interdependence increasing through a globalisation of the economy, countries are moving increasingly from command economies to more democratised forms. Moreover the subjects of conflict may be shifted as a result of the impact of global communications. states seem set to lose control over their cultural values and opinions. In addition, their control over substantive resources is shifting to commercial and business enterprises that have a transnational focus. This has led some to argue that the state is in decline. It is a relative decline as I pointed out in the previous section, but the concerns that can lead states into conflict challenge the very paradigm in which strategic defence planners have been operating. Environmental problems, economic problems, narcotics and uncontrolled movements of vast numbers of people will bring new pressures to bear on the strategic order20. New tools are also emerging that look set to change the face of war fighting. I want briefly to focus on one such set of technologies as it arises directly from the subject matter of this paper: the internet and other forms of global communications systems - the life-blood of the global system or an exposed jugular vein.
It was realised very early on that the packet-switching process, on which networked bulletin board systems are based, is extremely robust - making bulletin boards hard to kill. This made it a useful system to ensure communications even in the most adverse conditions, including a nuclear war. Information can take so many alternative routes, when one of the nodes of the network is removed, that the net is almost immortally flexible. John Gilmore, one of the net pioneers, is quoted in Howard Reingold's The Virtual Community as saying " The Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it."21
Military uses for internet are growing almost as fast as the internet itself. ARPANET is no longer a going concern, having been dismantled in 1989. There are, however, military networks which continue to be developed as high-bandwidth tools for operating and coordinating large scale simulations of battle techniques, as a training aid for people, from foot soldiers to fighter pilots, to tank drivers and sailors, right through to strategists planning and conducting war games.22
As the director of the US Defense Intelligence Agency, Lieutenant General Kenneth Minihan has recently pointed out that information warfare will be crucial to states' survival in the coming century23. Pursuing such a capability is seen as bestowing a critical advantage relative to the capabilities of other states. As Minihan puts it:
In this sense the nation is defined in terms of its ability to make intelligent use of increasingly global networks.25
But security is both wider and more narrow than that. In the world in which we live today, international security is as much an issue of domestic security - the two domains are now stitched-in with each other far closer than they have been at any time in the past.
Information warfare. In the event of war viruses and other forms of intrusion into networks have the potential to cause significant damage to a state and its defences. Such weapons might be termed "Weapons of Mass Disruption". Moreover, the more 'wired' a state is, the more vulnerable it is to this kind of attack. Approximately 95 percent of the Pentagon's communications use domestic phone lines. US military bases are powered by the civilian national electricity grid, and the military is paid through the commercial banking system, yet the civilian sector has yet to have access to, let alone use military level network protection systems. In a recent exercise by US Defense Department computer security experts, 8,932 of the Pentagon's computers were attacked over a period of two years by various intrusion methods. access was gained to 7860 systems, but only 390, or less than 5 percent of those operating the target systems detected the intrusion. What is interesting is that of these, only 19 incidents were officially reported. This lack of reporting means that little or nothing gets done to strengthen the systems following a compromise or intrusion. 26
Information warfare can be defined as 'any action to deny, exploit, or corrupt the enemy's information and its functions, while protecting against theseactions and exploiting our own information operations.'27 It is a spectrum of operations covering almost anything from traditional propaganda and psychological operations, to targetting the enemy's air-defence radar systems and everything in between.
In functional terms the weapons of information warfare can be characterised in terms of their effects. These can be:
28. Physical weapons, like bombs, artillery shells and electromagnetic pulse (EMP) weapons can destroy crucial hardware and power support systems.
Semantic weapons are those that target the enemy's trust in their information. If their system were intruded upon so that false or contradictory commands were issued, or so that battlefield information was imprecise, or so that logistic support was misrouted, then the enemy would lose trust in what their own systems were telling them. The same would apply if their financial markets were manipulated, or their banking system began paying random amounts to people and cancelling accounts. In an age where direct mail marketing can target specific consumers, the prospects for tailored propaganda using direct marketing techniques are not so very distant. The effect on the enemy would be more widespread and harder to counter than if the networks were simply closed down.
Drugs and money laundering. Drug and arms sales could be arranged 'legitimately' by advertising on a bulletin board based in a country where such activities may be legal. That the bulletin board may be accessed from countries where such activities are not legal gives rise in some quarters to concerns about whether the citizens of one country should automatically have access to all material outside of that country's geographical borders.
Some countries are particularly sensitive to dissident voices within their country. In China, for example, dissidents are using internet to voice criticism of the government and to get information on politics and human rights into and out of China.
For some, it is now the major conduit for such information. The Independent Federation of Chinese Students and Scholars (IFCSS) has said that the internet forms the communication backbone for Chinese students worldwide, including exiled dissidents from the 1989 Tiannenmen Square crackdown. The internet provides a fast method for underground groups to organise activities.
Burma and Cambodia are not noted for their tolerance of opposition political groups. Their governments have expressed concern at the consequences of open and unfettered access to internet, as they come under increasing pressure to connect to the net.
Burma is concerned about cultural dilution from the net. The most highly prohibited publications in Burma are not pornographic, they are the English-language newspapers from the "Other Country" - Thailand. The Bangkok Post and The Nation newspapers offer extensive and critical coverage of Burma. At present no newspapers other than the official 'The New Light of Myanmar' papers are legally sold in Burma. The internet would provide easy access by its citizens to other sources.
Pornography. While the US seems to be the main country with a visceral concern over access to pornographic material online. China, Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, -indeed while most Islamic countries have expressed concern and a desire to control access to pornographic material, it is harder to understand the US' concern, however, given the widespread availability there of far higher quality graphic material than the 72 dot per inch available on screen. This leads one to wonder whether or not there are other issues behind this, for which pornography makes a convenient means to gain consent for wide reaching controls over net access.
Sovereignty Versus the Individual
States and borders.
If the State is concerned about losing control over its domestic population's access to the culture and mores of another culture, the state could be considered as relatively less important in terms of maintaining itself as a community - when on-line communities can form more on the basis of intellectual sharing - perhaps they will develop stronger cultural ties than those which bind the fabric of the state. If this were feared, then it would be in the state's interests to be able to exercise control over what passes its borders.
Perhaps more importantly for the state are the prospects that terrorists could seek to undermine the state, while being coordinated by external interests. Information on how to build fertiliser bombs, chemical munitions, and even early nuclear weapons designs are available on internet. Information of this kind is controlled under the military export regulations of a number of states and yet they are readily available. These are valid concerns in terms of traditional notions of state-centred security.
Regulation and Democracy.
For democratic countries, such as the US, measures to control access to internet, or to control content on the grounds of national security would be both cumbersome and politically dangerous in a country that holds freedom of speech as a constitutional right. In order to develop the level of control needed, the governments of such countries would need to gain consent from the wider population, who in turn would need to be complicit with the development of internet 'bottle-necks' to which software filters could be applied, or to the development of 'hunter-seeker' software -cancel-bots - that could erase target information on a net-wide basis, but then these would quickly be seen as another weapon in the information warfare arsenal. Pornography makes a good starting point under the guise of eradicating 'sites of moral concern'. Opponents to such developments could be branded as being against moral 'family values' or complicit with pornographers and child molesters, thus defusing opposition to the development of significantly intrusive control measures.
That such intrusive measures may affect other countries' access or communication sovereignty might safely be ignored by a country as large and powerful as the US. Indeed, while the US dominates the net and has the vast majority of net users, it perhaps could continue to do so. However, as other countries develop a larger net presence (and they are catching up exponentially) then the acceptability of such controls could become increasingly problematic. There seems to be emerging, however, a consensus among national governments in favour of some form of control over net content, although there are nuances in rationale.
If states are seen to have permeable borders, questions can be raised over the extent of sovereignty exercised by that country. Interestingly, in a recent test case, Internet service provider Compuserv recently turned off worldwide access to a range of sites in response to the German Government's concerns over its citizens accessing pornographic sites.30 This was accomplished using a simple key-word filter, set to remove access to sites containing the words 'breast', 'homosexual' and any site with some version of the word 'sex' in its title. A net-wide outcry ensued as breast cancer support groups, gay legal advice services, AIDS information lines and sexually transmitted disease health advice services were removed from access worldwide. In the mean-time the most sexually explicit material was still available from sites that had abbreviated their titles to, for example, S&M.HTML. Compuserv issued apologies, but said that at that time their software was unable to switch off access by single country.
Since Salmon Rushdie, there has been a focus by islamic middle-eastern countries on the potential for blasphemy on the net. Usually this issue has been considered as part of a broader concern with Western cultural domination of the net, which given its current demography would suggest that those fears are not unfounded. Interestingly, the first attempts at prosecution by a religious group was the Church of Scientology. The charge, against a particular individual, and the bulletin board used for distribution, was not blasphemy, however, but copyright. But again perhaps that reveals a cultural bias on the part of the West.
I have mentioned the cultural demographic profile of internet. What concerns some countries is that Western ideas of what democracy should look like, what standards of moral decency should look like, even what notions of 'the good life' should look like, -that these western cultural mores will swamp anything, good or bad, in non-western internet-connected countries. Vietnam's Mr Nghiem Xuan Tinh, deputy director of Vietnam Data Communications Company has said: 'The internet must be controlled ... to protect culture and national security.'31 In concert with Singapore and Burma, Vietnam is also concerned about exiled dissidents campaigning via internet. Moreover the controls proposed by Vietnam Post and Telecommunications (VNPT) allow only limited access to the internet, restricting users mainly to email access.
Such moves by the state-run Vietnam Post and Telecommunications have reportedly disturbed foreign investors and agencies, such as the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). These largely first-world, Western run organisations are concerned about whether investers can expect full transparency in their dealings with Vietnam.
Tinh points out that internet's combining of two different technologies, telecommunications and computing, is causing friction within Government over who should control it as a state agency. This is another example of boundarymaking that demonstrates still further the need to dissagregate the state. At the moment, telecommunications are controlled by the Directorate General of Post and Telecommunications, while information technology development is managed by the board of the Information Technology 2000 programme, a high-level policymaking committee responsible to the Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment. This group has given responsibility for the development of internet access to the Institute of Information Technology. It is not clear how the responsibilities will be divided between these groups. As for monitoring message traffic on the internet, any move by VNPT to do so would be to risk overstepping the responsibilities of the State Security Services. This simply illustrates that states can not be treated as unitary actors. It also underlines the difficulties encountered by governments when confronted with novel uses of technology.
US and Freedom of Speech.
For the US, what is termed this right should be extended in all countries, however destabilising that freedom of speech may be. This has led in the US to some schizophrenic policymaking even within its domestic polity.
Internet has been called divisive, separating the information haves from the have-nots. We can look at this under the rubric of Information Poverty.
To bring together some of the points made so far, what I want to look at here is the way in which the net looks set to breed new forms of third-world/isation. Information poverty can not only cut across classes within Western capitalist countries, but across countries in time-honoured post-colonial ways. We have seen the patchy distribution of the internet across the world, and it's not all because states lack the resources, though in many cases that is a major factor.
Interestingly the risks cut two ways:
Underinformation: data-poverty arising from inability to access information available to highly developed countries, leading to increasing poverty and dependence due to an increasing inability to engage in business on a 'level playing field' through lack of timely access to essential information. Capital will be ever more mobile, while labour will not be. In the short to medium term data input and programming work will continue to be farmed out to cheap, literate, labour forces in China and the Philippines.
At the same time, these same countries will be the first to feel the effects of modular programming languages, text scanning technology and voice recognition software. Many other aspects of economic life in so-called 'third world' countries will be affected by the denial at village level of information needed to engage in more efficient management processes as much through an inability to afford the technologies even if the technologies and infrastructure were present.
So these technologies, like so many other things will benefit only the elites of these countries, maintaining a defacto colonialist status-quo.
Ironically, for the developed West there are emerging problems at the high end, through:Overinformation. In recent years there has been a shift from data to information need. As the interrelationships within the experiential world are perceived to be more complex, so companies, governments and scholars alike have come to realise the increasing value of distantly related information in their decisionmaking processes. But this can lead to 'overinformation' and consequent paralysis of the decisionmaking process. On the one hand there will be a growing market for systems that can get information abstracts in the shortest time.
On the other hand there will be an even greater market for systems that can find their way around networks, sniffing out nuggets of 'lateral information'. What will be needed here is value-adding for information. Such value-adding will be done BY someone, for some PURPOSE. There will be vested interests in this and high potential for conflict of interest - especially when it comes to how governments are informed about the state of the world. This was recently highlighted during the Asia/Europe summit, where ASEAN countries called for a greater ASEAN presence on the net as a means to counter perceptions filtered through western news media.
If all this information is to be filtered by Western systems, then, as with CNN, for example, the world will be seen through increasingly narrow, editorially focused eyes. The US, for its part has recently introduced a new telecommunications bill to extend laws regarding telephone usage to cover computers and other telecommunications devices. The bill provides that anyone using a computer to "annoy, threaten or harass" (not further defined) anyone else is liable for fines up to US$100,000 and a jail sentence of up to two years.
The legislation will apply criminal penalties to anyone who "makes, transmits, or otherwise makes available" words or images deemed offensive (by whom not further specified) over any telecommunications device. Penalties could apply to "obscene, lewd, lascivious filthy or indecent" material exchanged by consenting adults.
Other, rather more obscure US laws already apply to people or institutions that assist in the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, including through the passing of specialised software to countries of proliferation concern. There are also libel and copyright laws - themselves problematic when it comes to differing copyright legislation in different countries, yet with global access to ftp sites, web pages and bulletin boards.
The net is overwhelmingly American, and if we look at the demographic profile, predominantly anglo-saxon, English-speaking, university educated middle-class males. When we speak of a globalised world in terms of the internet, we need to keep this perspecive in mind.
For all of these reasons, countries coming new to the internet are cautious. They are concerned that their domestic polity will be subjected to the anarchic structures of the net. They are concerned that their borders will be penetrated (and I use that word advisedly) by seditious publications, by pornography, by Western world-views, and by money launderers.
We need to look more closely at what is said by, for example, Vietnamese, Mainland Chinese, Malaysians, Singaporeans, Indonesians, non-South African Africans, Cubans - the Other to US domestic culture. For these people, what is perceived to be at stake is the survival of their cultural identity - the essence of what it is to be a nation/State. By examining what countries find threatening about the internet, it is possible to see elements of their own boundarymaking processes. If the West is seeking to pursuade countries to join internet, it is equally fruitful to examine what the supposed benefits would yield for those who are promoting it. And this should reveal something of the West's (particularly US companies') own boundarymaking practices.
W(h)ither the State?
States are not about to go away. Their power will be constrained in ways that were unthinkable a few years ago, yet, paradoxically, many of the concerns about the flow of information and about vulnerability to international markets have always been there.
But we need to look to the future and examine the consequences of the paths that seem to lie ahead. What if the state were to bow out? Nicholas Negroponte has a vision of the future. It is one in which states evaporate, deferring to 'some global cyberstate that commands the political ether'. He finds it exhilarating, but then those in privileged positions can afford to find it exhilarating. But without some version of the state to provide the service industries of military security and social security, an Orwellian future beckons.
The current trends in privatisation of health schemes, water supplies, nuclear industry, transport and jails are not encouraging. Seeking to maximise returns for investors, these service industries have typically failed to invest in long term infrastructure, resulting in large initial profits for the investor, but ever-decreasing real service for the user.
If this trend were to continue, hastened by the new virtual economies, where the vast majority of people could become self-employed contract workers, new and greater inequalities will inevitably arise as the majority of the newly privatised citizens work for decreasing real wages, and with less security due to competition pressures. In an environment without safety nets there could soon arise a massive class of hungry, inadequately sheltered people whose jobs and lifetimes of training were made ever more rapidly irrellevant.
One scenario would see this as an ideal breeding ground for luddite insurgency or even, in the extreme case, civil war at the local level. The government, with an ever decreasing resource base, facing a demographic explosion of aging people will find itself without the resource base to provide even for the basic necessities. The spectre of 1930s Europe has the potential to loom large. Moreover, this trend can be seen to happen not merely within wealthy states, but between wealthy and poor states. This could breed the conditions for interstate regional conflicts and instability on a scale and with more modern weapons than ever before. Jerome Ravetz hints at this when he says:
Certainly the economies of electronic transmission will enable the more privileged sectors of the less privilaged societies to participate with fewer disadvantages in global intellectual culture. Whether the new technologies will enable the less privileged among the more privileged to assert themselve, is another question.32
But I don't think at the end of the day that the state will disappear. To that extent I am an optimist. An alternative, and more likely scenario is that states will manage the risk. they will balance where necessary the interests of sub-state actors and may increase the interactions and diologue between other groups.
The private economy will continue to globalise. Pollution will continue to cross state borders, but it will be state-imposed controls if anything that will reduce the pollution, and states acting on behalf of their domestic polities will continue to conduct international relations at the political and military level. It is states that will work together with other members of the international community to combat international terrorism and organised crime. In different spheres other actors will enter the political stage.
In a recent review Conference of the Inhumane Weapons Convention, the International Society of the Red Cross were asked to provide figures on the global distribution of landmines, and advice on the best ways forward for the Convention. This involvement of transnational non government organisations (NGOs) in international affairs is increasing. But it is still states that sign the treaties and enact domestic legislation to render them effective and under the control of domestic policing mechanisms.
Despite the growth of regional alliances and economic communities, states will continue to function for the purposes of domestic and (inter)national security however defined. What we will also see is an increasing role in particular spheres of action of non-state actors - who will have their own agendas and identities to articulate and maintain.
1 Don Tapscott The Digital Economy: Promise and Peril in the Age of Networked Intelligence McGraw-Hill 1996 p. xiii.