Journal of International Affairs
Volume 51, No. 2 Spring 1998

Cyberpolitik: The Changing Nature of Power in the Information Age

By David J. Rothkopf

The 'realpolitik' of the new era is 'cyberpolitik,' in which the actors are no longer just states and raw power can be countered or fortified by information power.

For three hundred years, the aspirations of nation states and their leaders have been the principle drivers in international relations. Throughout that period, the ability of those nation states to achieve their goals has rested on three pillars: economic power, military power and political power. Economic power was derived from the resources that lay within the nation’s borders and its ability to trade those resources or their by-products on favorable terms with the rest of the world. Military power derived also from available resources of people and materiel. Political power was drawn alternatively or in combination from the strength of leaders and institutions, the will of the people and/or the support the nation state could win from other nation states.

Today, those pillars of power are being shaken by tectonic shifts that are transforming the very nature of global society. Nation states are facing new rivals for power and influence on the global stage. Power itself is being redistributed, taking new forms and new characteristics. The rules of the game in international relations are changing and the origins of an extraordinary number of those changes can be traced to the Information Revolution.

That revolution has only just begun. Its full extent and implications are unclear. But, for the United States, the ability to remain the world’s leader will depend on its ability to recognize the changes transforming the nature of power in the new world environment and adapt to them.


The Realpolitik of Tomorrow is Cyberpolitik

Realpolitik in the days of Bismarck was a comparatively simple game, albeit one that was swathed in intrigue and subplots. There were five powers of consequence in the world. Ally with two others, thought Bismarck, and the possibility of competing coalitions was forestalled. Pursue national interests coolly and untainted by sentiment, maintain the balance of power and a nation’s interests could be assured.

Today, the world stage is crowded with an ever-growing cast of actors who have the power to damage or otherwise impact each other’s interests. Dozens of states possess weapons of mass destruction, limitless numbers of non-state actors possess the capability to switch a nation’s vital infrastructure on or off, international opinion constrains the actions of national leaders and can transform isolated acts into political or diplomatic watersheds, cadres of young traders determine the price of national currencies, and companies find it increasingly easy to move transactions into the Infosphere and beyond the ambit of any national tax authority. Power itself is being so endlessly redistributed and redefined that its changing nature is one of the principle destabilizing forces in the world today, and a source of strength for those who can adapt to it most quickly.

The Information Revolution drives, enables or influences each of these changes. In turn, these changes undermine “the notion that relations among states are determined by raw power and that the mighty will prevail.” 1 Kissinger’s definition of realpolitik and that of its Clinton-era cousin, idealpolitik, that suggests that the exercise of power should be informed by a system of values, are due for a revision. The realpolitik of the new era is cyberpolitik, in which the actors are no longer just states, and raw power can be countered or fortified by information power. The mighty will continue to prevail, but the sources, instruments and measures of that might are dramatically changed.

In Diplomacy, Kissinger describes Bismarck as a revolutionary in large part due to his development of the realpolitik ideas that have proven so influential during the past century. He asserts “revolutionaries almost always start from a position of inferior strength. They prevail because the established order is unable to grasp its own vulnerability.” 2 It is a cautionary observation worth heeding by today’s foreign policymakers, who base their thinking on traditional policy models that have not been updated to account for the enormous changes brought about as a consequence of the revolution in information technologies.


Metastatecraft: Facing an “Ontology of Contradictions”

In attempting to identify the key characteristics of this revolution and their implications for international relations, we must begin with a recognition that revolutions, like wars, produce a fog of actions, distractions and other stimuli that make clear thinking a challenge and meaningful conclusions elusive. The nature of this revolution in particular demands a recognition that change has become one of the few constants and that we must accept that literally and figuratively we live in a metastate, a changing polity and a time of flux.

These changes inspired a recent report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies/Robert F. McMormick Tribune Foundation conference on “a new ontology of contradictions.” The report cites as examples “simultaneous global fragmentation and integration” and “economic (fast moving) and institutional (slow moving) change.” 3

But the list of contradictory phenomena of this age is much longer. It includes the strengthening of the forces of anarchy and control. The revolution empowers individuals and elites. It breaks down hierarchies and creates new power structures. It amplifies the capacity to analyze, reduces reaction times to allow only for impulse and can be a tool for amplifying emotions or rationality. It offers both more choices and too many choices, better information and more questions about authenticity, greater insight and more fog. It can reduce the risk to soldiers in warfare and vastly increase the cost of conflict. It can make the United States so strong militarily that no one dares fight her in ways in which she is prepared to fight, while enabling opponents to take advantage of new options in asymmetrical conflict. It cedes some state authority to markets, to transnational entities and to non-state actors and, as a consequence, produces political forces calling for the strengthening of the state. It is the best tool for democrats and the best weapon for demagogues. It encompasses both McWorld and Jihad, 4 the Clash of Civilizations 5 and the End of History. 6 It is the sharp instrument by which the fabric of civilization may be rent...that by which may be used to stitch it more firmly together.

Given such contradictions, some might be inclined to suggest that it is too early to acknowledge the certainties that also accompany this revolution. But consider just the following few recent examples and observations as to how the nature and exercise of power has been deeply and permanently altered by the advent of new information technologies:

Control over determining the value of a currency—long considered one of the central prerogatives of the sovereign state—has shifted to the markets. Today, it is traders, not central bankers, who have the last word on foreign exchange rates, as the more than $1 trillion that courses through the world’s forex markets dwarves the total amount available to governments with which to intervene. 7

There was a time when diplomats were the sole interlocutors between countries. Now, unmediated dialogue and information exchange between citizens from around the world occurs 24 hours a day. 8

The smallest nation, terrorist group or drug cartel could hire a computer programmer to plant a Trojan horse virus in software, take down a vital network, or cause a computer to misfire. Voltaire said, “God is for the big battalions.” In this new world, he may be wrong. 9

Among the most closely guarded intelligence sources of the modern era have been the high-resolution photographs available from government spy satellites. Now, private companies are building satellites with resolution of a meter or less, offering private customers the opportunity to track the subtlest movements of other non-state actors or of governments. 10

In crisis situations from the Amazon jungle to Bosnia, from Chiapas to Tibet, Internet technologies have enabled virtual communities to unite to counter government efforts, from the use of violence to the closing off of existing media channels. These virtual communities have taken their cases to the international court of public opinion, whose influence over states has grown as its means to reach an ever greater audience has multiplied. An illustration of this latter phenomenon suggests that even the world’s most powerful nation is not immune to such pressure; indeed, the United States may be especially sensitive to it:

When soldiers of a small European power methodically murder great numbers of unarmed people virtually in front of the world’s television cameras and American leaders appear to do little more than look on and wring their hands, this will inevitably come to make the United States ‘look weak’...if left unaddressed the bloodshed might well undermine NATO; further weaken the United Nations and other international institutions at the very time they were struggling to define their true post-Cold War purposes; and eventually erode the international order that the United States, as the new uncontested hegemon, appeared determined to bolster and maintain. 11

The largely unregulated multi-trillion dollar pool of money in supranational cyberspace, accessible by computer 24 hours a day, eases the drug trade’s toughest problem: transforming huge sums of hot cash into investments in legitimate businesses. Globalized crime is a security threat that neither the police nor the military—the state’s traditional responses—can meet. 12 The goals, capabilities and actions of individuals, legitimate NGOs, international organizations, terrorist groups, etc. will become central to U.S. policy and intelligence. Benign, non-state actors provide policymakers with alternative foreign policy tools. Their influence and ubiquity are dissolving the narrow focus of government-to-government diplomacy and creating a worldwide network that will be a key feature of the environment in which diplomats and generals operate. 13

The proliferation of such references and articles concerning the impact of information technology on aspects of foreign affairs is a relatively recent phenomenon, with several dozen articles appearing in the last two years and very few before that. Based on a review of the literature and extensive discussions with practitioners from the military, intelligence, economic, political and media communities, it is fair to conclude that:

We must also conclude that during the foreseeable future, few of the consequences of the Information Revolution will be fully realized. Rather, we must address the realities of living in a period of transition during which the tensions between the old and the new are as likely to be fault-line issues in international affairs as are the new conditions caused by fully realized changes. Power is shifting and changing. Perhaps the most fundamental reality about power is that those who have it will cling to it and those who seek it will fight to attain it. In the period ahead, the Information Revolution is likely to motivate, enable and influence the outcome of such struggles with great consequence for American leadership, and for the international community at large. Understanding and anticipating those shifts and struggles will be key both to preserving America’s unique status in the decades ahead and to maintaining stability and growth worldwide.

To better understand the nature of the changes that are affecting the world’s power structure, it is useful to consider three central conflicts affecting each of the three basic pillars on which national power has traditionally been built: economic power, military power and political power. Some of these conflicts touch upon more than one of these pillars and each is important in its own right. But, taken together, they reveal important similarities and characteristics that, it can be argued, are fundamental to the way the world at large is being transformed by new information technologies. In each case, it should also be noted, there may be an intuitive impulse to assume the ascendancy of those institutions or ideas most associated with new technologies. In each case, such an assumption would be wrong, as those same technologies empower established interests in new ways and also produce backlashes that undermine some of the strengths they offer.

1. The Private Sector versus The State Sector

Much has been written about the so-called decline of the state sector and the fall of nation states. Indeed, such assertions date back to the end of the colonial era and the earliest days of the Information Age, when markets began their rise and the new media placed new pressures and constraints on governments. In the United States, these early doubts about the viability of the nation state as we knew it came at a time of national introspection and stock-taking, corresponding with social unrest and debate over the Vietnam War. It seemed television was giving new power to voices of dissent and shaking the institutions at the core of the republic. In the wake of this period—exacerbated by the corruption of the Nixon Administration—the U.S. Congress began to trim away at the power of the executive branch (as in the War Powers Act) and later, a national movement began that called for the dismantlement of big government.

This was a period of confusion for the United States, a time in which we were uncertain about our role in the world, about the fairness of applying the great force the United States had accumulated. We had been traumatized by fighting a war over issues that were unclear to many Americans and the result was the onset of what might be called the Age of Ambivalence. This period in U.S. history—most acutely illustrated by the self-doubts and consequent self-imposed impotence of the Carter Administration—carried forward into the Reagan years, as the president himself led the crusade against government. This period corresponded in the marketplace to the oil shocks and the first post-war hints of U.S. economic vulnerability, the inflationary spasms at the turning of the seventies into the eighties, and by growing competition from abroad for American business. Indeed, just as the government and military began to wonder about their capabilities, so did the previously unassailable giants of American industry, as Japanese auto manufacturers, Korean steelmakers and European aircraft companies began seizing previously unassailable market share. During this period, much was written about American decline. Carter himself, at perhaps the defining moment of his presidency, spoke of national “malaise.”

Reagan came at a time of transition. America wanted to feel good about itself again, yet it bore heavy resentment against the government that had presided over Watergate, Vietnam, the Iran Hostage Crisis, gas shortages and stagflation in the previous decade. Reagan’s formula was to instill confidence and optimism while arguing that government should be cut back. While federal spending grew to historic highs during his presidency, it also became the point in time during which the American people connected with the idea that states were declining and markets were rising.

Indeed, the formula seemed to work. Our inferiority concerning the rise of the Japanese and others was turned around, not by government action, but by American companies reinventing themselves for a global economy. Indeed, it was during this period that the Information Revolution began to blossom as PCs, home video, cable television, fax machines, cell phones and other hallmarks of the age made their sudden entries onto the stage of public consciousness and began their rapid assault on market share.

It can be argued that this revolution and the willingness of American companies to reinvent themselves, to slim down and adapt to new conditions, is what brought an end to the Age of Ambivalence and helped America feel good about itself and its prospects once again. At the same time, final victory in the Cold War and the first major U.S. foreign policy victory of the Information Age coincided as the Soviet Union and its satellites began to crumble. While there were several sources of pressure leading to these collapses, it is now widely acknowledged that an important one was that it became impossible to continue to operate a closed society in a world economy in which competitiveness was increasingly predicated on access to information and information technologies. It may well be that as history looks back on this period, it will also note that recognition of the requirement that a nation be plugged into the world and open to information flows was what led Deng Xiaoping to begin the concurrent process of opening China.

At the same time, it was during the eighties that the first real global electronic marketplace began to emerge, related to the development of global capital markets. During this decade, information technologies turned the world into a true 24 hour marketplace with institutional traders passing “books” of investment positions from London to New York to Tokyo in a 24 hour cycle that never ended and responded instantly to the news that flashed across traders’ screens. At the same time, world volumes of all transactions burgeoned and the speed with which they occurred accelerated.

Months before the 1987 stock market crash, traders still marveled at 100 million share-trading days on the New York market. On the day of the crash, over half a billion shares were traded. During one day in 1997, over 1.2 billion shares were traded on the New York Stock Exchange. In 1987, traders were astonished when annual volume of forex trading reached U.S. $45 billion. As noted earlier, that is now just over a month’s worth of trading. As these markets grew and global transactions became more common, the pressure came from practitioners to deregulate national financial markets and harmonize standards.

As these changes took place, the differences between national environments diminished and the leading markets became electronically stitched together into a fairly seamless whole. Massive sums of money were now streams of electrons circling the globe without regard for borders. One pillar of state power was collapsing and a new way of thinking was emerging. Indeed, it is because the financial world is so far ahead of all other communities in coping with the realities of a wired world that it deserves special study by foreign policymakers who are interested in models for the future. Unfortunately, because economics was considered for so long to be “low policy,” there are very few in our national security apparatus with the expertise to assess the implications of this harbinger community.

Analysis of the changes that transformed the world’s individual financial communities into a global marketplace reveals a number of characteristics that are seen virtually wherever the Information Revolution has had an impact. These include:

Interconnection —This is perhaps the most obvious change. Individuals, institutions and communities have been linked with one another via computer networks, satellites and expanding public and private telecommunications infrastructures. What is less obvious is that even as physical links were taking place between players and markets that had previously been less connected—national markets, regional markets, markets in specific financial instruments or commodities—have all become part of global capital markets. Witness how a domestic financial problem in Thailand or Mexico affects markets worldwide or how a fall on the Hong Kong stock exchange sends all the world’s stock markets falling like dominoes. Other examples include the way separate, very different emerging markets get viewed as a “class” of products because they are traded by a single group of emerging markets trading specialists and thus when one market “catches cold, all the others get sick;” or how when stocks are impacted one way by events, gold, bonds, oil and other traded products are also impacted.

Disaggregation/Decentralization —Once power in the world’s financial markets was concentrated in the hands of a few central bankers, a few major banks and a few leading stock brokerages. Now, as we have noted, the central bankers are losing control of the markets and the biggest money centers have been joined as significant players by all who have sufficient capital and are plugged into the global system. Witness the rise of superregional banks in the United States, the growing importance of emerging financial markets, the ability of individuals to trade from their homes or offices, etc. Simple proximity once was a prerequisite of trading and therefore exchanges and the physical locations of financial communities defined much about markets. They were clubs, defined by size and the personal networks of the players. You had to stand under the “old Buttonwood Tree” in New York to trade. If you were too far away or didn’t know the other traders, you had no access to the market and the information that drove it. No longer.

Disintermediation —The creation of an electronic marketplace undermined the monopolies of the clubs who conducted trading or who met to discuss whose capital would back what deals. Today, the NASDAQ market is not a place like the New York, London or Tokyo exchanges, but is instead a computer system linking “market makers.” It has been called by many the market of tomorrow and, indeed, its systems have been studied and adapted by the leading exchanges that once disdained it as the secondary market for smaller companies. Similarly, investment bankers can place paper for a world of would-be investors via electronic networks. Traditional brokerage houses have been challenged by discount brokers and now services like E*Trade make it possible for individuals to trade via the Internet directly. Similarly, individuals need not visit a bank to conduct financial business that once required tellers. It will not be long before the fate of brokers and exchanges is even more precarious, as it becomes more natural to avoid the costs of middlemen and transact business directly with buyers or sellers or counterparties over the Internet.

Dislocation —Conducting business in cyberspace disconnects transactions from a physical location. The consequences of this fact are among the most profound for states, which derive their very existence from their geographic being. In today’s financial markets, however, transactions occur somewhere in the ether between New York and Tokyo or any other two points on the globe. They can easily be linked to other transactions or hidden by “laundering” through strings of smaller, or “fictitious,” transactions. Assets can live permanently “offshore” and can move instantaneously from one “location” to another. Indeed, in such a fluid environment, the idea of “location” is more or less a legal fiction with most assets not backed by any hard commodity, existing instead as a stream of one and zeros in the digital memories of a financial institution and, in theory, constantly moving from one market to another. 14

Acceleration —Acceleration is the consequence of reducing everything to its digital form and increasing the power of digital processors. Now, any transaction is instantaneous and markets can turn dramatically in seconds.

Amplification —Processing power and bandwidth let markets handle unprecedented volumes as indicated earlier. The result, particularly when amplification is combined with acceleration, is a world of profound volatility. Markets can be shattered in moments and repaired just as quickly. Mistakes can also be amplified as countless recent stories of multi-hundred million dollar trading losses illustrate.

Virtualness —Virtualness is the creation of a digital reality analogous to its real world equivalent. The financial community is perhaps the best realized “virtual community” in that it is hardly a community at all, but rather an entire global industry (banking, investment banking, brokerage, commodities, financial media, etc.) all linked together by wires and wireless frequencies.

Asymmetry —Although better illustrated in later sections of this article dealing with military issues, asymmetry can be defined here as the by-product of the Information Revolution that allows smaller players to compete as larger ones once did or do. Individuals can reach out and touch the entire fabric of this global community, sparking a change in investor mood, or they can place technologies on their desks that give them access to the full range of information resources that the traders for the largest financial institutions have. These information resources enable individuals to trade as those traders do, in real time, harnessing analytical tools and research that were once the exclusive province of the largest firms, thus allowing them to gain a competitive equality that was once an impossibility.

During the course of this article, these eight characteristics will repeatedly be seen as the principle drivers of change affecting each of the three examples of the transformation of the world’s power structure that are our central focus. Indeed, in this example—the changing relationship between the role of the state and the role of the marketplace—they can be seen as both undermining the state and strengthening it, and similarly empowering and constraining the private sector.

To see this phenomenon requires the understanding that the rise of the private sector extends far beyond the financial community and into the corporate world and the world of NGOs and other non-state actors. In each case, information technologies have produced significant changes that are altering the balance of power between these two global domains. Corporations, for example, have followed in the footsteps of financial institutions. They too, have used new technologies (including the revolution in transportation technologies) to become truly global. Consider this example as reported in USA Today:

A group of computer programmers at Tsinghua University in Beijing is writing software using Java technology. They work for IBM. At the end of the day, they send their work over the Internet to an IBM facility in Seattle. There, programmers build on it and use the Internet to zap it 5,222 miles to the Institute of Computer Science in Belarus and Software House Group in Latvia. From there, the work is sent east to India’s Tata Group, which passes the software back to Tsinghua by morning in Beijing, back to Seattle and so on in a great global relay that never ceases until the project is done.

‘We call it Java Around the Clock,’ says John Patrick, vice president of Internet technology for IBM. ‘It’s like we’ve created a 48 hour day through the Internet. Technology is demolishing time, distance.’ 15

This example is more than remarkable. It is rife with implications for the government-market struggle. It illustrates how it has come to pass that companies now account for a vastly greater proportion of international intercourse than governments. It also illustrates how a company, in this case IBM, can become a truly global citizen, keenly interested in and affected by conditions in China, Belarus, Latvia and India every bit as much as it is by those in the United States. Indeed, many companies prefer to identify themselves as “global citizens” to avoid becoming victims of the tensions between nation states and to reflect the degree to which their interests have become separate from those of the entities governing any particular area of land.

The dislocation between companies and states has caused problems for governments as they attempt to formulate international economic policies and find they cannot tell “who is us.” Toyota employs tens of thousands of Americans making cars. Is it an American company? Ford imports many of the cars it sells in the United States. Is it to be tarred with the same brush with which we threaten other importers? Such examples raise other, more troubling questions. For example, much of today’s trade is now inter-company, where firms finish different parts of products in several locations and assemble them someplace else. How should such trade flows be taken into consideration in balance of trade figures? Furthermore, in the IBM example above, when the software product is ultimately sold, whose export will it become? Will it be tracked at all since service and information product exports often travel in the form of electrons, beyond the ken of any customs service? This leads to other questions about the ability to levy tariffs on such transactions or to monitor their consequences for a national economy. In fact, as more and more transactions of many sorts take place in the Infosphere and are disassociated from any particular physical place, taxation itself—the basic lifeblood of governments—becomes increasingly difficult and in many cases impossible.

The rise of the private sector, of course, takes many other forms. Many functions that were once the exclusive province of the state have now been arrogated by the private sector thanks to both new technologies and the growing power of the markets themselves. Examples cited earlier include the ability to establish the value of currencies, the ability to place spy satellites in orbit or the ability to dominate the discourse between nations. But, the market has assumed many roles that were once the province of states. A global wave of privatization has placed control of telecommunications, transportation and power generation infrastructure in the hands of the private sector. Space is now another marketplace, not the exclusive domain of government programs. Thanks to the reality of creating “virtual companies”—the use of information technologies to link distant specialists to form effective working teams in ways that only traditional, integrated firms were once able to operate—outsourcing key government programs and even services is possible, from the realm of health care to welfare to compiling and monitoring statistics.

In addition to such developments, non-state actors have harnessed the global marketplace to give themselves tools that enable them to compete with governments for influence over public opinion and even national security. Or, as indicated earlier, others simply have taken advantage of the new environment and the comparative advantages new technologies have given them to loosen the control of states over their activities. This latter category includes criminal organizations and terrorist groups which, with access to ample cash, can often acquire the technologies and know-how needed to elude government legal institutions and entities while amassing ever greater power for themselves. The rise of some such entities and their consequences will be discussed at greater length later in this article, but are relevant to this core struggle for primacy between markets and states.

At its heart, this struggle is linked to the fact that economic boundaries no longer correspond to political boundaries. Markets span the globe. Transactions can take place in many countries simultaneously. The impact of transactions can affect many other countries simultaneously. And governments are finding that they ignore these changes at their peril. The recent economic collapse in South East Asia illustrates this well. The countries of the region felt they could play by their own rules, deny the markets the transparency they require and flaunt the rules of market economics. Investors “voted with their feet” and withdrew their monies. Countries accustomed to years of steady growth were stunned by recession or worse. Governments were rocked and leaders lashed out at market “conspiracies.” But their outcry amounted to little more than “the sound and the fury” of King Lear on the heath. Their markets were deaf to complaint and demanded that their rules be satisfied. These governments will continue to suppress growth in these markets until the new economic rules of the global era are adhered to by these governments or those that replace them—which is to say that when the verdict of markets hits average citizens in the pocketbook the consequences are political as well as economic.

As Stephen Kobrin said in the Summer 1997 issue of Foreign Policy:

Electronic cash and Electronic commerce are symptoms, albeit important ones, of an increasing asymmetry between economics and politics, between an electronically integrated world economy and territorial nation states and between cyberspace and geographical space. How this asymmetry will be resolved and how economic and political relations will be reconstructed are two of the critical questions of our time. 16

While this is an excellent point, it, like many similar analyses, fails to acknowledge that the battle between states and markets is hardly over. Because, while financial markets have gained power thanks to information technologies, so have the engines of public opinion. And savvy political leaders have used such engines in reaction to the changes that are buffeting their states. Indeed, around the world, political movements are rising in reaction to globalization and the tyranny of the markets. 17 Markets do not have consciences. They will not tend to the weak. They are not informed by morality or swayed by human values. Consequently, they do not address the full needs of society. Therefore, should the changes they drive be seen as unjust, backlash can occur and people will turn to states for redress. Furthermore, while capital now often exists in a manner unconnected or loosely linked to a physical location, not so with labor. If momentary economic trends cause companies to shift employment from one place to another, people will turn to governments in reaction. Such a movement has been seen in the United States in the years since NAFTA, when a public made unduly skeptical of globalization by self-interested labor leaders and their allies put the breaks on further U.S. trade liberalization efforts.

As Jessica Mathews has written,

Whereas the fear in the 1970s was that multinationals would become an arm of government, the concern now is that they are disconnecting from their home countries’ national interests, moving jobs, evading taxes and eroding sovereignty in the process. 18

The comment is not only on target, but it offers a lesson for soothsayers about how we misinterpreted the trends of the 1970s. Thus, while the domain of the state is physical, information transcends borders, destroying them, ignoring them and challenging their relevance. And it is wrong to assume that this reality will not be resisted. Within those borders live people whose interests differ from the people outside the borders. They have jobs and homes and lifestyles and cultures they wish to preserve. They have governments that, while diminished by some measures, still clearly serve their in-border interests. These governments will attempt to develop tools to counteract the forces that have rendered borders less effective protection for their constituents. In other words, while government’s role may be redefined, throughout history major changes have been met by reaction which could be quite powerful even if it ultimately did not stem the tide of history.

Communism as a reaction to the capitalism of the Industrial Revolution is one such example, religious extremism as a reaction against the Enlightenment resulting from the first Information Revolution (in the time of Gutenberg) is another. Consequently, such reaction is to be expected and is likely to be a formidable force for years to come. Indeed, the disequilibria caused by the process of globalization and the reaction against it is likely to underlie many of the most significant foreign policy challenges we are likely to face for some time. Put in other words, while globalization may not for decades or even centuries restructure the world and its power structures as today’s visionaries see it, the relationship between the forces behind it and the forces against it will regularly shift the tectonic underpinnings of our world in the years immediately ahead. Indeed, this conflict is a factor we can predict with greater accuracy than we can its outcome and should be addressed by planners accordingly.

The dynamic tension between markets and states, therefore, is unlikely to be resolved in our lifetimes. Rather, as markets strip states of some of their power and prerogatives, states will resist and seek new powers. And the fault lines that result from that tension may relate to each of the characteristics of change identified earlier. The reaction to interconnection, dislocation and, by extension, globalization may be nationalism and a battle to maintain separate identities. The reaction to disaggregation and decentralization of power may be efforts to create central supranational authorities (whose supervisory, regulatory and enforcement capabilities will be just as “enabled” by the Information Revolution as are the capabilities of the markets they will be overseeing). These authorities impose power from “above” the global markets in an effort to concentrate more power in the hands of certain states to counteract the power of the markets.

The world will almost certainly react against the concentration of so much power in the hands of so few who are unelected (beneficiaries of amplification, acceleration and asymmetrical power boosts). Consequently, traders and the leaders of great global enterprises can expect a regulatory, enforcement and political backlash that will impede the seemingly inexorable rise of unfettered markets with the power to dictate the fate and well-being of entire peoples.

2. The Doctrine of Dominance versus The Advantages of Asymmetry

As a consequence of the above, it is reasonable to conclude that states will not disappear from view at any time in the foreseeable future. Indeed, they will seek to define new roles for themselves. They remain the sole forces capable of addressing the non-market side of human affairs and international relations: social issues beyond the market, the environment and natural disasters, and, of course, war and conflict. But just as the Information Revolution is changing the balance of power between the state and non-state sectors, it is also changing the balance between the world’s great military powers and geographically, demographically and economically lesser nations. Whereas dominance dictated the outcome in conflict, and international conflict was carried out exclusively by nations and their armies, this new world will see the doctrine of dominance countered by the advantages of asymmetry seized upon by non-state actors now capable of entering into direct, effective conflict with mighty adversaries.

The pursuit of the ability to wield dominant force has, of course, been an objective of all militaries. Initially, when the unit of force was essentially the individual human being, those entities capable of bringing together the largest armies had a considerable advantage. However, from the first days of conflict, it was recognized that new technologies and methods of fighting could tip the scales or alter the balance of power. The examples of such pivotal developments are common throughout military history. The introduction of the horse to the battlefield, of stirrups, archers, crossbows, armor, gunpowder, rifled artillery, the sail, steam, submarines, air power, nuclear weapons and space weapons were all transforming and enabled armies with the new technologies to beat otherwise superior foes who lacked them. The military has been among those segments of society most interested in, and responsible for, technological innovation for just these reasons.

Today’s military is no different. Indeed, in the wake of the Vietnam era, the U.S. military became more committed than ever before to approaches that ensure that it has the tools to dominate any conflict into which it enters. As a result, of the many branches of the U.S. Government, it is the military that has done the most to take advantage of new information technologies and to adapt its structure to suit the changes that technology has enabled or suggested. While military experts recognize that more can be done, and regularly fault the Pentagon as ponderous in its processes, the ideas underlying the so-called Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA), which has been triggered by the advent of new information technologies, offers many lessons for other agencies of the U.S. Government that are behind the curve on these issues. 19 As the Economist has noted:

Now another military revolution is dawning. This one could put the already preeminent United States vastly ahead of enemies and allies alike, and thus change the world again. This latest revolution is based on the application of information technology to weapons. It involves gathering huge amounts of data; processing them so that relevant information is displayed on a screen; and then destroying targets at much greater distance and with much greater accuracy than was previously possible. These changes favor attack rather than defense. 20

Joseph Nye and William Owens have called the application of new technologies within the military “the information advantage.” 21 The military itself refers to “information dominance” or “dominant battlespace knowledge,” with the terms referring to both the strength derived by the United States when it has vastly more knowledge of conflict conditions than an enemy, as well as the technologies that enable it to take advantage of those disparities. The example of the application of these approaches best known to the public is the Gulf War. Images of precision-guided weapons and stealth bombers revealed two poles of the approach used in information dominance warfare. In the first, the United States can direct weapons such as cruise missiles or smart bombs directly to a specific target using video, radar and other techniques. Such an approach maximizes efficiency, minimizes risk to U.S. personnel and reduces the threat of collateral damage to non-target areas that are often important from a political or humanitarian basis. Stealth aircraft deprive the enemy of key information on which its air defenses depend. It is an example of using non-information technologies to fool information technologies on which an enemy would depend.

But battlefield dominance techniques extend far beyond these examples. During the Gulf War, small drone aircraft equipped with video cameras provided reconnaissance imagery to commanders while eliminating exposure to reconnaissance pilots. AWACS aircraft gave a live “picture” of crowded airspace to U.S. forces, thus enabling them to conduct missions with maximum safety and best direct resources to critical areas. Infantry and armor on the ground were linked to commanders not only by radio, but by video that revealed battlefield conditions as they evolved. Use of GSP satellite systems let aircraft and troops know precisely where they were at all times. Advanced heads up displays in aircraft and improved missile systems enabled pilots to inflict damage on their enemies from afar. Sophisticated radars and guidance systems made possible the anti-missile successes of the Patriot missile batteries. Use of reconnaissance satellites provided regular and new pictures. High-technology ground radar imaging systems provided detailed intelligence about Iraqi troop movements, revealing the changing position of individual vehicles and of human beings to commanders in the United States and in positions throughout the theater of operation. 22

As Eliot Cohen has pointed out, this Information Revolution for the military reveals another of the paradoxes in the “ontology of contradiction” discussed earlier. It shows that by linking commanders directly to personnel on the battlefield via voice, data and video communications, traditional “chain of command” hierarchies are undermined. It also shows how even a tank commander can be empowered with information never before at the disposal of a warrior at that level...but it also reveals that rather than simply disintermediating, it puts top commanders inside the tank, giving them the option and the temptation to micro-manage in ways never before possible. 23

The advantages put to the test in the Gulf War have subsequently been increased further still. The U.S. Army and U.S. Navy both now possess information warfare units that have the ability to use computers as offensive weapons in their own right, entering an enemy’s computer-controlled infrastructure via public networks or other means and disrupting critical services by shutting off a power grid, or a phone system or satellite services. Computer-guided, high-powered lasers have been demonstrated to be capable of targeting and hitting satellites in earth orbit. New developments in sensing technologies and imaging technologies are providing much more enhanced imaging capabilities. Yet another of the paradoxes common to the Revolution is revealed by this last fact as technology may have lifted what Clausewitz thought of as the “fog” of battle, and replaced it with a new high-technology version. Instead of being overwhelmed by the noise, chaos and horror of a surrounding conflict, today’s information soldier is overwhelmed with data from technologies intended to help him or her cut through that chaos.

No country in the world approaches the United States’ leadership in these technologies, and it is widely observed that this advantage will prolong her reign as the world’s undisputed superpower. Not only does it suggest the futility of lesser equipped forces in confronting the United States, but it also provides the country with the ability to strengthen itself as a leader of coalitions.

America can provide allies—as it does in Bosnia—with an electronic shield that simultaneously strengthens and protects them even as it obviates the need to put U.S. forces in positions of greater risk. While this creates a potential tension between the United States and the allies whose place in a coalition may be secured at greater human cost than ours—a disparity of risk between the information rich and the information poor not unlike the separation between primarily lower class infantry troops of Britain’s armies of empire and their upper class generals sitting high atop a hill, distant from battle, sipping tea—it further strengthens America’s role as the indispensable nation for allies and would-be allies.

The development of these capabilities on the part of the United States has emboldened many to make confident predictions about a coming period of unprecedented American primacy. But questions remain.

Nye and Owen write, “just as nuclear dominance was the key to coalition leadership in the old era, information dominance will be key in the Information Age.” 24 While it is hard to argue that information technologies do provide a new means of dominance, it is difficult to accept wholeheartedly the notion that somehow the advantages offered by weapons of mass destruction are secondary now. Indeed, as such technologies proliferate thanks to information technologies that make it much easier to gain access to what was once restricted, targeted, surreptitious nuclear, biological and chemical threats become the only means of combating an information dominant army with whom conventional confrontation may seem futile. Furthermore, nuclear dominance was based on access to materials and technologies that were much more easily monitored and managed than information technologies. Thus, maintaining an edge in the world of information dominance may prove to be difficult to do.

Cohen writes, “that after a reign of almost two centuries, the age of mass military manned by short-service conscripts and equipped with the products of high-volume military manufacturing is coming to an end.” 25 This is also unsupported. Computers, no matter how powerful, will never be an army that can gain or hold ground. Mass militaries are needed for particularly large-scale conflicts or conflicts fought on multiple fronts. These new militaries are in fact even more likely to employ the concept of short-service conscripts, attaching them to the highly-trained and well-equipped core of the Information Age professional military. Indeed, with increasing reliance on privatized service providers offering logistical and other forms of support for modern militaries, the conscripted army may one day be seen as a primitive forebear of the “virtual army” of tomorrow. Finally, in large scale or multi-front conflicts, even the information dominant army will need the support that comes from a strong industrial base—even if the industries in question are less concerned with armor and rivets than they are with silicon and optical fiber.

But the greatest problem that is posed by the advent of an information-dominant United States is that opponents will seek new forms of conflict that are more likely to be successful. “Americans’ mastery of the new warfare,” writes the Economist, “will make it increasingly foolish to take them on in a high-intensity shooting war, as Saddam Hussein did. So, if anyone wants to have a go at Uncle Sam, he will probably do so by other methods such as ballistic missiles, biological weapons or terrorism.” 26

The fact is that new technologies also empower potential enemies. If the United States can muster information warfare battalions that can enter critical infrastructures and shut them down, so can our enemies. In fact, in a recent exercise conducted by the Department of Defense (DoD) what amounted to a hacker OpFor put together by the military was given the task of penetrating DoD computers using only software available on Internet bulletin boards. They were very successful. They entered literally thousands of Pentagon computers and were only detected a handful of times. In dozens of cases, they entered command and control computer systems and attained system administrator status. Such threats, when extended to power grids, phone systems and financial markets, have raised real alarm within the U.S. security establishment.

In a seminal report, the Defense Science Board Task Force on Information Warfare, a group of respected scientists not known for hyperbole, wrote “offensive information warfare is attractive to many because it is cheap in relation to the cost of developing, maintaining, and using advanced military capabilities. It may cost little to suborn an insider, create false information, manipulate information or launch malicious, logic-based weapons against an information system connected to the globally shared information infrastructure." 27 Similar conclusions were reached by the Committee on Critical Infrastructure Protection (CCIP), which recently submitted its classified report to President Clinton on this subject, recommending the creation of an entirely new national security infrastructure and a series of public-private monitoring and protection partnerships to guard against such threats. 28

There may be no other country that can beat the United States in a conventional battle. The consequence has been that other nations have sought other means. Russia, unable to pay for an Information Age conventional army, now has a military which effectively wields only a nuclear threat—a dangerous default approach. But by the beginning of the next century there will be perhaps 40 countries that possess weapons of mass destruction. Indeed, perhaps 20 will have access to sub-meter resolution satellite imagery with which to target the use of such weapons and many countries as well as non-state actors will have access to intrusive information technologies and limited stocks of black-market weapons of mass destruction, usable in unconventional attacks.

“Those who are going to compete against us are going to look for asymmetrical means,” observes former Marine Corps Lieutenant General Paul Van Riper. 29 The Information Age does not only offer “information dominance” as an option. It also introduces what could be called the David Effect, in which a smaller player with access to the right technology can severely damage a much larger foe. In international affairs, the best example of this effect, appropriately enough, is offered by the state of Israel. Surrounded by much larger enemies, several with access to, or in possession of enormous wealth, Israel should not, by rights, have survived under the strain of almost constant conflict with the Goliath on or near her borders. But Israel, working in collaboration with the United States, purchased and developed advanced weaponry and ultimately technological resources that have made the small country by far the region’s most powerful. This has ensured her survival despite the odds. Today, other small nations, such as Taiwan, have developed disproportionate strength through harnessing new technologies, and countries, such as Iraq, can hold the world in their thrall through the threatened use of weapons of mass destruction. 30

For such countries, magnitude of power has been dislocated from the magnitude of physical size as a consequence of Information Age phenomena such as amplification (thanks to information technologies and other new technologies, as well as weapons of mass destruction, that are proliferating in part as a consequence of the Information Revolution), acceleration, dislocation, etc. In fact, a quality of the characteristics of this period of great change is that they impact and enable one another and many countries as well as non-state actors will have access. Disaggregation, dislocation, disintermediation and acceleration make virtualness possible. Asymmetry in military conflict depends on: dislocation (to strike from a distance); acceleration (to strike swiftly and process complex tasks rapidly); amplification (force multiplication); and perhaps virtualness (the ability to draw together virtual teams whose skills and resources match the mission at hand).

While the struggle between the doctrine of dominance and the possibilities of asymmetry has altered the possibilities for warfare between states, the fact that this new era has also transferred to non-state actors many capabilities once limited to states, may have altered the concept of military power and the world view of military strategists even more.

Asymmetrical means of conflict suit the terrorist and the criminal as they do the smaller state. Information technologies and the technologies of weapons of mass destruction combine to give very small groups of people, even individuals, powers once reserved for great nations—the ability to restrict travel through selective threats and strikes against travel infrastructure, the ability to paralyze economies through cyberterrorist strikes on financial markets, the ability to destroy a city, embarrass a government and create an international furor. Such strikes can be conducted in such a way that most, if not all, crucial actors are invisible and acting at a distance to the target. They can stop the transfer of information (a recipe for a lethal toxin, for example, or the schedule of a head of state) via the Internet, while being paid through the anonymous, nearly impossible-to-trace transfer of cybercash between random points on the Infosphere. In addition, as we will discuss in the following section, their consequences can be magnified through the use of new information technologies in the form of propaganda or news that can touch hundreds of millions in an instant, which has the effect of stimulating public opinion and spurring action on the part of voters or sympathizers worldwide.

While the tools of the modern military can assist in countering the challenges of the masters of asymmetrical strategies and tactics, they are ill-suited to doing so. Their focus is on the battlespace, the defined box in which conflict takes place, or on the actions of known and visible enemies. Detection of new threats and their interdiction on a global scale will require entirely different tools.

Contemplation of these tools again calls into play the drivers of the Information Revolution cited earlier. Military and intelligence resources will have to be more closely connected in networks that share information with trusted allies worldwide. Decentralized, desegregated, rapid response teams will have to be able to move quickly anywhere, anytime, with little regard for borders to respond to the new threats. The increasing difficulty of dissociating terrorist, criminal, non-state and state-sponsored activities from one another; the linkages between the pools of capital on which they draw; the sources of weaponry and technology from which they draw; and the ability to link with one another in virtual alliances, all suggest that such threats will demand cooperation with civilian law enforcement agencies, the judiciary and diplomatic actors and will require that a much greater emphasis be placed on homogeneity of systems and approaches to these problems.

The jealously protective world of the Cold War must be set aside and a new spirit of international cooperation among nations, international institutions and key non-state actors must prevail, or the most dangerous conflict of tomorrow will be unstoppable by even the most powerful nation the world has ever known.

3. Political Institutions versus Electronic Democracy and Virtual Communities

To fully understand how information technologies have shaken the third pillar of power, that of political power, take two stunningly unrelated examples: the death of Princess Diana and the war in the former Yugoslavia.

In the case of the former, a woman of great charm and beauty had captivated the media when she first appeared as the fiancé of the Prince of Wales. The media then, over the years, made her an inescapable fact of the daily lives of virtually all the peoples of the world. She was telegenic and at the center of a dramatic story. Then, when she died, the media frenzy reached new heights. The suddenness of her death, the fact that she was still in the full bloom of her youth and fame made the story a compelling one. But the astonishing phenomenon that followed surprised the world.

Within days of her death, she was beatified by the media and elevated to mythic status in moments thanks to a wave of electronic wildfire that fed on itself. Despite a life in which her principle accomplishments were grace and notoriety, she became a symbol of rebellion against an established order. Her battle with the Royal family in Buckingham palace and the fact that her death was seemingly linked to events set in motion by her reception by the Windsors, made each statement of remembrance, each bouquet of flowers, a public statement about loyalties and a need for change. There was, of course, the national catharsis that often follows the deaths of leaders and certain celebrities, but the Diana phenomenon went further, drawing the attention of the entire world and holding it for days.

While it seems callous to dismiss the obvious tragedy at the heart of the story, it is certainly fair to say that the response to Diana far exceeded what might be expected for even better known figures with far greater accomplishment. But, the news media made the story part of every life and created a global furor in days. In the past, such a frenzy would have been impossible to would have taken too long for the news to reach all the globe, almost no one would be known to all the populations of the planet. But in the future, such an outbreak of global wildfire will be easier and easier to generate. With the speed and stunning impact of the recent global stock market crash, political phenomena will be able to circle the globe, touch and potentially transform political orders. What if instead of a dead princess, the frenzy were to lift a war hero to power or turn international opinion against a nation and its leaders? The consequences may not be as benign as those surrounding a period of remembrance and reflection.

The fighting in the former Yugoslavia also illustrates many of the political realities of the Information Age. At the outset, it revealed the advantages that dictators have over the leaders of democratic societies. When public opinion is irrelevant, it is possible to act quickly. When public opinion counts, leaders must be more cautious. Later, when images of genocide reached audiences in countries that had previously been unmotivated to intercede, they stimulated action. For example, when asked about the significance of Bosnia, the response of the U.S. foreign policy apparatus was, in the words of the then Secretary of State James A. Baker, “we’ve got no dog in this fight.” And while that may have been true in traditional foreign policy terms concerning territory, resources and threats, it was not true in the new environment in which the significance transcended borders and entered the semiotic realm: Bosnia was translated by the media into a symbol regarding the new order being formed—as a sign of breakdown and the inadequacy of new institutions—and such symbols proved very difficult to ignore at a time when new roles and relationships were being defined for this unfolding era.

Later, in the former Yugoslavia, in response to efforts by the Serbian Government to shut down opposition radio stations, the power of new information technologies to circumvent the reach of the state and to stimulate political dissent was demonstrated with great clarity. At a recent conference on Virtual Diplomacy sponsored by the United States Institute for Peace, Institute President Peter Solomon described the situation:

In mid-November 1996, tens of thousands of citizens of the Republic of Serbia (the successor state to Yugoslavia) took to the streets to protest the Milosevic government’s refusal to accept the results of local elections which had given power to opposition parties in Belgrade, Nis and a dozen other cities. After two weeks of mounting protests, the government cut off the opposition’s use of independent radio station AB92 which was being used to coordinate the demonstrations.

Undaunted by the loss of this one channel of communication, the leaders of the demonstrations rerouted B92’s broadcasts to the Internet, whose Real Audio transmissions were picked up by VOA and the BBC in the Netherlands and rebroadcast back into Serbia—thus maintaining the coherence and the morale of the opposition protests. The new communications mechanism, which had been put into operation only weeks earlier, enabled the demonstrators to sustain their mass protest for eight more weeks. Their pressure in the streets was reinforced and protected by international radio and television coverage of the demonstrations, which held the government visibly accountable before international public opinion and political institutions. On February 1, 1997, the Milosevic government acceded to the results of the November elections. 31

Earlier, it was asserted that the first major foreign policy victory of the Information Age may have been the collapse of the Soviet Union, incapable as it was of competing in a global economy in which the world had moved, as Walter Wriston has written, “from the gold standard to the information standard.” 32 In the wake of that collapse came a period of stunning political changes in Eastern and Central Europe, in which small groups of individuals unable for years to form effective political parties upended monolithic state entities that had kept them down. While the absence of Soviet backing for the communist rulers of these countries certainly was pivotal to their downfall, the outcomes of these transitions and the non-violent path most took were driven largely thanks to information technologies. These technologies both enabled opposition leaders to organize support and, especially via television images beamed to the West, reduced the existing leadership’s options by putting their actions and the depth of opposition support in full view.

In China, at the time of the Tiananmen uprising, democracy activists hooked VCRs to hotel satellite feeds and taped CNN’s images to circulate across the country. Fax machines were used to provide regular updates and communications despite the efforts of a massive and powerful state apparatus designed to squelch such interchanges. Today, the proliferation of satellite dishes and the Internet perform a similar role in China.

Around the world, activists are using the Internet to create virtual communities of supporters within their countries and internationally. In Burma, democracy advocates have reached out to one another and the world via this new network of networks despite government regulations prohibiting ownership of unregistered computers, fax machines, modems and software. The government is so unsettled by the threat from insurgents—who no longer require institutional manifestations of political power such as parties, official recognition or local government participation—that it has launched its own Internet counter-effort complete with a custom-designed website. 33

Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have become aggressive actors in local politics, seizing the initiative from traditional political parties and politicians by harnessing this technology. In Brazil, when a local Indian tribe was threatened, the Internet carried news of the threat before traditional media and Internet calls for action sparked pressure on the Brazilian Government that generated a change in policy. Similarly, NGOs supporting rebels in Chiapas used the Internet to forestall the bloody reprisals they expected from the Mexican Government by letting the latter know that it was no longer possible to act in secret.

New information technologies have transformed politics. In America, Ross Perot demonstrated the ability of an individual without any real traditional political apparatus to take his case to the American people. Thanks to the explosion of the Internet and computer-assisted approaches such as fax-casting and E-mail, it is now possible for individuals or very small groups of people to form the kind of networks once enjoyed only by political parties or large organizations such as labor unions. Such groups are effectively being disintermediated as candidates and advocates for special interests take their message directly to voters or other small organizations who might pass it on. 34

Perot spoke of taking the concept a step further to electronic town halls, live meetings in which he as president could constantly take the pulse of the American people. In some ways, this approach has been approximated by the current dependency of the White House on constant polling. Thanks to new technologies, such polling can inform decisions throughout even fairly constrained periods of time. These developments, as well as the coming likelihood of interactive links to virtually all American homes through cable Internet and other services, have given rise to speculation about a return to “pure” democracy—direct electronic plebiscites that give authority to make major decisions back to the people on a year-round basis rather than just come election time. 35

Once again, old institutions and hierarchies are under siege. Disintermediation brings the people back into public discourse in new and powerful ways. Elites, the clubs that had depended on access and proximity to ensure their power, are now threatened by “the demolition of distance” 36 that we have called dislocation. The consequence is disaggregation. The center gives way to centers of power, each linked to virtual communities. Because establishing such communities is comparatively inexpensive and easy to do, it becomes easier to create them for very narrow purposes, and for such communities to combine and recombine in constantly changing virtual alliances that make the old rigidness of parties and their platforms obsolete. This creates asymmetries since small groups can have disproportionate clout once they create new, broader networks of support.

In situations such as insurgencies, the asymmetries are manifested when a small group within a country can establish links to the world, use suppressed information or propaganda to shape international public opinion, gain access to information despite efforts by governments to cut off its flow and create links with allies within a country via technologies that are impossible for governments to manage or control. Acceleration and amplification also change the nature of the power wielded by these new, fluid and sometimes borderless political entities, magnifying it and speeding the time it takes to organize, reorganize or respond to events.

Further erosion in the power of political institutions comes as a direct result of the decline of the state cited earlier. To the degree that states are viewed as less relevant, or other actors are considered more crucial to any particular outcome, these new actors will gain political power.

Governments were once in control of media or at least in control of information flows that were crucial to their citizens—information about government-to-government exchanges, about the conduct of wars and about the economy. Now, as they are seen as less important actors in these areas and as private sector sources of information proliferate, an important element of the political power of states is eroding. 37

Similarly, in politics between states, the inability of a government to be seen as the spokesperson for its people compromises its leverage in negotiation. If China feels it can motivate the American business community to support its agenda directly and that this will better achieve its goals than interchange with the government, why not reallocate resources to dealing with its ‘constituency’ within the U.S. polity?

As in each of the other examples discussed in this paper, it is tempting to assume that the progress of new technologies has tipped the scales in favor of the decline of traditional seats of political power. Virtual communities, electronic democracy and non-state political actors seem certain to be increasingly important in the foreseeable future. But, as in the other cases, asserting such an assumption would miss the likelihood of backlash and the reality that new technologies empower traditional political institutions as well.

While new technologies are hailed for their ability to “democratize,” this is also one of their flaws. Electronic democracies possess fewer checks against the abuses of demagogues, the instigators of the sort of electronic wildfire illustrated by the Diana example. They are likely to be engines enabling just the sort of “tyranny of the majority” that so concerned the framers of the U.S. Constitution. (Perhaps the time has come for an Information Age rendition of the Federalist Papers.) History has also shown that public opinion is often disconnected from considerations required by prudent governance, such as consideration of the long-term or the balancing of complex issues. Consider, for example, that in July 1941 only 18 percent of the American people favored intervention in the war in Europe. If a vote had been taken at that time and we had been forced to stay out of the war, how long would it have been before our very system were threatened, perhaps fatally?

The proliferation of virtual communities that extend beyond borders offers the possibility of adapting such groups to the reality of a world of layered political organizations at the transnational, regional, national, state and local levels. But it also is certain to provoke nationalistic backlash among those who sense that links outside political borders imply interests that are not coincident with many of those within those borders. The rise of economic nationalists and the Clinton Administration’s failure to win passage of the fast-track legislation illustrate this phenomenon well. Similarly, while activists may harness international opinion to serve their objectives and pressure local governments, doing so risks alienating local populations that are not anxious to be intimidated by foreigners.

Political parties have also risen to the challenge of this new age by adopting a kind of information dominance approach to their competition for representing public interests. They offer their own television shows, send out their own video press releases, have their own Internet sites and create their own virtual communities around particular issues. They use their superior resources to have access to the best technologies and their permanence to establish lasting ties with the media and those who control the most important information technology outlets. They also provide politicians with the coalitions they need to maintain power in democracies, an advantage that is likely to remain in place indefinitely.

While some more extreme proponents of the virtues of virtual communities argue that they work best without central authority, such electronic anarchy is also unlikely to be popular. Because virtual or not, such groups are in the end communities, and experience suggests that in the process of distributing labor, citizens wish to devolve power to central “authorities” (through active democracy or tolerance of oppression). The market will not, or cannot, perform these functions and, because they are important, those who do will retain important power within society. That power will include the ability to regulate key aspects of information traffic and the development of information infrastructure. It will turn on how decisions are made about issues such as encryption and the preservation of privacy, on the degree to which airwaves can and should be regulated and the degree to which national or international rules should govern electronic discourse, from electronic commerce to trafficking in ideas that may truly threaten security.

Furthermore, just as new technologies enable bosses to monitor more closely the activities of workers, and generals to watch through the eyes of infantry grunts, they also enable governments to have more input into the lives of citizens, better means for monitoring their behavior, more challenges to their privacy. While in the United States the trend is toward smaller government and “going with the flow” of the democratizing effect of new information technologies, other models are also emerging. In Singapore, a high-technology state is being engineered that is based on strong government control, active censorship of the Internet and close monitoring of media and human behavior. 38 This, too, may be an attractive model to some, particularly in societies in which stability and the public good is valued above the freedoms enjoyed by the individual. This age old contest is not resolved by the advent of the Information Age. Rather, the rules have been changed and traditional power redistributed to new actors.


Conclusion: The Quantum Model and Implications for U.S. Policy and Institutions

The new world order is exceedingly more complex than that which preceded it. Some feel its complexity may be its undoing. In her article “Power Shift,” Jessica Mathews writes, “Two hundred nation states is a barely manageable number. Add hundreds of influential non-state forces—businesses, NGOs, international organizations, ethnic and religious groups—and the international system may represent more voices but be unable to advance any of them.” 39 This is an example of traditional thinking. Indeed, we already live in a world of such conflicting interests and have constructed or are constructing a plethora of systems with which to deal with them. It is likely that the new models of “systems of systems” with which we have become comfortable through the technology revolution and which are best illustrated by the existence of the Internet itself will become the natural model for the international system. This is consistent with history. For throughout time, the systems of the day have been designed to reflect the common experience of the designers—from the councils devised by states led by kings and elites, to the hierarchic governments of Industrial Age powers like the United Kingdom and the United States.

While this new, more complex world power structure is, as yet, unformed, it suggests a model that usefully illustrates it better than the maps with carefully delineated state borders that have done so for three centuries. This new model is that of atomic structure as contemplated in quantum physics. It is a world of many layers of activity and of activity between layers, with power and its use acting like electrical charges among particles at any given layer and between layers. Supranational institutions and actors at one level, regional institutions and actors at another, national institutions and actors at another, state and local institutions and actors at another and individuals and entities with interests at all levels moving among them.

For the U.S. Government, the challenges of formulating foreign policy in this environment are myriad. Our institutions are not suited to it. They are designed to relate to other government entities and are ill-equipped to deal with a world in which non-state actors are of vital importance. They are designed to project massive force and are ill-equipped to deal with asymmetrical challenges. They are built around the two-party system and have yet to face the shocks that will result from a multi-actor environment. With a couple of notable exceptions, they lack even the apparatus to analyze the trends shaping this new period much less their consequences. They certainly do not yet have the ability to manage constantly shifting virtual alliances among state and non-state actors nor to overcome prejudices against cooperation with other states as well as with private sector entities on issues on which such cooperation will be crucial. Such issues include the intelligence monitoring and interdiction requirements of a world in which non-state actors possess weapons of mass destruction or the capacity for devastating cyberterrorist incidents. Nor is the U.S. Government structured or by institutional character prepared to accept the realities of constant change that this new age imposes.

Americans recognize that in the global economy borders are less important. They resist, however, ceding power to international institutions. They feel the sting of new challenges but are unable to devise proportional responses. They are hobbled by the costs, superficialities and emotionalism of electronic politics but have yet to devise an alternative.

Fortunately, for all these inadequacies, the United States is not only the world’s most powerful nation, but alone among all the nations of the world retains that leadership into this new age. If the world is now a borderless global economy, it is driven by American-made information products and services and funded by capital that is created in greater volume by and for Americans than anywhere else. If states are now giving way to non-state actors, the most powerful among those—corporations, NGOs and other entities—are based in the United States. Americans invented the concept of information dominance and have the greatest global reach to protect against asymmetrical threats.

Finally, and most importantly, the U.S. national culture, our political system, is based on the primacy of the rights of the individual, which ensures future innovation and continual democratic rebirth through constructive debate and challenges to old orders. Even as we acknowledge the challenges of this new era, the United States can also safely recognize that the country is certainly the once and future power of the Information Age.



Note 1: Henry Kissinger, Diplomacy (New York: Simon & Shuster, 1994) p. 104. Back.

Note 2: Ibid., p. 121. Back.

Note 3: Center for Strategic and International Studies/Robert F. McMormick Tribune Foundation Report, “The Information Revolution and International Security” (Washington, DC: 1996) Back.

Note 4: See Benjamin R. Barber and Andrea Schulz, eds., Jihad Vs. McWorld: How the Planet is Both Falling Apart and Coming Together—And What This Means for Democracy (New York: Ballantine Books, 1996). Back.

Note 5: See Samuel P. Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996). Back.

Note 6: See Francis Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man (New York: Avon Books, 1993). Back.

Note 7: Jessica Mathews, “Power Shift,” Foreign Affairs (January/February 1997) p. 56. Back.

Note 8: Walter Wriston, “Bits, Bytes and Diplomacy,” Foreign Affairs (September/October 1997). Back.

Note 9: Ibid., p. 180. Back.

Note 10: Bruce D. Berkowitz, “Information Age Intelligence,” Foreign Policy 103 (Summer 1996), p. 43. Back.

Note 11: Mark Danner, “The U.S. and the Yugoslav Catastrophe,” New York Review of Books (20 November 1997). Back.

Note 12: Jessica Mathews, “Power Shift,” Foreign Affairs (January/February 1997) p. 58. Back.

Note 13: Office of Research and Development, Central Intelligence Agency. Findings from the Project on Intelligence Futures (Washington, DC, Fall 1997) Back.

Note 14: See Stephen Kobrin, “Electronic Cash: A Glossary,” Foreign Policy, 107 (Summer 1997). Back.

Note 15: Kevin Maney, “Technology is Demolishing Time, Distance,” USA Today (2 September 1997). Back.

Note 16: Kobrin, p. 76. Back.

Note 17: See my article, “In Praise of Cultural Imperialism,” Foreign Policy (Summer 1997). Back.

Note 18: Mathews, p. 56. Back.

Note 19: See Eliot A. Cohen, “A Revolution in Warfare,” Foreign Affairs 75, no. 2 (March/April 1996) p. 43. Back.

Note 20: “The Future of Warfare,” Economist (8 March 1997). Back.

Note 21: Joseph Nye and William Owens, “America’s Information Edge,” Foreign Affairs 75, no. 2 (March/April 1996) p. 20. Back.

Note 22: See Cohen. Back.

Note 23: Ibid., pp. 49-50. Back.

Note 24: Nye and Owen, p. 27. Back.

Note 25: Cohen, p. 47. Back.

Note 26: “The Future of Warfare,” Economist. Back.

Note 27: Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Aquisition and Technology, “Report of the Defense Science Board Task Force on Information Warfare-Defense,” (November 1996) Back.

Note 28: President’s Commission on Critical Infrastructure Protection (CCIP), Back.

Note 29: Ibid. Back.

Note 30: Chetan Kumar, “The Internet, Transnational Networking and Regional Security in South Asia: Some Possibilities for the Near Future,” U.S. Institute of Peace Virtual Diplomacy Page, Back.

Note 31: Richard Solomon, “Opening Remarks at Conference on Virtual Diplomacy,” U.S. Institute for Peace, Back.

Note 32: See Walter Wriston, The Twilight of Sovereignty (New York: Scribner’s, 1992). Back.

Note 33: See Tiffany Danitz and Warren Strobel, “The Internet and Burma: A New Tool for Nonviolent Change,” Institute for Peace Conference Paper, Back.

Note 34: T.A. Stewart, “The Invisible Key to Success: Shadowy Groups Called Communities of Practice Are Where Learning and Growth Happen,” Fortune (1996) pp. 173-176. Back.

Note 35: Joseph Coates, Andy Hines and John Mahaffie, 2025: Scenarios for U.S. and Global Society Reshaped by Science and Technology (Greensboro: Oakhill Press, 1997). Back.

Note 36: Maney. Back.

Note 37: Kenichi Ohmae, The End of the Nation State: The Rise of Regional Economics (New York: The Force Press, 1995). Back.

Note 38: Kumar. Back.

Note 39: Mathews, p. 57. Back.