A Monthly Journal of the IDSA
The Information Revolution and National Power Political Aspects-I
By Akshay Joshi *
Knowledge more than ever before, is power. The one country that can best lead the information revolution will be more powerful than any other. 1
Joseph S.Nye Jr and Admiral William Owens
The rules of the game in international relations are changing, and these changes are closely linked to the information revolution. Since the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, 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. 2 With the coming of the information revolution, the supremacy of the nation-state has been challenged. The revolution has affected all three pillars of national power, thereby altering the equations in international relations.
The information revolution is proving beneficial in three ways, owing to a rapid growth in the processing of data and sharing of knowledge. First, it is improving the international security environment by spreading the ideals of freedom, putting oppressive state power out of business, and helping long poor societies to modernise; second, it is enhancing the strategic value of free markets, science and technology; and third, it is altering warfare in a way that will enable international peace to be maintained at an acceptable risk despite the spread of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). 3 At the same time, the information revolution empowers individuals and enables despots to manipulate modern communications for their personal ambitions. Free economies and societies are also open to electronic attacks on their communication networks and computer systems. Moreover, nation-states also have to contend with suband transnational adversaries.
There can be no serious doubt that the late 1980s and the early 1990s marked the end of an era in world history, and the beginning of a new one. Eric Hobsbawms book Age of Extremes carries the sub-title, The Short Twentieth Century 1914-1991. According to this book, The years from the outbreak of the First World War to the collapse of the USSR which, as we can now see in retrospect, form a coherent historical period that has now ended. The main characteristic of contemporary history is that the world has become integrated in a way it has never been before. 4 The end of the Cold War and the fall of the Berlin Wall are in many ways linked to the populations access to information and the use of information technologies. The period of the early 1990s has also seen the first information war (Gulf War, 1991) and the subsequent use of the Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) techniques to exercise military power in Yugoslavia and Iraq. Nation-states are facing new rivals for power and influence on the global stage. Power itself is being redistributed, taking new forms and characteristics. There has been a sudden proliferation of discussions in strategic circles on topics like, Science and World Politics, Technology and the New Economic Order and the Revolution in Military Affairs. Overt and subtle manifestations of the new technological revolution due to information technology are affecting all three pillars of national power: political, military and economic.
We are in the midst of a revolution. A revolution by definition causes old power structures to crumble and new ones to rise. The catalyst has always been technological change. Now, as in the past revolutions, technology is profoundly affecting the sovereignty of governments, the world economy, and military strategy. 5 The United Nations (UN) defines national security as the situation in which the vital interests of a nation are safe from substantial interference and disruption, and security as a condition in which states consider that there is no danger of military attack, political pressure or economic coercion. It can be safely concluded that the main aim of national security is to safeguard the vital political, economic and strategic interests of a nation. 6 Therefore, national security and national power in the information age have to be viewed holistically. Security is not just a military issue as it impacts on politics, the national economy, international trade and technology transfer. 7 This research effort brings out the tectonic changes and the effects of the information revolution on each of the three pillars of national power. The political aspects of the information revolution are organised in this two part article as follows:
Marxian Political Thought and its Linkage with Technology
Marxs Historical Materialism
Marx and Engels developed a theory about the movement of history that purports to explain why feudalism gave way to capitalism and why the latter will be succeeded by socialism. According to this theory, which is principally Marxs (called Materialist Conception of History or Historical Materialism), people in a society, at any give time, have a certain level of productive ability. This depends on their knowledge and skills, on the technology (machines, tools, draft animals, and so on), and are called productive forces or the material forces of production. Marx alleged that the productive forces determine the way people make their living (for example, hunting and gathering, agriculture, or industry) and, at the same time, the way they relate to one another in producing and exchanging the means of life (for example, as lord and serf, master and slave, or capitalist and worker). These production and exchange relationships are what Marx called the (social) relations of production. The productive forces plus the relations of production, which Marx referred to as the economic structure of society, shape the superstructure of peoples religious, political, military and legal systems and their modes of thought and views of life. The mode of production of material life conditions the general process of social, political and intellectual life. It is not the consciousness of people that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness. 8
Material Forces of Production
Human nature according to Marx and Engels, is determined by the mode of production, and since the mode of production changes, so does human nature. Feudal man, for example, within his own mode of production, had different values, aspirations, abilities and needs than has capitalist man within his higher mode of production. The change from the feudal to the capitalist mode of production, however, was made by human beings themselves, as they fashioned better tools, altered and controlled their environment, and, in this very process, changed themselves. Thus, capitalism succeeded feudalism not only because people designed superior technology but also because in the process of doing this, they changed their values and skills, their outlook on what is important, and so on. This first stage establishes that as the modes of production change, so does human nature. 9 In the information age the productive forces are becoming more and more dependent on information technologies.
Social Relations of Production
Marx and Engels further postulated that as the productive forces grow over time, they come into conflict with the prevailing class structure the social relations of production. The newly developed ways by which people extract a living from their natural environment become incompatible with the older ways. For instance, the rise of trade and commercial activity in the 16th century became incompatible with feudal relations in the countryside. The bourgeoisie, after 1500, gradually gained strength on the basis of new productive forces such as sailing ships, improved weaponry, new energy sources, machinery, factory processes, accumulation of technical knowledge, and so on, which enabled them to challenge the old feudal class. The mode of production was changed in a series of revolutions, sometimes spreading over a century or more, from feudalism to capitalism, from a class structure of lords and vassals, guildmasters and apprentices, to one of capitalists and wage-labourers. As Marx once put it, The handmill gives you a society with the feudal lord; the steam-mill, a society with the industrial capitalist. 10 What kind of changes are we going to see with the revolution of the microchip?
Marx postulated that the economic structure of society (the productive forces and the social relations of production) moulds its superstructure of social, political and intellectual life including sentiments, morality, illusions, modes of thought, principles and views of life. The superstructure contains the ideas and systems of authority (political, legal, military, etc). In brief, how people make their living shapes their mental conceptions and supporting institutions. It follows that transformation of the economic structure of society eventually causes the character of the superstructure to changeafter ideological struggles, the overthrow of older systems of authority, and attrition have taken their toll. The change from hunting and gathering to settled agriculture, which occurred because of radical, new productive forces (which in turn transformed the relations of production) also altered other elements of the superstructure such as family structures, religious rules and laws, governing bodies, the games played and military organisations. 11 It can be safely concluded that technological changes such as the information revolution are bound to transform the character of the superstructure and in turn the rules of the game in international relations. Moreover, they will change the way the game is played.
Marxs Dialectical Materialism
To understand the world, a person must begin with what is basic with real human beings and their activities in the world. Most peoples lives are spent working and much of the rest is spent in an environment that is shaped by the kind of productive technology available to them. For example, Indians lived in huts or tents near the rivers they fished, while early industrial workers lived in the company towns built around the factories. In both cases, the work process exerted on all-pervading influence on their lives, shaping the conditions of their existence, and, therefore, of their thoughts. Marxian materialism maintains that ideas, philosophies, religions, and so forth all take form within the influence of real material conditions and are, therefore, determined by them. 12
Marx states that when a person gains knowledge through investigation of the material world, he not only changes that world but changes himself at the same time, for in the process of knowing an object he acquires new information, abilities and needs. Einst Fischer, the Austrian poet and critic, wrote in The Essential Marx:
As men changed the world, they expanded and refined their ability to know it, and the growing capacity for cognition again enhanced their ability to change it. 13
In the information age, we are preoccupied with the mind. In todays knowledge-based society it has become extremely important to start understanding how to get the mind to produce more and more. With the information explosion, we are only enhancing our abilities to change the world we live in. 14
Changes in Tools of National Power in the 20th Century
In Diplomacy, Kissinger describes Bismark as a revolutionary in part due to the development of the realpolitik ideas that have proved to be so influential during the past century. 15 In his book, Years of Renewal, Kissinger defends his theory of foreign policy. He believes that focussing on the national interest, rather than on lofty principle, is the only viable approach and that patient, incremental progress can achieve moral ends. 16 Realpolitik in the days of Bismark was a comparatively simple game, albeit one that was swathed in intrigue and sub-plots: pursue national interests coolly, untainted by sentiment, maintain the balance of power and a nations 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 others interests. Dozens of states possess weapons of mass destruction; limitless numbers of non-state actors possess the capability to switch a nations vital infrastructure on and 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 are entering the infosphere in order to move beyond the ambit of any national tax authority. Power is, therefore, being redistributed and redefined. The information revolution drives, enables or influences each of these changes. Kissingers notion that relations among states are determined by raw power and the mighty will prevail, is being somewhat changed. The mighty will continue to prevail, but the sources, instruments and measures of that might are dramatically changed. The realpolitik of the new era is cyberpolitik, in which the actors are no longer just states, and raw power can be countered or forfeited by information power. 17
Throughout history there have been various sources of national power: economic wealth, military force, science and technology, international trade or a combination of these. Various tools have been identified as the sources of national power and countries have made a beeline to try and acquire these tools. Soon after the dropping of the nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the dawn of the atomic age saw nations rushing for atomic weapons. The launching of the Sputnik I by the USSR in October 1957, heralded the beginning of the space age and the rush for achieving supremacy in space as a symbol of national power. The climax was the Star Wars programme of Reagan.
During the Cold War with the Soviet Union, the US military projects and weapon systems had a significant impact on computing: Project Whirlwind, the Minuteman ballistic missile, the Advanced Research Projects Agencys ARPANET (a precursor of the Internet), and so on. The demands of projects like Apollo and Minuteman advanced the state of-the-art microelectronics and computer circuits. Advances in computing, on the other hand, shaped the way programmes like Apollo were designed and operated. Between 1945 and 1995, the computer has transformed from a fast scientific calculator to a network of networks called the worldwide web. 18
Today, as a result of the development of information and communication technologies, a new source of power is gaining momentum. This is so because the destructive power of both nuclear and conventional weapons makes their use on a large scale almost impossible. War by other means (WBOM), non-lethal weapons (NLW), information warfare (IW), neo-colonialism, information apartheid, cyberpolitik, etc are seen as the more benevolent yet effective tools of exercising power. It is this reality which needs to be understood by foreign policy experts to understand the changing nature of power in the information age.
The Third Technological Revolution
The industrial revolution represented a revolutionary improvement in the production process by means of the application of technology i.e. of newly invented types of machinesan improvement that brought about a spectacular change in the pattern and structure of the English society. The age-old village and cottage industries were all transformed into factory-based modern industries where greater numbers of goods were now being produced at a cheaper cost and in a shorter time. Equally important with this higher rate of production was to ensure a commemurate rise in demand for the consumption of these goods. The higher supply and demand to be met, required an improved system of transport and communication. All this was facilitated by the industrial revolution. The net effect of all this was a massive influx of wealth by way of profit to the English bourgeoisie. It was a dynamic wealth, which by way of further investment brought about further profit and the revolution in technology removed most of the natural barriers to the indefinite accumulation of this wealth. The industrial revolution was possible because after having established the appropriate political conditions by means of the Glorious Revolution of 1688, the English bourgeoisie concentrated all its efforts in fructifying the commercial revolution they had launched by the end of the Middle Ages. 19
We are now in the midst of the third great revolution in history. When the principle of the lever was applied to make a plow, the agrarian revolution was born, and the power of the nomadic tribal chiefs declined. When centuries later, men substituted the power of water, steam and electricity for animal muscle, the industrial revolution was born. Land, animals and labour were the valued resources of the agricultural age while machines and fossil fuels were the resources of the industrial age. Each of these changes took a long time to unfold and caused a shift in the power structure. The marriage between computers and telecommunications has ushered in the information age. This change has demolished time and distance and spread the virus of freedom through electronic networks to the four corners of the earth. 20 Let us see some of the differences between the industrial age and the information age:
lIn the industrial society, the concentration has been on producing goods or creating goods or materials. It created large quantity of goods of acceptable quality at very low cost. This happened by using science to create technology. In the post-industrial society, raw materials, we can say, are bits. But the machine is the mind. All of a sudden, the factors of production have changed. Humans are supreme in a knowledge-based society and the emphasis is on the mind. It has become extremely important to understand how to get the mind to produce more and more. We have to realise that the industrial age mindset of the supremacy of the machine has to be changed to the supremacy of humans. 21
lIn the post-industrial society, we have to redefine technology. Today we talk of intellectual property, patents and copyright. Technology has moved away from how to manufacture to how to process thought. Our mentality of wealth generation, wealth creation is still based on the idea of scarcity of the industrial era, whereas we are getting into a period of abundance. The question is, how do we define technology, how do we define management so that peoples best can be brought out? 22
lThe industrial age technologiesmetal bending, machine-propelling, even atom-smashingdid not require the same degree of economic freedom that it takes to create and apply information technology. Indeed, industrial technology is conducive to concentrated state power, whereas information technology abhors it. Information technology expands knowledge, which promotes freedom, which in turn aids the creation and use of information technology. 23
lThe industrial society is a society of centralised power and hierarchical classes. The information society, however, will be a multi-centred and complementary voluntary society. It will be horizontally functional, maintaining social order by autonomous and complementary functions of a voluntary civil society. 24
lThe political system of the industrial society is a parliamentary system and majority rule. In the information society, the political system will become a participatory democracy. It will be the politics of participation by citizens; the politics of autonomous management by citizens, based on agreement, participation, and synergy that take in the opinion of minorities. 25
lIn the industrial society, there are three main types of social problems: recession-induced unemployment, wars resulting from international conflict, and the dictatorship of fascism. In the information society, the problems will be future shocks caused by the inability of people to respond smoothly to rapid societal transformation, acts of coercion by individual and group terrorists, invasions of individual privacy, etc. 26
lFinally, the spirit of the industrial society has been the renaissance spirit of human liberation, which ethically means respect for fundamental rights and emphasis on the dignity of the individual. The spirit of the information society will be the spirit of globalism, a symbiosis in which man and nature can live together in harmony, consisting ethically of strict self-discipline and social contribution. 27
Throughout history, there have been numerous wonderful inventions. Most of them were designed to solve specific problems: the wheel to move things, engines to supply power, clocks and compasses to tell time and direction. The inventions that made possible the information revolution were different. They changed the way we solve problems. Gutenberg, by inventing the printing press in 1436, broke the monopoly of the monks over manuscripts. The monks who understood that knowledge was power, had chained these books to the shelves. When Intel designed the integrated circuit in the 1970s, it changed the way we record, store, access and peruse knowledge. Today, a researcher anywhere in the world who possesses a computer and modem can tap into almost any information he needs. The paradigm shift from chaining knowledge to sharing knowledge and from converting scarcities into abundances is a result of a mindset congruent with the information revolution. In the three pillars of the order that resulted from the industrial revolutionnational sovereignty, national economics and military powerthe information revolution has increased the power of individuals and outmoded old hierarchies. 28
Types of Power in the Information Age
The changing nature of power through the ages has led to a distinction between the types of power. Behavioural power is the ability to obtain outcomes you want and is further divided into hard and soft power. Hard power is the ability to get others to do what they otherwise would not do, through threats or rewards. Whether by economic carrots or military sticks, the ability to coax or coerce has long been the central element of power. Soft power is the ability to achieve desired outcomes in international affairs through attraction rather than coercion. Soft power works by convincing others to follow, or getting them to agree to, norms and institutions that produce the desired behaviour. The Soviet Union had considerable soft power in Europe after World War II but diluted it by invading Hungary and Czechoslovakia in the 1960s. This influence fully withered away by 1991 with the fall of the Communist movement. The role played by information technology in this fall is discussed later in this article. Today, the attraction of American democracy and free markets is the predominant source of their soft power in the world. Information technology and the spread of information about American culture, ideas and values has contributed towards the attraction towards their society and the subsequent exercise of soft power. 29
The second type of power is resource powerthe possession of resources that are usually associated with the ability to reach outcomes you want. The information revolution is also affecting power measured in terms of resources. In the 18th century, European balance of power, territory, population, and agriculture provided the basis for infantry, and France was a principal beneficiary. Voltaire had remarked, God is for the big batallions. Today, when the smallest nation, terrorist group or drug cartel can hire a computer programmer to plant a Trojan Horse virus in software, take down a vital network, or cause a computer to misfire, this may be wrong. In the 20th century, industrial capacity provided the resources that enabled Britain and, later Germany to gain dominance. In the 19th century, science especially nuclear physics and space technology was the currency of power for the USA and USSR. 30 In assessing power in the information age, the importance of technology, education and institutional flexibility has risen, whereas that of geography, population and raw materials has fallen. Japan has adapted to these changes through growth in the 1980s far better than by pursuing territorial conquest in the 1930s. In neglecting information, traditional measures of the balance of power have failed to anticipate the key developments of the last decade: the Soviet Unions fall, Japans rise, and the continuing prominence of the USA. 31
Fall of the USSR and Break-Up of Yugoslavia
Fall of the USSR
The Cold War ended in an ironic failure of containment: that is, Soviet failure to contain the democratic nations led by the USA. A brief look at the collapse illuminates how the essence of power has shifted as the industrial age has given way to the information age. Information technology widened the gap between Western and Eastern economic performance that had already been evident before 1980. The Soviet state did not just neglect and resist the information revolution; it was incapable of joining in it. Its futile and last ditch effort to import computer and communication technologies suggests that it fundamentally misunderstood them, and this finally bankrupted the USSR. Information technology rewards innovation and entrepreneurship, market agility, and scientific and intellectual freedomhardly socialist strengths. 32 It became impossible to continue to operate in a closed society in a world economy in which competitiveness was increasingly predicated on access to information and information technologies. 33
The information revolution spread the happenings in Afghanistan, portrayed a rosy picture about the West, and indulged in anti-Communist propaganda and, therefore, affected the minds of the people, the principal aim of information warfare (IW). Unable, and under Gorbachev, unwilling, to stop the sharing of information and knowledge among its citizens, the Soviet empire and state crumbled much faster than anyone had imagined. 34 In the wake of the Soviet collapse came a period of stunning political changes in Eastern and Central Europe in which small groups of individuals who were unable to form political parties for years, led to the downfall of Communist state entities. Though Soviet backing to the state entities was absent, the outcomes of these transitions and the non-violent path taken by most was driven largely thanks to information technologies. These technologies both enabled Opposition leaders to organise support, and especially via television images beamed to the West, reduced the existing leaderships options by putting their actions and the depth of Opposition support in full view. 35
The information revolution also stripped the Soviet Union of its specialitymilitary power. The Soviets failed to appreciate the change that information technology (IT) sprouted because of military support in the 1950s but bloomed outside it. In the 1980s, banks and manufacturing giants displaced the defence establishment as the most sophisticated and demanding users of data processing and networking. In the US, the military had 25 per cent share in the IT market in 1975; today, it holds less than 3 per cent of that market owing to the phenomenal growth of non-military demand. The civilian economy has furnished the incentive and profit revenues to develop the microelectronics, software, and networking technologies that determine the performance of contemporary military systems and forces. Not embedded in a thriving civilian economy, the Soviet military was too small to support adequate research and development on the vital technologies. The growing microelectronic content of the high performance military systems in the United States compounded the Soviets inability to keep pace. This unequal arms race and the Soviet failure to appreciate the change from militaries driving the market to market driven militaries in the information age, led to the fall of the USSR. The failure of the Soviet political, economic and military power is an example of their failure to understand the basic realities of international politics in the information agethe supremacy of the mind over muscle. IT has made traditional assets of powerterritory, huge armies and heavy industryless strategically relevant. 36
One of the driving factors in the remarkable change in the Soviet Union was that Mikhail Gorbachev and the other Soviet leaders understood that the Soviet economy could not advance from the extensive, or industrial, to the intensive, or post-industrial stage of development unless they loosened constraints on everything from computers to xerox machinestechnologies that can also disseminate diverse political ideas. 37
Break-Up of Yugoslavia
The fighting in Yugoslavia since 1992 also illustrates many of the political realities of the information age. Yugoslavia became a federation of six states after World War II, comprising Serbia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia and Slovenia. Though it was ruled by Communist regimes, it rejected Soviet control. By 1990, most republics had non-Communist rulers. In 1992, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Slovenia, Croatia and Macedonia declared independence. Serbia and Montenegro formed the new state of Yugoslavia. The declaration of independence by Bosnia-Herzegovina was followed by a bloody war between Bosnian Serbs and Bosnian Muslims. In the beginning, the US and Western countries were not keen to intervene in this war. The US foreign policy apparatus, in the words of then US Secretary of State, James A. Baker remarked, Weve got no dog in this fight. Later, when images of genocide reached audiences in countries that had previously been unmotivated to intercede, they stimulated action. Bosnia was translated by the media into a symbol regarding the new world order 38 that puts citizens rights and natural justice on par with, if not higher than, state sovereignty. The war in Yugoslavia in the 1990s, including the North Atlantic Treaty Organisations (NATOs) unilateral intervention in Kosovo, has reiterated the new reality that human rights limit state sovereignty; and potential genocide will be prevented , if necessary , through military force. 39
During the intervention, the Western powers used the power of new information technologies to circumvent the efforts of the Serbian government to indulge in any form of censorship and to stimulate political dissent against the Milosevic regime. The broadcasts of the independent radio station AB 92 were re-routed to the Internet, whose real audio transmissions were picked up by the Voice of America (VOA) and the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) in the Netherlands and re-broadcast into Serbiathus maintaining the coherence and morale of the Opposition forces. 40
This is in no way advocating that what NATO and the Western powers have done in Yugoslavia is correct but it illustrates the new realities of international politics, in which the media is used as an instrument to justify national policy and shape public opinion. It also shows how individuals have been empowered and nation-states weakened.
(To be concluded)
Note 14: Sanjay Anand, In a Knowledge-Based Society Humans are Supreme, Times of India, February 1 1999. (Interview with Rajender S. Pawar, Dataquests IT Man of the Year 1998 and eminent member of the IT Task Force). Back.