Foreign Policy and the Internet:

The debates presented in this week’s readings, although cloaked in the lingo of contemporary communications theory and social media, in many ways reflect the dueling visions of international relations that have driven the field since its inception.

Particularly interesting, from my perspective, were the quotes from government officials cited in Comor & Bean regarding the nature and the potential of “engagement” in the digital sphere. 

Although couched in modern terminology, the positions being argued for regarding the potential of “engagement” to manufacture peace were strongly reminiscent to me of a nearly forgotten text by British philosopher Norman Angell called, “The Great Illusion.”  For Angell, the normalization of economic relations would become the stabilizing force necessary for a Kantian perpetual peace in Europe.  Increased codependence due to economic factors, an increased sense of community due to the cross-pollination of ideas and beliefs resulting from trade, and other factors would, according to Angell, emerge to stabilize and cement a lasting peace in the Europe.  Unfortunately for Angell, although many of his arguments regarding economic interdependence held true, the book was also published in 1910, and then republished in 1913 on the eve of World War I.  Despite the destruction of Angell’s heady optimism on the ghastly battlefields of the western front, and the post-war emergence of realism as oppositional to the idealism of Angell, the thread of idealism still holds in international relations, most notably in the United States.

Angell’s optimism is particularly reflected in Shirky’s “Technology, the Public Sphere, and Political Change” wherein social media is seen as an inevitable driver of pro-democratic revolution, and that the only statistical outliers to this process (namely Belarus, Iran, and Thailand) are examples where brutal government crackdowns utilized violence to disperse protests.  Intriguingly, quotes from government officials, both within Comor & Bean and around the net, reflect some of this heady optimism

Fascinating to me, also though, was some of the evidence of duplicity that quickly emerges.  In particular, Shirky’s discussion of the “instrumental approach” to internet freedom, namely a call from the U.S government for nations to cease censorship activities of existing sites falls conspicuously flat (much as the author observes).  In particular, it is difficult to take at face value the idea that access to online information is a necessary human freedom, when evidence also shows that internet technology is being tooled into a weapon of war. The Stuxnet computer virus, for example, deliberately tailored to derail Iran’s nuclear program, certainly doesn’t encourage the breakdown of digital borders.

This duplicity makes calls for removal of Iran’s “electronic curtain” somewhat difficult to accept at face value.

Furthermore, I find it hard to believe calls from the U.S. government for nations to repeal internet censorship when we, in fact, engage in more or less the same practices (albeit generally more subtly) when we feel our political (i.e Wikileaks) or economic interests are being threatened by online content.  Isn’t this sort of double-standard exactly the sort of thing that makes others so frustrated with us?

 

 

 

 

 

(This blog post is exactly at 500 words, with hyperlinks embedded in the text.  In the interest of making all content accessible, however, I feel it would be appropriate to relist the linked pages here for simplicity’s sake.)

-Comments by Secretary of State Clinton @ the 2012 Social Good Summit http://mashable.com/2012/09/22/social-media-diplomacy/

– Comments by U.S. Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice regarding Twitter use by the DeptState @ the 2012 Social Good Summit http://mashable.com/2012/09/23/us-ambassador-susan-rice/

– Comments by President Obama regarding Iran’s “Electronic Curtain” http://mashable.com/2012/03/20/iran-electronic-curtain/

– Accusations that a US/Israeli collaboration led to the Stuxnet virus which crippled Iran’s nuclear program http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2012/06/confirmed-us-israel-created-stuxnet-lost-control-of-it/

– An Example of a web domain seized by the U.S. government, copyright protection or censorship? http://www.megaupload.com/

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4 thoughts on “Foreign Policy and the Internet:

  1. jcrinkley says:

    You make a really good point about the hypocrisy of demanding openness in the digital realm while simultaneously attempting to silence someone for forcing that openness on the U.S. Assange came at Obama with a video at the recent U.N Assembly. You may read about it here —> http://t.co/Z1nQAOGy

    With so much talk recently about SOPA and PIPA and the numerous evolutions of those two bills as well as similar policies around the world, it is clear that internet freedom is a huge issue to a lot of people for a lot of reasons. Those of us here in the U.S. fear for our freedoms being curtailed, while leaders and policy makers around the world fear that internet freedom will give more power to regular folks who might be motivated by what they find on the internet to organize and demand actual change.

    As much as we talk about how social media and access to information is going to improve the public sphere in developing countries, is anyone else a little shocked/dismayed at how little it has changed the way the political system and policy makers in this country operate? Where is our revolution demanding that we do away with the aspects of our own system that are holding us back?

  2. I like the “duplicity” part most. 🙂 From a perspective of foreigner, I resonate a lot with the Canadian guys’ view about the somewhat failed engagement policy as well as Shirky’s view of the “instrumental approach”.

    Maybe some of you might figure Chinese people are so poor with no access to a lot of online information such as Facebook, Global Voice etc and that they must be struggling for Internet freedom.
    But as an insider, for my own defense, I want to say it is not true that China needs Internet freedom as eagerly as outsiders imagine. Yes, the Sina weibo is booming and so many people online are calling for Internet freedom.
    However, putting Internet freedom as a big concern is still limited to the “elites” group, which I don’t think could be representative enough. But it does not mean we don’t want Internet freedom because freedom is human nature. People in my country are fighting for rights more and more than before but the Internet freedom just burgeons. If outsiders push too harshly, it may cause side effect, critics of the outsiders included.

  3. sanambhaila says:

    Hello,
    It seems like we have made similar observations from our reading assigned this week, especially about the Shirky’s discussion of the “instrumental approach.” It is nice that you have illustrated your idea with the examples of “Stuxnet” computer virus, wikilleaks and economic interests. It is certainly true that there is a sort of “double-standard” monopoly. But sometime, when it comes to nation’s security the idealistic values (like freedom of speech) cannot always be the bottom line of judgment. Sometime rational decision gets the priority, with is totally visible in the case of wikilleaks. However, the US as a country should realize that this situation can occur to any other nation/s as well. That’s when it calls for respecting other’s priority as well, just like you wish others do it when you are in the receiving side. But, I think this is the hardest part of diplomacy.

  4. I would have liked your post to focus more on the Mashable article, by Fitzpatrick — although it is not an editorial or opinion column. Your points in your post are good ones, but there are so many instances in Fitzpatrick’s article that could be directly compared with the assertions made by Comor and Bean, and Shirky. I mean, engaging w/ young people through Facebook — is that the U.S. listening to the young people’s opinions, or just a new way of spreading propaganda about the U.S.?

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