The Information Revolution and National Power:Political Aspects-II

Akshay Joshi, Research Officer, IDSA



The first part of this article introduced the fact that the information revolution is affecting all three pillars of national power: political, economic and military. It brought out how advances in technology have always acted as a catalyst in redefining national power structures. This argument was buttressed by taking a look at Marxian political thought and its linkage with technology. The changes in the tools of power in the 20th century were discussed and it was concluded that 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. Information and its related technologies will be the tools of national power in the 21st century because the destructive power of nuclear and conventional weapons makes their use on a large scale almost impossible. War by other means (WBOM), non-lethal weapons (NWL), information warfare (IW), neo-colonialism, information apartheid, cyberpolitik, etc are seen as the more benevolent yet effective tools of exercising power. Thereafter, the article focussed on the differences between the industrial age society and the information age society to emphasise the need for foreign policy experts to understand the changing nature of power in the information age. The discussion on the types of power in the information age showed how information technology (IT) has affected both behavioural power (which consists of soft and hard power) and resource power. Finally, it was explained how the fall of the former Soviet Union and the break-up of Yugoslavia was carried out using information technologies.1 This, the concluding part of this article, looks beyond the end of the Cold War, and proposes to analyse some of the other political aspects of the new world information order. The following salient aspects are discussed in this article:

l New World Information Order.

l Conflict Between Nation-States and Non-State Actors.

l The Media Revolution.

l Proliferation of the Internet and the Conflict between Democracy and Authoritarianism.

l Prognosis for the Twenty-First Century.

New World Information Order

It is said that nothing is permanent except change. This is particularly true in the information age. It is important to understand the nature of the new world information order in order to be effective in our foreign policy initiatives and in the conduct of international relations. We must accept that we are in a metastate, a changing polity and a time of flux. The information revolution throws up various contradictory phenomena. 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 offers both more choices and too many choices, greater insight and more fog. It reduces the risk to soldiers in warfare and vastly increases the cost of conflict. It can lead to supremacy of the possessors of information technologies while it leads to vulnerabilities to the same possessors from weaker nations. It cedes some state authority to markets, to transnational entities and to non-state actors and as a result produces political forces calling for the strengthening of the state. It is the best tool for democrats and the best weapon for demagogues.2 Given such contradictions, one may be tempted to believe that it is too early to modify our foreign policy objectives to suit the information age. However, a mere look at some of the manifestations of the arrival of information technology in international relations, clearly brings out how the nature and exercise of power have been permanently altered.

Arrival of Information Technology in International Relations

There is general belief that the Berlin Wall was brought down due to "TV and fax machines". The Soviet Union had considerable soft power in Europe after World War II but diluted it by invading Hungary and Czechoslovakia in the 1960s and Afghanistan in 1979. The Western media and the government machinery went to town maligning these misadventures. The role of the United States Information Agency (USIA) and Radio Free Liberty to keep democracy alive and to increase the appeal of America's soft power in the Soviet bloc during the Cold War should not be under-estimated. Unable, and under Gorbachev, unwilling, to stop the sharing of information and knowledge among its citizens, the Soviet empire collapsed much faster than anyone had imagined. In Prague in 1988, the first protesters looked into the Cable News Network (CNN) cameras and chanted at the riot police, "The world sees you." It is an anomaly of history that other East Europeans watched the revolution on CNN relayed by Russian satellite and mustered the courage to rebel against their own sovereigns. Information technologies enabled Opposition leaders in East European countries to organise support and reduced the existing leadership's options by putting their actions and the depth of Opposition support in full view of the world. During the Tiannanmen Square massacre in 1989, democracy activists hooked VCRs to hotel satellite feeds and taped CNN's images to circulate across the country. Fax machines were used for communication with the outside world despite the efforts of a powerful state apparatus. In the Gulf War, Iraqi, Israeli, American, Lybian and Saudi Arabian officials all used CNN as a medium of political communication. The fighting in Yugoslavia since 1992 also illustrates many of the political realities of the information age. The list of instances of the arrival of information technology in international politics goes on.3

When Woodrow Wilson went to Paris to negotiate the Treaty of Versailles, he ordered his postmaster general to assume control over all transatlantic cable lines in order to censor the news from Europe. Today, no one and no nation can block the flow of information across national borders. During the Persian Gulf War, President Bush had to convey an important judgement to the 26 nations in the coalition. The quickest and most effective way was CNN, because all countries in the world had it and were watching it on a real-time basis. The United States entrusted a vital diplomatic message to a private television company seen by the whole world. "Wilson's strategy was to control the flow of information by fiat, while Bush realised that since he could not beat the world information free market, he had better join it."4 Today, special interest groups of all kinds, from terrorists to human rights activists, bypass government-based communications channels. The convergence of computers and telecommunications has made us into a global community. Ideas move across borders as if they did not exist. Time zones are becoming more important than borders. The impact of global conversation puts pressure on sovereign governments that over time will influence political processes all over the world. The role of the media in bringing an end to the Communist movement and the struggle between democracy and authoritarianism is brought out later in this article.

Independence Among Nations

Interdependence among societies is not new. What is new is the virtual erasing of costs of communicating over distance as a result of the information revolution. The actual transmission costs have become negligible, hence the amount of information that can be transmitted is effectively infinite. Computing power has doubled every 18 months for the last 30 years. It now costs less than one percent of what it did in the early 1970s. Similarly, the growth of the Internet and World Wide Web has been exponential. Communication bandwidths are expanding rapidly, and communication costs continue to fall. Copper wires are being replaced with optical fibre cables, which can carry much larger volumes of information. Earlier, transnational flows were heavily controlled by large bureaucracies like multinational corporations (MNCs) or the Catholic Church. Such organisations remain important, but the cheapening of information transmission has opened the field to loosely structured network organisations and even individuals.5

Interdependence among nations is a very important feature of the information age. Harvard University International Relations theorists Robert Keohane and Joseph Nye have said that the three major characteristics of "complex interdependence" are: (1) multiple channels like conferences, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and rapid communications connecting societies; (2) the absence of a clear hierarchy of issues on the international agenda; and (3) declining effectiveness of military force. Due to these characteristics, the political processes of complex interdependence are very different from those of the previous era of stark Cold War conflict. The end of the Cold War, the expansion of the United Nations (UN) peace-keeping operations, the growth of the Internet, and the addition of international organisations like the formation of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in the 1990s, seem to justify the theory of complex interdependence.6

John Naisbitt in his book Global Paradox, brilliantly explains how the world has moved from dependence to independence and finally to interdependence. He explains that we confront a new pulse of change, a Global Paradox that will surely transform our lives:

The larger the system, the smaller, more powerful and important the part.7

The Paradox, as he sees it, is powered by the explosive developments in telecommunications which are the driving forces, simultaneously creating the huge global economy and multiplying and empowering its parts.

Soft Power in the Information Age

In an era in which soft power (the ability to achieve the desired outcome in international affairs through attraction rather than coercion) increasingly influences international affairs, threatening the use of physical force undercuts an image of reason, democracy and open dialogue.8 By the 1980s, the field of international relations (which had its North American and European origins in the research into peace studies following World War I) had a quite distinct hierarchy. At the top was the high politics of strategic studies, and at the bottom was the low politics of just about everything else. Lamenting this state of affairs that had caused the neglect of research into international communication, Paul Wilkinson, professor of international relations at the University of Aberdeen, explained that the development of nuclear weapons spurred the popularity of strategic studies because more funding for such research was available. Similarly, international economic relations research became popular after the 1973 oil crisis. Now with the receding of the nuclear threat, the revolution in international communication technologies, and the variety of economic problems have started attracting considerable attention to low politics.9

In an era of globalisation, national security has a different meaning. Nation-states no longer have a monopoly on the means of coercion. Even if nuclear weapons had a deterrent value during the Cold War, today they have none as the causes of insecurity, more often than not, are economic collapse and internecine conflict, and not external aggression.10 The information age has revolutionised the instrument of soft power and the opportunities to apply them. The ability of a nation to project the appeal of its ideas, ideology, culture, economic model, and social and political institutions, and to take advantage of its international business and telecommunications networks will leverage soft power.

India, for instance, has enhanced its soft power in the recent Kargil conflict with Pakistan from May to July 1999. The decision not to cross the Line of Control (LoC) even under extreme provocation from the Pakistani political and military machinery, has raised India's standing in the comity of nations. One can already see signs of the United States of America (USA) warming towards India and support from all permanent members of the UN Security Council (UNSC). Even Japan has changed its stance towards India. The burial given to the dead Pakistani soldiers, with proper Muslim rites, even though their army had multilated the bodies of our soldiers, shows the tremendous resilience of India. It portrays an image of bigness which nobody should be allowed to forget. It is time to project the conscious restraint and resilience shown by India throughout the world, by exploiting media and information technologies. We should now demand a permanent seat in the UNSC, and the world will be more than willing to oblige if we can explain the enormity of the sacrifice of our nation to them. All this can be achieved through information technologies.

Importance of Credibility in the Information Age

Another feature of the new world information order is that power does not necessarily flow to those who can withhold information. Information is a available in plenty in the information age. The problem is not of scarcity of information but of information overload. A plenitude of information leads to a paucity of attention. Attention becomes a scarce resource, and those who can distingush valuable signals from white noise gain power. Editors, filters, sifters and sorters of information become more in demand, and this is a source of power. Establishing a reputation for credibility in providing accurate, filtered and relevant information, even if it may reflect badly on the information provider's own country is the reality of world politics in the information age. Governments that can credibly assure potential partners that they will not act opportunistically and will provide accurate information, will gain advantage over competitors whose promises are less credible11 One implication of the abundance of free information sources and the role of credibility is that soft power is likely to become less a function of material resources. Hard power may be necessary—for instance, to take over a radio station—to generate soft power.

During the Cold War, the United States was a more credible ally for Western European countries than the Soviet Union because as a democracy the United States could more credibly promise not to seek to exploit or dominate its allies. In the colonial era, when various countries, including India, were fighting for independence, it was the Soviet Union which was a credible partner to all the colonies because the Soviet Union championed the cause of the colonies for independence. As long as the US condoned racial segregation, it could not be a credible advocate of universal human rights. The exercise of soft power requires credibility in order to be persuasive.12

IT Benefits Large and Small States

In the new world information order, it would be simplistic to say that the information revolution has a levelling effect among large and small states. While some aspects of the information revolution help the small, many help the already large and powerful. For example, soft power is strongly affected by the cultural content of movies and television. Larger nations with more established entertainment and media related industries will find the exercise of soft power easier. However, medium powers like India, which have a good entertainment and media industry, can use information technologies to catch up with the bigger powers much faster than would have been possible without these technologies.

In the application of military power, dominant battlespace awareness combined with precision force produces a powerful advantage. This advantage can be obtained due to the "revolution in military affairs" (RMA)which is driven by information technology. In this critical domain of international relations i.e. military power, the key to supremacy is not in the possession of fancy hardware or advanced systems but the ability to integrate a system of systems. In such integration, larger states like the USA will have an advantage. However, off-the-shelf commercial availability of what used to be costly military technologies benefits small states and non-states actors, and increases the vulnerability of large states.

Shift from Nuclear Dominance to Information Dominance

Another key feature of the post-Cold War information era is that information technologies may be used to change the classical deterrence theory. There is a tremendous proliferation of articles by the research community and foreign policy experts comparing the RMA due to nuclear technology and the RMA due information technology. It can be seen that the concept of nuclear deterrence is slowly being replaced by information deterrence and the nuclear umbrella by the information umbrella.

In the information age, the ability to provide situational awareness or dominant battlespace knowledge can be a cooperative link between coalition partners. Such information increases pre-crisis transparency. In the Cold War era, where everything was seen in term of the two dominant poles of power, the USA and the USSR used the concept of "Nuclear Umbrella" to win friends and allies. With the dawn of the information age and the end of the Cold War, there is far more ambiguity in the understanding of international relations. A war in the Balkans or in Iraq in the Cold War era could have sparked off a military confrontation between the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and the Warsaw Pact. Post-Cold War, Pakistan does not figure as significantly in the calculations of the USA as it used to in the Cold War era. Today, everything is not viewed in terms of the two poles and nations are trying to come to terms with new equations of power. Accurate, real-time, situational awareness is the key to reaching agreement within coalitions on what to do and is essential at the political and military level. Just as nuclear dominance was the key to coalition leadership in the old era, information dominance will be the key in the information age.14

Conflict Between Nations-Sates and Non-State Actors

New Players

Nation-states are no longer the only major international actors in an increasingly globalising world. The tansnational organisations, such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the (WTO); international regimes like the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), Wassenaar Arrangement, Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), etc; and regional groupings of the kind seen in the European Union (EU), North American Free Trade Area (NAFTA), Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN), South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), etc. have also become players in international affairs. At another level, non-state entities like the NGOs, terrorist organisations, drug trafficking networks, international crime syndicates and human rights organisations and other groupings have contributed to the growing complexity of international relations.15 The information revolution is spawning a new form of basic human organisation, the network, to accompany if not crowd out those of history: the tribe, the hierarchy, and the market. NGOs and nebular communities of interest, ranging from the saintly to the diabolical, are growing in number and capability at the expense of governments, political parties, established religions, corporations, law enforcement agencies, and the nation-state itself. This multitude of potential actors, and if hostile, attackers, makes it difficult for nation-states to manage the information warfare (IW) threat from these actors. These can be increasingly dispersed entities interconnected by information technology.16

Need for Nation-State

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 networks and make their presence felt. In Brazil, when an Indian tribe was threatened, the Internet carried news of the threat and 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. Similarly, in politics between states, the ability of a government to leverage its "constituency" within another nation will help it in its negotiations with that nation.17 China has very successfully motivated the American business community and networked with the Chinese diaspora in the United States to achieve its national goals. India now needs to network with the Indian diaspora and the pro-India Americans in the United States. India should use modern information technologies for networking.

Throughout the 20th century, modernists have been proclaiming that technology would transform world politics. The arguments ranged from pre-World War I declarations that economic interdependence rendered wars irrational to the modernists of the 1970s who saw telecommunications and jet travel as creating a global village. Prophets such as Peter Drucker, Alvin and Heidi Toffler, and Esther Dyson argue that today's information revolution is ending hierarchical bureaucracies and leading to a new "electronic feudalism" with overlapping communities and jurisdictions laying claim to multiple layers of citizens' identities and loyalties. It is true that NGOs, multinational organisations, and financial markets have become immensely more significant but the resilience of nation-states has also increased. States continue to command the loyalties of the vast majority of the world's people, and their control over material resources in most wealthy countries has stayed at a third to half of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Moreover, even though there are likely to be over a billion Internet users in 2005, a large proportion of the world's population will not participate. To operate in cyberspace, it is necessary to frame rules, which can be done only by a nation-state which has authority.18

Information technologies also create new opportunities for NGOs. The landmine conference held in 1998 resulted from the activities of a coalition of network organisations working with middle-power governments like Canada, individual politicians and celebrities like Princess Diana. The NGOs were also influential voices in the global warming discussions at Kyoto in December 1997. However, the importance of credibility for the NGOs to be effective needs to be emphasised. The cheap flows of information have enormously expanded the number and depth of transnational channels of contact. States are more easily penetrated and, as a result, foreign policy makers have to take these influences into account. States, especially large ones with democratic societies, are well placed to benefit from the information society and will prove to be more resilient in the information age. The future lies neither exclusively with the state nor with transnational entities. Geographically based states will continue to structure politics in an information age, but they will rely less on material resources and more on their ability to remain credible to a public which has access to increasingly diverse sources and large quantities of information.19

The "electronic liberation" of the individual is gradually creating a new power structure. However, the present nation-states will not easily give up their sovereignty. The global trend towards cultural-economic regional groupings, while retaining their essential sovereignty, is the most appropriate way ahead for the nation-states.20

Information Revolution and NGOs

The end of the Cold War has brought about a redistribution of power among states, markets, and civil society. National governments are sharing powers with businesses, with international organisations, and with NGOs. The shrinking of the US and Russian nuclear arsenals, and with various treaties like the NPT, CTBT, Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) either coming into force or being negotiated in international fora, the security threat to states from other states is on a downward course. Non-traditional threats, however, are rising— terrorism, organised crime, drug trafficking, ethnic conflict, and the combination of rapid population growth, environmental decline, and poverty that breeds economic stagnation, political instability, and, sometimes, state collapse. The most powerful engine of change which empowers non-state actors is the computer and telecommunications revolution. Widely accessible and affordable technology has broken governments' monopoly on the collection and management of large amounts of information and deprived governments of the deterrence they enjoyed because of it. Fax machines, satellite hookups, and the Internet connect people across borders.21

NGOs are able to push around even the largest of governments. Their financial resources and expertise approximate and sometimes exceed those of smaller governments and of international organisations. Today, NGOs deliver more official development assistance than the entire UN system (excluding the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund). Earlier NGOs could work only through their own government's delegations. All that changed with the negotiation of the global climate treaty, culminating at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. NGOs set the goal of getting nations to come to an agreement to control the greenhouse gases long before governments were ready to do so. Technology is fundamental to the NGOs' new clout. The Non-Profit Association for Progressive Communications provides 50,000 NGOs in 133 countries access to the tens of millions of Internet users for the price of a local call. The dramatically lower costs of international communication have altered NGOs' goals and changed international outcomes. NGOs also force states to consider domestic public opinion and lobby their own governments to pressure leaders in other countries thereby creating a circle of influence. NGOs are also influencing global media to create favourable public opinion. As the computer and telecommunications revolution continues, NGOs will become more capable of large scale activity across national borders. International NGOs and cross-border networks of local groups have bridged North-South differences that in earlier years paralysed cooperation among countires.22

Role of International Organisations

The role of international organisations in international politics also deserves a mention. States feel they need more capable international organisations to deal with a lengthening list of transnational challenges, but at the same time fear competitors. "Soft law" in the form of guidelines, recommended practices, non-binding resolutions, and the like are rapidly expanding. Behind each new agreement are scientists, lawyers and a new constituency of international civil servants responsible for implementing, monitoring and enforcing this enormous new body of law. Forceful interventions authorised by resolutions in Chapter VII of the UN Charter and election monitoring in countries are some of the new responsibilities taken up by the UN. The UN monitored no election in a member state during the Cold War, only in colonies. But, beginning in 1990, it responded to many requests from governments. In Latin America, where countries most jealousy guard their sovereignty, the Organisation of American States (OAS) monitored 11 national elections in four years.23

Growth of Supra and Sub-National Entities

Last, but not the least, is the growth of supra and sub-national entities which are assuming a more international role, thereby adding to the complexity of the understanding of international politics for nation-states and their policy makers. The EU is neither a union of states nor an international organisation. It provokes descriptions like "post-sovereign system" or "unprecedented hybrid." It respects members' borders for some purpose, particularly in foreign and defence policy, but ignores them for others. The union's judiciary can override national law, and its Council of Ministers can overrule certain domestic executive decisions. The EU is a full dialogue partner of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) and will continue to strengthen itself in order to become an independent centre of power in the future.24

Meanwhile, units below the national level are taking on formal international roles. Nearly all 50 American states have trade offices abroad, up from four in 1970, and all have officials in the WTO. France's Rhone-Alpes region, centred in Lyon, maintains what it calls "embassies" abroad on behalf of a regional economy that includes Geneva, Switzerland, and Turin, Italy.25 In India, too, the chief ministers (CMs) of various states are busy negotiating with international lending agencies like the World Bank. Chandrababu Naidu, a computer and information technology savvy CM, successfully negotiated a developmental loan from the World Bank recently.

Verdict on the Future of the Nation-State

Information power is hard to categorise because it cuts across all other military, economic, social, and political power resources, in some cases diminishing their strength, in others multiplying it. It is easy to forecast the growth of capabilities like the convergence of technologies, such as digitisation, computers, telephones, television and precise global positioning. But to capture the implications of the growing information capabilities, particularly the interactions among them is far more difficult. 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. The change leads to a series of contradictions and the one relevant to political power is the struggle between the nation-state (the established political institution of a nation after the Peace at Westphalia) and the non-state actors, virtual communities, NGOs and independent international institutions (that have been strengthened as a result of the information revolution).

The evaluation of information and communication technology, which has only just begun, will probably favour non-state actors over states. The shift from national to some other political allegiance, if it comes, will be an emotional, cultural, and political earthquake. However, there are roles that only the state can perform like collection of tax, meeting the crucial social needs that markets do not value, providing job security, avoiding unemployment, protecting the environment and looking after health care and safety of its population.26 The foreign policy makers and implementers have to be alive to the changing realities of international politics and dovetail the multifarious actors into the calculations, failing which the picture will seem hazy and fog will seem to engulf the foreign policy apparatus of a nation.

The Media Revolution

Propaganda as a political tool is not new. Hitler and Stalin used it effectively in the 1930s. Slobodan Milosevic's control of television is crucial to his power in Serbia. In Moscow, in 1993, a battle for power was fought at a TV station. In Rwanda, Hutu-controlled radio stations encouraged genocide. The power of broadcasting persists and is increasingly supplemented by the Internet.27 In the conflict between India and Pakistan in Kargil from May to July 1999, the power of the Internet as a propaganda tool was seen. Pakistan stood isolated in cyberspace with chat-rooms, message boards, chain letters, web-sites expressing shock at the torture of Indian troops. Young Pakistanis living abroad felt that Pakistan would lose a conventional war in two days and that their economy was in shambles. Kashmiris and Muslims in cyberspace busted the Pakistani bogey of being the spokesman of the Muslims by stating that India had more Muslims than Pakistan. They also declared the mutilation of the bodies of Indian soldiers as "un-Islamic". If all this was not enough, the taped conversations between the Pakistani Army chief and his chief of General Staff confirmed the extent of the Pakistan Army's involvement in the Kargil intrusion. More importantly, it busted the myth that after General Jahangir Karamat was asked to resign, Nawaz Sharif had finally become numero uno.28 The brilliant and most valiant military action of the Indian soldiers combined with the clinching evidence provided to the world through various propaganda machinery eventually led to the withdrawal of Pakistani soldiers from Indian soil.

The idea that propaganda would become a standard means of conducting international relations was apparent within a few years after World War II. Organisations like the United States Information Agency (USIA), British Council, and Alliance Francais have been maintained for "image promotion" after World War II. Hans Morgenthau, in his book Politics Among Nations (New York: Knopf, 1973) declared that propaganda was a major tool of states in the new age of "nationalistic universalism" to achieve their ends. According to him:

Psychological warfare or propaganda joins diplomacy and military force as the third instrument by which foreign policy tries to achieve its aims. Regardless of the instrument employed, the ultimate aim of foreign policy is always the same: to promote one's interests by changing the mind of the people.

Morgenthau believed that modern means of mass communication (such as radio and satellites) were significant in two major ways: (a) as a means by which states tried to achieve their ends in the era of "nationalistic universalism" that characterises the post-World War II era; and (b) as a factor in the decline of diplomacy.29 Morgenthau explained that:

Diplomacy owes its rise in part to the absence of speedy communications in a period when the governments of the new territorial states maintained continuous political relations with each other. Diplomacy owes its decline in part to the development of speedy and regular communications in the form of the airplane, the radio, the telegraph.30

In the days when international wire services were dominant, news came in the form of words. The global satellite TV networks improved the quality of news by adding sound and pictures. The qualitative flow of news was made better by the fact that "breaking" news events—such as the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the release of Nelson Mandela and the student demonstration in Tiananmen Square—could be relayed live, uncensored and seemingly unmediated by the prejudiced opinions of reporters. The live TV camera appeared to be a global mirror, and CNN came to symbolise for many the coming of a "global village". Time magazine was so impressed, it made CNN's founder, Ted Turner, its "Man of the Year" for 1991. The magazine stated, "What we are seeing is not just the globalisation of television but also, through television, the globalisation of the globe." In the Gulf War, Iraqi, Israeli, Libyan, American and Saudi Arabian officials all used CNN as a medium of political communication. Some of the features of the news revolution are:

l TV is a participant in foreign policy because it sometimes serves as a direct conduit of communication between government officials and might be a catalyst for acts orchestrated to play to the cameras.

l TV's ability to relay emotions and consequently to change public perceptions of issues.

l The tendency of television coverage to be ahistorical

l The difficulty in conducting private and secret negotiations about issues subject to intense TV coverage.31

In the case of worldwide television, the location of a particular satellite TV network also influences soft power. CNN is based in Atlanta and not any other part of the world because of the overwhelming supremacy of American technology and their entertainment industry. In the Gulf War, had an Arab company been the world's most dominant TV channel instead of CNN, perhaps the issue would have been framed as an attempt to reverse colonial humiliation.32 Broadcasting is a type of free information that has long had an impact on public pinion. Governments have always sought to manipulate television and radio stations and have met with considerable success mainly because a relatively small number of broadcasting sites have been used to reach out to many people. However, the shift from broadcasting to narrow-casting has major political implications. Cable television and the Internet enable senders to segment and target audiences.33 More important politically, the Internet allows a two-way communication and, therefore, helps coordinate action across borders between interest groups.

Besides satellite TV networks, the use of interactive multimedia computer networks has added a new dimension to the provision of international news. These networks are exploiting the profitability of financial news and utilising new technologies. One such network is the Bloomberg network started by a former Solomon Brothers trader, Michael Bloomberg. Most of the world's central banks are subscribers, in addition to insurance companies, pension funds, banks, large corporations, US government offices and other new organisations. The rapid growth and profitability of the financial information field was seen in the performance of Reuters. Its 1993 pre-tax profits of $651 million were 15 percent better than those in 1992.34

There is a view that a big blow to the concept of nation-state comes from the "mega-media" revolution, spawned by the advances in digital communications and fanned by the unbridled power of the Internet. The international Net-surfers coexist in a borderless cyber-state. The "electronic liberation" of the individual is creating a new power structure.35

Information and communication technologies are at the core of globalisation. The preservation of core values and interests of a nation constitute national security. Differences in core values of states bring states into conflict with each other. This got heightened during the Cold War but earlier distance did not bring them into contact. Due to globalisation and the media revolution, the core values of a nation come into contact. Foreign policy issues are now becoming crisis management exercises to get more information. Information warfare using media technology is becoming a tool to influence the minds of people.36 These aspects of the media revolution need to be borne in mind by the policy making bodies of all nations.

Proliferation of the Internet and the Conflict Between Democracy and Authoritarianism

Information technology is enriching, integrating and expanding the world's democratic core, promising improved security in the world. New research reveals strong causal links between the availability of information technology and demands for democracy. According to James Madison (1787), "To give information to the people is the most legitimate engine of government." Information technology and improved communications lead to economic and political freedom, which later grows into democratic movements and institutions. Just as the economies of emerging countries are altered by reform, investment and participation in global industry, their politics is transformed by the information and ideas that their new infrastructure distributes. Countries cannot import crucial technical knowhow without also receiving packets of smuggled democracy. The information technology has played a role in the three great political developments of the late 20th century: the metamorphosis of Japan and Germany, the demise of the Soviet Union and Communism, and the emergence of previously underdeveloped regions. In the Cold War nomenclature, it has helped revitalise the First World, liberate the Second, and uplift the Third.37

Throughout history, science and technology have always influenced society and redefined the contours of power. The information revolution is very different from the scientific revolutions in the past. It is creating a whole new society and completely different environment which we have to get used to. Since the early 1970s, when the integrated circuit was made, computing power has increased by a factor of two every 18 months. It is postulated that the computing power will continue to increase at this pace while the prices will fall by a factor of two. Such massive strides are not achieved in the steel and aeroplane industry.38 The growth of the Internet and the World Wide Web has been exponential. Internet traffic doubles every 100 days. In such a revolution, the democratic societies are at an advantage. These societies are familiar with the free exchange of information, and their institutions of governance are not threatened by it.39

Societies like China and Singapore can limit access to the Internet by controlling service providers and monitoring the relatively small number of users but it will become increasingly difficult to reconcile political controls with the increasing role of the Internet in the future. This is so because in the next century, the Internet will be one of the important tools for making money and reaching out to the population of a country. Asia's growing Internet presents the continent's authoritarian regimes with a conflict. For years, these regimes thought they could contain the Net's freewheeling exchange of ideas and images. In Singapore and China, government controlled Internet Service Providers (ISPs) blocked access to web sites. Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad targetted billions for a multimedia super corridor to put Malaysia ahead in the Internet—but thought he could build it without sacrificing his government's control over Opposition voices. Now that vision is being put to test. Mahathir has started clamping down on critics who use the Net, by requiring cybercafes to register the names of their users.40

Beijing remains deeply suspicious of information flows. In Shanghai, a detained computer entrepreneur was given two-year sentence for providing e-mail addresses to Internet publications critical of China abroad. They fear that a worldly-wise population may gain access to politically destabilising ideas. There are other obstacles to the Net in China. The state monopoly telecom provider, China Telecom's domination of telecom services has kept the cost of Internet connections very high—almost $1 an hour which is very stiff by international standards. At the same time, Internet users in China are expected to grow from two million today to four million in 2000. E-commerce is projected to grow to more than $660 million by 2001. There are already more than 4,000 Chinese-language Web sites plus tens of thousands of home pagers on the Net. Departmental stores are going on line: Shanghai Book City, one of Shanghai's largest booksellers wants to replace US bookseller The Chinese have launched a search engine modelled on the lines of Yahoo!, with backing from investors including Intel Corporation, Dow Jones and Negroponte. How China and other authoritarian regimes are going to manage these contradictory attitudes towards the Internet is a million dollar question.41

In the US, the Internet has come to influence local and national politics on an unprecedented scale. Through the Thomas service, provided by the Library of Congress, citizens have direct access to Bill summaries, their current status, floor activity, and voting outcomes. The Centre for International Private Enterprise (CIPE) in the US carried out a study on how the Internet and electronic commerce can help to promote free-market philosophies, democratic principles and respect for political, civic and human rights around the world. The survey revealed that in at least some countries, organisations are using e-mail to directly lobby government ministries, putting policy position statements on their Web sites, and mobilising popular support sentiment for political and economic purposes. However, there are various factors which determine the use of information technology, like the development of telecommunication infrastructure, the extent of Internet connectivity in the country and the level of computer skills of the populace and the type of political environment in which the population operates.42

In India, the government launched the draft Telecom Policy 1998 on the Internet to seek the views of the public before finalising the New Telecom Policy 1999 (NTP99). The Israel/Palestine Centre for Research and Information (IPCRI), a joint Palestinian-Israeli public policy think- tank, uses the Internet and e-mail to lobby members of the Israeli Knesset and government ministries in the Palestinian National Authority on a regular basis. Other groups like the Independent Institute of Socio-Economic and Political Studies in Belarus considers the Internet to be an important instrument for promoting market economies and democratic values because the government controls nearly all of the country's mass media. Networking of the research community and interests groups can also have political effects. The Internet is being mobilised to complete research on decentralisation, privatisation, education, health policy and a host of other topics. Thousands of new organisations, leaders of democracy movements, think-tanks, business associations and champions of private enterprise now have a tool--the Internet--that can push the information revolution to an entirely new level.43 Could this strike the death knell of authoritarianism and closed societies is the question which needs to be debated more.

The reality of the 21st century is that whether it is military might, or the ability to make money, a nation will have to leverage information technology to get ahead. Any nation, whether it is a democracy or is ruled by an authoritarian regime, will neglect information technology only at its peril. Investment in information infrastructure is both a cause and a consequence of modernisation. Improved communications carry the spores of economic and political freedom, spores that grow into democratic movements. It will be extremely difficult for an authoritarian regime, sitting atop a volcano of discontent and surrounded by enemies, to acquire, apply, and operate sophisticated, knowledge based military technology and systems on a large scale.44

Some of the overt manifestations of how information is being used as a foreign policy tool have already been described earlier in this two- part article. The fall of the USSR and the opening up of China to the world became possible because of the realisation that it is impossible to operate a closed society in a world economy in which competitiveness was increasingly predicated on access to information and information technologies. There is a growing chasm in China between the rich and the poor, urban unrest due to the shift in population from rural to urban cities, a decentralisation of power at all levels and more grassroots local elections, increasing interaction of the Chinese businesses with the international market and a rising number of foreign trained Chinese students. Chinese and foreign manufactures now wish to deal with their suppliers and distributors in China only on the Internet. All these factors raise the question of how far China will manage its structural pluralism with an authoritarian governing system.45

Prognosis for the 21st Century

America is likely to play an important role in the international community in the 21st century. There is a view that an Asian alliance linked through information technology (based on a shared writing system of computer languages), will bring together nation-states with cultural similarities. Such a loose integration of Asian states along with the already existent EU can bring about a multipolar structure in the world. Another commonly held view is that multinational corporations will control the twenty-first century in place of the nation-states. The Internet is likely to become the largest infrastructure for information exchange among members of various non-profit communities. Just as there is a possibility of multinational corporations pursuing profits with reckless abandon, there is also a significant chance that non-profit organisations will go too far in the name of their partisan cause. Accordingly, the role of the nation in the 21st century is to promote the activities of both corporations and non-profit organisations and to skillfully navigate a path forward while remaining vigilant.46

The information revolution extends economic and political freedom and, therefore, helps reduce internal and international conflicts. The trend is towards a less violent 21st century owing in large part to the information revolution and its contribution to freedom and security.

Information technology, unlike technologies of the industrial age, requires freedom and openness. The greater the political and economic freedom of a society, all else being equal, the greater its capacity to be an information age power. If China proceeds with its modernisation and transformation, it will continue to remain powerful; however, if China abandons reform and integration, it will have trouble modernising and especially harnessing information technology, thus, sacrificing power.47 India, because of its democratic political system, the willingness of its government to exploit IT usefully and because of the brain power of its population is ideally suited to become a power to reckon with in the 21st century. Whether this happens because of us or in spite of us is the big question.

The early 21st century will see a debate on whether the flow of information technology should be blocked or whether its diffusion should be encouraged. While dedicating the supercomputer "Param 1000" (the fastest computer developed in Asia barring Japan) Indian scientists voiced their fears of being subject to technological colonialism by the developed countries. They expressed their determination not to give in to technological blackmail. In following the policy of information apartheid with countries like India, the US has to be careful of a "nationalistic backlash" from American Indians (NASA and the Silicon Valley are full of American Indians). India on its part needs to network with the Indian diaspora in the US to ensure that there is a free flow of technology. As regards China, the US may decide to deliberately allow the transfer of information technology to China because it fosters openness, economic reform, democratisation, integration--and, thus, international security.

Information warfare is likely to receive much more importance in the 21st century. As of today, there is no legislation which states that an attack on the information or communication infrastructure of a nation can be considered as an act of aggression. It is inevitable that an international conference will soon be held to define the various types of information attack, and which of those are to be considered as acts of aggression. As information technology proliferates into all spheres of our life, new rules of engagement and new laws will have to be formed.

Since the end of the Cold War, the developed world is increasingly setting the agenda for international discourse. Earlier, disarmament, decolonisation and apartheid kept the developed world on the defensive. Now the countries of the developed world are pushing environment, human rights and good governance as leading items. Unfortunately, developing countries do not invest enough intellectual effort to put across their views and expose the wrong doings of the developed world, like their excessive consumption standards which are ruining the environment, their inadequacies of governance leading to narcotics consumption and demand, and the operation of major crime syndicates. They do not appreciate that a continuous information war is being waged by the developed world to perpetuate the status quo.48 The 21st century will see a cooperation and networking of the intellectual capabilities of weaker nations, regional groupings and interest groups through information sharing. Such networking may lead to power centres and the formation of a polycentric world. The players in this ploycentric world will depend on who decides to network and with whom.

The governance of the future will be electronic governance (e-governance). In the West, e-governance is being touted as something more than a mere "re-engineering" of the government. A new governing process with new tools needs to be designed rather than building an IT strategy around the existing system.49 E-governance is not only the internal information sharing system of the government but the information the government shares with the external world i.e. with its own people. The British government recently unveiled a freedom of information proposal that would give the public access to a range of government documents now kept under wraps. The Singapore government's experience has shown that e-governance through IT can play a vital role in areas like strategic economic planning, better resource utilisation, monitoring and tracking of development programmes, reduced cost of operations, single window citizen and business service, improved investment climate, equitable distribution of economic benefits and social services to all. The Harvard Business Review has rated the Singapore civil service as among the most efficient and highly automated public administrations in the world.50

In India, the chief minister of the state of Andhra Pradesh, Chandrababu Naidu, is using IT for e-governance. His work culture is based on debureaucratisation, faster decisions, teleconferencing, reliance on infotech and greater accountability. No wonder, he finds a place in the dream Cabinet of the world and is the only Indian politician to figure in the Business Week magazine's list of 50 Asian stars who are at the forefront of change. His favourite software is naturally the "Chief Minister's Information System"51


The writing on the wall is absolutely clear. The information revolution has arrived and is changing the nature of politics and the methods of exercising power. "Some practitioners and visionaries recognise the need to develop computerised methods that will enable users to control the flood of information about the present, illuminate what is most important, introduce historical perspectives and simulate alternative futures."52 Whether we take Marx's Materialist Conception of History, according to which the mode of production of material life (which is impacted to a large extent by technology) conditions the general process of social, political and intellectual life or the Tofflers' hypothesis that the information revolution will change the way we make money and war, it is evident to any student of international relations that IT will be an important factor in politics, both within and among nations. We need not argue whether Samuel Huntington's Clash of Civilizations or Francis Fukuyama's The End of History and the Last Man is the correct hypothesis for the future, because it is evident that international relations is going to be very complex, and information technology, the Internet, information warfare and cyberpolitik are going to play dominant roles. Leaders with vision must recognise this reality and act accordingly.



1. Akshay Joshi, "The Information Revolution and National Power: Political Aspects-I", Strategic Analysis, August 1999, p

2. David J. Rothkopf, "Cyberpolitik: The Changing Nature of Power in the Information Age", Journal of International Affairs, Spring 1998, p. 327.

3. Akshay Joshi, "Information Warfare in Kargil Operations", Indian Defence Review, April-June 1999, p. 35.

4. Walter W. Wriston, "Bits, Bytes and Diplomacy", Foreign Affairs, September/October 1997, p. 174.

5. Robert O. Keohane and Joseph S. Nye Jr., "Power and Interdependence in the Information Age", Foreign Affairs, September/October 1998, p. 83.

6. Mark D. Alleyne, News Revolution, (London; Macmillan, 1997), p. 28.

7. John Naisbitt, Global Paradox, (New York: William Morrow and Company, 1994).

8. Joseph S. Nye Jr. and William A. Owens, "America's Information Edge", Foreign Affairs, March/April 1996, p. 26.

9. n. 6, p. 127.

10. Ravi Arvind Palat, "The Concept of National Security", The Hindu, February 7, 1999.

11. n. 5, p. 89.

12. Ibid., pp. 89-90.

13. Ibid., p. 88.

14. n. 8, pp. 26-27.

15. Chintamani Mahapatra, "Major Post-Cold War Trends in India's Neighbourhood", paper presented at the Fortnighty Fellows Seminar, Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, February 16, 1999.

16. David C. Gombert, "National Security in the Information Age", Naval War College Review, Autumn 1998, p. 33.

17. n. 2, pp. 353-355.

18. n. 5, pp.81-82.

19. Ibid., pp. 91-94.

20. Gurmeet Kanwal, "The New World Order : An Appraisal--I", Strategic Analysis, June 1999, p. 363.

21. Jessica Mathews, "Powershift", Foreign Affairs, January/February 1997, pp. 50-55.

22. Ibid.

23. Ibid., pp. 59-60.

24. Ibid., p. 62.

25. Ibid.

26. Ibid., pp. 64-65.

27. n. 5, p. 90.

28. n. 3, p. 36.

29. According to Morgenthau, "While nationalism wants one nation in one state and nothing else, the nationalistic universalism of our age claims for one nation and one state the right to impose its own valuations and standards of actions upon all the other nations."

30. n. 6, p. 193.

31. n. 6, pp. 9-11.

32. n. 5, p. 91.

33. Ibid., p. 91.

34. n. 6, pp. 11-12.

35. n. 20, pp. 362-363.

36. Jasjit Singh, "Globalisation and National Security--Managing the Contradictions", talk at the seminar, "Globalisation and India", organised by the School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), January 14-17, 1999.

37. n. 16, pp. 23-25.

38. M.G.K. Menon, "Technological Underpinnings of the New Information Society", DELNET Annual Lecture 1999, India International Centre, July 21, 1999.

39. n. 5, p. 93.

40. Akshay Joshi, "Information Technology and Security--An Update", Strategic Analysis, May 1999, pp. 263-264.

41. Ibid.

42. CIPE, "How Information Technology can Promote Democracy", Economic Reform Today, Number Three 1998, p. 2.

43. Ibid., pp. 3-5.

44. n. 16, p. 24, 32.

45. n. 15, pp. 9-10.

46. Toru Nishigaki, "The Impact of the Information Age", Asian Pacific Review, vol. 5, no. 2, 1998, pp. 7-8.

47. n. 16, pp. 34-35.

48. K. Subramanyam, "NAM or Never", Times of India, August 26 1998.

49. N. Chandrashekharan (director, Centre for Development of Advanced Computing—C-DAC), in "Governance of the Future", Times of India, June 23, 1999.

50. See, "Future of Every Government Lies in E-Governance", Economic Times, April 21, 1999.

51. T.R. Gopalakrishnan, "Man With a Dream", The Week, August 2, 1998.

52. Quoted in Dan Caldwell, "Power, Information and War", Emirates Occasional Papers, (Abu Dhabi: Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies and Research, 1998), p. 19.