Geopolitics, Globalization, and Cyberspace

Revolutions in information and communications technologies have undoubtedly been a key driver of globalization and a main factor in the recent creation of new wealth. Over the last generation, lowered transaction costs for enterprise and trade have helped propel worldwide economic growth, even with the Great Recession. Few question the benefits of cheaper phone calls, email, and ready access to information. In the security realm, though, developments in cyberspace are quite worrying, even though many remain blissfully ignorant of the brave new world we have entered.

In traditional contexts, mobilization for and prosecution of “war” was more straightforward. Even if weapons of mass destruction and covert operations are thrown into the mix, the past was marked by relatively clear periods of “war” or “peace.” World War II was a global contest –rooted in Europe – between two networks of allies. The Cold War pitted two superpowers against each other and involved a huge arms buildup, proxy wars, and covert operations. Both of these “wars” had an end point, despite the differences between these conflict periods.

What then should we make of twenty first century claims about “cyber-war”? Some would include “hacktivist” groups like Anonymous and LulzSec in a discussion of cyber-war. These groups – and individual hackers – have shown enormous capability to add disruptions and costs to private and public interactions. Arguably more worrisome, though, is the involvement of states in offensive cyber operations. Unlike traditional types of weapons, there is greater potential for governments to lose control of the weapons of cyber warfare. For example, computer viruses designed to target adversary states may “blowback” and affect people and organizations all around the world. As disturbing, the designations “peacetime” and “wartime” have become confused and mixed up in this new security world that is emerging. We seem to have entered an era of cyber-warfare without end.

An innovation spearheaded by U.S. defense-industrial-scientific complex – the Internet – has gone from Cold War defense breakthrough to global social-economic connector to a major source of insecurity. This great assemblage of technologies, the “information superhighway,” offers us one of the most profound paradoxes of the new century.

*** Did you like what you read here? You might be interested in the new book by this blog’s author, Failed States: Realities, Risks, and Responses.

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