Spotlight on Geopolitics

As a regular user of internet services as well as a content provider, I was very interested in last week’s e-G8 summit. The idea of bringing together the chieftains of the internet industry and the world’s most powerful political leaders seems a step in the right direction. The internet as a platform and applications such as social media have an awesome power to help people network,educate themselves and even promote major political change, as the unfolding events in the Arab world illustrate. As always, however, along with great power comes great responsibility.

If during the ’90’s hopes of a new frontier in business development via e-commerce have somewhat evaporated in the wake of the dot com bubble, academic research, political awareness or activism and some areas of the mass-media have benefited enormously from the IT revolution.

This is not to say that all is well in the virtual world. The relative absence of adequate regulation protecting personal data and the confidentiality of communications / business transactions is sapping users’ confidence. The fact that executives of internet companies resist the introduction of minimal norms and regulations governing further development of services proves that neoliberalism is still affecting the mentality of many – albeit not all – in the business community. J.A. Schumpeter, the noted Harvard economist otherwise known for his professional admiration of American corporate achievements, was nevertheless in favour of the introduction of laws and regulations governing innovations and business development in general. To make his point, he used an analogy from the car industry, demonstrating that automobiles have been able to reach ever-increasing speeds only after being equipped with adequate brakes and safety features, which had to be developed first.

As matters now stand, however, intellectual property rights are trampled upon by “content farms”, children are exposed to pornography, and governments, from the US on down, can unlawfully obtain data from personal emails and have access to confidential files on a regular basis. As a consequence, the cyber world looks more as if it were governed by the laws of the jungle than those of civilised states protecting their citizens from harm or legal abuse.

One issue that has not been discussed so far at e-G8 is the hegemonic position achieved by the United States due to its status as the global communications hub. In the long run this has to be addressed in a way that could relieve the national security concerns of European, as well as Asian governments. As the recent financial crisis has shown, America’s position as the centre of both global finance and global communications by no means guarantees the integrity and smooth functioning of the two systems, on the contrary.

The EU’s political leadership also has to investigate why the invention of the internet by local specialists was not followed by a development of applications for it. Lack of technological savvy is surely not one of the reasons. It’s a sad spectacle to witness the fact that even the most mundane applications such as operating systems for PC’s and leading edge word processors, not to mention search engines or efficient email services come from the United States. Instead of endlessly dragging Microsoft through the European courts, it might prove a better idea to provide financial and tax incentives to interested European e-entrepreneurs or existing IT corporations to develop home-grown IT products for the 500-million strong European market.

From an international relations perspective, “the real problems of the post-cold war world would not be challenges for hegemony, but the new challenges of transnational interdependence” (Joseph Nye Jr, The Changing Nature of World Power). The political leaders of the G8 proved that they are aware of this fact. It is now up to the executives of the internet industry to grasp it and live up to their many responsibilities. (sources: Dow Jones newswires, WSJ, France24)

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