The Geopolitics of Networks

Helasvuo From our Perspective

In the history of the world, various things and phenomena, once they gain some relevance to multiple parties, they tend to end up as targets of politics of power. The question “Who Governs” becomes suddenly relevant and might even surpass any financial, ethical or practical preferences. Thus, it also happened that the networks, indeed the autonomous and rather chaotic IP networks became victims of geopolitical demands as legacy nations became to express their authority either inside of some specific range of networks or reaching out for global coverage.

By definition and by nature, the lower level network remains immune and neutral for any national hymns, symbols, cuisine or related matters. Neither does the end-user, business or any relevant actor on the application layer feel any relevance to the identity politics of nation-state in cyberspace, despite the aims to introduce artificial cyber borders or identities therein.

Two strategies

There are roughly two strategies the legacy states have adopted to respond to the challenge of the global cyber village. As the labour, financial markets and even security policy gets detached from the nation state, it is understandable that it provokes some reaction. Some legacy states are falling back to the nationalistic themes, and ending up to aim to guard, uphold and redefine them in the cyberspace, while others seem to adopt a chauvinistic global outreach (e.g.,. “We will fight in any country!” — Obama, or “We own the internet now” — Anonymous). Neither of these is more realistic or feasible, yet they clash with each other aggressively.

Years ago most of the western world launched a noisy campaign against Chinese firewall, yet many of those noisy demonstrators and writers of sensational headlines have themselves turned into building national filters, firewalls and thus artificial IP-borders. However as the globalised network is by nature incompatible with the ideological nationalism or its symbols, these efforts remain highly theatrical rather than actual or factual. Some states have ended up leaning on language politics, name servers or financial transactions. Perhaps it could be concluded that the first generation of cyber identity politics, a mostly discarded approach, was purely IP based. “If it is hosted in our IP block, then its is ours” — was the naive concept of territory in a network and authority therein.

On the other hand, as the bare IP routing could not gain popularity or was practical identity political definition, then more radical proposals were heard. Using name server infrastructure, which was for some reason at the early ages of evolvement equipped with country-specific naming and administration scheme was the next victim to be exploited in the politics of power to define territories in the cyberspace. Some nationalistically motivated sovereigns aimed to use the domain name registrations as criteria for belongingness under certain authority or legislature. Luckily what we are witnessing at the moment is that old nationalised DNS is in the process to be ramped down, and notions such as “Our Country Domain is the best, most secure and clean!” are diminishing lessening the growth of nationalistic tensions and competition.

A globally oriented response will stress on the chauvinistic and mostly self-proclaimed global cyber omnipotence. This is seen as chauvinistic as it does not respect or expect identity politics or borders in the cyberspace. Quite contrary it proclaims global sovereignty instead. This kind of policy approach requires heavy resources, but also demonstrations of capabilities to acquire such mandate. Interestingly all three, Obama, ISIS and Anonymous have declared that they own the Internet, and in some case they have even announced that not only they own the internet, but the whole world and do have a legitimate mandate to operate anywhere, any time and for any reason they consider appropriate. Leaking global surveillance capabilities is only part of this dirty game.

What the powerful do, so will the smaller ones imitate. As excited and blinded of the modern capabilities, some smaller states and caliphates who otherwise lack the resources, creativity and social capital have also rather silently expanded their jurisdiction to apply globally.

Global Nomads and Refugees

As the states are searching for their positions and identity in the changing environment, many people have already adopted their identity as stateless citizens — the citizens of the world. For any practical matter, the security in the cyberspace has grown to be more a result of non-state actors. In accord with the general development towards privatised governance, and the eroding of the legacy Westphalian state. Many of these global nomads or people who have grown up with and into the post-national identity, it becomes a relevant question as of why these legacy caliphates would want to intervene in their life, or indeed if they should have any legitimacy doing that. Many states, rogue as well as modest ones, come and take over personal privacy and domain, acting as self-proclaimed authorities, the owners of cyber people, wherever they go and whatever they do.

At the prime time of Westphalian state system, the universal and fundamental right for asylum was secured and in many cases granted to gain necessary protection against a rogue, violent or corrupted regimes. However in the post-national times, as the cyber has reached out the states from inside their territorial cage, the concept and right for asylum have largely been discarded. As there is no sovereignty of actors in the network, there is no granted asylum either as the omnipresent state has proclaimed its mandate everywhere.