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Countries are Hungry for Cyber Power

The world is currently witnessing a shift of importance to cyber power, and its consequences will probably linger over us for the coming decades.

evolv Ideas
Oct 15 · 5 min read
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Source: Financial Times

It seems like the world might have just found its new battlefield: the internet. And no, we’re not referring to internet trolling. For quite some time now, technology and cyber power have been the interest of many countries; but now, owing to COVID-19 and the consequential prohibition of physical meetings, digital seems to be the way to go, thereby garnering more attention and prominently, more importance.

Joseph Nye, a prominent American political scientist defines cyber power as “the ability to use cyberspace to create advantages and influence events in other operational environments and across the instruments of power.” When countries or states use the cyberspace or internet to influence or coerce anyone or any other state, they are establishing their cyber power.

In the real — non-virtual — world, power is established either explicitly or implicitly; for example, a king legitimising a law would fall under the explicit form of power, while the people influencing his decisions would constitute as implicit or, more technically known as, the behind-the-scenes power.

In the virtual realm, however, most of the influence is implicit so the user doesn’t even seem to realise that they are slowly becoming subconsciously — yet strongly — influenced; this influence extends into everything from food choices to voting choices.

So, obviously, now there’s a race between countries for who rules the internet and, all the power that comes with.

Countries have behaved similarly with their military and economic issues as they are currently doing with cyber power; so certain countries are approaching the problems as you would predict:

China, who joined the race early, and Russia, are both replicating their general economic stance; that is, they’re being loyal to their autocratic regimes and advocating for something called Cyber Sovereignty. Cyber Sovereignty is the concept that each country should be able to set their own rules regarding how their citizens use the internet. While Russia is intending to implement a “Sovereign Internet” — an insular and independent, centrally controlled system — China has already built “The Great Firewall of China.”

Since Google walked out of China in 2010 over disputes with the government’s censorship rules, China has built its own body of applications, intended for use only by the Chinese citizens. The domestic alternatives to popular applications like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, PayPal, Amazon, etc. seem to be much more popular with the Chinese than its Western counterparts. However, China still uses mobile-operating systems like iOS and Android, while still using Java and Python as the programming language. This perfectly reflects the position of China, even in the non-technological world — completely cut off from the world, except when it comes to trading. USA and European countries, typically, beg to differ: they believe the internet should be open and interoperable.

China also actively decides to force foreign companies to abide by China’s regulations: sharing consumer-sensitive data with authorities and agreeing to censor search engine results. If a company refuses to follow these steps, it is not permitted to operate in China.

These two laws are very important in augmenting China’s power:

Firstly, when the consumer information is shared with the authorities, it gives them the key to every single internet users’ life. Authorities then have access to all kinds of information about all kinds of people, and as the saying goes, knowledge is power.

Secondly, the fact that the results of the search engine can be altered and designed to the authorities’ likings means that authorities truly have the right to decide what the public gets to read, or watch, or hear, and what the public is disallowed from viewing. This is very, very controversial. What formulates our opinions, is what information we have, nowadays primarily from the information available on the internet, and if that very information is filtered, then so will our opinions.

Simply, higher powers will basically decide our opinions by blocking out some information. An example would be if China, tomorrow, decides to pass a very contentious law and then, censors the search-engine results as to block any and all criticism of that law, the public will be forced to consume information only promoting the law. This would inevitably result in the public having a positive opinion regarding the law, regardless of its contentious nature.

This approach has spread internationally as Chinese companies go on to dominate the world. However, other countries have spotted it now. Huawei and TikTok, both China-born, have been at the centre of all news lately, due to the allegations made against them by the USA, and India against Tik Tok. POTUS Trump accused Huawei of being a threat to America’s national security and has since imposed a mix of sanctions and bans against it. Trump has managed to hit two birds with one stone: while the sanctions and bans serve their primary service of protecting American users’ privacy and security, they have also managed to make a $100 billion tech-giant company struggle to survive today; to give credit where it’s due, America has been a trendsetter once again, inspiring other European countries to ban Huawei too.

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Source: Kal | Economist

Technology is being used rampantly to suppress dissent, and this gives rise to the thought: is the world slowly moving from a democracy to an autocracy?

The answer is most probably, and scarily, yes!

Countries, both democratic and authoritarian, have been found either trying to track or suppress dissent in their own country using technology or participating in other countries trying to do the same.

Take the USA, a democracy, as an example: advocacy group Freedom House found that US police utilised surveillance methods such as social media monitoring, facial recognition and drones as a response to the Black Lives Matter protests.

Kenya, Mexico and Malaysia, all democratic countries, use Chinese technology to monitor their citizens.

With the advent of the coronavirus and the world’s complete digital transformation since, governments have an easy excuse at hand to track each and every movement of their citizens, in the form of COVID-19 tracing.

Cyber power places unrestrained power in the hands of authorities — a power that the authorities are bound to exploit. Infringement of privacy, manipulation of opinions and suppression of dissent are just a few of the consequences of this allocation of power. Sooner than we know it, our minds, our decisions, our behaviour is going to be controlled by people we don’t even know exist — and if that doesn’t scare you, then I don’t know what will.

Nye, J. S., Jr. (n.d.). Cyber Power. Belfer Center.

Cyber Power — An Emerging Factor in National and International Security. (n.d.). Centre for International Relations and Sustainable Development.

Capri, A. (2019, December 21). Techno-Nationalism: What Is It And How Will It Change Global Commerce? Forbes.

Capri, A. (2019, December 21). Techno-Nationalism: What Is It And How Will It Change Global Commerce? Forbes.

Capri, A. (2019, December 21). Techno-Nationalism: What Is It And How Will It Change Global Commerce? The Wall Street Journal.

How Domestic Spying Tools Undermine Racial Justice Protests. (n.d.). Freedom House.

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