It has affected world politics and altered the International system by disrupting the distribution of power between various actors. Its impacts, which will be examined in this essay, include undermining the states’ control of messages and communications, influencing states’ polltlcal campaigns and elections, and Increasing the capabllltles of states and non- governmental actors through the distribution of information. In addition, it provides an arena of cyber-warfare and, perhaps most alarmingly, is a crucial tool in aiding the operations of terrorist groups globally.
By examining these Impacts, It Is possible to fathom that the endless benefits of internet are simultaneously being accompanied by its shortcomings and that this innovation Will be at the heart of arious power struggles In the digital age2′. An ingenious power of the internet is its ability to undermine states’ control of information, messages and communications. This ability has for sometimes inflamed several Realists who regard the states as the highest authority In the International system. This virtual borderless territory enables people around the world to gain access to all types of information and to communicate almost unrestrictedly.
Its decentralised structure allows citizens to voice their opinions far and wide and to bypass the states’ detection and this is the very act that poses a threat to state- entred hierarchies. Also, the lower costs of communications now mean that collective action by several activist groups can be better organised and better equipped with influences than before. In other words, there is a sense that the internet possesses ‘strong democratic proclivities3’ by encouraging global interaction and more Importantly freedom of speech.
An example where this technological ingeniousness empowers individual speakers can be seen in 1996 when Serbian prodemocracy activists broadcasted radio programming from Radio 892 using the Internet4_ After President Slobodan Milosevic forcefully closed down the protest tation, the broadcasts were transmitted around the world, subjecting Milosevic to international pressure and causing him to reopen the station. From this example, it Is possible to see the Increased freedom of speech and a gradual transfer of power caused by the cyber-world from the state and government to subordinate groups and even individuals.
The decentralised nature of the internet renders the suppression of Information and messages difficult and is a crucial factor in the erosion of the states’ powers. Although it is a myth that government cannot effectively regulate yberspace and that regulation such as censorship is Illegitimate, the existence of problems continues to remaln5. Throughout the period of globalisation, one can witness the perpetual struggles between the states and the complex and unrestricted nature of the internet.
These struggles are more evident in namely software filtering and protocols to control the access to information online. In China proxy servers are used to prevent access to many foreign contents including the New York Times and CNN6. Perhaps one of the more prominent struggles between the state and the internet is when Thailand banned YouTube after videos nsulting Thailand’s King, Bhumibol AdulyadeJ, were uploaded7. The latter example sees the capacity of the internet to undermine a state’s prominent leader which is extremely detrimental to its sovereignty.
Here, it is clear that despite effective domestic control of the internet, the cyberspace’s impact cannot be impeded beyond a state’s border, hence the unstoppable projection of information worldwide resulting in the deterioration of state’s reputation overseas. These examples overall illustrate the governments’ increased burdens and rather futile efforts in dealing ith the internet, and the negative effects of the internet on world politics. The difficulties the internet had posed to state actors have challenged the Realist views on globalisation, the international system and world politics.
With this technology, states can no longer fully maintain their sovereignty, having been undermined to a great degree by the internet’s decentralised nature. Also the Realist view on security and power has fundamentally changed since states no longer depend solely on military might, economy, natural resources and ideological influences, but also on information to survive. This emphasis on information may mean that conventional warfare will gradually be rendered obsolete as the states now can use information to gain advantages in the anarchic international system.
From this, it is clear that the internet with its ability to defy time and space has caused world politics to move away from the traditional Realist concept of territorial division of the world into nation-states by creating the world of greater interconnectedness. Despite the intricacy created by the internet, states may benefit from vast arrays of information online as well as taking advantage of global interconnectedness forged by the cyber- orld. China has used the internet to consolidate its power over its people through the implementation of e-government services8.
These services provide convenient and cheap interaction between government and citizens and business enterprises. Citizens can voice their opinions and conveniently interact with politicians and public servants through the services9. Consequently, political participation increases, and the legitimacy of the government is strengthened. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) exploits the internet by collecting online information and gathering together eports from several other agencies to produce its intelligence reports that are then delivered to prominent leaders with ease as a consequence of the facilitated communications10.
The internet also played a vital role during the Cold War period where American intelligence agencies heavily relied on accurate information on the Soviet Union’s troops and potential of nuclear weapons. Therefore, it is noticeable that the internet can also help achieve some control over citizens and augment the authority of the state as well as its reputation and position in the international community. The vastness of the internet as a global network has a huge impact on non-governmental organisations (NGOs), gradually tipping the balance of power in their favour.
Although states still possess some advantages in the international community, their powers are constantly being withered away by the changing NGOs and activists alike seeking to alter foreign policy decisionsl 1 leading to the international relations becoming more egalitarian in nature, as NGOs find themselves on more equal footing with states and multinational corporations12′. These organisations now use the internet to gather information and to gain universal ttention instantly through mobilising people, campaigning and pressuring the targeted state to comply with universal standard such as Human Rights.
This fact supports the Liberal ideals which views various actors as possessing the potential to affect and improve the international system. Through the World Wide Web, activists and campaigners can find items related to their operations with ease. In addition, the physical and economic impacts of the internet make it possible for the groups to form and maintain cooperation worldwide. This enables NGOs to operate across the globe with minimum resources. In other words, the internet lets [these organisations] coordinate action without regard to constraints of geography or time13′.
A powerful illustration of NGOs’ ability to achieve large-scale mobilisation of groups and global coordination through the internet is shown by the International Campaign to Ban Land Mines (ICBL), which had gained the support of over 1300 groups from over 75 countries14. The coordination of actions through internet was achieved both at the regional and international level, with email facilitating communications with government policy makers15. This campaign was awarded the
Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of its efforts to bring about the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty16, signed by 135 countries and ratified by 89 by 1999, and ICBL is now a global network in over 90 countries17. The importance and ingeniousness of the internet in this campaign is expressed by the ICBL’s founder Jody Williams who stated that this victory is in large part due to the Internet… for the first time, a coalition of NGOs has had an influence on the security of the entire world without being a superpowerl 8′.
This expression succinctly marks the gradual increase in the powers of NGOs which ay supersede the states’, their wider roles, and their capacity to form new relationships with each other, and with the international system as a result of the internet’s impacts on world politics. The exploitation of the internet by various actors has confirmed the Liberal views of world politics. The ability of both state and non-states actors to propagate information with ease to gain advantage in world politics means that these two types of actors will find themselves on more equal footing in the future.
Subsequently it can be expected that the non-state entities will play a more active role in the international system. With the facilitation of the broadcast of information, these actors now have the potential to influence people not within their spheres of authority with their beliefs and ideologies as asserted by Keohane and Nye19. In effect, the internet has allowed more room for cooperation between NGOs and state actors by offering them a more equal share of power and authority.
The internet also plays a major in political campaigns, which in turn influences the election outcome and in effect the political circumstances of the states. Indeed, it is now a core element of modern political campaigns20. Weber and Bergman found that those individuals who engaged in internet activities… were more likely to be engaged in a variety of political activities21′ since now emails, web sites and podcasts enable more efficient communications to large audience. For instance, engage voters, recruit volunteers and raise campaign funds22.
The campaign highlights the importance of the Internet in new-age campaigning using a variety of media including Facebook to reach out to new targets. In addition to media, this campaign also possesses a social website, my. BarackObama. com, which is cost- ffective, able to increase the voters’ participations and to successfully reach out to younger generations23. Arianna Huffington, co-founder of The Huffington Post boldly comments that ‘if it wasn’t for the internet, Obama would not be president24’. It is also noted that Obama’s YouTube spots ‘gathered an aggregate of 14. million viewing hours25’ and that the speech made by candidates are always available online, rendering it convenient for citizens to review and Judge. This political campaign is hence a portrayal of internet as a force in domestic politics, which reflects the change in world politics as a result of the internet. The internet’s potentiality can also alter the notion of security. It permits a state to strengthen its power in the international arena by engaging in cyber-warfare, which can weaken the security of other states.
This type of war refers to ‘conducting, and preparing to conduct, military operations according to information-related principles… to know all about an adversary26’. Because of its nature, this form of warfare requires diverse technologies and ingenious skills ranging from tactical communications, positioning and identification-friend-or-foe to Jamming, deceiving, hacking and using viruses. An important example of this is a series of coordinated attacks on American Computer since 2003 which were labelled as Chinese. These attacks are nicknamed by the US government as ‘Titan Rain’.
These hackers coordinated their attacks from China and since 2003 had been conducting assaults on the US government in an attempt to steal secret information from several computer networks including those at Lockheed Martin, Sandia National Laboratories, Redstone Arsenal, and NASA27. Even more alarming, they managed to find vulnerabilities in several networks and stole the information without being detected. This example hence demonstrates how ingenious advanced technologies assisted by the internet can escape detection thus lethality to vulnerable networks, and how this may lead to a state’s security, even the USA’s, being threatened.
The most alarming issue by far posed by the internet is its ability to assist terrorist groups coordinate and plan their attacks worldwide with greater efficacy and stealth. Nowadays almost all terrorist groups have successfully gained access to the international arena through websites. ‘The ease of access [to the internet], lack of regulation, vast potential audiences and fast flows of nformation28’ have been exploited by these groups, whose strategy ranges from creating ‘psychological warfare and propaganda to highly instrumental uses such as fundraising, recruitment, data mining, and coordination of actions29’.
In February 1998, Hezbollah was coordinating its operation on three websites, ‘one for the central press office, another to describe its attacks on Israeli targets, and the third for news and information30’. Here, it is possible to see how the internet can be used by terrorist groups to achieve various operations at once, from broadcasting message to nfluencing and misdirecting the population in different states simultaneously.
One of the greatest and most disastrous demonstrations of how terrorist groups exploit the internet is the attacks by A1 Qaeda on the World Trade Centre on September 1 1, ‘Thousands of encrypted messages that had been posted in a password-protected area of a website were found on the computer of arrested al Qaeda terrorist Abu Zubaydah31’. Furthermore, to achieve anonymity, the group planned their operations in public places, sending messages via public email and even free web-based email accounts32.
Here, it is possible to see the establishment of virtual training camps in which terrorist operations can be coordinated with greater inscrutability, efficacy and precision. This leads to the undermined security of civilians and various actors, NGOs and states alike, worldwide, which subsequently transforms the international system into an anarchic arena of perpetual struggles in which different groups compete violently for their own interests. The undermining of security presents a range of new challenges to the states, causing them to possess greater fear of external threat, which can lead to security dilemma.
The internet had brought several significant changes to the international system and world politics, transforming them into what they are today. It is indeed true that apart from the many benefits this technology has brought, it is also at the heart of various power struggles in this digital era, as various actors legitimate and illegitimate alike, assisted and strengthened by the internet, contend for power and interests. Furthermore, the fact that this innovation has in some ways both weakened and strengthened different actors in the international arena supports the claim that it is nd will inevitably be accompanied by its shortcomings.
However, most important of all, it has a massive impact on the structures of world politics and distribution of power by granting NGOs much more power than ever before and allowing them to participate more actively in world politics. Furthermore, it increases the efficacy and lethality of terrorist groups worldwide and acts as a battleground for cyber-warfare, leading to the changed notion of security. Therefore it is very discernible that the internet, with its positive and negative impacts, will continue unavoidably to affect world politics in this cyber age.