& the GII
This page looks at geopolitical relations (aka big power
politics) in governance of the DNS
It covers -
Shashi Tharoor, UN Under Secretary-General for information
and communications, sniffed at the December 2003 World
Summit on the Information Society (WSIS)
Unlike the French Revolution, the Internet revolution
has lots of liberty, some fraternity and no equality
claim represents a decidedly romantic view of both the
1790s and 2003, and reflects moves to extend the ambit
of the ITU - discussed in a separate profile - while reducing
the power of ICANN.
However, it is one that has attracted support from civil
society scholars and activists such as Noam Chomsky, with
arguments about a 'New Information Order' and US dominance
of the 'global infosphere' through a hegemony that encompasses
and intellectual property at
the expense of fundamental human
Reality is somewhat more complex.
who's got the big stick
As we suggested on the preceding page of this guide, the
internet poses particular challenges for traditional national
and international regulatory regimes and dispute resolution
It is at once grounded on terra firma and at the same
time a realm beyond place (or merely grounded in another
jurisdiction's terra firma). It can be used for activities
on which there's little international agreement or capacity
for the enforcement of sanctions on a state by state basis.
As a thread running through the fabric of global markets
and global enterprises it is the subject of contention
by a rich range of government and nongovernment actors,
including major corporations, the American Bar Association,
the ITU, ICANN,
WIPO, neo-nazis and consumer
Some of those actors have more power - or merely a higher
profile - than others and many perform on several stages.
That's a sometimes a problem because bodies that serve
the interests of a constituency in one theatre do not
necessarily have the competence (or legitimacy) to do
so in another. The technical nature of some governance
activity (eg development of commercial law and engineering
standards) means that it's attracted less attention and
less criticism than matters of lower importance.
Emphasis on consensus and transparency in organisations
such as ICANN has arguably favoured individuals and organisations
that don't necessary have substantial support, rewarding
persistence and vehemence rather than cogent argument.
Some organisations - and individuals - have 'punched above
their weight' simply because they have mastered the art
of the sound grab.
As we have suggested in discussing ICANN
other interests have been able to develop a hegemony in
policy development through expertise in networking and
the creation/modification of policy documents, underpinned
by the resources to attend every meeting and lobby decisionmakers.
That is consistent with the analysis in works highlighted
later in this guide.
Information Feudalism: Who Owns the Knowledge Economy
(London: Earthscan 2002) by Peter Drahos is for example
particularly useful for highlighting the importance of
process and the range of actions, from street theatre
at public fora (now increasingly deconstructed or echoed
in realtime through mechanisms such as ICANNBlog) through
to iterative negotiations over several years about statements
of principle and frameworks such as TRIPS.
the nation state in the GII
In international law - whether regarding war crimes, trade
barriers or information policy - all states are equal
but some states are more equal than others.
David Held's elegant encapsulation of the traditional
('Westphalian') model of international relations suggests
the world consists of, and is divided by, sovereign
states which recognise no superior authority
b) the process of law-making, the settlement of disputes
and law enforcement are largely in the hands of individual
c) international law is oriented towards the establishment
of minimal rules of coexistence; the creation of enduring
relationships among states and people is an aim, but
only to the extent that it allows national objectives
to be met
d) responsibility for cross-border wrongful acts is
a "private matter" concerning only those affected
e) all states are equal before the law; legal rules
do not take account of asymmetries of power
f) differences among states are often settled by force;
the principle of effective power holds sway. Virtually
no fetters exist to curb the resort to force; international
legal standards offer minimal protection
g) the maximisation of impediments to state freedom
is the "collective priority"
in that model are exemplified in the 2002 call
by ITU Secretary-General Yoshio Utsumi for development
of a international cyberspace treaty.
That treaty, complementing developments such as the proposed
Hague Convention, would establish global rules on matters
such as taxation of e-commerce, offensive content, copyright
and crime prevention, since
countries have different rules, some countries will
gain a commercial advantage over others, fair competition
will be hindered due to the spread of illegal products,
and countries without rules could become a hotbed of
was suggested that such rules would be particularly "helpful
for developing countries in Africa and Asia when they
draw up their information technology laws".
Utsumi commented that
is a new land, without frontiers and without a government
yet. Cyberspace is not a parallel universe: it interacts
with our own world and poses many new challenges for
policy-makers. For instance we are increasingly dependent
on cyberspace, but how can we protect against international
cyber-terrorism? Who can police cyberspace and how?
If we pay taxes in the real world, should we also pay
them for our transactions in cyberspace? And to whom?
How? How can we control crimes conducted in cyberspace?
Which jurisdiction should take precedence? How can freedom
of expression or other fundamental human rights be guaranteed
in cyberspace? Is there a danger that some would seek
to control content? How can we build user trust and
confidence in cyberspace?
There may well exist national policies and laws on these
issues, but their effectiveness is limited by the fact
that they only apply within national borders. Yet many
of our economic transactions and our intellectual activities
are already conducted in cyberspace, without clear rules
We need a new global governance framework. Developing
policy frameworks for cyberspace - to deal with issues
of cyber-crime, security, taxation, intellectual property
protection, or privacy - is something like establishing
a new government in the New World.
concerns are highlighted in Anthony Judge in the 2001
Policy-making Beyond the Information Barrier but questioned
in Saskia Sassen's The Impact of the Internet on Sovereignty:
Real and Unfounded Worries paper
and and in Philip Agre's characteristically thoughtful
The Dynamics of Policy in a Networked World paper.
north-south or west-west
It's become a commonplace that the 'North' - in particular
the US, and alignments of particular corporate interests
within the US - drives the development and implementation
of policy regarding cyberspace: serving as chief actor,
writing the script, even providing many of the theatres
for emerging economies in the south.
Kenneth Cukier's 1998 paper
on Rich Man, Poor Man: The Geopolitics of Internet
Policy Making comments that
is likely that the representatives from the Internet
community and government who play a role in setting
Internet polices will come from regions where Internet
use is most prevalent -- the industrialized world. Since
developed economies today have a greater stake in the
outcome of the current Internet evolution, it is understandable
that this is the force driving events. However, there
are few incentives for this community to develop policies
today that will afford protection for the interests
of other regions of the world and the unique issues
they face. Also, there are no guarantees that today's
institutions will contain mechanisms for less-developed
regions to play a policy role in the future when they
represent more Internet users than they do today. Indeed,
the reverse is true: Today's Internet statesmen have
an incentive to set rules that fall in their favor.
Yet a lack of adequate Internet governance representation
from developing economies might have dangerous consequences.
It could set back Internet growth in those regions,
which would deny those people the benefits of the Internet
for political and economic empowerment. It risks artificially
cutting out a large future constituency of Net users
from policy decisions and further entrenches the historical
dependence of the developing world on the industrialized
economies. For the newly created institutions themselves,
a lack of legitimacy to speak for all Internet users
might easily escalate into a potential fracture of the
global Internet if other nations or regions decided
not to respect those bodies.
said, the arguments against immediately "internationalizing"
Internet governance are compelling. Many developing
nations today would be "naked usurpers" if
they sought an Internet policy-making role. The world
of politics and especially foreign affairs deals with
the here-and-now, not tomorrow's utopia. Settling controversial
questions among stakeholders in the immediacy has often
proved to be a better approach than setting up institutions
based on future aspirations. Indeed, the Internet itself
has often operated in this regard: Roughly written code
aimed at resolving an immediate crisis but actually
lasting far longer than ever intended is so common as
to be a proverb of systems design.
been less attention to what might be characterised as
West-West divides, with a range of disagreements for example
between the European Union and the US regarding such matters
as privacy protection, copyright and free speech. Those
tensions are evident in the development of international
legal frameworks and at a more mechanical level in disagreement
about the role of ICANN (particularly in relation to ccTLDs).
One theme in disagreement is that the nature of cyberspace
(quaintly expressed as "the spirit of the net")
precludes regulation of particular activities or indeed
attention to specific concerns such as hate speech. The
spirit of the net, in much Western debate, implicitly
involves extension of US norms and legal objectives across
borders throughout the globe.
Peter Suber, one of the more interesting commentators
on scholarly electronic publishing, for example commented
that we should worry about countries in which
to the sovereignty of other nations is a stronger policy
than the freedom to put content on the internet that
might offend others.
Lex Americana as the law of cyberspace should accordingly
supersede inconvenient EU Directives and court rulings
on racial vilification, rather than vise versa. That assumption
is rarely articulated by US cyberlibertarians or congressional
chauvinists quizzing ICANN.
participation and language
Contrary to some myths
about cyberspace, there's no reason to believe that the
internet is either innately democratic or democratizing.
Within the DNS, as we've discussed here,
individual countries are tending to claim responsibility
for administration of the national ccTLDs. A state such
as Niue, with a population smaller than the number of
corporate lawyers in New York (or indeed in the larger
Australian law firms) in principle has the same DNS powers
and privileges as those of Germany, China or Canada. However,
as Milton Mueller has somewhat acerbically noted, the
US still "rules the root" and presumably will
do so into the coming decade.
It is unclear whether any of the proposals for a new cyberspace
governance body modelled on the UN would
equitably represent national interests (particularly
since some states have commodified their powers, transferring
policy or operational responsibilities to foreign commercial
entities or even individuals, in the case of some smaller
Caribbean and African states)
address the bureaucratisation of many international
governance organisations where power has tacitly gravitated
from members to secretariats (which frame the debate,
embody expertise and accrete power simply because they're
broader questions about what's variously been characterised
as the cybercrats, cosmocrats
and latest 'new class' - the few thousand people in
government agencies, NGOs, academia, journalism, law
and business who are familiar with policy mechanisms
and issues, share a common language (and often share
demographics such as education, income and work experience)
address broader questions about the language of governance,
whether the language of law - considered for example
in Looking Back at Law's Century (Ithaca: Cornell
Uni Press 2002) edited by Austin Sarat, Bryant Garth
& Robert Kagan - or the language of telecommunication
protocols and standards, highlighted by Lawrence Lessig
in Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace (New York:
Basic Books 1999).
of those concerns aren't specific to governance of the
DNS or cyberspace. Depending on your perspective they're
either a condition of modernity or matters that can be
addressed through political
action involving GII governance as the most strategic
(or merely most visible) part of wider social and economic
systems - a "refusal of the post-Fordist regime of
Social Control" in the words of the delectably zany
Empire (Cambridge: Harvard Uni Press 2001) by Michael
Hardt & Antonio Negri or Ellen Meikins Woods' more
succinct Empire of Capital (London: Verso 2003).
The literature on global power relations and the interaction
of different interests with/across borders is enormous.
We've highlighted works of particular relevance to ICANN,
the ITU, WIPO and the GII throughout this site and in
other pages of this guide.
More general studies include Philip Bobbitt's turgid but
often insightful The Shield of Achilles: The Long War
& the New Market State (London: Allen Lane 2002).
William Wallace's 2002 paper
Living with the Hegemon: European Dilemmas and
The European Union as a Global Actor (London: Routledge
1999) by Charlotte Bretherton & John Vogler highlight
For notions of civil society and global democratisation
useful starting points are Alejandro Colas' International
Civil Society: A Study of Social Movements in International
Relations (Cambridge: Polity 2001), Tony McGrew's
Transnational Democracy: Theories & Prospects,
essays in Democracy's Edges (Cambridge: Cambridge
Uni Press 1999) edited by Ian Shapiro & Casiano Hacker-Cordon
and in Contesting Global Governance: Multilateral Economic
Institutions and Global Social Movements (Cambridge:
Cambridge Uni Press 2000) by Robert O'Brien.
next page (jurisdictions)