During the last 10 years, United States National Security has become centered around terrorism. The United States has campaigned a “war on terrorism”. The interesting thing is there is no specific bad-guy nation with geographic borders called “terrorism”. Because of this, many of the diplomatic, political, military, and economic power plays nations have done on each other in the past don’t work. This situation has been in play for about a decade, and nations are just beginning to understand the implications for National Security.
In February 2011, the US released their first National Security to Secure Cyberspace document (551K pdf). Cyberspace also belies any notion of nation. When Google recently identified many hacking attempts coming from a Chinese city, China has plausible deniability to claim that the attacks were routed through China, but did not come from China, and therefore identifies China as the innocent bystander. Similar to the concept of terrorism, cyberspace has no national boundaries. When you bomb a nation, everybody can see the damage. When you attack cyberspace, simply doing the BDA (Battle Damage Assessment) is extremely difficult. There are no dead bodies or crying children to photograph on CNN.
So.. bad stuff is still happening, but is not sourced from nations, or at least is not traceable to nations. I’ve realized recently that the good-stuff phenomena has the potential to go this direction, too. People can dislike America, or Russia, or China, or India, or any nation. These are nations who have engaged with the full range of National Power tools. And now there is a new actor.
Since the early 2000’s, Google has ended up going head-to-head with China on several fronts. Fun and interesting news. What happened this week with the hacked gmail accounts made me pay attention because the diplomatic power of Google has reached national proportions. When Google speaks, and the diplomatic machine of China responds, evoking diplomatic response from the United States, Google has entered a regime of power not seen by any large corporation prior to this time.
I think the special character of Google that allows it to wield such power is the transnational utility. People of a nation need water, food, economy. When deprived of these things, civil and international wars may develop, but often the people without these resources don’t have the power to affect their situation. Maybe these physical assets will not be the next cause of a big war. Advocates of humane treatment of others abound, but they are not the people themselves; they speak of someone else’s misery. For the people on the end of the Gaussian curve of deprivation, they are politically and economically weak–they simply die when deprived or persecuted enough.
Having no power is not true for the new vocal middle class coming up around the globe. When the Chinese government shutdown Google domestically, what happened? The entire middle class of China, normally an obedient and compliant class, rose up and would not tolerate it. The people with power already have water, food, substance. What they want is their Google.
It’s not Google, per se, but rather a functioning internet that replaces water and food. Literally, an Internet of the late 1990s existed without search engines. Remember AOL, Prodigy, and early Yahoo attempting to the be competitive info warehouses instead of allowing searches to other people’s pages? As a participant of the time, I collected web sites and BBS phone numbers that had interesting material. The concept of going to a search engine and finding new places to visit did not exist. Now, without a search engine, the Internet is essentially dysfunctional.
So here is my summary: We’ve had a decade or so of “bad guys” crossing national borders and playing on a global scale. I mean bad in the sense that the disparate nations want the badness to go away. Now, we’ve crossed the line where “good guys” also have enough power to play on a global stage. I mean good in the sense that the disparate nations cannot tolerate the goodness going away. Classical instruments of National Power cannot work against transnational bad guys. However, now there are good guys with power to affect the nations.
Google has Economic, Diplomatic, Political and Information power they can use to coerce nations. Nations have Economic, Diplomatic, Political and Military power that isn’t working against terrorists.