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Major Roy James Blakeley (December 10, 1928 - July 22, 1965) - USAF (KIA)

When I was young my dad would say
Come on son let's go out and play

No matter how hard I try
No matter how many tears I cry
No matter how many years go by
I still can't say goodbye

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[This is a summary version by Larry Blakeley]


As described in the pages that follow, diasporic communities around the world affect the internal politics and external policy positions of their homelands through e-mails and Web sites.


The rapid transmission of news directly from the source allows world players to bypass formal diplomatic channels, requires quicker and perhaps less considered responses by government officials, and enables NGOs to express and impress their positions more widely.


Cybercampaigns influence political and economic decisions throughout the world. Most recently and ironically, critics have used global communications networks to organize protests against globalization around the world.


Terrorist organizations have used the internet to recruit and inform their cell members. Information input in England to a Web site registered in China helped a terrorist network topple the World Trade Center in New York.

Until the current period - call it the Information Age, Communications Revolution, Third Wave, or Postindustrial Era - world affairs have been in the hands of diplomats and national leaders.


Certainly long before Machiavelli wrote “The Prince”, diplomatic strategists sought to balance one state’s interest against another to achieve their own state’s purposes.


Yet there is a sense that the old rules do not apply anymore. This is a period of blurring borders, flattening hierarchies, and heightened ambiguity.


Those who are competitors and enemies one day are collaborators and allies the next. Those who stand alone, no matter what their strength, find even the smallest networks in opposition to be daunting.


Something is different: the emergence, significance, and importance of the network structure within a world of complexity.


The “life form” and organizational structure that is most in evidence in this new world of ideas and media is the network - social networks, electronic networks, media networks, to name a few.


The United States has declared war on a network.


This has all the appearances of being a new era for the conduct of world affairs as it is for other sectors of the economy and global polity.


We are seeing a new diplomacy that includes more nations, more players (including NGOs, media, and ad hoc networks as well as formal institutions of state), and new tools.


The new communications technologies allow anyone with access to a terminal to express and produce messages instead of just receiving them, and the United Nations estimates that 655 million people - one-tenth of the world’s population - used the internet in 2002.


How can we construct a framework for understanding these new global political forces?


To what extent has 2001 ushered in a fundamentally new era?


If it has, what are the defining characteristics and their implications for the future of international “diplomacy”?


In short, the rules of international diplomacy and politics have changed - not necessarily (indeed, probably not) completely, but significantly.


There are new battles every day in this Era of Complexity for the citizen’s attention, affinity, and loyalty. They implicate identity, meaning, grand narratives, legitimacy, participation, rights, and access, and they are carried out over a series of networks and through a variety of media.


We have adopted the name “Netpolitik,” then, to describe the significance of the network form as an organizing principle in the conduct of world affairs. This use is meant to be broader than the apparent use of the word “netpolitik” in Danish (see ) to refer to the politics of the internet (i.e. the governance of domain names and assigned numbers and similar issues) and “netpolitique” in French (see - referring to the use of the internet by political organizations. It is meant as a third organizing concept apart from “Realpolitik” and global interdependence.




Powers that were once the monopoly of nation-states: participation in international politics, control of transnational communications, credibility as sources of accurate information are now being exercised by a much wider array of players.


The internet has greatly lowered the costs of transmitting information, enabling people to bypass traditional intermediaries whose power revolved around the control of information: national governments, the diplomatic corps, transnational corporations, and news organizations, among others.


As a result, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), academic experts, diasporic ethnic communities, and individuals are using the internet to create their own global platforms and political influence.


As the velocity of information increases and the types of publicly available information diversify, the very architecture of international relations is changing dramatically.


These new phenomena deserve a name - the word “Netpolitik” has been suggested - to describe a new type of diplomacy that succeeds Realpolitik.


Realpolitik, the German term for “power politics,” is an approach to international diplomacy that is “based on strength rather than appeals to morality and world opinion.”


Netpolitik is a new style of diplomacy that seeks to exploit the powerful capabilities of the internet to shape politics, culture, values, and personal identity.


But unlike Realpolitik - which seeks to advance a nation’s political interests through amoral coercion -


Netpolitik traffics in “softer” issues such as moral legitimacy, cultural identity, societal values, and public perception.


To explore the dynamics of Netpolitik, the Aspen Institute’s Communications and Society Program convened twenty-four leaders from the worlds of politics, diplomacy, finance, high technology, academia, and philanthropy.


The three-day conference, held in Aspen, Colorado, from August 1–4, 2002, sought to develop new ways to understand how the internet is changing the powers of the nation-state, the conduct of international relations, and the very definitions of national security.


Charles M. Firestone, executive director of the Aspen Institute’s Communications and Society Program, moderated the discussions. David Bollier, an independent author and consultant, served as rapporteur.


This report represents Bollier’s interpretive synthesis of the discussion highlights, augmented selectively by excerpts from conference readings.


The Plan of This Report


This report asks:


How are the internet and other digital technologies changing the conduct of world affairs?


What do these changes mean for our understanding of power in international relations and how political interests are pursued?


Part I explores how the faster velocity of information and the diversification of information sources are complicating international diplomacy (sections A and B).


The geopolitical and military implications of these changes are significant, but poorly understood.


Part II explores how the internet is affecting cross-cultural and political relationships and elevating the importance of “soft power” in international affairs.


The new global communications infrastructure of the internet, films, television, and music represents a robust new arena for international dialogue and conflict.


Coercive military and financial powers are tempered by considerations of “soft power”, such as the desire to assert national pride, persuade others of a cause’s moral legitimacy, and sustain one’s cultural values.


How do people express their values, identity, and culture?


Part III examines one of the most universal human tools for doing so: storytelling.


Conference participants generally agreed that the successful exercise of soft power requires an understanding of the “grand narratives” of different cultures.


International diplomacy therefore may require new attention to the grammar of story construction and the perplexing ways that context, trust, and meaning are generated in an electronically networked world.


I. Electronic Networks Are Changing the Architecture of Power and Culture


“We’re at the beginning of the third fundamental economic revolution in the history of humanity,” argues Bill Coleman, chairman and chief strategy officer of BEA Systems, an enterprise software company. “The agriculture revolution had to do with the quantity of food that could be produced to feed the population. The industrial revolution was fueled and lubricated by the quantity and velocity of capital. But what’s really changing the world today is the dramatic increase in the quantity and velocity of information.”


The result: the rise of new streams of cross-cultural information flows in an extraterritorial space beyond conventional political governance and jurisdictions.


As electronic networking gradually insinuates itself into more aspects of life and more corners of the world, “it is changing the powers of the nation-state and the very definition of national security,” said Madeleine Albright. Other information conduits, especially the Cable News Network (CNN) and the internet, are superseding traditional diplomatic venues. These alternatives often are speedier and more reliable than conventional channels of communications - and, significantly, beyond the direct control of governments.


Speaking from the perspective of a small nation, Boris Trajkovski, president of the Republic of Macedonia, believes information technology has caused a shift in the fundamental bases of national power: “Power in the global information society depends less on territory, military power, and natural resources. Rather, information, technology, and institutional flexibility have gained importance in international relations. The power of knowledge, beliefs, and ideas are the main tools of political actors in the efforts to achieve their goals.”


A. Coping with Faster Information in Less Time


The rise of CNN and the internet has greatly shortened the time-horizons of diplomatic decision making. News from distant lands can become public knowledge more quickly than ever before. “All these large numbers of information systems make diplomacy much harder to carry on,” said Madeleine Albright, “because the information comes in very fast and you have to make decisions much faster than you might under previous circumstances. Everybody wants an answer right away.”


Albright said it is not unusual for CNN to report, for example, that a bomb has gone off somewhere and it wants a government official’s reaction.

“You might try to hold back by saying, ‘I don’t have any comment at this moment,’ which you would think is a safe thing to say. But it turns out not to be safe, because then reporters will say, ‘Well, the U.S. government doesn’t know what it’s doing,’ or ‘There are things going on behind the scenes.’ The press is not a deus ex machina. Its role is to speed up the process. At the same time, it has become a player in the process.”


“One of the important objectives in this new environment in which we’re all operating - where there is a lot of very high velocity information and a huge amount of information coming together - is to figure out a procedure and mindset for making intelligent judgments,” said Robert D.Hormats, vice chairman of Goldman Sachs (International) and a former top official at the State Department and Office of the U.S. Trade Representative. With so much information flooding in and intense pressures to respond quickly, policymakers must learn restraint and establish orderly procedures for processing information, he advised.


The CNN Factor in Diplomacy


"CNN is the sixteenth member of the U.N. Security Council," said Madeleine Albright ruefully. Its decisions about what to cover have enormous consequences for international diplomacy, she said. The political terror and human rights abuses of Sudan and Angola were not on television, so they were largely ignored. Somalia was on television, however, and that prompted a faster, more dramatic U.S. response.


The flood of vivid, real-time information washing over both the public and government policymakers has led to “an information glut, but no explanation or interpretation,” said David Konzevik, president and chief executive officer (CEO) of Konzevik Y. Asociados, an international firm based in Mexico. “Then we have a skeptical society because people don’t have the instruments to analyze the information.” The internet gives access to a lot of information, Konzevik sad, but “it does not give you knowledge.”


This reality - plentiful information and scarce knowledge - suggests the need for better editorial intermediaries. New filters are needed to sift through the mountains of raw information and place it in an intelligent context and perspective. New types of editorial intermediaries are needed to select important information, interpret it, and warrant what it is trustworthy and what is not.


B. The Proliferation of New Information Sources


At one time, international politics and diplomacy were the preserve of government leaders and certain elite actors in law, finance, business, and academia. Now, not only is the velocity of information posing new challenges for the diplomatic corps, so is the proliferation of new participants.


“The ‘Who’s Who’ list in international affairs has dramatically shifted over the past ten years or so,” said Mircea Dan Geoana of Romania.“There has been a tremendous shift toward NGOs, academics, international journalists, foundations, local NGOs, church groups, and the like. These groups are increasingly the target audiences whose benevolence, interests, and loyalty the nation-state must eventually capture.” Many of these newcomers to international politics are using the internet as a low-cost, interactive platform for disseminating their messages, recruiting new allies and friends, coordinating their organizational work and alliances, and advocating their political and cultural interests.


As these new venues for research, advocacy, and public dialogue grow more influential, they are forcing governments to look beyond traditional sources of information. Governments can no longer rely exclusively on formal intelligence reports, diplomatic cables, and in-house experts. Now government leaders and diplomats must also monitor the news media and various internet sources. They must strive to develop and assess a richer, more dynamic body of information.


Writing in the Georgetown Journal of International Affairs, Jamie F. Metzl explains how the internet networking has enhanced the influence of civil society organizations:


Networks distribute influence and power across traditional boundaries, allowing powerful interest groups to form and re-form rapidly. The network is flexible and agile, constantly able to reconfigure itself to address new challenges. It allows ideas to compete and confers a competitive advantage on those most able to share, trade, and receive the most relevant information. Networks lower the cost of collective action, making large and disparate groups better able to organize and influence events than ever before.


Metzl points out that spies and embassy officials once had a hammerlock on information relevant to state affairs. Through the internet, however, NGOs, journalists, and corporations can now publish information that is “more timely, accurate, insightful, and useful than that of state actors. In short, the information revolution has reduced the transaction costs of communication and further democratized access to information and knowledge - the key assets of power.”


One reason that electronic networking is so powerful is precisely because it quickly puts relevant information into the right hands, where it can then produce a greater impact or economic value. Centralized decision makers face special challenges in competing with decentralized forces because networking overcomes the transactional barriers that can impede efficient information flows. In so doing, networking unleashes new forms of power.


Other collaborative networks gather diverse local intelligence and share it quickly and efficiently with large communities of people.


Not surprisingly, the new varieties of information are creating new dilemmas. How can government leaders and diplomats assess the reliability of sources? Which news accounts and political analyses should matter, and which should be discounted? When does the perceived credibility of a source make it worthy of respect, notwithstanding its dubious quality or bias?


Others cautioned against immediate acceptance of messages on their face. “Leaders as well as the streetman are influenced by the presentation of content, which in most cases is more a tool to influence rather than just to convey information,” said Akram E. Farag, chairman and managing director of Digital Systems Middle East SAE, a leading communications systems integrator in that region. “By raising awareness about the use of information to influence people, recipients should differentiate between the content they are receiving versus the intent of the content provider.”


When the State Department makes an official pronouncement, written or spoken, it has a special authority because the U.S. government stands behind it. Official statements therefore require extensive internal, confidential vetting and review before they are publicly announced. Dialogue on the internet, by contrast, is much more casual, impulsive, and colloquial. The identity or political power of speakers may not be immediately evident. Yet whatever its limitations, the robust mix of opinions on listservs, chat rooms, and Web sites reaches millions of people and influences public opinion.


(Waring) Partridge laments that the State Department, as a powerful government agency with formal authority, cannot readily participate in freewheeling internet conversations. As a result, nonstate actors - Seattle protesters, land mine activists, Burmese dissidents, Rwandan exiles - are able to dominate internet discussions and exploit online venues as important tools of soft power. The State Department and other official sources are left on the sidelines.


This discontinuity between conventional State Department modes of public communication and the public dialogues occurring on the internet has serious implications for U.S. public diplomacy, Partridge argued. Young people, entrepreneurs, ethnic communities, advocacy groups, terrorists, and cross-border enterprises are flocking to the internet to gain access about news, politics, and markets. Yet the U.S. government is largely absent from this public square. Partridge believes that the State Department must explore new ways to use the internet to reach these constituencies and get its own messages across.


The Effects of the internet on Military Strategy


Many of the technologies that eventually evolved into the internet grew out of certain strategic military objectives of the 1970s. But as those technologies took root and assumed different characteristics, they produced some unintended consequences for U.S. military strategy and international diplomacy.


Few people have had as close a role in overseeing these developments as William J. Perry, currently the Michael and Barbara Berberian professor at Stanford University, senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, and co-director of the Preventive Defense Project at Stanford. In the late 1970s, as Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, Perry was guiding the evolution of various military technologies, including the internet. And as U.S. Secretary of Defense from 1994 to 1997, he had to grapple anew with the new strategic complications that these very technologies were creating.


A great deal of information technology was employed as a means to offset the Soviet Union’s superiority in conventional weapons, Perry explained.“All during the Cold War, the Soviet Union had about a three times advantage in conventional military forces - ships, tanks, airplanes, guns. The United States accepted that overwhelming numerical disadvantage because of the advantage we had in nuclear weapons; we figured that was a tradeoff. But by the mid-1970s, the Soviet Union had achieved parity in nuclear weapons - and what some people considered more than parity - because of their new long-range missiles.


“That led strategic thinkers in the United States to believe that deterrence might be at risk,” said Perry.“At that time in history, 1977, Harold Brown became Secretary of Defense. He decided to use technology to try to achieve parity on a conventional field. He asked me, as Undersecretary for Research and Engineering, to develop the technology programs that would offset the Soviets’ numerical advantage. This was called, not surprisingly, the ‘offset strategy.’


“First of all, we developed sophisticated sensors that could detect military units anywhere in the battle area. And then we developed ‘smart weapons’ to attack and destroy them. At the same time, we developed a newly emerging stealth technology so that those systems could not be used against our own forces. Those were the components of the offset strategy.”


“At the same time we were doing this, we were accelerating something called the ARPANET - a precursor to the internet. The ARPANET was conceived as a way of expediting communications among military scientists and others in the government complex who were working on common projects.”


The results of these various technology initiatives, Perry explained, were first used in combat in 1991, during Operation Desert Storm.“The world was amazed to see how really quite capable it was. The Iraqi army, with 500,000 men, was routed in five days. I think even the American military was surprised at how effective this new technology was.”


Perry has an arresting analogy to explain its efficacy: “Imagine that I’m going to form a basketball team, and the members of that team are going to be myself, Zöe Baird, Esther Dyson, Charlie Firestone, and Madeleine Albright. And we’re going down to the gym this afternoon to practice, and then we’re going to have an exhibition game with the L.A. Lakers. I’m taking bets now on who will win the game. But before you bet me, I need to tell you what the rules of the game are. The L.A. Lakers will have to play with blindfolds on, and we will not.


“Now that’s the situation the Iraqi forces were in, in Desert Storm,” said Perry.“They were playing with blindfolds on. We had complete vision of what was going on, at all times, in all places. And the outcome was never in doubt. That’s the good news about the application of information technology.”


There were some unintended consequences as well, Perry continued. Military leaders around the world were watching the role of the military technology quite closely and wondering how they might emulate it. But achieving technical parity with U.S. weaponry would be quite difficult, said Perry, even among technically advanced nations such as England, France, and Germany. And countries such as Iraq and North Korea “don’t have any real prospect of being able to do it,” he said.


Not being able to emulate U.S. technology, the less - powerful adversaries of the United States have adopted what is called “asymmetric strategies.” These include urban guerilla warfare, the sponsoring of terrorism, the development of weapons of mass destruction such as nuclear and biological weapons, and cyber-warfare to attack key commercial or military computer information systems.“These represent a distinct strategy - their own offset strategy - to offset U.S. superiority,” said Perry.


In the meantime, the ARPANET grew into the internet, and in the 1990s “exploded in a way that no one had anticipated,” said Perry.“The World Wide Web gave the internet a scale and significance that was never imagined. One specific application of the Web was to business because of the efficiencies it could bring. New business applications were picked up with unprecedented speed.”


“Nations all over the world saw what was happening and wanted those benefits for themselves,” said Perry.“There were two obvious exceptions: Afghanistan and North Korea. They did not accept the internet because they believed - quite correctly, I think - that introducing the internet would cause them to lose control over mass communications. That was an unacceptable risk to them. Two other countries - China and Iran - saw the same danger but decided to take the risk of losing control of communications.”


The civilian and commercial embrace of the internet on such a rapid and large scale was not the only unanticipated consequence. So was the use of the internet to distribute pornography, play computer games, and promote political ideologies. Its adoption as a “command-and-control system for worldwide terrorism” also was an unexpected and unpleasant development, said Perry.


These two developments - terrorist use of the internet and widespread business reliance on the internet - have elevated cyber-warfare as a new arena for international strife. It is a vulnerability that will need greater attention in the years ahead.


The Implications for the Military


William Perry’s presentation elicited several questions about what the new technologies mean for U.S. military strategy and international relations.


Is one lesson of this history that strong information technologies are critical to military preparedness? Some countries, such as Japan, might conclude that to be strong economically it is important to have a strong military to drive economic growth. And if information technology (IT) is central to such economic performance, perhaps some nations might conclude that economic performance, IT, and military strength are synergistically related.


Perry replied that while many of the technology components used by the United States can be readily purchased on commercial markets, the systems engineering that makes them work together is extremely sophisticated. It is unlikely that other nations’ militaries could emulate the systems engineering. Furthermore, the U.S. military’s technological prowess owes a lot to its significant investment in training. Even developed countries would have a hard time making similar commitments.


In that case, Robert Hormats pointed out,“Doesn’t that make it much harder for us to employ cooperation with our allies, or at least doesn’t it change the nature of that cooperation?” Perry agreed:“This does dramatically change our relations with allies, if they cannot fight side by side as equal partners. That was true in Kosovo, for example, where it was greatly complicated to work with allies effectively.”


Perry said that there are ways for U.S. allies to develop certain technological capabilities, and that the United States is eager for them to do so.“I am surprised and disappointed that it has not happened already,” he said.“In my own judgment, one reason it has not happened is because in some European countries, military spending is regarded as a work/jobs program to support industry - rather than as a way of getting products out. But if our allies do not develop these capabilities, then we will have to change the way we work together as allies.”


Perry envisioned a new division of labor, for example, with allies taking on different military and nonmilitary responsibilities. He worried, however, that “this could end up being an asymmetrical alliance, which is not good. I don’t like that, but that’s where we’re headed right now.”


Madeleine Albright agreed with this analysis, adding that there is a new political challenge in “making our allies feel that they are contributing something really important. In the macho world of today, it seems that hit/kill ratios are what is most important, when that is not the case. For me, the hardest part of whatever the United States is doing now - in Afghanistan, Bosnia and Kosovo, or what might happen in Iraq - is the role of nonmilitary action. That still requires a variety of technology and communications that may not seem as sexy, in terms of police action. But there are a variety of other, nonmilitary aspects to war that need attention.”


The United States’ sophisticated technology has created another source of tension in U.S. alliances: The United States is more vulnerable to attack than others precisely because we have such powerful technology. “That is true,” conceded Perry.“We are much more of a target for attack, both for the political reasons and the technical reasons.” John T. Kunzweiler, partner in corporate development at Accenture, wondered if the remarkable efficacy of the new weapons technologies will make it easier for policymakers to “market” war.“One outcome of Desert Storm,” he said, “was that it created an expectation for future wars that they would be a little bit easier, a lot faster, and a lot shorter. So the public’s commitment or resolve about war could be less.”


Perry agreed that the technology “has made the marketing of wars easier.” This is unfortunate, he said, because wars are costly and have unintended consequences.“The technology is inculcating the belief among Americans, at least, that a war can be undertaken with no costs at all. That’s a very dangerous belief to have…. Once a war starts, it can get out of control very, very quickly. Anybody who thinks that a new war against Iraq would be a painless operation is going to be highly disappointed.”


A New Definition of War?


For Madeleine Albright, the new realities of technology, military action, and international relations may mean that we need to rethink our definition of “war.” “War, today, is not a one-time act,” said Albright. “It is part of a continuum. There is the build-up to the war [sanctions, monitoring of military preparations, etc.], the war, and then the post-war.” The aftermath of military conflict is particularly complicated today - and often nonmilitary in nature, she added. It includes such tasks as coordinating different police forces, reestablishing communications in damaged areas, and supporting civil governance. These may not be especially appealing responsibilities, but they are necessary, she said. Any alliance structure may have to develop a suitable division of labor to tackle these issues.


Andrès Font agreed that “there has been some sort of paradigm shift in the way that warfare is conducted…. For the first time, the goal is not to destroy but to disrupt,” he said, citing the disruptions to airline travel caused by the September 11 attacks.“How can this new challenge be faced?”


II. The internet and the Rise of Soft Power


It has been a gradual and subtle process, but the skillful use of new internet venues by nonstate actors is altering some traditional notions of power in international relations. We tend to think of power as belonging only to the nation-state, and to associate this power with certain coercive abilities, such as military might and the authority to control interest rates.


As one commentator puts it, hard power is “the ability to get others to do what they otherwise would not do through threats and rewards.” In fact, however, soft power is becoming increasingly important in our highly connected world. NGOs and other civil-society participants actively compete with nation-states and rivals for moral legitimacy, public image, credibility, and cultural respect.


Public diplomacy is the exercise of soft power, said Waring Partridge, who has advised the U.S. State Department about using the internet for such purposes. Soft power, he said, can be defined as “the use of persuasion, public information, education, communications, culture, trade, aid, investment, and marketing to secure public support of interests, values, and policies.”


A. Public Diplomacy in a Globally Networked Environment


Public diplomacy serves many important purposes, explained Partridge. It can be used “to gain the support of people and institutions; to attract people to shared freedoms and values; to engage and persuade others about who we are, what we do, and what we stand for; to educate and bond through the exchange of ideas, people, experiences, and trade; and to demonstrate goodwill and a desire to achieve just political arrangements.”


Partridge believes that the new information technologies are catalyzing some important shifts in hard and soft power: “The hard power traditionally exercised by governments is shifting to individuals; terrorism is one example. Meanwhile, the exercise of soft power - in cultural affairs, news, media, and markets - is moving from individuals and nongovernmental organizations to governments.”


As the world becomes more networked, global image is a heightened concern.


Soft power is becoming a more important issue as the news media and the internet create new public stages on which international disputes can be aired. It has been pointed out that the attack on the World Trade Center was so effective precisely because it was televised and seen in real time by millions of people. If CNN has become the figurative sixteenth member of the UN Security Council, as Madeleine Albright contends, the internet has become a prominent vehicle in its own right for international arguments about political legitimacy and cultural values.


The very existence of the internet - especially its global scope and public accessibility - alters the political dynamics of certain issues.


B. How Should the United States Exercise Soft Power?


The United States is the world’s dominant holder of both hard and soft powers, Partridge pointed out. The American military budget equals the military spending of the next eight nations combined. The United States creates more than 30 percent of the world’s economic output. It is the top exporter of films and television programs, and its language is the world’s lingua franca.


But U.S. dominance is not absolute. It is being challenged by newcomers taking advantage of opportunities created by globalization, the internet, privatization, and decentralization. Entrepreneurs, affinity groups, terrorists, and cross-border enterprises can all “deal themselves into the game” now. How should the U.S. respond?


Many American leaders believe the United States must become more sophisticated in exercising soft power, and particularly in its use of the internet. Within government, there is a general ignorance about how to use the internet effectively to get a message across. And in any case, for now, there is no well-developed strategic plan for making the U.S. government more capable of functioning in a globally networked environment.


The U.S. government’s use of the internet as an instrument of soft power raises a critical point, said Ambassador Fahmy. The issue is not just how U.S. values can be disseminated to affect global values, he said, but also “how global values will affect America. That is what I think we should factor in. The influence will be both ways, not one way.”


The Middle East dispute raises an important soft-power issue. In their essay Keohane and Nye write:


Unlike asymmetrical interdependence in trade, where power goes to those who can afford to hold back or break trade ties, information power flows to those who can edit and credibly validate information to sort out what is both correct and incorrect. Hence…credibility is the crucial resource, and asymmetrical credibility is a key source of power. Establishing credibility means developing a reputation for providing correct information, even when it may reflect badly on the information provider’s own country.


Yet even taking into account the variable dynamics of earning credibility, information undeniably is a powerful weapon. Erroneous or misleading information can be potent if it is widely believed. Even small pockets of credible information, skillfully deployed on the internet, can have powerful effects, especially in nations with strictly controlled media.


C. The Ethnic Diaspora + The internet = A New Soft Power Politics


Some of the most politically significant uses of the internet are occurring among national or ethnic populations who have dispersed around the globe in various diasporas. Historically, of course, “the Diaspora” has referred to the scattering of the Jews to countries outside of Palestine following their Babylonian captivity. But in recent decades, as global conflicts and migration have increased, so have the number of ethnic and national diasporas.


The internet has been a godsend to such populations because it enables large numbers of geographically isolated people with a shared history to organize themselves into large virtual communities. For them the internet is a tool for maintaining identity and community. It also is a powerful tool for such communities to express their political and cultural beliefs and agitate for reforms, both in their native countries and in international forums.


Some diasporas are the result of political upheavals that prompted thousands of people to flee. Others are voluntary migrations spurred by the search for economic opportunity. In both cases, however, the internet is an important medium by which the people of those nations - current residents and expatriates - can communicate with each other. The motives include family ties, a shared nationalism, political agitation for change, and economic dependency. For many Latin American nations - especially Mexico, El Salvador, and Cuba - reports David Konzevik, an important flow of dollars comes from family members working in the United States. These nations, in effect, have two gross national products - one produced inside the country and the other produced in the United States - with e-mail and Web sites functioning as a coordinating device for maintaining their financial contacts and cultural identities.


Internet-based communications between foreign nationals and the home country is not unidirectional. “Many entrepreneurs who have been successful in the United States are returning to their native countries, such as India and China,” said William Perry. “Once they return, they are inclined to re-create the Silicon Valley model in their own country.”


It is not just that people can communicate and coordinate businesses using the internet, Perry said, but that it can enable people to nourish deep attachments to their national roots. In some cases, as emigrants return home from the United States, these connections are leading to a “brain gain” for some countries.


Internet connections between foreign nationals and the home country are not just affecting families, businesses, and national cultures. They also are triggering new sorts of political action, as the Asian Wall Street Journal reported recently:


During the May 1998 riots targeting ethnic Chinese in Indonesia, the internet enabled the outrage of overseas Chinese to find its way into mainland China, helping to inform and politicize internet users in China. The fusion of overseas Chinese sentiment, the internet, and a receptive domestic audience culminated in a student-led demonstration in Beijing to protest the leadership’s perceived softness toward Indonesia. The rapid transformation from online hot air to flesh-and-blood marchers in the capital both surprised and worried Chinese leaders.


D. The Fugue Between Global Networks and Subnational Politics


One of the more intriguing twists in the new global media environment is the interaction between global networks and local and regional cultures. The internet and television have not homogenized the world’s cultures into a unitary culture. Rather, the emerging global network is an instrument used by subnational communities to advance their own geopolitical interests, even as the global network superimposes its own alien dynamics on those communities.


Geoana sees more instances of “playing politics at the national, subnational, and regional levels than at the global level, even if the tool is of a global nature.” The point is that global media often are pressed into service for more parochial subnational political purposes.


Even as global commerce links more parts of the world together, local nodes in that network retain their own distinctive traits and culture. “The notion that you can do business in Europe out of London, or business out of Tokyo to deal with all Asia, or even out of New York and deal with Los Angeles, has really diminished dramatically,” said Robert Hormats of Goldman Sachs. “For cultural reasons, for reasons of proximity, and for reasons of understanding the local economy, people want more local presence rather than less in a global economy.”


Local knowledge, suggested Klaus Grewlich, ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany to Baku/Azerbaijan, is qualitatively different than the kinds of knowledge available on the global network: “In networking, the information is conveyed widely but in a very superficial way. You need networks, but you also need nodes. If you have this notion of netpolitik, do not forget the importance of local representatives and embassies, who are crystallizing points - which very often have a higher degree of information than what you see on the network.”


The story illustrates one of the unacknowledged wrinkles of living in the new global internet culture: the need to appreciate differences between communications within the local context and on the global network.


III. International Politics As An Arena of Competing Stories


The essential lesson of Parts I and II is that the new technologies do not just change how we communicate. They change some of the ways in which we construct personal identities, consciousness, and culture. That is to say, they can alter some of the processes by which we create and interpret meaning.


When communication was more static - a book, a newspaper, a film, a speech - its social significance was more stable. One could “read” social or physical cues about a book’s quality by its production quality or its publisher. One could more easily make judgments about the credibility or origins of information.


But as the new technologies decontextualize communication from the original speaker, physical location and social circumstances, it becomes harder to “read” information. The intended meanings of the sender may or may not match the interpretations of the receiver, especially when so many communications are now transcultural. In interpreting the same story, one society may apply radically different assumptions than another society.


A. The Invisible Scaffolding for Constructing Meaning


Americans may like to think that facts are facts and that a television news story is a fairly straightforward communications artifact. But in fact, even the meaning of simple news stories can vary greatly depending upon the social practices of a given society.


“Whenever we read a news story about the health dangers of butter,” a Russian woman once told Esther Dyson, “we would run out and buy as much butter as we could find because we knew it meant there was going to be a shortage. We really had no interest in the dangers or not of butter. We went beyond the information and looked at the motivation of the sender of that information. ‘Why are they putting out this news about butter?’ we would ask. Well, it was because they didn’t want us to buy butter. They wanted us to buy margarine instead.”


Credibility resides in the social context and origins of a message and in the identity of the sender. Someone who is part of a trusted social network, for example, or the leader of a popular political party, is likely to be viewed more sympathetically than someone who is unfamiliar and strange. And so on.


Such issues are significant because the internet is changing the “scaffolding” that a society uses in creating meaning. The social context of a message is no longer self-evident. Nor is the identity of the speakers generating information. The internet is decontextualizing information from the social frames that give it meaning, making it more complicated than ever to align the intended meanings of the sender with the interpretations of the receiver.


John Seely Brown, the chief scientist of Xerox Corporation until recently calls this zone where context and content meet the “border around the content.”There is an implicit contextual frame through which the content is perceived and interpreted. The frame is both an internal artistic frame - the editing of a film, the lighting, the soundtrack, and so forth - as well as a social and cultural frame. In both cases, the frame consists of “subconscious mechanisms that ‘scaffold’ how we will come to understand that primary content stream,” Brown said.


The point is that the scaffolding that we use to interpret a text or film or music can enhance our understanding - or mislead us. It could be fraught with cultural or political implications. In any case, the interplay between a work’s context and content must be attended to.


In a media- saturated world, international diplomacy would do well to study the ways that context and content interact. “What are the processes for constructing credibility?” asked John Seely Brown. “What are the processes for constructing trust? For constructing understanding?”


What is rarely appreciated, said Brown, is that “these processes have their own time-constant to them.” Trust, credibility, and context must be built up over a long period. But information technologies typically decontextualize. What may seem to the sender to be a self -contained bundle of knowledge may be regarded in very different ways by the receiver. A National Research Council/Max Plancke Institute report, “Global Networks and Local Values”, puts it succinctly:


Global networks enable communication that is almost devoid of context. The user often does not know the content provider. internet use is mostly unnoticed by the physical communities to which the user belongs. This is important because values are embedded in context. Trespassers cannot be reminded of the value if the violation remains invisible.


If trust, values, and context are important factors in real communication, but the internet generally fails to represent such factors, then a new set of structural dilemmas are spawned for anyone seeking to carry on effective online communications.


B. The Problem of Multiple Subjectivities


Prior belief systems shape how we receive and understand information. This can be seen in the wildly different perceptions about the attacks on the World Trade Center, as discussed above. It also is evident in the radically different histories that different nations write about the same historical events. “One of the major, ongoing sources of tension in east Asia happens to be the different descriptions and interpretations of twentieth century history between Japan and China and between Japan and Korea,” said Glen S. Fukushima, president and CEO of Cadence Design Systems, Japan. “If you look at the textbooks of these countries, there is a huge discrepancy in the accounts of what occurred, especially in the 1930s and 1940s. These histories shape the consciousness of people and the ways in which information is interpreted and used.”


The meaning of information varies with the speaker, too. “You can’t really disembody facts from people,” said Robert Hormats. “For example, one of the interesting things about the American Revolution was that all the principles of the Revolution and the Constitution were embodied in Washington, Franklin, and others. The Constitution, as brilliant a document as it was on its merits, would not have been ratified without the endorsement of Washington and Franklin. That was critical in the minds of many Americans, who went along with it because these two great men did. They gave their personal credibility to the principles, and that was decisive.” In our times,Hormats lamented, “there are fewer powerful or credible authority figures to tell the story of how capitalism should work effectively.”


C. The Role of Stories in Netpolitik


The clash of multiple subjectivities in Netpolitik may have less to do with facts and analysis than with identity and values. Clashes are not just a matter of disputed content; they also are a matter of disparate contexts for interpreting that content - one of the hallmarks of international diplomacy. A consensus of conference participants agreed that a useful way of talking about the clash of multiple subjectivities is through stories. The point of a story is not its truth or falsity but rather the way in which it organizes identity, values, and social behavior into a coherent worldview.


John Seely Brown said that William Perry’s story comparing the use of “smart”weapons against Iraq to a basketball game of amateurs versus the blindfolded Lakers illustrates the point: “I have sat in many presentations about that topic, and I know all the data, but suddenly I know things in a new way. Columns of data with infinite precision have taken on real meaning to me.” Stories provide vivid tools for assimilating facts and sharing understandings. As such, they can enable - or constrain - what may be communicated.


From this perspective, it is clear that stories are powerful because they resonate emotionally and speak to a “higher truth” is a given society. “One of the grand narratives of the United States,” said Elizabeth Daley, “is that anyone can achieve anything they want. Everybody can pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. This is hardly true for a great many Americans, but it remains one of our national stories.”


Technology and the Construction of Stories


What is noteworthy about the internet is its role in enabling people to construct and share new stories.


Diasporic communities also are using the internet to inaugurate new narratives. Their stories previously were either unimaginable because there was no accessible media platform or unshareable because of government repression. In any case, thanks to the internet, people are experimenting with new self-images for themselves and new public images for causes and movements. Some segments of elite society in Bosnia, Serbia, and Macedonia are talking about the “New Balkans” - a self-conscious “rebranding” of that troubled region. The hope is that the new image will allow the region to grow into a new identity and image, domestically and on the world stage.


Sometimes a good story emerges almost magically, enabling an unrecognized sentiment to be publicly articulated - which in turn can catalyze the formation of a new community. Among open-source software programmers, for example, Eric Raymond’s landmark essay on “the cathedral and the bazaar” - about two conflicting models of software development - became a narrative for popularizing Linux and expanding the open- source community.


In enabling the creation and dissemination of new stories, the internet is changing the international ecology of cultural narratives. “We are in the process of melding our stories in many different ways,” said Madeleine Albright, “primarily because of the impact of global communications and the ability to hear the other person’s story. Whoever heard the story of Uzbekistan ten years ago? Whoever even knew where it was?”


The result of more stories, however, is a new tension between “local” stories and the emerging “global story,” said Albright. “There is a conflict between being part of a small group to which you belong and being part of a larger group - the world community. The concept of national sovereignty and your individual story is being threatened by the pressure of having to be part of a larger system.”


In concurrence that the internet is promoting more transnational tensions, Klaus Grewlich points to the recent National Research Council/Max Plancke Institute report, “Global Networks and Local Values”:


Because of its pluralizing potential, the internet increases the likelihood that transnational conflicts will arise - but because there is no sovereign international authority to adjudicate and, especially, to enforce, the resolution of internet-driven conflicts is highly complex. At the same time, the internet and information technology have the potential to fractionate the public because they allow individuals to customize the information they receive.


Unless we address the “fundamental architecture of globalization,” said Geoana, “we will lose the chance to affect the next stage of globalization and use information technology as a tool for reducing the gap between haves and have-nots.” The parts of the structural architecture that need revamping, he said, include financial markets; global institutions such as the United Nations, World Bank, and International Monetary Fund; and information technologies. “We don’t have the clarity and vision to address these kinds of things. Instead, we are getting better at media ‘spin’.”


Toward a New Global Story?


“The internet and globalization are parallel forces that are leading us in the direction of creating a new language,” argued Zoë Baird. The “new language” will be different from our existing way of talking about the world, she suggested, because “participants in the new language will be participating with people from different sectors with whom they realize, all of a sudden, that they share power.” The conversation about globalization expanded once it became clear that NGOs were a powerful force in the South. So, too, the new language emerging in international politics must recognize the legitimate needs of underrepresented constituencies who are only now being heard, thanks to the internet.


If there is a new “global story” emerging, it may have to do with the necessary conditions of becoming a “knowledge society.” “If a country wants to participate in a knowledge society and enjoy the benefits that come from that,” said T. Michael Nevens, a director of McKinsey & Company’s Silicon Valley office, “there are certain things they have to do. There are some consequences.”


A nation that decides to embrace the internet implicitly accepts the fact that outside ownership and access to capital must be possible. There must be a suitable media infrastructure for broadcasting, telephony, and the internet, as well as tolerance for a range of voices to be heard on these media. Some sense of intellectual property rights is needed to develop market-based investment and growth, and entrepreneurial leadership also must be honored. An educational system must provide the expertise and employees for this system.


“I think there are a set of rules and virtues that characterize a knowledge society,” said Nevens. “There may be no mechanisms to articulate or enforce these rules and virtues, but I think they are becoming clearer. And I think they help explain why some countries can participate well and others cannot. For a lot of countries, this is part of a huge shift in the way that they operate - a shift that may take an extraordinarily long time to achieve. If it takes too long, I would suggest they’re going to become more and more isolated from the rest of the global community, which is probably a dangerous thing.”


Robert Hormats believes that any nation that aspires to reap the benefits of information technology eventually will have to accept greater openness and pluralism in its domestic life. Closed societies, whether because of authoritarian rule or religious fundamentalism, “deprive themselves of the opportunity to assimilate information and make more intelligent policy judgments,” said Hormats. “Here is where the information revolution is out of sync with the political architecture.”


In any case, many conference participants agreed that the proliferation of new geopolitical and cultural stories has created a new imperative in international diplomacy: to cultivate “the humility of listening.” “If I want to tell my story and you want to tell the American or Egyptian story, you are not going to be able to do that unless you understand the other person’s story. We need to learn not just each other’s facts,” said Daley, “but each other’s stories.”


“That confrontation was a shocking moment for me,” said Daley. “We all had to back up and really take another hard look at the kind of stories we were telling. I would like to propose that we can learn a great deal if we truly listen to one another’s stories.”




Perhaps the most important imperative in Netpolitik is to recognize that it exists. The internet and other information technologies are no longer a peripheral force in the conduct of world affairs but a powerful engine for change. Global electronic networking is not only remaking economies, but transforming people’s values, identities, and social practices. Moreover, these changes are not just occurring within the boundaries of nationstates but in all sorts of unpredictable transnational communications.


These changes are enabling all sorts of newcomers to enter the fray of international politics. NGOs, diasporic communities, critics of land mines and human rights abuses, antiglobalization protesters, journalists, indigenous peoples, and others are finding their own voices on a global public stage. More ominously, the very technology that is empowering civil society and businesses is enabling political extremists to build global terrorist networks and pioneer alarming new forms of warfare.


The new transnational flows of information are transforming some fundamental terms of power in international affairs. New types of soft power involving moral legitimacy and respect, credibility as an information source, and cultural values are coming to the fore. Military and financial powers that traditionally have belonged to the dominant nations are now constrained in new ways by soft power and the politics of credibility. A tighter skein of global interdependence may mean that unilateralism by any single nation, especially the United States, could be a more problematic policy approach.


Netpolitik is still an unfolding doctrine. It seems to be characterized, however, by a higher velocity of information, new time pressures on thoughtful policymaking, a more robust pluralism in international affairs, and new challenges to the power of the nation-state and traditional diplomacy. Netpolitik seems to be a volatile force because of its great reach: affecting everything from the exercise of state power and military might to issues of deep personal identity and social values. We barely understand how the internet is being used across the world; understanding how it is remaking the conduct of international politics will require much more research, study, and debate.


Which is why, in the end there may be great wisdom in “the humility of listening” to each other’s stories. Since time immemorial, stories have conveyed rich bodies of complex information in deeply human ways. Thanks to the internet, more segments of the earth’s inhabitants can now tell their stories. This is a significant development in human history.What may matter most in the future is our ability to hear each other’s stories, learn from them, and perhaps develop a new global story.


List of Conference Participants


Madeleine Albright
The Albright Group

Zoë Baird
President, The John and Mary R. Markle Foundation

David Bollier
Independent Journalist and Consultant

John Seely Brown
Former Director, Xerox PARC

William T. ( Bill) Coleman III
Founder, Chairman, and Chief Strategy Officer BEA Systems, Inc.

Elizabeth Monk Daley
Dean, School of Cinema-Television and
Executive Director Annenberg Center for Communications
University of Southern California

Esther Dyson Chairman
EDventure Holdings, Inc.

Nabil Fahmy
Ambassador of Egypt to the United States, Arab Republic of Egypt

Akram E. Farag
Chairman and Managing Director, Digital Systems Middle East, SAE

Charles M. Firestone
Executive Director, Communications and Society Program
The Aspen Institute

Andrès Font
Director, Analysis and Forecasting, Fundación AUNA

Glen S. Fukushima
President and Chief Executive, Officer, Cadence Design Systems, Japan

Murray Gell-Mann
Distinguished Fellow and Co-Founder, Santa Fe Institute

Mircea Dan Geoana
Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Romania

Klaus W. Grewlich
German Ambassador, Baku/ Azerbaijan and

Professor of Law and Communications, Bonn University

Robert D. Hormats
Vice Chairman, Goldman Sachs ( International)

David Konzevik
Director General, Konzevik and Associates

John T. Kunzweiler
Partner, Accenture

Jerry Murdock
Co-Founder and Managing Director, Insight Venture Partners

T. Michael Nevens
Managing Director, High Tech Practice, McKinsey & Company, Inc.

Waring Partridge
Chairman, The Partridge Group

William Perry
Co-Director, Preventive Defense Project Center for International Security
Stanford University

Ranjit Singh
President and Chief Executive Officer, ReliaCast

Wisdom Tettey
Assistant Professor, Faculty of Communication and Culture
University of Calgary

Boris Trajkovski
President, Republic of Macedonia

Mark Tucker
Chief Executive, Prudential Corporation, Asia Ltd.

Sunny Sumter-Sana, Project Manager, Communications and Society Program
The Aspen Institute


About the Author


David Bollier is an independent strategist, journalist, and consultant specializing in progressive public policy and citizen action. Much of his recent work develops a new analysis and language for reclaiming “the commons,” the publicly owned assets, gift-economies and natural systems that belong to everyone and function in tandem with markets. Bollier’s critique of the commons is set forth in his 2002 book, Silent Theft: The Private Plunder of Our Common Wealth (Routledge; www.silenttheft.com).


Bollier has been an advisor to television writer/producer Norman Lear on politics, public affairs, and special projects since 1984. He is also a Senior Fellow at the Norman Lear Center at the USC Annenberg Center for Communication and Co-founder of Public Knowledge, a policy advocacy organization that represents the public’s stake in copyright, patent, and internet issues. He is based in Amherst, Massachusetts.


- "The Rise of Netpolitik: How the internet is Changing International Politics and Diplomacy" http://www.aspeninstitute.org/AspenInstitute/files/CCLIBRARYFILES/FILENAME/0000000077/netpolitik.pdf, A Report of the Eleventh Annual Aspen Institute Roundtable on Information Technology, David Bollier - Rapporteur, The Aspen Institute http://www.aspeninstitute.org/c&s, 2003.


(Accessed August 18, 2004)