There has been a lot of Western press coverage about the recent conflict between Google, the US, and China. On the Chinese side, China Daily recently published its “Comment: Internet – New shot in the arm for US hegemony” (see below.)

These developments need to be put into perspective.

The current Google/US-China conflict is bigger than is recognized. It could reveal that we have not settled core issues of global Internet governance.  Today's weak institutions for global Internet governance create a potential point of instability and conflict in the international arena.

WSIS and IGF didn't settle the issues of global public policy and of inter-national relations.  The world has not figured out how to make global public policy — even though we will have to be able to make it one of these days.  We lack adequate institutions, yet we cannot avoid the task of global policy-making.

As a result, we face the spectre of unresolvable policy conflicts.  One of these days there will be a policy fight, and there won't be an institutionalized forum to settle the fight. If the parties to the fight are both powerful — watch out.

Likewise, I don't believe that governments have sufficient agreements to coexist harmoniously in cyberspace. Here we do have the institutions for inter-governmental agreement-making (e.g. the UN). Adequate agreements on co-existence, however, may not in place. WSIS didn't settle issues of sovereignty.  One of these days there could be an inter-national conflict, and if parties are powerful — watch out again.

So the Internet remains a bit of a global powder keg.  Should there suddenly be an urgent need for a global public policy, it might not be possible to craft it.  And should there suddenly be an intense inter-governmental conflict, there may not be sufficient institutional infrastructure to facilitate reconciliation.

True, since WSIS the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) has hosted a process of learning and dialogue during a period of relative calm.  But this calm lacks a foundation. The situation is fragile.   It might take just one sharp conflict between two powerful nations to reveal that we lack adequate global institutions.

Moreover, we seem to be unaware of this institutional inadequacy. At the last IGF meeting I was astounded by how little progress there had been since WSIS.  Each side seems to be ignoring the other and focusing on its preferred approach to Internet policy.

ICANN seems to not take governments seriously.  At IGF-2009 their staff proclaimed their ignorance of crucial elements of the WSIS outcomes (notably the sections addressing national sovereignty), and they blithely invoked the hollow concept of a “local Internet community”.   ICANN continues to assert sovereignty in the management of global communication infrastructure.

Meanwhile, governments assert sovereignty within their borders, making public policy within national institutions.  National institutions might suffice when national borders are meaningful, and indeed some governments are attempting to reinforce national borders in cyberspace.  But borders remain porous, rendering policy-making at the national level imperfect.

Neither side's strategy seems adequate.  We continue to lack adequate global institutions. Nobody wants to admit that, but it could have consequences.

Inadequate institutions plus ignorance of that inadequacy could create problems.  Insufficient care might be taken to avoid policy conflict.   Once conflict starts, inadequate institutions could make reconciliation difficult.

We all know that the Internet brings everyone into immediate contact with everyone else.  That is nice, when nice people can talk to each other.  But it is less nice when prickly rivals are pressed right up against each other.  In cyberspace Washington and Beijing are right up against each other in a way that rival nations only rarely used to be (think the Berlin Wall, the Korean DMZ, the waters around Cuba.)

Proximity creates flash points. The current US/Google-China conflict is a kind of border skirmish in a zone that lacks borders. Let's hope it doesn't escalate.

I wonder, could you start a real bricks-and-mortar war by a conflict in cyberspace? It seems quite possible.  Maybe that will be the next killer app (sorry for a terrible pun.)

I don't think we are going to have a US-China conflagration any time soon.  But given the lack of adequate institutions for resolving common issues, a conflict in cyberspace between powerful nations could escalate, and so should be taken seriously right from the start.

That is why the Google/US-China story is so significant.

In summary, we lack adequate institutions for global Internet governance that would resolve conflicts and build solutions  to common problems.  At the same time the Internet shrinks distances, thereby creating conditions for conflict.  As a result the Internet is a point of instability for international relations.


Article from China Daily:

Comment: Internet – New shot in the arm for US hegemony
Updated: 2010-01-22 16:10

The Internet originated on American soil. In 1969, the Advanced Research Projects Agency of the US Defense Department established the world's first testing packet-switched network (PSN) to connect four universities on US soil. The world saw a remarkable expansion of the scale and number of Internet users from the late 1970s to the early 1980s. In September 1989, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) was founded with a grant from the US Department of Commence to administer the Internet terminal server. Over the past 40 years, the US has been dominating the world Internet as the core technique holder with an inherent advantage of being the cradle of the Internet.

There are 13 terminal servers in the world to keep the Internet running, with a master server and nine of the 12 secondary servers stationed in the US. In terms of technique, the network of a country will disappear from the world Internet if its domain name registry is blocked or deleted from the terminal server. This kind of conduct is not legally binding with the law of any country except ICANN. In April 2004, Libya was unseen on the Internet for three days after the collapse of the domain name registry of the country “LY” caused by a domain administration dispute.

Concerns about the US monopoly of the domain name server (DNS) system grew among other nations as much as their reliance on the Internet for issues ranging from politics and the economy to defense and the general society. Years ago, there was a proposal that the Internet be administered by the United Nations or under international cooperation. The European Union insisted that the World Wide Web is an international resource that should be jointly managed by all nations. Some developing countries pointed out that at the early stage of Internet development, developed countries seized large amounts of domain names, leaving a limited few for them, and demanded a share with the US over Internet administration. American officials opposed the suggestion.

The US Defense Strategy Review in March 2005 stated that Internet space should have the same priority as continental, marine, aerial and outer space jurisdictions for the US to maintain a decisive superiority. A statement from Washington on June 30, 2005, made it clear that the US government would maintain its control over the DNS indefinitely; stating that a transfer of its management to UN or international cooperative models would impede the free flow of information, lead to easy manipulation of the Internet and make global supervision more difficult.

In an attempt to thwart the World Summit on the Information Society held in Tunis in November 2005, then US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice wrote to then European Union president and British foreign minister that her government in Washington backed Internet administration and coordination by ICANN (an alleged NGO which is actually a quasi-government organization with the US Department of Commerce). Rice said management by private corporations would guarantee the safety and stability of the Internet, while the alternative choice of an inter-government mechanism would be an obstacle to Internet development. At the same time, the US Congress passed a bill by a vote of 423 to zero urging a manifesto by the White House that American control over Internet is inviolable. US Rep. John Taylor Doolittle, a Republican from California, said the United States invented the Internet and described it as a gift to the world based on American taxpayers' money. He said he opposed any move to transfer the country's control to the UN.

The control of the Internet plays a strategic role for US. Using the internet, the US can intercept information via the net, export US values and opinions, support a “Color Revolution”, feed the opposition powers and rebels against anti-US governments, interfere with other countries' internal affairs and make proactive attacks on enemy's communication and directing networks. James-Adams, a famous military forecaster, wrote in his book, The Next World War, these words: “The computer is the weapon for the future war and there is no virtual front line, as the traditional battle and the byte will take the bullet's role to grab control of the air.”

US companies intend to make preparations for future global information control and sanctions during the progress of research and manufacture under the direction of the US government. As early as 2002, a CIA Internet spying plot was disclosed by the British media, saying the CIA sought to collect information by breaking into giant companies, banks and governmental organs and organizations across the world. Under the cover of a high-tech civil company, the CIA took cooperated with a software development company in the Silicon Valley to design software “bugs” to collect information via the Internet. The spying software binding with normal software would install automatically once a netizen started to use the normal software.

The New York Times reported in December, 2005 that the CIA cooperated with the country's telecom enterprises to invent a computer program capable of intercepting Internet communications. The Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS TV) claimed on Jan 11, 2006, that the CIA had established a special institution for the interception of information from other countries by using high-tech means. The institution's person in charge said in an interview with CBS that the CIA had obtained a great amount of information of great importance. Although Iran had been trying to hide its nuclear research and development work, the CIA found ways to get first-hand information and photos of its nuclear weapons work. The adoption of the interception technology helped the CIA get into the door of Iran's secret nuclear experiment after the execution of a CIA informant. He added that the CIA had never stopped its supervisory control over Iran since the wide adoption of the Internet and had built three tape libraries to store the information collected.

In the New York Times' words, social networking sites, as a new Internet favorite in the 21st century, have played a big role in protests in Georgia, Egypt and Iceland. The unsuccessful “Color Revolution” in Moldova in April 2009 was also called the “Twitter Revolution” because of the involvement of Twitter, a popular US-based Internet social networking site. There are people at the US-based Soros Open Society Institute who are in charge of boosting so-called “Democratic movement” in a “closed society” in the US. Iran had been in a turbulent situation after its election in June 2009, as the opposition party was spreading false messages, venting their discontent and holding protests on social networking sites such as Twitter and YouTube. The US government thought it such an effective tool to use against Iran that it even asked Twitter to postpone its regular maintenance date on June 15, saying, “Iran is in a defining moment, and Twitter is playing such a vital part in it, can you let it just work as usual?” The founder of Twitter felt excited to see that its site had become the “political tool” of the US government.

US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Twitter and other social networking sites are “strategic assets of great importance” because “these new technologies make it harder for the 'dictator regimes' to control information”. A former intelligence official said the channeling of US ideology via the Internet is much easier than sending spies to target countries or training local agents in target countries who identify with US ideology. The move the US government made in June 2009 — when it dissented over the Chinese government's order to install the filtering software Green Dam and pressured China's government for interfering in the freedom on the 'Net and the freedom of information flow — is probably related to its intention to infiltrate China.

According to a Hong Kong media agency, the CIA invests tens of millions of US dollars every year to aid “Chinese net traitors” to infiltrate Chinese net users with US ideology. They haunt major Chinese forums and portals. A website called “Wazhe Online” (Chinese Pinyin) is a secret mission with the cooperation of US government institutions and overseas “Tibetan splittist organizations” with the tasks of agitating, deluding, infiltrating and instigating Chinese net users, making up rumors to initiate riots and collecting information via the Internet. A Tibetan youth who once worked with one organization said it is an online spy agency which is supported by the US financially, controlled by the Americans and serves the Americans. A commentary on Hong Kong-based Ta Kung Pao said those who publish stories sensitive to China's policies on the net have complex backgrounds and are hired by US and Japanese spy agencies.

US State Secretary Hillary Clinton has also attached importance to the Internet after taking office. She claimed that it's necessary to deal with the countries that roll back US media with the force of the Internet, especially making use of Facebook, YouTube, Flicker and Twitter to send voices from the US.

Former US President George W. Bush issued National Security Presidential Directive 16 (NSPD-16) to set up the first hacker force in American history, as well as of world history, in 2002. With the technology advantages, the US Department of Defense (DoD) advanced the idea of cyber warfare in 2004. In the summer of the same year, Bush signed a secret document which agreed to allow the DoD to launch a “hacker-style” devastation attacking enemies' computers. At the beginning of 2008, Bush again allowed the US forces to launch the cyber-attacks initially with the regard to giving the DoD a greater counter-power on the network. He demanded the forces to have the capability of accessing any open or closed long-distance computer network, and then maintain “complete concealment” and “quietly steal information” to destroy enemies' computer systems, destroy their command system, and even control their business and government affairs networks. The Air Force Cyber Command was founded on Sept 18, 2008, with the mission of defending their own network security and also attacking others.

US President Barack Obama repeatedly stressed the importance of the Internet during his campaign. He asked the relevant departments to assess the security of the American network, and to prepare for the implementation of information hegemony to continue the work of controlling the new generation of Internet Root Servers. The assessment report released by the US government on May 29, 2009, said that cyberspace threats have become one of the most serious economic and military threats facing the United States. The report emphasized that the US must show the world they were seriously responding to the challenge.. Against this background, Microsoft announced the closure of MSN services for Cuba, Iran, Syria, Sudan and the DPRK. But the world opinion considers this as information sanction instead of meeting a challenge.

A report from the New York Times on May.31, 2009, claims that almost all large military enterprises — including Northrop Grumman Corp, General Dynamics, Lockheed Martin and Raytheon Co — have network contracts with the intelligence agencies of the US military. The first two enterprises engage in “offensive cyber war”, which includes stealing other countries' sensitive information or paralyzing their networks by developing software tools after finding vulnerabilities in their computer systems.

The US Department of Defense announced a plan to establish the “United States Cyber Command” on June 23, 2009, in order to gain advantage in the field. Pentagon spokesman Whitman said the new command is going to “focus on protection”. Only they themselves believe such a word. It is clear that the aim of founding the new command is to integrate the high-tech military units in different parts of the country and to strengthen defense. More importantly, it aims to improve the offensive ability and launch a preemptive cyber attack against “enemy countries” if necessary. For a long time in the past, the Pentagon has stressed that Internet is part of war and is a “military front”. Before the first Gulf War, the CIA had planted a “virus chip” in the printers purchased by Iraq. They activated the virus using remote control technology before launching the strategic bombing. Then the air defense control system of Iraq suffered a failure. According to the estimation of defense expert Joel Harker, who has been studying the hacker program of the US military for 13 years, the US now has about 80,000 personnel engaging in cyber warfare. In terms of the “weapons” for cyber warfare, they have developed more than 2,000 computer viruses which could be used in cyber attacks such as Worms, Trojans, Logic Bombs and trap door viruses.


2 thoughts on “US-China Conflict: The Problem of Inadequate Institutions

  1. If the US now has about 80,000 personnel engaging in cyber warfare it doesn't bare thinking about the size of the Chinese equivalent!

  2. I did not know that there was any international global body for internet association. I mean a strong body which everyone follows. If there is any i do not know how much does it control considering the recent Google-China issue.

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