America's Information Edge

Courtesy Reuters


Knowledge, more than ever before, is power. The one country that can best lead the information revolution will be more powerful than any other. For the foreseeable future, that country is the United States. America has apparent strength in military power and economic production. Yet its more subtle comparative advantage is its ability to collect, process, act upon, and disseminate information, an edge that will almost certainly grow over the next decade. This advantage stems from Cold War investments and America's open society, thanks to which it dominates important communications and information processing technologies--space-based surveillance, direct broadcasting, high-speed computers--and has an unparalleled ability to integrate complex information systems.

This information advantage can help deter or defeat traditional military threats at relatively low cost. In a world in which the meaning of containment, the nuclear umbrella, and conventional deterrence have changed, the information advantage can strengthen the intellectual link between U.S. foreign policy and military power and offer new ways of maintaining leadership in alliances and ad hoc coalitions.

The information edge is equally important as a force multiplier of American diplomacy, including "soft power"--the attraction of American democracy and free markets.ffi The United States can use its information resources to engage China, Russia, and other powerful states in security dialogues to prevent them from becoming hostile. At the same time, its information edge can help prevent states like Iran and Iraq, already hostile, from becoming powerful. Moreover, it can bolster new democracies and communicate directly with those living under undemocratic regimes. This advantage is also important in efforts to prevent and resolve regional conflicts and deal with prominent post--Cold War dangers, including international crime, terrorism, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and damage to the global environment.

Yet two conceptual problems prevent the United States from realizing its potential. The first is that outmoded thinking clouds the appreciation of information as power. Traditional measures of military force, gross national product, population, energy,

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