World War Web: The Fight for the Internet’s Future

“The last few decades have witnessed the growth of an American-sponsored Internet open to all, and that has helped tie the world together, bringing wide-ranging benefits to billions. But that was then; conditions have changed,” writes Editor Gideon Rose in his introduction to the September/October issue of Foreign Affairs. “Whatever emerges from this melee, it will be different from, and in many ways worse than, what we have now.”

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Highlights from the cover package include:

Adam Segal, CFR’s Ira A. Lipman Chair in emerging technologies and national security, warns of China’s ambitions to remake cyberspace in its own image: “To prepare for greater Chinese control over the Internet, the United States should work with its allies and trading partners to pressure Beijing to open up the Chinese market to foreign companies, curb its preferential treatment of Chinese firms, and better protect foreign companies’ intellectual property. . . .Yet these efforts will only shape trends, not reverse them. Whatever Washington does, the future of cyberspace will be much less American and much more Chinese.”

Nandan Nilekani, Infosys Chair and founding Chair of India's biometric ID database Aadhaar, offers India as a “model of how citizens relate to the Internet, a place that treats digital infrastructure as a public good and data as something that citizens deserve access to,” and writes, “For too long, governments have held an overly limited conception of their role regarding the Internet, seeing their job as merely facilitating citizens’ access and letting private players handle the rest.”

Ireland’s Data Protection Commissioner Helen Dixon argues that in “a world increasingly defined by digital technology, the protection of private data is not merely a luxury; it is ‘a fundamental right,’” and that the European Union's ambitious new data rules “opened a new chapter in the history of the Internet, creating a blueprint that other states and organizations will study closely as they, too, seek to properly balance individuals’ rights to data protection with their other rights and with the legitimate interests of business and government.”

CFR Senior Fellow Karen Kornbluh writes, “The United States invented the Internet, and from the beginning, it promoted its vision of an open and free Internet on the global stage. But today, U.S. leadership is largely absent as the platform is increasingly being weaponized. It’s time for Washington to overcome its techno-utopian belief that the Internet can fix itself and instead take active steps to ensure that the Internet is a tool to strengthen, not undermine, democratic values.”

WestExec Advisors Co-founder and former Undersecretary of Defense Michèle Flournoy and Director of Belfer Center’s Cyber Security Project and former Director for Cyber Plans and Operations Michael Sulmeyer call “for the United States to reassert leadership on the global stage and take greater responsibility for protecting the country’s communities, businesses, and government from digital threats.” The authors see the need for “an inclusive, government-led approach that protects the public in an increasingly dangerous era.”

Reinventing Capitalism in the Age of Big Data authors Viktor Mayer-Schönberger and Thomas Ramge propose as an alternative to breaking up tech giants “a progressive data-sharing mandate. This would leave these companies intact but require them to share anonymized slices of the data they collect with other companies. Such a mandate would decentralize digital markets and spur innovation as companies competed to extract the best insights from the same data.”

Additional highlights from the issue include:

In an essay adapted from his forthcoming book Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment, Stanford University’s Francis Fukuyama argues, “The worst thing about identity politics as currently practiced by the left is that it has stimulated the rise of identity politics on the right. . . . In reality, only a relatively small number of writers, artists, students, and intellectuals on the left espouse the most extreme forms of political correctness. But those instances are picked up by the conservative media, which use them to tar the left as a whole.”

Considering President Trump’s unilateral foreign policy decisions, CFR Visiting Senior Fellow James Goldgeier and Georgetown University Associate Professor Elizabeth N. Saunders observe “the problem goes well beyond Trump, and even beyond the well-documented trend of increasing presidential power. Constraints on the president—not just from Congress but also from the bureaucracy, allies, and international institutions—have been eroding for decades. . . . Trump did not create the freedom of action he is now routinely displaying. He has merely revealed just how difficult it is to prevent it.”

Ohio State University Professor Randy Schweller finds President Trump’s worldview to be “fundamentally realist in nature,” and that “Trump is merely shedding shibboleths and seeing international politics for what it is and has always been: a highly competitive realm populated by self-interested states concerned with their own security and economic welfare.”

Autonomous Technological Institute of Mexico Professor Denise Dresser writes Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador's “promise to shake up the status quo appealed to a restive population eager for regime change. What it will mean in practice, however, remains unclear. So far, the president-elect’s policy positions have been vague, and his team is unknown and untested. . . . A polarized Mexico is now caught between two forces: anger at those who have governed so badly and fear of those who have just been elected.”

George Washington University Professor Marc Lynch writes that any vision of the Arab world “finding a workable balance of power is a mirage: the new order is fundamentally one of disorder,” and concludes, “U.S. hegemony in the Middle East will never be restored because the region has fundamentally changed. Moving beyond the wars and political failures that followed the Arab uprisings will not be easy. The damage is too deep.”

Reflecting on the tenth anniversary of the financial crisis, Columbia University Professor Adam Tooze notes “bankers on both sides of the Atlantic created the system that imploded in 2008. The collapse could easily have devastated both the U.S. and the European economies had it not been for improvisation on the part of U.S. officials at the Federal Reserve,” and asks, “How will a multipolar world that has moved beyond the transatlantic structures of the last century cope with the next crisis?”

"Albright Stonebridge Group Senior Counselor and former Undersecretary of State Wendy R. Sherman observes that the 2015 Iran nuclear deal "represents the state of the art of professional multilateral diplomacy. As Trump is now finding out through his difficulties in pinning down a deal with North Korea, verifiable nuclear agreements backed by U.S. allies and adversaries are hard to come by. With every threat Trump tweets and every list of empty promises his administration releases, the Iran deal looks better and better."

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