Technology is geopolitical – Counterpoints

Published February 15, 2022



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It seems that today, in the context of ever-increasing geopolitical, economic and technological competition, we are increasingly seeing the emergence in the international arena of a struggle for world hegemony between two competing camps: democracies and autocracies.

Perspectives expect that over the next decade, a new cold war is likely to break out between US-led democracies and Chinese-led, Russian-backed authoritarians. Other countries may have to decide which side their allegiance is on more and more often.

This struggle has direct implications for the development of technology. Each camp has its own, and it decides how to use them.

Digital authoritarianism

If ten years ago technology and the Internet were seen as a factor in freedom and democracy for authoritarian regimes (we remember the Arab Spring), as well as a means to ensure greater participation of citizens in public debate and increase transparency, then now it seems that technology is increasingly being used as means of surveillance by these authoritarian regimes and even by others (facial recognition, social credit methods). By the time we’re talking about “digital authoritarianism”.

Some see this as a danger to democracy.

Clearly, the country that is getting all the attention is China, which has developed powerful surveillance and censorship technologies that also accompany the zero coronavirus strategy.

But technology has also been used for social media disinformation strategies, which Russia is accused of. Faustin Vincent, in the report for Peace of February 8, 2022, regarding tensions between Moscow and Ukraine, it was indicated that the military war was being replaced by a more technological form:

“Because the policy for detecting and blocking suspicious activity (movements preparing for attack) strengthened, Moscow had to change tactics. Today, he uses Ukrainian public relations companies to run disinformation campaigns. Thus, establishing a connection with Russia is more difficult. The goal remains unchanged. It is about sowing doubt, fear, manipulating consciousness and undermining the confidence of Ukrainians in their government.”

This strategy begins with demoralization to reduce the ability to think critically and defend oneself. So, “The more the population panics, the more likely it is that they will spread disinformation and, in spite of themselves, play into the hands of the Kremlin.”

Of course, as Ukraine fears, this mental destabilization could also be a means of facilitating a physical invasion.

Another technological threat that is also feared in Ukraine is espionage in secret structures and cyber attacks. However, according to this report from Peace :

“Ukraine is the victim of dozens if not hundreds of thousands of cyberattacks every day. The most active hackers are associated with the GRU (Russian military intelligence).

In addition to the use of these technologies by authoritarian countries, there is also concern about their spread. Organizations and firms associated with Russia turned out to be directly connected with the activities of what is called social influence in many African countries. The same is true of surveillance technologies developed in China, which the latter is trying to implement in countries as authoritarian as they are democratic. Moreover, these technologies are being developed not only in China, but also in the USA (Google, Amazon), England (BAE), Japan (NEC).

It seems clear that the use of these technologies is now expanding beyond autocratic countries and spreading throughout the world. However, observers point out that this is not in line with the desire of autocratic countries to spread their ideology, but to show that their regimes work well in comparison with all the dysfunctions observed, by comparison, in democracies. We have seen this in the fight against covid.

We cannot say that these technologies have threatened democracy, because we can only admit that the proportion of democratic countries remains very high. However, the number of “authoritarian regimes with a dominant party” has grown from 13% of all countries before the Cold War to 33% today.

These concerns about these technologies have prompted some countries to regulate them, for example by banning the use of facial recognition or Huawei 5G technologies.

Opinion divided

Prospectivists are torn between two scenarios. They are interesting to look at.

The first scenario is one in which, politically speaking, a new form of Cold War between autocratic and democratic countries intensifies.

Autocratic countries use and disseminate these technologies, facilitating innovation, disinformation and demoralization.

Both sides establish their own Internet, their own technological standards, their own international organizations, their own shared values ​​and rules, their own historical truths, and their own monetary systems. However, unlike the first Cold War between capitalism and communism, instead of trying to destroy democracies, autocracies now seek to undermine their ability to innovate and renew their societies and render them unable to maintain order through disinformation and demoralization campaigns and other hybrid wars. tactics, including undermining public trust, inciting civil unrest, and committing attacks and cybercrime.

Another difference between the old and new Cold Wars is about trade. Unlike the old one, both sides support trade and allow trade through the new Iron Curtain. The new struggle is more political, territorial, technological, scientific, cultural, educational and resource-based and, above all, aimed at showing which political and administrative system is the best.

In the second scenario, the new struggle for hegemony will focus primarily on technological competition, resource dominance, and trade rather than between authoritarian and democratic values.

The hybrid war continues to escalate between authoritarian and democratic countries, but no unifying camp or iron curtain has actually been put in place. Only less stringent (geo)economic blocks emerge. As authoritarian regimes increasingly use technology to spy on their citizens and censor information, democratic regimes are completely phasing out technology developed in autocratic countries for fear of espionage and malware.

The result is a complete divergence in technological innovation between the two blocs, with each side exclusively using its own technology standards produced within its own bloc and following its own standardization processes. The Internet is also partially fragmented, with authoritarian regimes increasingly installing firewalls that restrict their citizens’ access to the global network.

Otherwise, the same internet is still used all over the world. The resulting struggle for technological and commercial hegemony reduces global trade and the spread of ideas, reduces economic growth, and increases the risk of conflict.

In 2019 the magazine foreign affairs Provided expert advice on: Does technology encourage tyranny?

Opinions are divided, but we find the same trends and scenarios.

this is a good exercise Scenario Planning to learn about the future and enable us to anticipate how our societies, our businesses, and each of us will prepare for this or that new world. This could be of interest even to candidates for the presidency of the French Republic, but, unfortunately, we are still far from it.

The fourth industrial revolution and exponential technologies will also be geopolitical.

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