Tag Archives: International Affairs

How Hackers Will Blow Up The World: China, Cyber-Warfare and the Cuban Missile Crisis

I have a piece on TechPresident I really enjoyed writing about how certain technologies – as they become weaponized – can in turn become highly destabilizing to global stability. The current rash of Cyber-Warfare, or Cyber-Spying or Cyber-crime (depending on the seriousness and intent with which you rate it) could be one such destabilizing technology.

Here’s a long excerpt:

This would certainly not be the first time technology altered a balance of military power and destabilized global political orders everyone thought was robust. One reason the world plunged into global war in 1914 after a relatively minor terrorist attack — the assassination of Arch-Duke Ferdinand — was because the hot new technology of the day, the speedy railway, caused strategists to believe it would confer a decisive advantage on those who mobilized first. The advent of nuclear intercontinental ballistic missiles of the 1950s had a similar effect, with fears that a first strike “decapitation attack” against Moscow from Turkey, or against Washington from Cuba, could preempt a counter attack.

Cyber warfare may be evolving into a similarly destabilizing type of technology. Prior to the 21st century, cyber attacks were relatively localized affairs. People imagined the main threats of a cyber attack being with virtual thefts from banks, identify theft against individuals and even industrial piracy. Serious problems to be sure, but not end-of-the-world stuff. Even when targeted against the state, cyber attacks rarely pose an existential threat to a country. The loss of state secrets, the compromising of some officials could, cumulatively, be corrosive on a state’s ability to defend itself or advance its interests, but it was unlikely even a combination of operations would shake a mature state to its core.

Two things have changed….

You can read the full piece here. Always love feedback.

China, Twitter and the 0.1%

Earlier this month I had the good fortune of visiting China – a place I’m deeply curious about and – aside from some second year university courses, the reporting from the Economist, and the occasional trip over to Tea Leaf Nation – remains too foreign to me for comfort given its enormous importance.

As always China – or to be specific – Beijing is overwhelming. The pollution, the people, the energy, the scale. It can be hard to grasp or describe. But I want to talk about my conversations which were overwhelming in other, equally fantastic ways.

As an indirect result of the trip I just posted a piece up on the WeGov section of TechPresident asking “Is Sina Weibo a Means of Free Speech or a Means of Social Control.” The post comes out of a dinner conversation I had in Beijing with Michael Anti, an exceedingly smart and engaging Chinese journalist, political blogger and former Nieman Journalism Fellow at Harvard who has a very interesting analysis about Weibo (Chinese twitter) as a means to enhance the power of the central government. The piece is worth reading largely because of the thoughts he has that are embedded in it.

There was another interesting thread that came out of our dinner conversation – one that was equally sobering. Michael described himself as part of the “Generation 70,” those who, if it isn’t obvious, were born in the 70s. For him, the defining trait or esprit, of that generation was a sense of possibility. As he noted “I’m from a humble family and fairly unimportant city in China, and I got to end up at Harvard.” For him and his peers as China grew, so did many of their opportunities. He argues that they were able to dream big in ways the almost no previous generation of Chinese could.

He contrasts that with the “Generation 90,” those now in mid teens to mid twenties and he sees a generation with small dreams and growing frustration. Forget about access to the top international universities in the world. Indeed, forget about access to top Chinese universities. Such opportunities are now reserved for the super rich and the super connected. What many have felt was a system that was relatively meritocratic is now flagrantly not. According to Anti, the result is that Generation 90 does not have big dreams. Forget about become a world class scientist, founding a leading company, leading an interesting organization. Many do not even dream of owning an apartment. This evolution (devolution?) in moods was summed up succinctly in a poster Anti saw at a demonstration a few months earlier which nihilistic read “We are Generation 90: Sacrifice Us.”

A few days later I had the good fortune of being in Soho (a very upscale neighborhood in Beijing) with a group of Generation 90ers. Eating at a very nice Chinese restaurant above a Nike and Apple store I discretely asked a few them if they agreed with Anti’s assessment about Generation 90.

Were they optimistic about their future? What were their dreams? Did they feel like opportunities for them were shrinking?

I was stunned.

They agreed with Anti. Here I was, in the nation’s capital, sitting in an upper middle class restaurant, with a vibrant, intelligent, bilingual group of young Chinese. This is a group that would easily fit in the top 5% in terms of education, opportunity and income, and most probably in the 1%. And they felt that opportunity for their generation were limited. Their dreams, were more limited than the generation before them.

Maybe this is a sort of Gen X syndrome Chinese style, but if I were the Chinese government, such sentiment would have me worried. There is an acceptance – from what I observed – in China that the system is rigged – but there was clearly a sense that before the benefits were more widely distributed, or at least available on a limited meritocratic basis.

I’ve never been as bullish on China as some of my peers. Between the demographic time bomb that is about to explode, the fact the state spends more on internal security than the military and the weak sense of the rule of law (essential for any effective market) I’ve felt that China’s problems are deeper and ultimately harder to address than say those in India or Brazil. But this conversation has given me new pause. If the 5% or worse, the 1% don’t feel like China can make room for them, where does that leave everyone else not in the .1%? These are, of course, problems many societies must face. But public discourse in China on a subject like this is almost certainly much harder to engage in than in say, Brazil, India or America.

China is a wonderfully complex and nuanced place. So maybe this all means nothing. Maybe it is a sort of Gen X funk. But it has given me a whole lot more to think about.

Some More Core-Periphary Maps

Those who’ve been reading my blog for a long time may remember one of my more popular posts comparing the Firefox 3 Pledge Map (locations of downloads of Firefox 3 back in June 2008) versus Thomas Barnett’s Map (published in The Pentagon’s New Map – his blog here).

PNM%20remixed%202

firefox PNM mash up 2

A little while back a friend shared with me a new map, called The Walled World, that she’d found over at The Raw Feed (a great site, BTW) which offers a similar perspective… but with clearly delineated walls that show who is being kept out of which parts of the world.

the-walled-world-large

All three maps continue reasonate with me. The first offers us a stategic overlay. Which countries are powers/maintainers of the international system – which places are seeking to radical alter it, or cannot seem to become part of the core.

The second shows the virtual implications of that gap. Here, the gap between core and periphery is made starkly clear in technology use.

The final shows the physical manifestation of the gap. A stark reminder of the fences we build and the enormous sums of money and energy poured into keeping certain people out.

As a final note, I do think the third map is slightly misleading. As disturbing as it is, it is actually far, far too flattering to many traditional western powers as it continues to place them at the “centre.” In a world where the United States appears to be in decline this type of map makes China, Brazil, India and Russia (and even South Africa) look like non entities. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Canada's Arctic Strategy – playing to the strengths of others

Last week I the good fortune of participating in an intimate workshop on Canadian foreign policy hosted by CIGI and convened in preparation for an upcoming issue of the International Journal in which the papers will be published.

One of the participants, Elizabeth Riddell-Dixon, gave an excellent paper on The United Nations and the Regime to Manage the Continental Shelf Beyond 200 Nautical Miles. During the discussion of her about her paper and Canada’s activities in the North more generally she reiterated the point she made in her September 2008 Policy Options article entitled Canada’s Arctic continental shelf extension: debunking myths:

Contrary to commonly held myths that Canada is losing the race to stake claims to the Arctic continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles as other Arctic countries move more quickly and effectively to secure the resources for themselves, there is no “Wild West” scramble occurring, and relations among the participants are remarkably cooperative. There is an international legal regime in place, and its rules are being observed by the Arctic countries. Furthermore, these states already have sovereign rights over the continental shelf beyond 200 miles that do not depend on occupation or proclamation.

I found Riddell-Dixon’s comments fascinating. Her thorough and convincing assessment sits in stark contrast to the headlines one normally reads in the news: “Battle for the Arctic heats up” (CBC), “Arctic military bases signal new Cold War” (The Times), “Canada uses military might in Arctic scramble” (The Guardian) and “Sweden’s arctic army can beat up our arctic army” (who else… The National Post).

Given these articles one is liable to think that a Russian invasion of The North is imminent! And this is perhaps understandable, talking about military exercises and a “wild west” sells newspapers and makes citizens feel patriotic. It is however, completely divorced from how decisions are presently being made. Indeed, Riddell-Dixon pointed that if anything the activities of Russia, Canada, the United States, Norway and Denmark have been marked by cooperation – we share information, resources and even ships – as we collectively map out the ocean floor. Indeed, this – and other areas of cooperation between the 5 circumpolar countries – was outlined in the (dramatically under-reported) Ilulissat Declaration in which the Arctic Five reaffirmed that:

The five coastal states currently cooperate closely in the Arctic Ocean with each other and with other interested parties. This cooperation includes the collection of scientific data concerning the continental shelf, the protection of the marine environment and other scientific research. We will work to strengthen this cooperation, which is based on mutual trust and transparency, inter alia, through timely exchange of data and analyses.

So we have an international legal regime (based on the Law of the Sea) for resolving boundaries in the North. All the relevant actors are adhering to (and even cooperating around) it. And yet, the military rhetoric around the North continues to get trotted out. If the only consequence was to whip up a sense of nationalism and win votes this would be okay. The problem is that, internationally, this behaviour is irresponsible.

Why? Because language about militarizing The North that implicitly suggests disputes will (or worse, should) be resolved through military strength plays to our weaknesses.

If the North really is going to be resolved through (or influenced by) military might then we will find ourselves clashing with the United States (the world’s lone superpower), Russia (a Great Power) and Denmark and Norway (both of whom can more easily focus their military resources in the North). In a game of military chicken we are, in every scenario, the losers. Ratcheting up rhetoric around the military is the exact opposite tact we should be taking. There is an international legal regime in place plays to our strengths: it reaffirms Canada as a norm adherer, commits every one to a rule-based process as well as reinforces the norm that science and data are central to resolving disputes. For a middle (or model) power like Canada, it is hard to ask for a better outcome.

This isn’t to say we should have no military presence in the North – but by emphasizing the military aspect of the North we encourage others to deviate from a process that benefits us and push them towards one that can only hurt our interests. While it may be a simple vote-getter, let’s hope the Prime Minister tones down the rhetoric around the North – my suspicion is that a North that is truly militarized will be a massive drain on resources, an unwelcome distraction and ultimately, a vote loser.

When good companies go bad – How Nokia Siemens helped Iran monitor its citizens

Last week my friend Diederik wrote a blog titled “Twittering to End Dictatorship: Ensuring the Future of Web-based Social Movements” in which he expressed his concern that (Western) corporations might facilitate oppressive regimes in wiretapping and spying on their citizens.

Now it appears that his concerns have turned out to be true. As he points on more recently on his blog:

  • The Wall Street Journal reports that Nokia and Siemens have supplied Iran with deep-inspection technologies to develop “one of the world’s most sophisticated mechanisms for controlling and censoring the Internet, allowing it to examine the content of individual online communications on a massive scale”. The  Washington Post also reported this.
  • Siemens has not just sold the “Intelligence Platform” to Iran, but to a total of 60 countries. Siemens calls it “lawful interception”, but in countries with oppressive regimes everything that the government does is lawful.
  • The New York Times reports that China is requiring Internet censor software to be installed on all computers starting from July 1st.

Of course, being Nordic, the Nokia Siemens joint venture which developed and sold the monitoring centre to Iran has a strict code of ethics on their website that addresses issues of human rights, censorship and torture. In theory this should have guided their choice of selling equipment to Iran – obviously it has not.

So Diederik and his friends have started a petition to enable people voice their concern over the failure of Nokia Seimens to adhere to their own code of conduct by selling advanced technology to help the government of Iran to control its citizens. I hope it takes off…

The New World Order: Flat, Spiky or Divided?


Just started Who’s Your City by Richard Florida out of personal interest but also to better figure out why it is the Vancouver sometimes works, and sometimes really doesn’t work. Figuring out that puzzle, and doing something is part of the reason I joined Vision (and yes, I’m still recovering from the victory celebrations).

I’m already sensing a convergence between Florida and some of my other favourite authors – namely Friedman (who Florida references) and Thomas Barnett (author of The Pentagon’s New Map among other books).

All three are noticing the same thing, and are even writing along similar veins, but there remain important distinctions, with important policy implications.

Flat: Friedman (whom I’m least familiar with) says the world is flat, that innovation, industry, commerce, etc… can now happen anywhere, so we have to prepare for a flat world. Here, I’d argue the core unit of analysis is the individual. We are all free agents, able to do anything or be anything, so we’re going increasingly going to start doing it anywhere. Yes, Friedman believes that governments and industry have massively important roles, but he ultimately sees a world where any place can become a place where people can prosper. If they agitate for it and build it.

Spiky: Florida’s analysis is that world is quite spiky, dominated by a set of mega-regions and super-cities where the bulk of the economic activity and culture is produced. These hubs are connected to one another and largely uncaring of the enormous economic valleys that separate them. For Florida, the fundamental unit of analysis is the city (or mega-region). These determine where power and influence will flow. Importantly, mega-regions cannot be constructed overnight – indeed there is a powerful self-reinforcing mechanism at work. Mega-regions attract talent from around the world, both further increasing their status and starving smaller cities and regions of the key resource – social capital – they need to grow. Individuals are important – but only in so far as they cluster. Countries are important too – in the Friedman sense that they create a generally favourable atmosphere – but they are not critical to the equation.

Divided: Barnett sees a divided world. One on the one side is the Functioning Core, characterized by economic interdependence and incentives to abide by rules, one the other is the Non-Integrated Gap characterized by unstable leadership and absence of international trade and weaker incentives to abide by international rule sets. Barnett’s primary unit of analysis is the state. He is principally concerned with the impact of globalization (and the rule-sets it creates) on state actors – how it constrains them and incents them to behave certain ways. In this world citizens are influence, but it is connectivity, largely (but hardly completely) determined by the state that matters most. Convince a state to connect with the world, and it’s path towards free market democracy (or some close variant) is predetermined.

I had so much fun mashing up the Firefox download map with Barnett’s map (and had an incredible response) I thought I’d try to do the same again but with these three authors. Below is a Flat World, overlaid with Spiky depiction of where the most innovation (patents) occurs, overlaid with Barnett’s division between the Function Core and the Non-Integrated Gap. Hoping to write more about these three views of the world over the coming weeks.

What’s interesting about the map’s below is that Barnett and Florida correlate quite nicely. And while they are complimentary I think it Florida’s reinforces the best critique of Barnett’s map I’ve read to date:

“Connectedness is a network property and networks are fractal not contiguous. There is no contiguous region that is disconnected. Within each disconnected country there are islands of connection and within each connected country there are islands of disconnection. This is true at all levels, continents, nations, regions, cities, and companies, right down to individuals. There are terrorist cells in US cities fighting to disconnect the world and Journalists with satellite cell phones in remotest Afghanistan, Iraq, and Somalia working to connect everything.”

I’m willing to bet almost anything that Florida’s maps follow a power law distribution. And the above description – well in Florida’s map there are valleys of non-innovation and non-connectivity within Barnett’s Core. The question is: Can the Mega-Regions assert enough control over these values to ensure their rule-sets are followed?

Innovation (# of patents)

Flat spiky and divided

Connectivity (Light Based Regional Product per Square Kilometer)

Flat spiky and divided (econ)

 

The Firefox download map: Remixed

So with the help of my very cool friend Jeremy V. we’ve remixed the Firefox download map.

The official download map shows us the absolute number of downloads per country. From a marketing perspective this was a great idea. However, since writing the post in which I mashed up the Pentagon’s New Map with the Firefox pledge map I’ve been wondering if their is a correlation between the number of pledges/downloads of Firefox and how “connected” a country is.  To find out, we’ve recreated the Mozilla download map but changed the variables. Using population census and internet user stats from Wikipedia.

Current Firefox Download Map
Firefox download map

Remix 1: % of population that downloaded firefox

You need to upgrade your Flash Player

//

Remix 2: % of internet users that downloaded firefox

You need to upgrade your Flash Player

//

Lots to dive into here. Most notable is how India and China’s strong showing in the initial download map is obviously nothing more than a function of their sheer size. In the later two maps they do not fare as well. The fact that other browsers dominate the marketplace in these countries may also play a role. This is certainly the case in China (though I’m less certain about India). Either way though Firefox’s presence in China and India is a lot weaker than the download map suggests. What, if anything, can be done about this is worth debating.

The biggest surprise has to be Iran. It would appear that Iran is anything but the insular isolated country the western media likes to portray it as. Indeed, outside of the western world Iran has one of the highest download rates per capita. This would suggest Iran is quite well connected (and, I suspect, deeply mistrustful of MicroSoft). This should pose a challenge to Barnett’s thesis, in which connectedness should make a country safer to the international system. John Harris who wrote an excellent critique of Barnett’s thesis, would argue that Iran isn’t perceived as a threat because it is disconnected (it clearly is connected). Instead, what makes it a threat is that a ruling elite strives (however unsuccessfully) to keep it as disconnected from the rest of the world as possible. This creates tensions and challenges that exasperate the complex challenge that is Iran.

One of the most interesting impacts of open source software is that it may help countries – especially those transitioning into modern economies – increase their connectiveness. These maps seem to confirm this hypothesis. A scan of the % of the population that downloaded Firefox shows a robust number of people in emerging economies – especially in Latin America, Eastern Europe and to a lesser degree, South East Asia. Indeed, the government’s of many Central and Eastern Europe countries have mandated that their public services use open source solutions where ever possible. With many countries in the region counting download rates at over 2% of the population(!!!!) Eastern and Central Europe really is emerging as a dominant market place for Open Source solutions.

Ultimately, what is notable is that Core countries do by and large well, Gap countries do poorly and countries that sit around much of the perimeter of Barnett’s line separating the “gap from “the core” score in between. For example, the deep pits of disconnectedness are focused around the Stans and Africa, broken up only by Iran and Israel. Consequently, in my opinion the the Firefox download map gives us data that validate Barnett’s thesis. The bigger question is what can open source generally, and Firefox specifically, do to help change the map?

Two notes:
1. Since being slashdotted I’ve received many comments and emails both encouraging and critical. Please keep sending them and adding to the analysis here. Many heads are better than one and so please do contribute
2. I apologize that data for some countries (like Iceland) is not available on this map. Recreating the map wasn’t easy, and it was all in our (and really Jeremy’s) spare time so we did the best we could.