The Geopolitics of Information

Paper by Eric Rosenbach and Katherine Mansted: “Information is now the world’s most consequential and contested geopolitical resource. The world’s most profitable businesses have asserted for years that data is the “new oil.” Political campaigns—and foreign intelligence operatives—have shown over the past two American presidential elections that data-driven social media is the key to public opinion. Leading scientists and technologists understand that good datasets, not just algorithms, will give them a competitive edge.

Data-driven innovation is not only disrupting economies and societies; it is reshaping relations between nations. The pursuit of information power—involving states’ ability to use information to influence, decide, create and communicate—is causing states to rewrite their terms of engagement with markets and citizens, and to redefine national interests and strategic priorities. In short, information power is altering the nature and behavior of the fundamental building block of international relations, the state, with potentially seismic consequences.

Authoritarian governments recognize the strategic importance of information and over the past five years have operationalized powerful domestic and international information strategies. They are cauterizing their domestic information environments and shutting off their citizens from global information flows, while weaponizing information to attack and destabilize democracies. In particular, China and Russia believe that strategic competition in the 21st century is characterized by a zero-sum contest for control of data, as well as the technology and talent needed to convert data into useful information.

Democracies remain fundamentally unprepared for strategic competition in the Information Age. For the United States in particular, as the importance of information as a geopolitical resource has waxed, its information dominance has waned. Since the end of the Cold War, America’s supremacy in information technologies seemed unassailable—not least because of its central role in creating the Internet and overall economic primacy. Democracies have also considered any type of information strategy to be largely unneeded: government involvement in the domestic information environment feels Orwellian, while democracies believed that their “inherently benign” foreign policy didn’t need extensive influence operations.

However, to compete and thrive in the 21st century, democracies, and the United States in particular, must develop new national security and economic strategies that address the geopolitics of information. In the 20th century, market capitalist democracies geared infrastructure, energy, trade, and even social policy to protect and advance that era’s key source of power—manufacturing. In this century, democracies must better account for information geopolitics across all dimensions of domestic policy and national strategy….(More)”.