Power, Information Technology, and International Relations Theory

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American foreign policy and Internet politics

The theoretical discussion is applied here through an examination of the
Internet as a form of institutional power that supports and furthers US
foreign policy aims. The Internet is an essentially American invention
(see Chapter 4). The values embedded within the network’s hardware
and software architectures reflect the context of its creation, expressing
a liberal bias best encapsulated in the notion of a ‘free flow of information’.
Social actors who use the technology but seek to resist these
values must pay a cost that the United States does not have to pay.

The American government has promoted the growth and development of Western non-governmental
organizations as part of its attempt to spread liberal democratic
capitalist values internationally (Guilhot 2005; Robinson 1996; Sending
and Neumann 2006). The United States does not control the actions
of these actors – we are not in the realm of conspiracy theories here.
Nevertheless, the United States promotes the growth and development
of certain forms of global civil society in the belief that these groups will
place pressure upon, and help to transform, authoritarian and non-democratic
regimes. The project of creating liberal capitalist democracies –
opening polities and opening markets – is advanced by US support for
NGOs. As Inderjeet Parmar has noted, intellectuals within the American
foreign policy establishment outline the development of transnational
networks that intersect the international and the domestic as a central
pillar in the spread of American power (Parmar 2009: 198; see, for
example, Slaughter 2004). Internet governance is no different in this
regard.

Techno-optimists: progress without power

Today, the marriage of computer and telecommunications has ushered
in the Information Age, which is as different from the Industrial Age
as that period was from the Agricultural Age. Information technology
has demolished time and distance. Instead of validating Orwell’s
vision of Big Brother watching the citizen, the third revolution
enables the citizen to watch Big Brother. And so the virus of freedom,
for which there is no antidote, is spread by electronic networks to the
four corners of the earth. (Writson 1997: 172)

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