A ‘Technopolar Moment’? How digital powers will reshape global order


The most important question in geopolitics today might be, Will countries that break up or clamp down on their biggest technology firms also be able to seize the opportunities of the digital revolution’s next phase, or will their efforts backfire? says Ian Bremmer, President of Eurasia Group. The EU, alarmed that it has not given rise to digital giants the way the United States and China have, appears intent on finding out. It is at the forefront of democratic societies pushing for greater sovereignty over digital space, he writes for Foreign Affairs:

Political scientists rely on a wide array of terms to classify governments: there are “democracies,” “autocracies,” and “hybrid regimes,” which combine elements of both. But they have no such tools for understanding Big Tech. It’s time they started developing them, for not all technology companies operate in the same way. Even though technology companies, like countries, resist neat classifications, there are three broad forces that are driving their geopolitical postures and worldviews: globalism, nationalism, and techno-utopianism.

Rather than view the challenge as a series of discrete apps used for repression, democracies should see digital authoritarianism through the lens of system rivalry and recognize that they face competition from a powerful, repressive governance model spreading around the world, argues Eileen Donahoe, Executive Director of the Stanford Global Digital Policy Incubator and a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED).

Domestic practices, international norms, and technology innovation and standards are intertwined with digital governance systems. The strength of the digital authoritarian model stems from the fact that these elements are working in tandem. Democracies must recognize these interdependencies and demonstrate leadership in all three realms, simultaneously and in a coordinated fashion, she writes for Just Security. 

Today’s biggest technology firms have two critical advantages that have allowed them to carve out independent geopolitical influence, adds Bremmer:

  • First, they do not operate or wield power exclusively in physical space. They have created a new dimension in geopolitics—digital space—over which they exercise primary influence. People are increasingly living out their lives in this vast territory, which governments do not and cannot fully control. The implications of this fact bear on virtually all aspects of civic, economic, and private life. In many democracies today, politicians’ ability to gain followers on Facebook and Twitter unlocks the money and political support needed to win office….
  • The second way these technology companies differ from their formidable predecessors is that they are increasingly providing a full spectrum of both the digital and the real-world products that are required to run a modern society. … In China, Alibaba and Tencent dominate payment systems, social media, video streaming, e-commerce, and logistics. …..RTWT
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