The Internet as a Threat to Sovereignty? Thoughts on the Internet's Role in Strengthening National and Global Governance

  • Perritt Jr. H
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The Internet's potential for becoming the medium of a global marketplace and a forum for a collection of traditional and novel political activities is rapidly becoming reality. The growth in the use of the Internet has been one of the most interesting technological and political developments of the late twentieth century. This tremendous phenomenon has not, of course, escaped the notice of political leaders and commentators who analyze new developments for positive and negative influences. While generalizations are always dangerous, it is fairly safe to assert that most of the literature in which the exploration of cyberspace has been discussed asserts that the Internet threatens traditional political institutions and perhaps even the very concept of sovereignty itself. Walter Wriston, writing recently about the revolution of the Information Age, stated that "sovereignty, the power of a nation to stop others from interfering in its internal affairs, is rapidly eroding."1 Many forces today, such as trade, global capital flows, and environmental degradation, are thought to undermine sovereignty.2 The developing conventional wisdom seems to be that the Internet is joining the assault on sovereignty and will, perhaps more than any of the the globalization forces, contribute to relegating sovereignty and its traditional trappings to the ash heap of history.3 In this brief article, I would like to challenge this developing conventional wisdom by arguing that the Internet has the potential to strengthen national and global governance?thus enhancing sovereignty rather than destroying it. From the perspective of national governance, the Internet can be harnessed to promote the Rule of Law, which is critical for good governance of societies all over the world. Globally, the Internet can contribute to international cooperation by: (1) strengthening international law; (2) strengthening economic interdependence; (3) empowering non-governmental organizations and improving their abilities to contribute productively to the development of international regimes designed to deal with global problems; and (4) supporting international security mechanisms. The liberal theory of international relations informs my argument that the Internet can strengthen national and global governance.4 The liberal tradition stresses the Rule of Law nationally and internationally, the need for peaceful settlements of disputes, the role of non-state actors in international relations, and the importance of collective security and other forms of multilateral security actions.5 The "Internet as a threat to sovereignty" thesis seems to be informed intentionally or unintentionally by realism, which has been the dominant theory of international relations for a long time.6 Realism emphasizes the anarchic nature of relations among states conceived as abstract units, which is an approach that stresses the concepts of national sovereignty and power.7 From a realist perspective, the Internet easily looks like a threatening technological development. The problem is not, however, with the Internet but with the realist perspective. As I argue in this article, the Internet may be a threat to certain conceptions of sovereignty already targeted by liberalism for transformation. The liberal tradition of international relations theory provides a more helpful perspective from which to view the Internet and its impact on national and global governance. Liberalism probes beneath the shell of the state and holds that international relations are influenced by domestic political phenomena and the interaction of non-state actors across borders. The "Internet as a threat to sovereignty" argument?interpreted through the liberal tradition?should be a cause for celebration rather than of hand-wringing and angst on the part of liberal states and the international organizations they support.

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  • Henry Perritt Jr.

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