Digital Transformation: Competition, Diplomacy, and International Norms

Anosh Samuel
Master in International Relations, University of Siegen

The following is a summary of the third section, ‘Competition and Emergent Technologies,’ of the book ‘Competition in World Politics: Knowledge, Strategies, and Institutions.’ The section consists of three chapters.

Chapter: Diplomacy and Artificial Intelligence in Global Political Competition, by Didzis Kļaviņš

Diplomacy as one of the founding principles of Realpolitik has been interconnected with the balance of power. Diplomats are trustworthy mediators for reconciliation between hostile parties. Wherever hostile and competing entities are present, the existence of diplomacy as means of negotiations and communication is necessarily essential. Consequently, every nation is adapting it to the core. There has been a misleading assumption about Artificial Intelligence (AI) as a neutral field where states as sovereign entities cannot compete with each other.

Author Didzis Klavins argues about the emergence of AI, diplomacy, foreign policy, and intensifying competition between states. The main argument revolves around the interplay between competition and diplomacy in the race to be a hegemon with regard to evolving technologies. The role of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) can not be overlooked, for it keeps the administrative hierarchy for many countries.

Innovation, Science, and Digital diplomacy characterize the diplomatic variations. To understand these variations, James N. Rosenau’s approach can serve to describe such variations. He uses the term ‘turbulence’ to explain changes in international politics and diplomacy. What could an MFA historically have fulfilled? This scenario represents MFA as gatekeeper, which historically has been a communication channel between domestic and international politics, thus the status of which cannot be doubted in world politics. The size of a country does not matter, however, as far as an MFA’s coordination increases the country’s reputation. In the modern world, MFAs are focusing on becoming digital. The advocates of digitalization Brian Hocking and Jan Melissen express: “The use of social networking sites and websites such as Twitter, Facebook, and other online platforms for public diplomacy is just the tip of the digital iceberg.”

Another “New Normal” is observed during the COVID-19 pandemic and emergence of so-called Zoom diplomacy not only for diplomats but every sector of the world. Where digitization is becoming a ‘new normal,’ there are also challenges for artificial intelligence transformation at the international level. The author describes three areas that need to have diplomatic ties along with foreign policy toolbox: a) democracy and ethics; b) security and autonomous weapons systems; c) economic disruption and opportunity. The foreign policy toolbox includes bilateral and multilateral engagements, information gathering and analysis, public diplomacy and policymaking, partnerships and conventions, and actions through international organizations. Keeping in view diplomacy ties and foreign policy toolbox, the development of AI is going to dominate the countries geopolitically and economically.

The dominance of AI has been authenticated by the example of China’s roadmap announced in 2017 to exert control by surpassing its rivals technologically through AI, by 2030 with 1 billion USD of market. One could have expected the reaction of the USA about China’s ambitions to seek dominance, Donald J. Trump, then-president of the USA who in 2019 signed Executive order 13859 to meet AI leadership, stating it a paramount necessity not only economically but also for the national security of the USA. Besides China and the USA, Russia’s involvement in AI competition has been vital. The threats that AI offers along with the competitive opportunities are unpredictable, however, the leader in AI technology will rule the world, as pointed out by Russian President Vladimir Putin. Through all of this course of competition and diplomacy, it has been obvious that great powers are aiming to reach their goals.

Chapter: Small, Smart, Powerful? Small States and the Competition for Cybertech Superiority in the Digital Age, by Madeleine Myatt

The chapter “Small, Smart, and Powerful” provides detailed information about the role of small states and their influence on international relations, world politics, and their aims in cyber politics including cyber security. The theme of the chapter is based on ‘size matters’ in International Relations. Countries with larger economies, geopolitics, and population are well equipped. The interconnectedness between states is the helm of affairs in national and international politics. This can be observed through information and communication technologies (ICTs). What keeps the spirit high among great powers in cyber domain competition, is the fear of misuse of digital technology. Different intelligence operations are carried out by small and big states also including non-state actors. The operations vary: electoral interference, surveillance, disinformation campaigns, cyber-attacks and espionage, hacking, etc. The role of small states such as Estonia, Singapore, and Israel is noticeable in cybersecurity and digitalization. As Wendt said: “Size and power are what states make out of them.”

The contribution of small states clearly shows their political, technological, and economic impact which has strategic importance. Nordic countries like Estonia, Finland, Sweden, and Denmark are good examples for adopting cyber security politics. The essence of cyber power is also understandable from a perspective of the role of technological innovation and shaping the norms and values for nation branding. Due to the nature of cyber security, politics is vulnerable, the recognition of relations between states regardless of their size is significant.

Finland and Estonia have been examined wherein they are being seen as leading nations due to their contributions to digital transformation and cybersecurity, despite being small states. The term ‘leading’ refers to small states adopting the expertise of digital and strategic technology, developing the capacity building, their regional cooperation, transfer of knowledge and technology, as well as benefits within International Organizations (INGOs).

According to the Neorealist view, small states have the ability and power to influence results that power manifests in itself employing indicators of GDP, population, and weapons. Small states are focused on values and the role of interdependence and institutions. Collecting, comparing, and interpreting these indicators serves to explain the capacity of power when it comes to the importance of a state. Analysis of the Neorealist views keeps the focus on strength of military power and its proliferation in an anarchical world, which consequently affect the relations between small and big powers. The views of Neorealists is placed in contrast to the Neoliberal argument. Neoliberalism assumes that small states enjoy more benefits than the larger states from multilateral organizations. Another argument is that multilateralization has been witnessed in international politics where small states rely on multilateral cooperation. Moreover, occupying control of the administrative system of the INGOs is beneficial for small states. Through soft-power (direct and indirect lobbying), small states get into a strategic position in INGOs, which is a smart and rational behavior in competition.

The implications that a state could experience in the emergence of cyber politics are: a) the latter challenges to the sovereignty of a state, despite enabling the flow of information across the world and keeping the world interconnected; b) the relations between private and public vary due to the cyberspace. It is a fact that mostly, information and communication technology infrastructure is privately owned, with private companies offering and distributing technological solutions which not only require state acknowledgment but also making the private sector an important political interlocutor. Tech-diplomacy has evolved with the help of private and public relations. Lastly, c) cyberspace established security concerns among states. Emerging technologies are prone to digitalization and high technological innovation. Nordic countries exemplify investors and strategists in technological diplomacy and the transfer of technological knowledge, which has been reinforcing digital citizenship. Thus, Nordic countries are examples for being small, smart, and powerful in cyberspace.

Chapter: Between Strategic Autonomy and International Norm-setting. The EU’s Emergent ‘Cyber-Sanctions’ Regime, by Yuliya Miadzvetskaya

The European Union (EU) experiences a shift from a value-based approach to principled pragmatism in foreign policy. The importance of such a shift is that the EU not only has solid relations with other countries but it also is strategically engaging with rivals, with the principle goal to protect the strategic interests of the EU in international politics. This chapter examines the growing ambitions of the EU to protect the uncertain relations with the US and Russia would be one of the aspects of the EU in securing its sovereignty in international competition in cyberspace. The author explained Europe’s approach to cybersecurity in a competitive geopolitical environment worldwide. Furthermore, deterrence theory and its application in cyberspace are also described. Lastly, the chapter concludes with the study of sanctions to be enforced in the cyber domain.

The policymakers of the EU believe that Europe faces numerous cybersecurity challenges if Europe wishes to be self-sufficient with regard to the USA in the military realm and NATO. The term ‘strategic autonomy’ is believed to have been adopted from France’s defense policy. Therefore, French president, Emmanuel Macron in his 2017 speech, emphasized strategic autonomy or ‘autonomous operating capabilities for Europe.’ He asserts France could be a better leader in defense cooperation within Europe. Remote-controlled weaponry and several cyberattacks have been noticed over the past decade that spiked the need to have strategies to fight against cyber warfare and to deter future attacks. Hence, deterrence is considered the mainstream agenda within foreign policy. On the other hand, it is also pragmatically functional in the cyber domain.

The deterrence toolbox used by the EU is also stretched to sanctions and includes traditional strategical practices such as name and shame. Historically, the USA is considered to be pioneer in applying sanctions as a deterrence tool. But what does deterrence mean? A party threatening (explicitly or not) or forcing another party to change their behavior and preserve the status quo. Deterrence theory in the cyber realm is criticized on the grounds that fundamental inconsistencies are noticed between the cyberspace and cyber conflicts. The author quotes Fischerkeller and Harknett for criticizing deterrence based on behavioral changes by strategic inactivities if deterrence is not placed. According to the two scientists, the absence of US leadership would exacerbate behavioral changes in cyberspace. They proposed that active involvement in the operations of US interest would be a persistent and suitable strategy, rather than restraining overall operations. In other words, there should be a capability-based approach rather than a threat-based strategy; whatever in cyberspace is indeed threatening, the USA can react proactively. According to Thomas Schelling, “[t]he power to hurt is most successful when held in reserve.”

The two commonly identified types of deterrence are denial and retaliation. Deterrence by denial focuses on where the actions by the adversary are denied so that they would fail to succeed in their goals and objectives, including retaliating a cyberattack. On the other hand, deterrence by retaliation offers severe outcomes in the form of penalties and inflicting high costs on the attacker that would outweigh the anticipated benefits of an attack. As far as the world is advancing in technological innovations, cyberspace intrusions would not stop alike the topic of deterrence in the digital world. The way to mitigate cyberattacks is the appropriate use of means of cyber diplomacy, which could prevent conflicts and also offer peace in international relations.

The European Council introduced the following strategies and measures for developments in cyberspace: a) preventive measures are encompassed with confidence-building exercises. These exercises and policies include awareness-raising regarding EU’s political dialogues with a focus on cyberspace and cybersecurity; b) cooperative measures including political dialogues intending to find peaceful solutions by resolutions and cooperation of member states; c) stability measures condemning or discussing the cyberattacks for regional stability. d) lawful response to compel the cyber attacker to change behavior; e) restrictive measures referring to travel bans, freezing the economic resources or assets. The purpose of all the measures is to coerce the cyber perpetrator to change behavior. Such sanctions are the central instrument of the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy. The proposed framework of sanctions in cyberspace could be helpful for progression in international law, and could, in the future, be favorable for other nations’ and organizations’ national and international interests.

Russ, D. & Stafford, J. (eds.). (2021). Competition in World Politics: Knowledge, Strategies and Institutions. Bielefeld, Germany: transcript Verlag.

(The views expressed in this text are those of its author and do not reflect those of

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