The unbearable lightness of national sovereignty

In the contemporary world politics, cyber wars hold immense potential to pressure, influence or challenge the political economies of those countries which happen to be antithetical to the US’ global strategies. Source: Shutter Stock / Legion Media

In the contemporary world politics, cyber wars hold immense potential to pressure, influence or challenge the political economies of those countries which happen to be antithetical to the US’ global strategies. Source: Shutter Stock / Legion Media

The great beauty of the ‘cyber war’ is that it is always in a denial mode. This puts the ‘enemy’ at a disadvantage. He is deprived of even the fundamental right to claim that he is the victim of a war.

India has unwittingly slided into a ‘cyber war’ with the United States. No, this is not about the two countries plunging into the ‘invasion’ of each other’s state security systems or intelligence networks, nor of cyber espionage over corporate secrets, or a petty cyber crime of stealing money out of the ATM machine. Certainly it is not about not cyber terrorism, either.

But then, the domain of the ‘cyber war’ in the contemporary world goes beyond these four genres of criminality. These are early days but the American pundit Joseph Nye completely overlooked while theorizing on cyber wars as to how these ‘wars’ are affecting other nations somehow arrested himself upon reaching the conclusion that there could only be the above four genres of conflicts on the cyber space. 

Nye ignored the geopolitical dimension. But the Arab Spring has brought to the fore the immense potentials of the cyber realm for bringing about ‘regime change’ in the Middle East countries. Arguably, the genesis of this form of ‘cyber war’ can be traced back to the so-called Rose Revolution in Georgia in late 2003. By now, this topic has been extensively written about even in the western media and much of it is well documented. Simply put, the geopolitics of the ‘cyber war’ in Georgia in late 2003 forms an engrossing story.

The trajectory of Georgia under the new leadership in Tbilisi following the ‘regime change’ is incontrovertible proof that the United States conclusively ‘won’ that cyber war. Unsurprisingly, the thrill of that victory led to the next two ‘cyber wars’ – Orange Revolution in the Ukraine in 2004 followed by the Tulip Revolution in 2005. Suffice to say, when the Jasmine Revolution took place in Tunisia in 2010-2011, the theory and practice of the cyber war had already become quite advanced and sophisticated.

The great beauty of the ‘cyber war’ is that it is always in a denial mode. This puts the ‘enemy’ at a disadvantage. He is deprived of even the fundamental right to claim that he is the victim of a war. Furthermore, since the cyber war takes recourse to tantalizing rubrics – media freedom, free elections, freedom of religion, democracy and so on – the ‘enemy’ is put on the defensive straightaway. How could one possibly array oneself against the noble values of universality?

In the contemporary world politics, cyber wars hold immense potential to pressure, influence or challenge the political economies of those countries which happen to be antithetical to the US’ global strategies. Russia and China are already target countries. So is Iran. The US has a formidable advantage in waging cyber wars insofar as some of the most influential players in the cyber space also happen to be US-based companies.

India is currently grappling with the US’ tyranny over the cyber space. The Indian government is realizing to its great discomfiture and consternation that it is not even in command to judge what is objectionable or detrimental to its national interests. The unpalatable truth is that the US Department of Justice in Washington must first concur with any Indian contention that some materials in the cyber space belonging to the US-based companies would be inappropriate. Washington will always have the prerogative to pass judgment on the diplomatic and political plane regarding the issue involved, disregarding the fact that the world community comprises sovereign nations.

This is a big issue. But the Indian discourses on the subject are still at a rather primitive stage and have been laboring under the impression that cyber wars are merely what Nye spoke of. Alas, the Indian pundit almost instinctively depends on the Western discourses to show him the signpost as to which way he should think and propagate. But a clash of interests is bound to develop at some point. When it comes to cyber wars, the Indian establishment is going to be hard-pressed to position itself on the “right side of history”, as defined by the West. But at the same time, the Indian pundit would probably feel uncomfortable with the thought that his country has a commonality of interests with, say, Iran or China to robustly defend national sovereignty in the global village. 

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