By Majid Tehranian
The purpose of this essay is two-fold: (1) to provide an overview of the impact of global communication on international relations in the theoretical discourse, military, diplomatic, economic, scientific, educational, and cultural arenas, and (2) to draw out the implications in each arena for further policy research and development.
Global communication at the turn of the 21st century has brought about many effects. On the one hand, it is blurring technological, economic, political, and cultural boundaries. Print, photography, film, telephone and telegraphy, broadcasting, satellites, and computer technologies, which developed fairly independently, are rapidly merging into a digital stream of zeros and ones in the global telecommunications networks (The Economist, March 10, 1990; October 5, 1991; September 30, 1995). Economically, separate industries that had developed around each of these technologies are combining to service the new multimedia environment through a series of corporate mergers and alliances. Politically, global communication is undermining the traditional boundaries and sovereignties of nations. Direct Broadcast Satellite (DBS) is violating national borders by broadcasting foreign news, entertainment, educational, and advertising programs with impunity. Similarly, the micro-media of global communication are narrow casting their messages through audio and videocassette recorders, fax machines, computer disks and networks, including the Internet and the World Wide Web. Culturally, the new patterns of global communication are creating a new global Coca-Colonized pop culture of commodity fetishism supported by global advertising and the entertainment industry.
On the other hand, global communication is empowering hitherto forgotten groups and voices in the international community. Its channels have thus become the arena for contestation of new economic, political, and cultural boundaries. Global communication, particularly in its interactive forms, has created immense new moral spaces for exploring new communities of affinity rather than vicinity. It is thus challenging the traditional top-down economic, political, and cultural systems. In Iran, it facilitated the downfall of a monarchical dictatorship in 1978-1979 through the use of cheap transistor audiocassette recorders in conjunction with international telephony to spread the messages of Ayatollah Khomeini to his followers within a few hours of their delivery from his exile in Paris (Tehranian, 1979, 1980, 1993). In the Philippines, the downfall of the Marcos regime in 1986 was televised internationally for all to witness while alternative media were undermining his regime domestically. In Saudi Arabia, a BBC-WGBH program on “The Death of a Princess,” banned by the Saudi government as subversive, was smuggled into the country by means of videotapes the day after its premier showing on television in London. In China, despite severe media censorship, the democracy movement in Tiananmen Square spread its message around the world in 1989 via the fax machines. In the Soviet Union, computer networkers who opposed the Moscow coup of 1991 and were sympathetic to Yeltsin, transmitted his messages everywhere despite severe censorship of the press and broadcasting (Ganley & Ganley 1987, 1989; Ganley 1992). In Mexico, the Zapatista movement managed to diffuse its messages of protest against the government worldwide in 1994 through the Internet. In this fashion, it solicited international support while embarrassing the Mexican government at a critical moment when it was trying to project a democratic image for admission to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). In Burma or Myanmar, as it is officially known, both government and opposition have employed the Internet in their political struggles. E-mail has been used to achieve rapid global mobilization for withdrawal of Western companies from Myanmar in protest against the government’s repressive policies (The Economist, August 10, 1996: 28).
These are only a few examples. However, they demonstrate that accelerating technological advances in telecommunications and their worldwide dissemination are profoundly changing the rules of international relations. On the one hand, they are facilitating transfers of science, technology, information, and ideas from the centers to the peripheries of power. On the other, they are imposing a new cultural hegemony through the “soft power” (Nye 1990) of global news, entertainment, and advertising. Globalizing the local and localizing the global are the twin forces blurring traditional national boundaries. The conduct of foreign relations through traditional diplomatic channels has been both undermined and enhanced by information and communication resources available to non-state actors. The emergence of a global civil society in the form of over some 30,000 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) alongside nearly some 200 state actors as well as intergovernmental organizations (IGOs), transnational corporations (TNCs), and transnational media corporations (TMCs), has added to the complexity of international relations (Commission on Global Governance 1995). Telecommunications is contributing to changes in the economic infrastructures, competitiveness, trade relations, as well as internal and external politics of states. It also affects national security, including the conduct and deterrence against wars, terrorism, civil war, the emergence of new weapons systems, command and control, and intelligence collection, analysis, and dissemination. The Persian Gulf War provided a glimpse of what future wars might look like. The emergence of an international politics of cultural identity organized around religious, ethnic, or racial fetishisms suggests what the future issues in international relations might be.
Global communication is thus redefining power in world politics in ways that traditional theories of international relations have not yet seriously considered. More specifically, it is bringing about significant changes in four major arenas of hard and soft power (Nye & Owens 1996; Cohen 1996). Hard power refers to material forces such as military and economic leverage, while soft power suggests symbolic forces such as ideological, cultural, or moral appeals. Major changes seem to be taking place in both hard and soft power conceptions and calculations. First, information technologies have profoundly transformed the nature of military power because of emerging weapons systems dependent on laser and information processing. Second, satellite remote sensing and information processing have established an information power and deterrence analogous to the nuclear power and deterrence of an earlier era. Third, global television communication networks such as CNN, BBC, and Star TV have added image politics and public diplomacy to the traditional arsenals of power politics and secret diplomacy. Fourth, global communication networks working through NGOs and interactive technologies such as the Internet are creating a global civil society and pressure groups (such as Amnesty International or Greenpeace) that have served as new actors in international relations. Although no grand theoretical generalizations on the dynamics of hard and soft power are yet possible, trends indicate that the latter is assuming increasing importance.
International Relations theory has been dominated by five major schools of thought: Realism, Liberalism, Marxism, Communitarianism (also known as Institutionalism), and Postmodernism. Table 1 provides a synopsis of the major propositions, principles and processes, units of analysis, and methodologies of these schools. Realists have primarily focused on the geopolitical struggles for power, employed the nation-state as their chief unit of analysis, considered international politics as devoid of moral consensus and therefore prone to violence, and argued that the pursuit of national interest in the context of a balance of power strategy is the most efficient and realistic road to international peace and security (Morgenthau 1985; Kissinger 1994).
Table 1. International Relations: A Typology of Normative Theories
|Major Proposition||Axial Principle & Processes||Unit of Analysis||Methodology|
|Realism||IR is a struggle for power and peace through balance of power in a political environment devoid of moral consensus and prone to use of force. In such an environment, national interest and strength must be the guiding principles.||Order: Balance of power among competing states||Nation-state||Historical Method|
|Liberalism||IR is struggle for power, peace, and freedom through balance of power in a political environment in which increasing interdependencies have created a need for the rule of law and cooperation through intergovernmental organizations (IGOs)||Freedom: International division of labor, trade, and development||Nation-state + IGOs||Historical Method + Game Theory+ Simulation, etc.|
|Marxism||IR is a class struggle for equality between those who own the means of production and those who do not. Under the world capitalist system, the struggle has been waged between the bourgeoisie and the revolutionary working classes, peasantry, and intelligentsia. As the Highest stage of capitalism, imperialism has transformed the struggle into a global class war that cuts across national boundaries.||Equality: Leveling of wealth and income through international class struggle||World System+ TNCs+ TMCs+ Revolutionary& counter-revolutionary states & movements||Historical & Dialectical Materialism|
|Communitarianism||IR is a struggle for power, peace, and community through democratic cooperation and institution building from local to global in a political environment of contesting power and moral claims that need to be negotiated through global communication, adjudication, or mediation of conflicts without recourse to violence||Community: Integration of international community through institutions of cooperation||Civil Society+ TNCs+ TMCs+ NGOs+ IGOs+ States||Eclectic & Multi-Disciplinary|
|Postmodernism||IR is a struggle for hegemonic power through competing truth claims that need to be understood intertexually as negotiations of knowledge and power.||Identity: Hegemony and resistance through identity formations||Culture||Interpretive|
Realism has been the dominant school of thought, in both theory and practice focusing on peace through national strength, armament, and balance of power. For Realists, order is the primary normative value and historical analysis is the soundest methodology to pursue.
Liberals, by contrast, have pointed to the integrating forces of the world market as a new reality creating considerable international interdependency in the postwar period. They have argued that increasing levels of free trade, development, deepening and broadening of interdependency, and international cooperation through intergovernmental organizations are the surest path to peace (Keohane & Nye 1989). For liberals, freedom in property ownership, politics, and trade is the primary normative value. In their studies of international relations, Liberals supplement historical analysis with a variety of quantitative and qualitative methods such as time-series, correlation analyses, and simulation games.
Marxists and Neo-Marxists, although in decline politically, continue to present powerful theoretical arguments that have an appeal in the peripheries of the world. They view international relations primarily in terms of class conflict within and among nations and argue that since the 16th century, capitalism has increasingly incorporated the peripheries into a world system of domination and exploitation through imperialism, colonialism, and neo-colonialism (Wallerstein 1974; Schiller 1981, 1985). The social revolutions in Russia, China, Cuba, Vietnam, and many less developed countries (LDCs) have attempted to break away from the fetters of the world capitalist system. However, they are being reincorporated by an international regime orchestrated by the transnational corporations, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), and its successor, the newly formed World Trade Organization (WTO). But, Marxists further argue, internal contradictions, wars, and revolutionary struggles will continue to challenge the dominant capitalist system. For Marxists, equality is the primary normative value while historical materialism and dialectics are the dominant methodologies.
The Communitarian perspective has been articulated by a diversity of political theorists and activists (Deutsch 1966, 1988; Gandhi 1984; Khomeini 1981; Etzioni, 1993; Haas 1992; Tehranian 1990; Tehranian & Tehranian 1992). Although the ideologies of its proponents differ, the centrality of civil society as expressed through community formations, in contrast nation-state and social classes, is what unifies this theoretical perspective. As expressed in its cultural, communal, and institutional formations, civil society thus serves as the underlying unit of analysis. In the traditional literature of international relations, this school of thought is closely linked to the institutionalist perspectives emphasizing the integration processes of world and regional systems. However, it also has manifested itself in a variety of anti-colonial, nationalist, tribalist, localist, ethnic, and religious movements focused on mobilizing the common historical memories of the peripheries in waging a cultural and political struggle against the centers. The Communitarians thus emphasize the centrality of political community as a condition for a durable peace at local, national, regional, and global levels. Community is thus the primary normative value to be pursued, while institution building for world economic, political, and cultural integration are the policy recommendation.
Postmodernism is the latest theoretical perspective to have impacted international relations theory (Derian & Shapiro 1989). Emanating from the poststructuralist and deconstructionist schools of thought, postmodernism is deeply imbued with linguistic analyses of knowledge and power. It therefore highlights the central importance of identity as a major principle in the globalization and localization of knowledge and power struggles and truth claims. Generally committed to radical relativism, postmodernism interprets contemporary international relations as a process of negotiation of knowledge, power, and identity through military, economic, and cultural arsenals of influence. While some tendencies in postmodernism are nihilistic, others seek out those universals in global knowledge that could unify an otherwise divided world. Plurality of meanings, tolerance of differences, fluidity of identities, and re-combinations of ideas and images from totally different eras and civilizations are thus the postmodern foci of analysis (Derian & Shapiro 1989).
Although each theoretical discourse has its own unique set of assumptions and conclusions reflecting competing interests in the international community, global communication has forced them into a grudging dialogue. Table 1 confines itself to a typology of the main theoretical strands. There are many theoretical hybrids that have enriched international discourse on world order. However, it is significant to note that the axial principles of the five schools of thought together constitute the five democratic goals of order, liberty, equality, community, and identity in the modern world.
Thus, the effects of global communication on the evolution of international relations theory and its underlying international system have been two-fold. On the one hand, global communication has empowered the peripheries of power to progressively engage in the international discourse on the aims and methods of the international system. In this way, Liberalism challenged the traditional state-centered, protectionist, mercantilist policies of the 16th to 18th centuries with its revolutionary doctrines of laissez-faire in international trade and protection of property and liberty in domestic life. However, it also incorporated much of the geopolitical Realist view of power politics in its justification of the colonial and imperial orders while increasingly emphasizing the role of IGOs in the management of the international system. Similarly, Marxism challenged Liberalism’s dominance in the 19th and 20th centuries by its mobilization of the peripheries against the colonialist and imperialist orders. However, in practice, Communist regimes often cynically followed Realist geopolitical doctrines in favor of international proletarian solidarity. Liberalism, in turn, undermined the Communist regimes by its control of the main world capital, of trade, and of news flows through appeals to democratic values. In a world system dominated by state and corporate bureaucracies, Communitarianism is the latest phase in a continuing theoretical and ideological struggle by the peripheries to put the human rights of the oppressed on the international agenda. In its preoccupation with the collective rights of community, however, Communitarianism cannot altogether ignore the Realist focus on political order, the Liberal preoccupation with individual freedom, and the Marxist concern with social equality. Postmodernism deconstructs the truth claims of all of the foregoing schools by casting doubt on their meta-narratives. But it also posits its own meta-narrative of relativism as a truth claim. Tensions among the five theoretical schools clearly reveal the tensions among the competing aims of democracy: order, freedom, equality, community, and identity.
On the other hand, global communication has also served as a channel for theoretical integration. Political leadership in international relations has increasingly come to mean moral leadership in such great debates as colonialism, development, population, environment, nuclear weapons, human rights, women and minority status, etc. Global communication has thus historically broadened and deepened the parameters of discourse from Realism to Liberalism, Marxism, Communitarianism, and now Postmodernism. Each school of thought has had to respond to the concerns of new layers of the international community as they have emerged from conditions of oppression and silence. International relations theory has thus progressively incorporated the new democratic claims for equality, self-determination, and cultural identity.
For example, the slogan of “New World Order” has gone through several mutations in this century. For the Axis powers in WW II, it meant a new world system making room for the imperial ambitions of Germany, Italy, and Japan. For the Allies, it meant a reorganization of the world around the United Nations principles of collective security policed by the five permanent members of the Security Council. To the Group of 77 at the United Nations calling for a New World Economic Order in a 1974 General Assembly resolution, the new order meant a revamped international economic system to redress the terms of trade in favor of the LDCs. When a small group of oil exporting countries managed to quadruple the price of crude oil in 1973 through OPEC’s collective action, it appeared for a fleeting time that the raw material exporting nations might be able to redress the deteriorating terms of trade between the developed and developing countries. To UNESCO, which picked up the discourse in the 70s and 80s under the banner of a New World Information and Communication Order (NWICO), it meant balance as well as freedom in world news and information flows. The Brandt (1980, 1985) and MacBride (1980) Commission reports set out those policy agendas (Traber 1986; Galtung & Vincent 1992; Frederick 1993). Following the largely fruitless North-South negotiations of the 1980s, the discourse of the new order was resurrected and coopted by President Bush. To mobilize international support for a war effort against Saddam Hussein, Bush employed the slogan at the wake of the Persian Gulf War in 1990-1991 with maximum effect. It now meant a new international regime of “law and order” under the aegis of the United Nations supported by the unanimity of the five permanent members of the Security Council and, whenever that fails, under alliances such as NATO or ultimately superpower action.
Views of the international system and its most urgent reform needs are thus as fractious as the world itself. The complexities of the world demand international relations theories that can focus on both growing gaps and interdependencies, conflicts and cooperation, violence and peace-building. They also call for policies recognizing that global communication plays a central role in problem definition and negotiation for solutions. But meaningful international communication calls for technical competence and equality of access to the means of communication–a requirement that is sorely lacking in today’s world. For example, so long as the whole continent of Africa has fewer telephone lines than the city of Tokyo, global communication will continue to be largely a one-way flow. Industrial countries as a whole have over 18 times more telephone lines per 100 people than all the developing countries (UNDP 1996: 193). Since telephones are the linchpin of the emerging global communication system, this situation exacerbates the existing communication gaps in the world. Theory building in international relations clearly requires greater multicultural dialogue in order to build bridges among the competing cultural constructions of world conflicts.
The Military Arena
The multiple effects of global communication are perhaps most visible in the military arena. Military technologies have become increasingly information- and communication-intensive. Historically, most communication technologies have immensely benefited in their research and development phase from military investments, but their introduction has often led to rapidly diffused civilian applications. They also have been quickly adopted by all adversaries. Table 2 provides a schematic view of the most important communication technologies and world orders. As Innis (1950) has persuasively argued, world political systems closely correlate with world communication systems.
Without reliable command, communication, and control, power centers cannot effectively manage their peripheries. However, every communication system also empowers the peripheries. Print, for example, facilitated the political and cultural hegemony of the West from 15th century onwards, but its spread also gave rise to increasingly potent resistance via nationalist movements throughout the world.
In the military arena, the “double sword” feature of communication technologies has led to the paradox of “more is less”: More security has meant less security. A few examples illustrate the point. Nuclear weapons have been assumed to be a powerful deterrent force. However, their proliferation has created a greater probability of accidental or intentional nuclear war. Remote sensing by satellites has created a global surveillance system at the disposal of the superpowers. But commercialization of such information is now leading to its availability to those adversaries who can afford the price. Moreover, direct broadcast satellite communication through such global television networks as CNN and BBC is bringing the news of adversaries’ strengths and weaknesses to each party far more quickly than was ever possible before.
In warfare, technology is having two contradictory consequences. The conduct of war and resistance against domination are both becoming increasingly robotized and globalized. This is so because the technology is at once global and local as well as both powerful and vulnerable. Terrorism, as the weapon of the weak, has thus been on the ascendancy locally and globally–on the West Bank as well as at the New York World Trade Center, in the Armenia-Azerbaijan region as well as at Turkish and Armenian embassies around the world, at the Oklahoma City Federal Building as well as in Washington, DC.
The idea that stockpiling weapons of mass destruction can gain commensurately higher levels of security for those who possess them is thus proving to be problematical. As military technologies have augmented their hit/kill ratios and communication technologies have improved their powers of surveillance, conditions of permanent insecurity seem to have become more prevalent at the centers as well as at the peripheries of power. The policy implications of this phenomenon for the pursuits of power and peace are far reaching but, for reasons of space, cannot be addressed here.
The Diplomatic Arena
In addition to traditional intergovernmental diplomacy, global communication seems to have generated three new types of diplomacy, which may be labeled public, people, and virtual diplomacy. The global reach of broadcasting by such networks as CNN, the BBC, Star TV, the Voice of America, Radio Moscow, and Radio Beijing, seems to have led to a shift of emphasis from power politics to image politics (Tehranian 1982; Livingston & Eachus 1995). Public diplomacy has thus assumed an increasing importance in the conduct of foreign policy. Realists such as former Ambassador George Kennan (1993) and former U.S. Secretary of State James Schlesinger (1992) have, in fact, decried this tendency as tantamount to emotionalism in the policy process. James Schlesinger (1992: 17) has argued that the U.S. policies in Kurdistan and Somalia were, in particular, driven by the impact of television images of those human tragedies. John F. Kennedy once summed it up: a videotape is more potent than ten thousand words.
Public diplomacy, however, complements rather than supplants traditional diplomacy. Steven Livingston and Todd Eachus (1995) have challenged the facile presumption of a “CNN effect” on such U.S. humanitarian interventions as those in Somalia or Kurdistan (Livingston & Eachus, 1995: 413). However, the debate over the role of the media in international relations cannot be settled by a few case studies. Judging by media’s role in such post-Cold War crises as the Persian Gulf War, Somalia, Bosnia, and Chechnya, there seems to be a symbiosis between governments and the media in the coverage of international affairs. Governments can enhance, restrict, or manipulate the media’s access to information and coverage, while the media can play a multiple role in the formation of foreign policies. In their coverage of international affairs, the media– particularly commercial television–tend to dichotomize, dramatize, and demonize. In this process, the media follows a pattern of story-telling that has been well-established in the American Westerns with enormous success at the box office, i.e. pitting the cowboys against the Indians in a dramatic struggle between the forces of good and evil.
Given government license to cover a given story, the media may legitimate prevailing policies, or accelerate, impede, or prioritize them. This is often known as the agenda-setting function of the media; the media focuses us more on what to think about than tells us what to think. In the case of the Vietnam War, the first television war in history, the media initially legitimized and accelerated U.S. government policies. However, as the body bags came home and the atrocities of the war were televised into American homes, the media gradually turned against government policies, to a certain degree impeded them, and finally contributed to a change of priorities from war to peacemaking. In the case of the Gulf War, the first government-managed television war in history, about 80 percent of the American public receiving its news from television supported the war effort. Television coverage of the plight of the Iraqi Kurds and Shiites in the aftermath of the war may have accelerated the U.S. government’s decision to provide relief and air cover, but it was not decisive in the adoption or execution of that policy. The media may be thus viewed as neither powerful nor powerless but power-linked.
Public diplomacy is seen as an auxiliary instrument to traditional diplomacy. The use of television as a channel for sending messages to the opposite side by the leaders of the U.S. and Iraq during the Gulf War, the employment of CNN as a source of information and intelligence gathering by foreign and defense policy leaders, and the testing of “trial balloon” proposals via the mass media are examples of such uses of public diplomacy at times of crisis. None of these examples can conclusively suggest that, in their making of foreign policy, states have become hostages to the media. However, the examples suggest that governments are increasingly aware of the potential benefits and risks of media.
In contrast to public diplomacy, which is essentially top-down, people diplomacy is a bottom-up process. Improving global transportation and telecommunications have increasingly made it possible for ordinary citizens to engage in a game that has been historically reserved for foreign policy “experts.” In efforts to mediate and resolve international conflicts, such prominent citizens as Jimmy Carter, Jesse Jackson, and Ramsey Clark have provided examples of the possibilities and constraints of people diplomacy. Numerous other individuals and groups are also engaged in such efforts. The best known of such groups is Amnesty International, an organization devoted to the freedom and humane treatment of political prisoners around the world. Such interventions in the foreign policy process are often resented by the foreign policy establishments as intrusive. However, people diplomacy can serve as a corrective to the governments’ narrow or nationalist objectives (Mandelbaum 1966; Hoffmann 1966).
Virtual diplomacy is of more recent vintage. Global audio, video, and computer teleconferencing has allowed numerous official and unofficial contacts on a routine basis. The institution of a hot-line between the White House and the Kremlin in the aftermath of the Missile Crisis of 1962, closed circuit video-teleconferencing by the U.S. Information Agency through its Worldnet, and other similar facilities demonstrate that diplomacy has new tools at its disposal. But the explosion of the Internet into a worldwide, interactive communication network has also provided numerous opportunities for expert groups to act as intermediaries, advocates, or advisors in international conflicts. At a Harvard University Conference on Information, National Policies, and International Infrastructure (January 1996), Henry Perritt reported on the project Virtual Magistrate jointly sponsored by the Cyberspace Law Institute and the American Arbitration Association. The project provides expert mediation services to parties at conflict through the Internet and the World Wide Web to parties in conflict. Another example of virtual diplomacy is the Internet Listserv Gulf2000 directed by Gary Sick, a retired member of the U.S. National Security Council. The list includes over 170 leading experts on the Persian Gulf. It provides both a forum for the discussion of current issues and a channel through which opinions are formed. Many other expert groups such as the Toda Institute for Global Peace and Policy Research also employ the Internet for international conflict resolution projects that aim at identifying the parties at a conflict, engaging them in a dialogue, and searching for common grounds. The possibilities for virtual diplomacy through the Internet as well as audio or video conferencing are thus immense and will no doubt be exploited further in years to come.
The Economic Arena
The impact of global communication on the world economy is perhaps the most studied and best known (Schiller, 1981, 1985; Nordenstreng & Schiller 1993; Wriston 1992). This impact has reshaped the processes of world production, distribution, trade, development, and financing. Expanding global transportation and telecommunications networks in recent decades have clearly enabled the TNCs (Trans-National Corporations) to decentralize their production and distribution networks while seeking higher profits in regions of the world with lower wages, rents, taxes, and government regulation. World trade and financing have also been profoundly affected by the transborder data flows that facilitate airline and hotel reservations, cash and capital transfers, and international trade in capital markets. In developing economies, the new information technologies have made technological leapfrogging possible in such world trade centers as Singapore and Hong Kong that are now among the world’s highest per capita incomes and penetration of telecommunications facilities. Other Asian tigers such as South Korea, China, Taiwan, Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia have similarly found in telecommunications an engine of rapid technological leapfrogging and economic growth.
The economic consequences of the current worldwide information revolution are, however, less well-known and more controversial. Is the information revolution leading to global leveling of wealth and income or to a new class system of information haves and have-nots within and among nations- In creating and destroying jobs, is the information revolution leading to “the end of work” or to a system of structural employment prompted by the disappearance of middle management and downsizing- Is the nature of employment and career changing fundamentally from a one-life-one-career patterns to “one life many-careers and jobs”-
Clearly, the transfer of industries and jobs from high to lower cost areas within and among nations has led to new policy dilemmas that have been hotly debated among experts and politicians. As witnessed in U.S. presidential politics, the debate has particularly focused on internationalism versus protectionism in trade. However, issues of efficiency versus equity, national security versus. economic freedom, and development versus social and environmental health are also at stake in the debate. Since world trade has become increasingly dependent upon information flows and copyright issues, the new economic policy dilemmas involve issues such as transborder news and data flows versus national information sovereignty, industrial espionage and piracy versus the rights of industrial patent and copyright holders (Branscomb 1994), global advertising and consumerism versus national saving and investment needs.
The Science and Educational Arenas
The experiences of latecomers to the industrial revolution, such as Japan and China, have abundantly illustrated that the acquisition of modern science and technology is the key to catching up. In this process, the role of information technologies, from print to the Internet, cannot be overemphasized. Since the rate of obsolescence in scientific and technological knowledge is also increasing, information technologies are assuming an additional function aside from transfers of knowledge. They have made lifelong and open learning systems possible (Noam 1995; Tehranian 1996). What are the relationships between traditional educational institutions and new systems- Can scientific internationalism and technological protectionism coexist- Does leapfrogging from low-tech (e. g. typewriters) to high-tech (e. g. global computer networking and DBS) undermine cultural sovereignty and identity- Which is more important in the processes of economic development, financial or human capital- If the latter is more important, as the evidence tends to show (UNDP 1992-1996), what is the place of science and technology policy in an overall development strategy- What are the implications of all of this for a global science and technology policy- These questions have clearly no easy answers. But they present the beginnings of any serious international discussions on information, science, technology, and educational policies.
The Cultural Arena
The impact of global communication on international cultural life is perhaps the most visible of its effects. Traveling along the Silk Road in 1992, I was persistently followed by the CNN, BBC, and Star TV. CocaCola, Michael Jackson, and Madonna were ubiquitous wherever I went–from the Great Wall of China to Urumchi (capital of Sinkiang, China’s Western province) to Almaty (capital of Kazakstan), Dushanbe (capital of Tajikistan), Tashkent (capital of Uzbekistan), Ashkabad (capital of Turkmenistan), Baku (capital of Azarbaijan), and Tehran (capital of Iran). In Almaty, in August 1992, I encountered Jimmy Swaggert preaching the Gospel in fluent Kazak on the national television. In Tehran, in June 1994, courtesy of CNN and DBS, I witnessed O. J. Simpson on the run on the Los Angeles freeways. And despite Islamic edicts, MTV musical videos with their postmodern messages of sensuality, pluralism, and skepticism were reaching into the sanctity of Islamic living rooms. This was viewed by the Iranian government authorities as a cultural invasion no less menacing than the U.S. armed fleet off the coasts of the Persian Gulf.
However, it would be misleading to think of media effects as uni-linear and uniform. Technological effects are always socially mediated and constructed. Each new technology has to find its own cultural space in the life of a society before it can have any meaningful impact on social relations. In the case of the media, where technologies range from the simplest to the most complex, and from the readily accessible to those accessible only by a small elite, the effects are even more complex and ambiguous. A distinction between macromedia, meso-media, and micro-media might illustrate the point. The macromedia of communication (satellites, mainframe computers, the Internet, and its offshoot, the World Wide Web) seem to be acting as agents of globalization. Through global satellite and computer networks, trans-border data flows, scientific and professional electronic mailing, and commercial advertising, the macromedia are supporting the globalization of national markets, societies, and cultures. The meso-media of communication (print, cinema, and broadcasting) are primarily under the control of national governments or pressure groups and therefore function mostly as agents of national integration and social mobilization. The micro-media of communication (telephone, copying machines, audio and videocassette recorders, musical tapes, and personal computers) have primarily empowered the centrifugal forces of dissent at the peripheries of power. All three types of media are, however, closely interlinked via social networks of governments, markets, and civil societies. Without contextualizing their social and political functions in historically and cultural specific situations, media effects would therefore remain largely mystifying and incomprehensible.
Competing Paradigms and Policies
We live in a complex world, and global communication is not making it any less so. But if we view modernization as the overall theme of international relations in the last 500 years of world history and possibly the next 500 (Tehranian 1995), the paths to modernity may be considered to have fluctuated within four political paradigms, i.e. capitalism, communism, totalitarianism, and communitarianism. Figure 1 remaps the conventional half-circle political spectrum into a full-circle around these four polarities. World politics has been characterized by a struggle among the proponents of these four paths. The Blues, or the pioneers of the industrial revolution (England, France, and the United States), took the liberal democratic, capitalist road with the industrial bourgeoisie leading the way, preoccupied with the rights of private property and individual freedom, following a high accumulation strategy of development and free trade policies designed to open up the markets of the rest of the world. The Reds, the communists, were led by the revolutionary working class and intelligentsia aiming at the same goal of industrial revolution through national planning with a focus on social equality, national self-sufficiency, and high mobilization strategies of development and self-sufficiency. Last but not least, the Greens have been led by the intelligentsia to argue for socially, culturally, and environmentally responsible strategies of development prizing “community” and for high integration strategies of development. The Communitarians range in perspective from Gandhian revolutionaries in the LDCs (India, South Africa, Sri Lanka) to the social Democratic and Green Parties in the West.
As Figure 1 shows, this conceptual map situates a complex range of right and left globalists as well as right and left localists in the international political spectrum. However, all three democratic paths have shown themselves to be prone to totalitarian temptations. Capitalism in the United States (during the McCarthy era), Germany, Italy, and Japan; Communism in the Soviet Union and China; and Communitarianism in Israel (in the West Bank), India (under Hindu militancy), and Iran (under the Islamic regime), have all succumbed to that temptation. In particular, the totalitarian regimes of the latecomers to the industrial revolution (Germany, Japan, Italy, Spain, Argentina) employed their national or party colors (brown for Nazism, black for Fascism, yellow for Japanese militarism) to mobilize their societies around a new, highly repressive “order” that glorified national myths of superiority.
As Figure 1 illustrates, global communication has already placed the democratic norms of order, freedom, equality, and community on national agendas. The central task of the media in democratic societies may be considered to be twofold: (1) to allow for the diversity of voices in society to be heard and (2) to channel that diversity into a process of democratic integration of public opinion and will formation. Without free and vigorous debate among competing views, no nation can achieve the level of integrated unity and determination necessary for democratic societies to act on public issues.
Generally speaking, media pluralism would serve these purposes better than a media system exclusively dominated by state, commercial, public, or community media. Pluralism in structures of ownership and control are therefore needed in order to obtain pluralism in perspectives and messages. However, structural pluralism is hostage to the presence of independent market institutions and voluntary associations (political parties, trade unions, religious and civic organizations). The existence of a strong civil society to counter the powers of the state and the market is therefore a precondition for media pluralism.
In formulating national communication policies, three sets of interlocking policies are at stake, namely cultural, information, and media policies (see Figure 2). The overarching policy questions concern freedoms of conscience, speech, association, and assembly. Cultural policies include not only the question of national values, heritage, and identity but also freedoms of religion, language, and schooling. Information policies concern the production and dissemination of public information by such institutions as government agencies, public libraries, and value added networks (VANs). Media policies cover the whole gamut of mediated modes of communication, from print to cyberspace.
1. Cultural Policies.
The central dilemma of how to balance cultural diversity with national unity is a perennial problem for any national cultural policy. Perhaps the most important issue in cultural policy is how a country defines itself with respect to its cultural identity, heritage, goals, and values. Although most democratic governments pay lip service to cultural diversity, national unity is often a higher priority. Even in North America and Western Europe, where cultural diversity has been accepted as a democratic value (witness the US motto: E pluribus unum), multiculturalism has come under attack in recent years (Schlesinger 1992). Under communism, the Soviet Union defined itself as a bastion of the international proletariat. Composed of over 100 nationalities, however, it had to deal with the problem of nationality. Under Stalin, the Soviet empire was divided into 15 autonomous republics based on nationality. Soviet cultural policy, however, constantly vacillated between the primacy of proletarian solidarity under the banner of a Soviet culture as defined by the Soviet Communist Party and homage to the religious and ethnic diversity of its vast population. But to divide and rule, the Soviets drew the boundaries of most republics in such a way as to include significant ethnic and religious minorities. Voluntary and forced migration also significantly contributed to the multiethnic character of the population in most republics. While Soviet policies succeeded in maintaining the hegemony of the Soviet Communist Party for over 70 years, they could not destroy ethnic and religious loyalties. It is no surprise, therefore, to witness the resurgence of such loyalties to fill the vacuum that is left by the de-legitimization of the Communist ideology. As a result, in the newly independent republics, national histories, identities, goals, as well as place and family names have been revamped to fit the new circumstances. Such cultural restorations included a change from Leningrad to St. Petersburg, Leninabad to Khojand.
Competing myths and historical memories powerfully shape the cultural configurations of society. They are preserved in national monuments, libraries, national and religious rituals, textbooks, and the literature of a country. Cultural policy decides what myths and historical memories to preserve, which to discard, and what to repress. In monarchical Iran, for instance, the myths and memories of the pre-Islamic Iranian monarchy were glorified, while in Islamic Iran, they are being repressed at the same time that the Shi’a Islamic myths and memories are revived and embellished (Tehranian 1979, 1993). The religious policy of a state thus has profound consequences for its cultural policy. Whether a state adopts a national religion, as in England, or pursues a policy of separation of church and state, as in the United States, has important implications for the type of schooling allowed or subsidized. Similarly, language policies affect educational practice. Since its independence in 1917, Finland has required Swedish language instruction in its schools. However, Finland’s entry into the European Union has raised questions about the value of Swedish in contrast to English or French as bridges to the European community. By adopting bilingualism, Canada has attempted to keep Quebec within its federation. But Quebec’s refusal to require bilingualism within its borders has undermined Canadian unity. To protect and enhance European identity vis-à-vis American TV programs, the European Union is imposing limits on the proportion of foreign programs on television.
2. Information Policies.
The dilemma of how to reconcile freedom of information with the dictates of national security and rights of privacy seems to be at the center of any democratic national information policy. A telling example of this dilemma is the controversy in the United States on the Clipper Chip and V(iolence) Chip. In 1993, the National Security Agency introduced a new encryption technique to be used for security and privacy on the National Information Infrastructure (NII). This new technique, commonly known as the Clipper Chip, was designed in secret by the NSA and remains classified so that its inner workings are unknown. It also has an additional “feature”–the government keeps the keys for you, so if they want to wiretap anyone, they can. This proposal met with nearly universal opposition from the public and industry. In January 1994, many of the world’s top cryptographers and computer security experts wrote to President Clinton asking him to withdraw it. Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility (CPSR, Internet Memo, February 3, 1994) created a listserv for an Internet Petition to Oppose Clipper. Public concern with pornography and violence has clashed with the First Amendment rights in other arena as well. The U.S. Communication Decency Act of 1995 made the dissemination of pornography on the Internet a criminal act. It also required the installation of Violence-Chips in TV sets allowing parents to control the programs their children can watch. However, in 1996, a few U.S. courts declared any infringement of freedom of speech proscribed in the Act as unconstitutional.
Cyberia, otherwise known as Cyberspace, is thus becoming a technologically visible Panoptican Society as well as a public arena for contestation among policies. In a society such as the United States committed to freedom of conscience, speech, association, and assembly, the new technologies are raising fundamental questions on how to protect the First Amendment. Questions of national security also touch on the protection of sensitive scientific and technological information. Since a great deal of science and technology development takes places at research universities, which are generally committed to academic freedom and publication, tensions between the government and institutions of higher education are clearly inevitable. In the 60s, the New York Times published the Pentagon Papers, documents relating to the War in Vietnam that were released by Daniel Ellsburg, a former member of the Central Intelligence Agency. The newspaper was sued by the government for its breach of national security. The courts decided in favor of the Times, but the question of who defines national security and its breach of information remains.
The management of news is one such issue. During the War in Vietnam, reporters had direct access to the battlefront. From the U.S. government’s point of view, the consequences were disastrous. Vietnam was the first major U.S. war to be covered by television. As the images of the bloody battlefields reached American homes, the Pentagon’s claims of victory were increasingly questioned and anti-war sentiments among the public forced the government to finally withdraw from that country. Government information policies on war subsequently changed. Ever since Vietnam, U.S. reporters have been denied direct access to battlefronts. In the invasions of Granada, Panama, and Iraq, reporters received most of their information through Pentagon briefings. Under these circumstances, the news media have had only limited opportunity to independently examine the veracity of Pentagon claims (Mowlana et al. 1992).
To turn to another policy arena, the question of patent and copyright protection is primarily a commercial issue. However, it has important consequences for a country’s international obligations. In recent decades, the United States has been in direct conflict with a number of countries including Hong Kong, Thailand, Taiwan, China, and Singapore for their breach of copyright laws of the United States. Textbooks, computer hardware and software, and musical recordings have been systematically pirated for profit without payment of copyright royalties. However, as long as a country has not signed the Geneva Convention on Copyright, it can continue reproducing intellectual properties without compensation to the authors and publishers. The U.S. has brought considerable pressure on some of the Asian countries to sign and abide by the Geneva Convention. Some have; others continue to refuse to sign on the grounds that their Asian heritage has been pillaged for centuries without compensation and it is now their turn to borrow or steal. In this instance, the interface between national information and foreign policies could not be any closer. Foreign policy can no longer confine itself only to the issues of security; it must also develop positions with respect to cultural identity, media freedom and protection, and information trade.
A democratic information policy would increasingly provide electronic libraries for the public and the rights of citizen access to public information. Some Sunshine Laws in the United States provide this. However, a thornier issue is the question of the rights of access of an individual to the information held about her or him. A variety of government and business files such as tax, credit, employment, and court records contain errors or facts that may be detrimental to an individual. The central policy dilemma here revolves around the question of how far the law should extend the individual rights of access and reply before government or employer rights are compromised.
3. Media Policies
Many of the dilemmas of cultural and information policies also confront those who shape national media policies. However, in multicultural societies, the dilemma of how to allow freedom of speech without encouraging hate speech is the central question (Masuda et al. 1993). Different media philosophies would, of course, respond differently to this question. Authoritarian media policies often follow the dictates of tradition. In multinational imperial systems such as the pre-modern Islamic and European empires, the level of tolerance for religious and ethnic differences was relatively high. As long as allegiance was paid to the central authorities, each cultural community was largely left to its own devices. In the Islamic empires, in fact, the millet system ensured a high level of internal government for the Peoples of the Book (i.e., Christians, Jews, Zoroastrians, Hindus, and Buddhists).
Libertarian media policies tend to value free speech above politically correct speech. Proponents of a ban on hate speech, however, argue that it is equivalent to crying fire in a crowded theater, thus constituting a “clear and present danger.” Hate speech should not be tolerated because it seriously threatens ethnic and racial peace. As the Report of the Project on Ethnic Relations in Eastern Europe and the Former Soviet Union suggests (Internet Memo, August 24, 1994), the problem can be tackled in several different ways: First, through constitutional checks and balances. Second, through intermedia checks and balances. Third, through journalists’ own codes of ethics. Fourth, through better historical and cultural education for journalists. Fifth, through better coverage of news contexts in relation to news events. Sixth, through shaming the aggressors by publicizing information about the political persecution of minorities provided by such organizations as Amnesty International. Finally, through bringing international pressure to bear on violators of human rights.
Communitarian media policies face a different set of problems in ethnic and religious conflicts. By definition, such policies value one religion or language or ethnicity over others because they consider it of vital importance to their national unity. Other religions or cultures are either repressed or not equally valued. Iran’s persecution of the Baha’is, Turkey’s persecution of the Kurds, Iraq’s persecution of the Shi’ites and the Kurds, and Israel’s persecution of Palestinians all fall within this category. Global communication can make a contribution to human rights through international censure for such systematic violations of its provisions.
Totalitarian media policies, by contrast, leave little room for international or domestic remedies until the regime reaches its point of self-destruction. The introduction of market forces in China, Iran, the Philippines, the former Soviet Union, and Eastern Europe suggests, however, that a civil society may emerge sooner or later even under the tightest of controls. A civil society can, in due course, bring about the freedom of public discourse necessary for a democratic regime.
National policies are often formulated in the context of global forces and policies. But who decides global policies- There is no global sovereign government comparable to national governments. Instead, we have a complex variety of players or stakeholders on the global scene each taking part in formulating policies that inevitably enhance or constrain national governments in the pursuit of their goals. Figure 3 provides a schematic view of the major stakeholders on the global scene, including states, markets, pressure groups, financial groups, civil societies, and media. States regulate, markets allocate, lobbies try to persuade, civil societies resist and mobilize, financial institutions accumulate, and the media de/legitimate policies. It is in the context of such forces and policies as well as their respective media outlets (state, public, commercial, community, advertising, pressure group, and trade and investment media) that global, national, and local discourses take place.
Table 3 provides a schematic view of global policy formation suggesting the roles of each of the above stakeholders in the policy processes of problem definition, policy formulation, legislation, implementation, regulation, adjudication, and evaluation. The table views the policy process from the top-down, bottom-up, and mediating perspectives. From a top-down perspective, global policies are primarily driven by the interests and policies of the Great Powers and the TNCs. From a bottom-up perspective, small and medium-size powers as well as revolutionary and opposition parties and non-governmental organizations also influence policies. From a mediation perspective, the global communication networks and media act as negotiating arenas among conflicting authorities, legitimacies, and identities of governments and opposition groups. The table spells out the possible roles of the stakeholders in these three processes.
This essay has catalogued the problems, puzzles, and policies associated with the impact of global communication on international relations. Although the essay argues that the impact has been significant and wide-ranging, the author does not wish to suggest that he has discovered any particularly dominant trends. In the absence of persuasive evidence, such claims as the end of history, the end of journalism, the end of work, the end of the university, the end of modernity, and the emergence of an information society, global village, or electronic democracy, should be considered with a grain of salt. This essay has emphasized a “multiple effects” thesis while recommending caution on any single generalization. The only exception to this rule is the following central argument. While each technology brings forth its own bias to the social scene by extending this or that human power (e. g. cars extending speed, computers extending information processing), it is the social mediations, constructions, and applications of technologies that ultimately determine their social effects. Radio communication has a bias for two-way communication, but when introduced into a commercial or government controlled social environment, it assumes the character of one-way broadcasting. It was not until the introduction of a cellular phone that the two-way potential or radio communication was fully exploited.
In international relations, global communication seems to have at once encouraged globalism and its discontents, i.e., nationalism, regionalism, localism, and fundamentalism (Tehranian, 1993). Because of the uneven levels and rates of economic development of nations, resistance against globalism may be considered to be a chronic problem. As a force perhaps as powerful as globalism in modern history, nationalism was initially fostered by print technology (Anderson 1983). However, the other forms of resistance against globalism are also facilitated by communication technologies. Historically, the ideological thrust of nationalism in the modern nation-states has been toward uniformity in religion, language, and ethnicity. It is no wonder, therefore, that the major wars of the 20th century have revolved around clashing national identities. The Cold War temporarily shifted the emphasis to ideological issues. The post-Cold War era is clearly marked by a return to national, ethnic, and religious rivalries and conflicts. In the meantime, globalism is facilitated by expanding global communication networks with English as their lingua franca.
At the threshold of the 21st century, the world is faced with many contradictions, our awareness of which owes much to global communication. On the one hand, as Francis Fukuyama (1989) has argued, liberal capitalism appears to have triumphed to put an end to the history of ideological contestations. On the other hand, history has just begun for those marginalized nations whose growing access to the means of global communication is bringing them to the attention of the rest of the world. Some 3000 to 5000 nationalities around the world are increasingly clamoring to be subjects rather than objects of history. We may thus expect the 21st century to be an arena for competing territorial and moral claims. The hegemonic state-corporate system will continue to be challenged by sporadic but persistent acts of resistance unless the world learns to respect and celebrate diversity by devolutions of power to sub-communities of a national entity.
As Samuel Huntington (1993) has argued, a “clash of civilizations” is characterizing our own era because new economic and communication power is enabling the ancient civilizations of Asia to challenge the truth claims of the relatively new nations of Europe and America. However, thanks to global communication, a new dialogue of civilizations is also being conducted via the international communication networks. Communication technologies are enabling the past silent voices to be heard in a global Tower of Babel characterized by old and new ethnic and racial hatreds. But global communication networks are also fostering a new ecumenicalism leading to the negotiation of new global worldviews and ethics.
In the absence of a more egalitarian world, Marshall McLuhan’s global village has proved to be a place not of harmony but of colliding moral spaces and sporadic violence. The lords of the electronic castles and the rebellious serfs, shamans, and jesters surrounding them have confronted each other in physical, political, economic, cultural, and environmental encounters. In this context, global communication channels can serve the cause of world peace and reconciliation only if they can be turned into channels of international and inter-civilizational dialogue. In place of exclusive national sovereignties, the global commons of outer space, ocean resources, geostationary orbit, and electromagnetic spectrum, must come under inclusive global sovereignties. In place of zones of protracted violence, such as Palestine, Kurdistan, Kashmir, and Palestine/Israel, zones of peace and shared sovereignties must be built. To turn global communication into global dialogue, however, we need to rethink the problems of sovereignty, governance, economy, human rights, civic responsibilities, and media systems in order to accommodate the human unity in diversity. That diversity can be ignored only at our own peril.
An earlier version of this essay was presented at the Harvard University Conference on Information, National Policies, and International Infrastructure, January 1996. Thanks are due to the Program on Information Resources Policy at Harvard University for support during 1994-96. Anthony Oettinger, Charles Nesson, and George Kent gave me the benefit of their comments, for which I am deeply grateful.
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