The earliest scholarly writing on “cyberpolitics” focused mainly on the domestic sphere, but it became clear by the mid-2000s that the Internet-generated “cyberspace” was also having massive effects on the broader dynamics and patterns of international politics. A great deal of the early research on this phenomenon focused on the way cyberspace might empower nonstate actors of all varieties. In many respects that has been the case, but states have increasingly asserted their “cyberpower” in a variety of ways. Some scholars even predict a coming territorialization of what was initially viewed as a technology that fundamentally resisted the dictates of sovereign borders. Such disparate possibilities speak to the ambiguity surrounding the intersection of the international system and the political affordances generated by the Internet and related technologies. Does cyberpolitics challenge the international system as we know it—perhaps altering the very nature of war, sovereignty, and the state itself—or will it merely be subsumed within some structurally mandated logic of state-centric self-help? As might be expected, research that speaks to such foundational questions is quite sprawling. It is also still somewhat inchoate because the object of study is complex and highly malleable. The cyber-“domain” involves a physical substrate ostensibly subject to a territorially demarcated international system, but Internet-enabled activities have expanded rapidly and unpredictably over the past few decades because it also involves a virtual superstructure designed to be a network of networks, and so fundamentally at odds with centralized control. As such, some argue that because cyberspace has so enmeshed itself into all aspects of society, international politics and cyberspace should be seen as coevolving systems, and concomitantly that fields such as International Relations (IR) must update their theoretical and methodological tools. Such contentions indicate that an understanding of extra-domestic cyberpolitics has not so much involved progressively developing insights as differing perspectives compete to explain reality, but rather the growing recognition that we are only now catching up to a rapidly changing reality. As part of that recognition, much of the cutting-edge International Studies (IS) work on cyberpolitics is aimed at researching how the central actor in global politics, the state, is increasingly a cyberpolitical actor. This has meant the abandonment of strong assertions about the way cyberspace would exist separate from the “real world” of state interaction, or that it would force the alteration of especially hierarchical forms of state power. Instead, burgeoning literatures examine the myriad ways states seek to resist and control cyberpolitical activity by others, deploy their own cyberpolitical power, and even shape the very cyberspace in which all of this can occur. This focus on “international cyberpolitics” thus involves tracking a complex and growing milieu of practices, all while reflecting on the possibly fundamental changes being forced upon the international system. All of this points to the likelihood that the study of international politics will increasingly also be the study of international cyberpolitics.
Benjamin R. Banta
The internet is a set of software instructions (known as “protocols”) capable of transmitting data over networks. These protocols were designed to facilitate the movement of data across independently managed networks and different physical media, and not to survive a nuclear war as the popular myth suggests. The use of the internet protocols gives rise to technical, legal, regulatory, and policy problems that become the main concern of internet governance. Because the internet is a key component of the infrastructure for a growing digital economy, internet governance has turned into an increasingly high-stakes arena for political activity. The world’s convergence on the internet protocols for computer communications, coupled with the proliferation of a variety of increasingly inexpensive digital devices that can be networked, has created a new set of geopolitical issues around information and communication technologies. These problems are intertwined with a broader set of public policy issues such as freedom of expression, privacy, transnational crime, the security of states and critical infrastructure, intellectual property, trade, and economic regulation. Political scientists and International Relations scholars have been slow to attack these problems, in part due to the difficulty of recognizing governance issues when they are embedded in a highly technological context. Internet governance is closely related to, and has evolved out of, debates over digital convergence, telecommunications policy, and media regulation.