The technological revolution has facilitated global communications, trade, and the growth of economies but many emerging conflicts pose serious challenges to countries. The Russia-Ukraine war and the recent Israel-Gaza conflict have given rise to new setbacks where the threats to the global economy remain pertinent. Besides the possibility of oil shocks, and threats to food security, the digital landscape bears great risks to governments, corporations, and civil society.
Misinformation/ Disinformation are used as potent weapons by enemy states that create widespread riots and conflicts, many a time leading to war.
Since 1945, multilateral pacts and intergovernmental organizations have kept countries from going to war. The United Nations and financial regulatory institutions have ensured a stable world order but conflicts do escalate and the risk to countries always remains. The perils where governments tread are levers offsetting national security along with constitutional rights, economic growth, and privacy. This involves consistent monitoring of threats and challenges, by safeguarding the citizenry in democracy. The tech and media debates necessitate a multipronged approach to national security policy.
The Tradition of Statecraft
The national security discourse widely differs between authoritarian regimes and democracies. Global powers such as the U.S., China, and Russia have their tradition of statecraft, where strategic lessons can lead to collaboration between countries. As one navigates the technological landscape, areas such as – Internet governance, Psy-Ops, Public opinion, and Privacy have impediments challenging governments.
Information and its influence are often perceived as a less serious threat by the public and its relevance isn’t limited to education, entertainment, polity, or governance. Misinformation/Disinformation are used as potent weapons by enemy states that create widespread riots and conflicts, many a time leading to war. India has witnessed progress on many fronts but the subject of tech-policy, cyber-security, and media policymaking need more scrutiny as these matters impinge on sovereign nations.
The United States of America – The approach to U.S. foreign policy has differed from diplomats, academicians, and security practitioners. It can be traced back to the arguments between Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton. The corollary between the ‘Liberal’ and ‘Realist’, views weigh heavily into statecraft and diplomacy. These approaches have evolved from the U.S., once being perceived as unilateral and presently a leading nation at the forefront of – ‘Internationalism’.
The U.S. is also a provider of cyber-security and enables countries with technology solutions. The biggest technology companies that power various global industries are based in the U.S.
In the early 1940’s, the U.S. began its first attempts at a unified intelligence system. The Central Intelligence Group had replaced the Office of Strategic Services. William Donavan who was Roosevelt’s emissary to England was tasked with developing the intelligence system. Code breaking, Radio-interception, and Psy-Ops were used in information influence operations. A great media scholar Daniel Lerner devoted his time to studying ‘Propaganda’. Lerner initially served with the U.S. Army’s Psychological Warfare Division (PWD). Paul Lazarsfeld and Harold Laswell, two renowned academicians received grants and funding for various projects where media research leapfrogged its way.
These studies began in the military with great effort but their applications have still been relevant to industry. The United States in this age, has a very powerful media enterprise. The country’s media universe iscolossal, enabling the government and industry to benefit from advanced technologies and innovative practices. The U.S. is also a provider of cyber-security and enables countries with technology solutions. The biggest technology companies that power various global industries are based in the U.S. The television and video segments remain one of the key drivers of the media industry estimated at over US$270bn (in 2023).The country holds its position of having one of the most advanced mass-media systems in the world.
China – China as a civilization and a nation-state that has evolved through intense turmoil and fraught battles. The Chinese have been adept practitioners of ‘Realpolitik’ and strategic thinking. Sun Tzu – ‘The Art of War’, has been a classic treatise, a study for all military, diplomatic, and security students. The Chinese strategic doctrine favours psychological influence over military means (to win wars). This combative co-existence with countries gives Beijing its strategic depth.
The Chinese government’s notion of cybersecurity differs from Western nations. In 2014, the guidelines for China’s cybersecurity policy were established by the Central Leading Small Group for Cyber Security and Informatization (CSILSG), later called the Central Cyberspace Affairs Commission (CCAC). Beijing believes in its right to control information policies, news networks, and technologies that govern cyberspace. In 2023, China’s regulations on mass media pose hurdles for foreign companies that wish to engage and disseminate media content via networks.
The Chinese worldview of media policymaking differs from democratic countries but Beijing engages bilaterally and influences key policies in regional trade groupings.
For President Xi Jinping, cybersecurity takes precedence in political matters, where ministries, surveillance services, party heads, and the military involve discussions over sectors including IT, emerging technologies, and not limited to E-Commerce (where media policies and internet governance play a key role). China’s advertising revenue grew at 8.2% in 2023 with growth varied across media formats. China has leveraged the market for technology and is the market leader in many product categories. The Chinese worldview of media policymaking differs from democratic countries but Beijing engages bilaterally and influences key policies in regional trade groupings.
Russia – From the siege at Leningrad to the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the Russians are witness to conflicted events. Writings by Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, and Turgenev are deeply ingrained in Russian history, folk wisdom, and culture. Russia has a rich tradition of statecraft that guides its strategic doctrine, intelligence, and information policies. From being a major defence manufacturer and oil exporting country, Russia’s influence in technology, space, and cybersecurity is of major consequence to the world.
Russia’s approach to media policymaking has evolved from centralization to a mixed-media model. The evolution of the Russian press in the Soviet age still finds its roots in the era of Tsars. While Russia’s television networks and satellite systems have evolved from the Soviet era to the modern age, rhetoric, and dialectics have taken traditional narratives in the press to popular discussions, online. Television channels do get their funding from advertising and sponsorship. Despite the advent of media marketization, the readership of Russian dailies has not declined compared to many European countries. There were over 120 million internet users in Russia (January 2022).
Russia being part of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) and Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa (BRICS) grouping, has its equations with countries on norms building in cyberspace. Russia besides having bilateral discussions with countries, also facilitates dialogues on ICT matters. Russian media landscape and its information policies have evolved with time but the strategic objectives have retained supremacy where media policymaking integrates with the state’s national goals.
The role of Information and Communications technology (ICT) is an important factor in transforming social and economic development parameters.
India’s Case – The mass media in India has a rich legacy that has evolved with time. There were around 1,18, 239 publications (in 2018), over 300 radio stations, and over 900 satellite television channels (in 2022-23) in India. India’s telecom network is the second largest in the world (in terms of telephone connections) and has 1183.41 million telephone connections and an overall teledensity of 90.10%. India has 275 million smartphone subscribers and the mobile industry of India contributes 6.5 % to India’s GDP.
The role of Information and Communications technology (ICT) is an important factor in transforming social and economic development parameters. According to a report by Gartner, in 2023, nearly U.S, $4.5 billion are estimated to be invested in technology, software, and IT services worldwide. The cost of hardware and improved mobility has given thrust to new business initiatives and opportunities in India (digital infrastructure, telecom agreements, biometrics). The present government envisages ‘Digital India’ and ‘Smart Cities Mission’, to bring economic value integrated into the 5G mobile connected networks.
Policies on – Privacy, Artificial Intelligence (AI), and sustainable technologies are slowly gaining consensus among nations. The G20 Framework endorsed the Digital Public Infrastructure Systems and India’s plan on the Global Digital Public Infrastructure Repository. New Delhi and Washington have also agreed to collaborate in high-technology areas. In 2022, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and U.S. President Joe Biden launched –The Initiative on Critical and Emerging Technologies (iCET), towards cooperation in critical and emerging technologies. India has also stated the intention to build its sovereign AI infrastructure. India’s cyber landscape is beset with disputes but the government’s engagement with the UN Group of Governmental Experts (UNGCE)is a progressive step. India’s invitation to technical experts from G7 countries is another notable development.
With industry leaders pushing for greater leverage on AI applications, governments need to be cautious and countries must collaborate toward solutions.
The Way Forward
The viewpoint of the ‘Public Sphere’ was conceptualized very well by the German scholar Jurgen Habermas. At one point in history, the media’s role was vital in defining the nature of the public sphere which was distinct from the state and the market. The role of media in public opinion was a point of reference that scholars probed deeply. In this age, digital uncertainty looms large, where governments and corporations cope with challenges.
The advancement of Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) and widening income inequality, would impact markets and jobs across the world. With industry leaders pushing for greater leverage on AI applications, governments need to be cautious and countries must collaborate toward solutions. Threats, such as -Deep fakes, voice manipulation software, copyright infringement, privacy, and commercialization of data remain key challenges. Analysts also attribute Israel’s intelligence failure to the Israel-Hamas war (by an overreliance on AI) rather than human intelligence.
In policymaking, a multi-vectored approach is more viable than a command-and-control mechanism. India must leverage the G-7meetings (on multilateral and sovereign matters); the Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa (BRICS)forum (on IT policies, food security, copyright, and broadcasting policies); the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) grouping (on national policies – tech-governance, semiconductors, and trade), and regional intergovernmental organizations like the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation(SAARC)/ (on decentralized media policies, issue-based campaigns, media literacy, and E-governance initiatives). With the U.S. and China on two sides of the geopolitical spectrum, New Delhi must aim at a navigable pole (for strategic manoeuvrability) by relying on relevant, and trusted allies (especially, in matters of technology).
With the Digital Personal Data Protection legislation, New Delhi must also keep in mind India’s federal nature of governance and work towards consensus among states. There must be greater collaboration between the Ministry of External Affairs, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, and the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology. In countries such as Australia and the U.K., when policymaking is separated from implementation, innovation makes great headway. Governments must commence funding for media research projects that play a critical role in strategic studies. This could help initiate Track-2 dialogues across key forums. As the major powers get involved in unresolved conflicts, India’s role in global affairs becomes all the more pertinent.