Vanuatu – Next Military Base of China

China’s expanding military power in the Pacific could soon approach Australia. Media reports over the last week suggest that China is planning to establish its second foreign military base. Australia’s Fairfax Media, via the Sydney Morning Herald and the Age, reported April 9 on “preliminary discussions” between China and Vanuatu about “building a permanent military presence in the South Pacific in a globally significant move that could see the rising superpower sail warships on Australia’s doorstep.” Vanuatu is a South Pacific island, located northeast of Australia.
It seems that while nearly everyone is talking about these reports, everyone is also denying them. “No one in the Vanuatu government has ever talked about a Chinese military base in Vanuatu of any sort,” Vanuatu Foreign Minister Ralph Regenvanu told abc radio program. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang described Fairfax Media reports as “fake news.” Even Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop downplayed the reports, saying, “We have very good relations with Vanuatu and I remain confident that Australia is Vanuatu’s strategic partner of choice.”
Perhaps only time will tell the full truth. Fake news or not, why did these reports gain so much traction in the first place? Why would Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull say that he viewed “with great concern the establishment of any foreign military bases in those Pacific Island countries and neighbors of ours,” even after he accepted China’s denial? Why is Vanuatu’s foreign minister concerned that “the upsurge in the paranoia about China in Australia” could “destroy or denigrate the good relationship Vanuatu has with Australia”? Why is China “more engaged in the Pacific,” as Australia’s foreign minister acknowledged?
China is a major power to be reckoned with. It established its first foreign military base in the East African nation of Djibouti. Beijing benignly calls this facility a logistics “support base,” primarily, even though its Xinhua News Agency calls it a facility for “military cooperation, joint exercises, evacuating and protecting overseas Chinese and emergency rescue, as well as jointly maintaining security of international strategic seaways.” The Telegraph wrote that “observers see it as a key part of Beijing’s plans to expand its global reach through military might. … China’s base in Djibouti was established after Beijing nurtured deep investment links with the tiny nation.”
The same could be said for Vanuatu. China already owns more than half of the tiny island nation’s debt. Vanuatu’s opposition leader, Ishmael Kalsakau, told Fairfax Media that there’s a lack of transparency in some of China’s infrastructure loans and donations to the nation and some of its leaders. “No one’s questioning what the Chinese are getting out of this,” he said. He acknowledged that no Vanuatu government official would “in their right mind” allow China to establish a military base in their country, but he warned that its loan agreements for some of Vanuatu’s maritime facilities could contain debt-equity swap clauses that would allow China to possess the facilities if Vanuatu defaulted. Australia’s International Development Minister Concetta Fierravanti-Wells similarly cautioned, “We don’t know what the consequences are when [Pacific nations] have to pay back some of these Chinese loans.”
“There are several plausible reasons for China to want access or presence for its armed forces in the South Pacific,” wrote Prof. Rory Medcalf, the head of the National Security College at the Australian National University. Australia and its allies, he wrote, would need to be “deeply mindful that China has used ‘transnational’ security challenges—such as piracy in the Gulf of Aden or bad weather in the South China Sea—as cover for strategic presence.”
China might want to establish a military presence in the region to increase its security cooperation with South Pacific island nations and thereby compete directly with Australia and New Zealand—the bigger powers in the region. It also might want a foothold in the sparsely populated South Pacific for testing and tracking spacecraft or even testing missiles. China has tested nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missiles in this region before.
“[T]he most troubling implication for Australian interests is that a future naval or air base in Vanuatu would give China a foothold for operations to coerce Australia, outflank the U.S. and its base on U.S. territory at Guam, and collect intelligence in a regional security crisis,” wrote Professor Medcalf.
During the Cold War, the Soviet Union established economic ties with South Pacific islands such as Kiribati and Vanuatu. Those same ties allowed the Soviets vital intelligence gathering opportunities. During World War ii, the imperial army of Japan invaded the South Pacific island nations of New Guinea and the Solomon Islands. Vanuatu, New Zealand and Australia would have been next if Allied forces hadn’t fought back the Japanese—from Vanuatu.
Professor Medcalf concluded: [H]owever small the initial footprint, the establishment of a Chinese naval or air force presence in Vanuatu would be a negative turning point in Australian defense policy. … A Chinese military base in Vanuatu would mark an accumulative and long-term failure of bipartisan Australian policy, in terms consistently defined in every single Australian defense white paper as well as strategic guidance documents going back at least three decades ….
Whether or not the reports about China’s military ambitions in Vanuatu are true, Medcalf wrote, they are not groundless or paranoid. That’s because China is an aggressive superpower in the making. Australia and its chief ally, America, are declining world powers losing the geopolitical chess game. And as the Sydney Morning Herald wrote, Australia “needs to get very serious, very quickly, to counter this move by a master strategist.”
What China is doing, or allegedly doing, in Vanuatu shows how much of a superpower it’s becoming. China is aggressively taking control of the sea gates in its region. As Trumpet editor in chief Gerald Flurry wrote in his article “China Is Steering the World Toward War”:
Ever since Xi Jinping took over as general secretary of the Communist Party of China, his administration has been militarizing the South China Sea and working to push the United States out of East Asia. In two island chains, the Paracels and the Spratlys, China is building a series of man-made islands, 800 miles from China’s shore. These islands are being installed with antiaircraft batteries and fighter jets are stationed on them.
The Spratly Islands are claimed by the Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam. China is ignoring these nations’ territorial claims. China is being aggressive and provocative.
These militarized islands now function as forward bases for Beijing to challenge seven decades of American naval dominance in the Pacific Rim. This should alarm the world! China’s deep ties to Vanuatu—even without a naval base—show that it is progressively reaching out further.


Fake News: Neither News Nor Fake

In today’s atmosphere of righteous indignation, it is sometimes easy to forget that all the wrongs confronting the world didn’t begin either with social media or Donald Trump.
Take the case of fake news, the newest discovery that democracies are neither able to swallow nor spit out. Last week witnessed convulsions in the media — both mainstream and social — over a ham-fisted attempt by the ministry of information and broadcasting to punish wrongdoers with the equivalent of court-martial and dishonourable discharge. It required the Prime Minister’s personal intervention to nullify the proposed changes and pass the buck to the Press Council, a body unsure of its contemporary relevance. More than the tentativeness over what constitutes fake news, the 36-hour drama showed yet again that the media is probably India’s most formidable trade union that no one wants to confront headlong.
Public memory being short, it is convenient to forget that the fake news didn’t exist in the public imagination until November 2016 when, defying all punditry, Donald Trump scored a surprise election victory. Predictably, this outcome threw the entire liberal and media establishment into a tizzy. Trump hardly had the backing of any ‘respectable’ notable and there was barely a media organisation of any consequence that endorsed his candidature. He was not only an outsider but an outlander.
The American media’s inability to assess the groundswell in favour of a candidate who seemed to defy all rules of campaigning was an enormous collective failure. The failure to gauge the mood of the proverbial other half was undoubtedly a consequence of existing in a cosy echo chamber and succumbing to groupthink. However, instead of admitting its own lapses, the liberal temptation was to point an accusing finger at an alternative world. It was smugly suggested that a parallel world had been built on different social assumptions and ‘alternative’ facts. In short, fake news.
It was a mischievous overstatement. People’s perceptions are built on a multiplicity of inputs. These include not merely what individuals consume in the media but what their own experience tells them. If there is a sharp mismatch between the two, there is a temptation to retreat into separate echo chambers, untroubled by doubts. The worldviews of those who saw redemption in Trump and those who perceived him as an incarnation of evil were vastly different. What one lot instinctively believed was considered fake news by the other.
This polarisation was replicated in the United Kingdom’s Brexit referendum. And again, the sharp schism between what has been called the ‘nowhere’ people and the ‘somewhere’ people was sought to be explained in terms of the triumph of fake news.
India is accustomed to alternative universes. Historians have studied the preponderance of rumours — what in today’s parlance would be dubbed fake news — in mass mobilisations. The uprising of 1857 was triggered by perceptions of travelling chapatis that foretold imminent collapse and greased cartridges that suggested an alien assault on faiths. Mahatma Gandhi on his part was accorded superhuman qualities by communities that existed outside the ecosystem of the ‘educated’ Indians. The British rulers, having internalised the virtues of paternalism, could sometimes never quite understand why self-government was preferred by Indians to good government. They could also never comprehend how the same man who was docile and even obsequious could, in a different context, attach such importance to self-respect.
In the 21st century, the idea of a negotiable truth has been grafted on to technology. India is replete with rumours, half-truths and blatant lies. Some of these inevitably worm their way into the media and social media platforms where they often become ‘viral’ and acquire a life of their own. The real issue is not that fake news — embellished in recent days by the crafty use of technology — exists. More telling is why some fake news gets to be readily believed. And by whom? Why is a fracas after a local altercation viewed by some as evidence of everyday irritability and by others as an instance of inter-communal tensions? Why do people believe what they want to believe, regardless of authenticity?
There is one type of fake news — doctored photographs or videos, outright lies, etc — that is deserving of outright condemnation and even legal action. The problem is that the definition of fake news has been stretched. What used to be called ‘spin’ in the sphere of politics has been conferred more sinister connotations by a media that finds its control over information questioned and challenged. This is a battle in which the state need not get involved.


Indo-UK Relationship Can Steer Commonwealth for Prosperity

History has a curious habit of repeating itself. In 1949, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru arrived in Britain for the fourth Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, hosted by his British counterpart Clement Attlee. Nehru was a known sceptic of the Commonwealth, keen to shed the last vestiges of imperial rule. Severing all colonial ties would also allow him to pursue a distinctive foreign policy of non-alignment and build relations with countries like Russia and China.
As India made plans to become a republic, events came to a head. Following an intense campaign led by Louis Mountbatten, Nehru opened the door to some form of ongoing association. He had also started to re-evaluate the political and economic advantages for India of being conciliatory in its formative years of freedom. Mahatma’s Gandhi’s philosophy of ‘forget and forgive’ is likely to have played on Nehru’s mind.
So statesmanship and draftsmanship came together in the text of the London Declaration, which “affirmed India’s desire to continue her full membership of the Commonwealth of Nations and her acceptance of the King as the symbol of the free association of its independent member nations and as such the Head of the Commonwealth.” George VI is reported to have quipped: “Mr Nehru you have reduced me to an ‘as such’”. And so the modern Commonwealth was born.
Each successive country to gain independence from Britain, or become a republic, could comfortably follow India’s lead and remain in the club. Now, almost seven decades later, as leaders of the much enlarged Commonwealth family of 53 nations gather in London for their twenty-fifth meeting, all eyes are once again on the Indian prime minister.
Neither Narendra Modi, nor his predecessor Manmohan Singh, have attended the last three summits in Malta, Colombo or Perth. And like Nehru, Modi has struggled with the relevance of the Commonwealth looking instead to US, Japan, Asean, and increasingly Israel, as his innermost circle of allies.
This matters to the group. Without India’s active engagement, the Commonwealth would be a shadow of its potential. It is by far the biggest member, representing more than half of its 2.4 billion combined population and, alongside Britain, the biggest economy. India personifies the youth, growth, scale and diversity which defines the modern Commonwealth – and brings the added legitimacy of being the world’s largest democracy.
So with the Commonwealth at another inflection point, Indians are asking the fundamental question: what is the Commonwealth for? This is a point which the British House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee has also made in its latest report calling for: “clear aims for what the UK wants to achieve… with a credible strategy, specific objectives and metrics for success” as it prepares for a two year term as Chair-in-Office.
In moving towards greater engagement with the Commonwealth, Delhi must, however, steer clear of four pitfalls.
The first is the fallacy of a reformed Commonwealth as “Empire 2.0”. Many British intellectuals are deriding London’s new enthusiasm for the Commonwealth as mere nostalgia for the colonial era. They warn against the illusion that the Commonwealth can be a substitute for the European Union. There is no reason for India to be drawn into that internal argument in Britain. What Delhi does know is that Britain is repositioning itself in the world after Brexit.
What matters for India is not London’s motivation, but the terms of engagement that are on offer for a new British relationship with India and the Commonwealth in the changed domestic and international context. Negotiating favourable terms is far more important for Delhi than proclaiming that the Commonwealth is a colonial relic. The debate on the Commonwealth can’t be about its past. It must be about its future, especially the value of the 53-nation forum for India’s international relations.
In the present, India is poised to overtake Britain’s aggregate GDP in the next year or two. The International Monetary Fund puts Britain’s GDP in 2017 at $2.56 trillion and India’s at $2.43 trillion. It’s about time India got over the defensive mindset in relation to a former colonial power. Here, the contrast between India and China is sharp. Beijing is not arguing with London about the opium wars or Britain’s leading role in China’s “hundred year humiliation”. Instead, they are trying to seduce Britain, especially the city of London, into China’s commercial and financial orbit.
The second pitfall is the pretence that reform and renewal of the Commonwealth are only about tinkering with the status quo. With London barely acquiescing in its existence, the Commonwealth has settled on roles that are of little strategic consequence today. One role is that of a tutor of moral science. After the end of the Cold War, the Commonwealth jumped on the bandwagon of good governance and humanitarianism.
But the heyday of the attempts at external engineering of internal social and political order in the developing world is now well past us. The Commonwealth can offer advice and assistance when asked. It should avoid pushing democracy and human rights down the throats of other states. Thanks to a newly rich China, the regimes in many developing states have alternatives that did not exist earlier.
What the Commonwealth needs today is not a “prescriptive approach” on rights, but a focus on bringing greater economic prosperity for the peoples of the forum through an enhanced trade and investment relationship. The Commonwealth could devote considerable energies towards the promotion of sustainable development and maritime security, which pose existential challenges to the many small and island states in the forum. The Commonwealth can become more valuable to its member states if it directs its aid and assistance to a few major priority areas rather than spreading its resources on a range of issues.
The third pitfall is the allure of leadership. India can and must do a lot of things in re-energising the Commonwealth, but claiming leadership should be the last thing. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s emphasis, instead, must be on strengthening India’s contribution to the Commonwealth. As the soon-to-be largest economy in the forum, India can significantly increase its levels of economic assistance, give more to the maintenance of the Secretariat, boost the current efforts on capacity building, and above all, open its economy to facilitate trade liberalisation across the Commonwealth.
Fourth, reviving the Commonwealth is not about India taking over from Britain. It is about reordering the relationship between Delhi and London. Although the relations between India and Britain have significantly improved, Britain is yet to do what most other Western powers have done. It is to recognise that India’s rise is in their own national interests. Britain has remained somewhat hesitant to align with India on the regional issues in the Subcontinent and beyond. A significant change in that direction could help transform the bilateral relationship as well as the Commonwealth.
It is clear that the Commonwealth cannot be a fully fledged political block given the widely diverging interests between 53 nations and longstanding bilateral issues amongst members – the Kashmir dispute being one obvious example. But the UK could, for example, build a caucus in the UN bridging its role as the sole Commonwealth member of the Security Council with the General Assembly.
Economic collaboration is the only significant alternative. A greater focus on prosperity – one of the four key themes of the London summit – would certainly suit the British agenda as it prepares to leave EU. The Commonwealth’s combined GDP is over $10 trillion and includes some of the fastest growing countries and regions in the world. Intra-Commonwealth trade and investment is projected to surpass $1.5 trillion by 2020. It is also a conduit for the fast growing corridor of south-south activity which now represents over a quarter of world trade.
An effort has been made to quantify the Commonwealth advantage which comes from sharing a common language and having similar legal and regulatory systems, institutions, and standards. The findings show that Commonwealth members tend to trade 20% more, save around 19% in costs and generate 10% more foreign direct investment. So the Commonwealth enjoys a higher return from expanding trade and investment flows but, equally, has the most to lose from rising protectionism.
So the prosperity agenda is plausible but it cannot stand alone. Britain must show the other 52 members that its renewed focus on the Commonwealth is not just an opportunistic antidote to Brexit but a real change of heart from the British government.
A greater focus on trade and investment should certainly be welcomed by Modi as he enters a critical pre-election year. Delivering tangible results from his economic reforms will be a top priority, particularly if it can secure jobs for young Indians. Aspirational India is increasingly becoming impatient India.
There is also a wider geopolitical prize. There are few international fora where India doesn’t face head on competition from other emerging superpowers. This might be relevant, especially in Africa, with 19 members of the Commonwealth, and where India could bring some counterbalance to the region. More broadly, the global rules-based order is in desperate need of new champions, particularly those like India.
India could take a lead on trade and investment and shift the centre of gravity of the Commonwealth away from London. As for future leadership, Indians understand families and the need for a “family arrangement” and ‘as such’ might graciously repeat Nehru’s words of almost 70 years ago and accept Prince Charles as the next Head of the Commonwealth.

Look Beyond Transactionalism: India & the US Need Redefine Their Ties

US President Donald Trump has expressed anger at India for its high trade tariffs. His administration has complained to the WTO about it. Not that Trump is angry with India alone. He is angry with China too. And the trade clash between the two countries has acquired serious proportions. Several others too have faced Trump’s anger at bilateral or multilateral trade regimes that he sees as unfavourable to the US.
I had written, after Trump’s election, that India now has to learn to deal with a ‘transactional’ president. It is this transactional nature of Trump’s dealings that has brought our two countries face-to-face at WTO today.
But is the US-India relationship about trade alone? This question needs to be addressed by both countries seriously. Trade plays an important role in our relationship. India’s fast growing capabilities in IT, e-commerce and cyber security and massive infrastructure programmes like HIRA – Highways, I-ways, Railways and Airways – offer huge opportunities to US companies. India enjoys distinct advantages, like its massive English-speaking and young population and large scale skilling campaigns. India is looking to the US for investments and technology transfers as part of its trade relations.
However, both countries must realise that a certain mutual indispensability binds us together. India is an indispensable partner for the US primarily because of its geo-strategic significance. It sits in between two most important regions of the world today. The violent Middle East ending at Af-Pak on its west and the rising Indian Ocean region on the east make India a geo-strategic lynchpin for the US. Former US defence secretary Ash Carter described India as the ‘anchor of global stability’.
The Indian Ocean is the most happening region in the 21st century. The global power axis is shifting towards this region. 50% of container trade and 70% of oil shipments flow through this region. The top two of the world’s fastest growing major economies are situated in this region. Massive populations with impressive middle class purchasing power make it the most sought after market in the new century.
On the other hand, Af-Pak and beyond, the Arab region, is the most challenging region for the US and the world. Despite military defeats the ideological spread of al-Qaida and Islamic State continues to pose a challenge to the civilised world.
While this offers India as a huge opportunity to the US, India too needs US as a strategic partner because of its ambition to grow as an influential and responsible global power. The US is an important stabilising power in the Indo-Pacific region militarily and through diplomatic influence.
India has the world’s third largest army, fourth largest air force and fifth largest navy. All three arms are being modernised fast. With its frontier technological superiority, the US becomes indispensable for India too.
That is why this relationship is described as ‘natural alliance’. It is viewed as a ‘strategic handshake’, representing a broad convergence of geopolitical interests like India’s ‘Act East’ and America’s ‘Asian rebalance’. Many have called it the ‘defining relationship of the 21st century’.
The US has focussed on overcoming the Eurasian challenge of Soviet communism in the 20th century by befriending and promoting countries like China. In the 21st century, when the challenge to global peace and stability, and rule-based world order comes from the Indo-Pacific region, it is India that can be the most reliable partner for the US.
As a fast-growing and influential power in the region, India can take the lead in a stable and prospering Indo-Pacific region and also help the US in achieving its counterterrorism objectives in the Middle East.
The 21st century belongs to the Indian Ocean and Indo-Pacific regions. This new century is witnessing the rise of new power alliances, most of them located in the Indo-Pacific region. Tackling this region needs a different approach. So-called ‘American exceptionalism’, however successful it might have been in the past in the Americas and Europe, may not work in this region.
In this context it is interesting to note President Trump’s unequivocal statement in his Afghan policy address last year. “We will no longer use American military might to construct democracies in faraway lands, or try to rebuild other countries in our image. Those days are over now. We are not asking others to change their ways of life, but to pursue common goals that allow our children to live better and safer lives. This principled realism will guide our decisions moving forward,” he said. ‘Principled realism’ is the keyword in that statement.
India is zealously committed to protecting its sovereign interests while working towards expanding its influence in the Indian Ocean region. It is developing and partnering in a number of regional multilateral networks on the principle of ‘multi-stakeholderism’. The US, having scuttled the Trans-Pacific Partnership initiative, must look at supporting and strengthening the India-led and India-partnered initiatives in the region.
India is not averse to building new partnerships with regional powers that help promote India’s sovereign interests as well as global interests like climate change, maritime rule-based governance and so on. It is time India and the US redefined their relationship in the light of the new realities and power shifts of the 21st century.

Sino-Indo Rapprochement

Post Sumdorong Chu confrontation in 1986-87, India had adopted a policy of “strategic restraint” with China, focusing on diplomacy and economic relations. This policy was sustained despite border incidents at Depsang and Chumar in 2013. The NDA government continued with the policy but with a tougher stance on border incidents. The Tibetan card was more overtly played, much to the chagrin of China.
Lobsang Sangay, head of the Tibetan government in exile, was formally invited for the swearing in of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. At Chumar in September 2014, during President Xi Jinping’s visit, India took aggressive military action to confront the PLA intrusion. China hardened its approach by blocking the declaration of Azhar Masood as a global terrorist and also opposing India’s membership of the NSG.
The year 2017 saw India-China relations touch a new low. India opposed the Belt and Road Initiative in general and the China Pak Economic Corridor in particular. Dalai Lama visited Arunachal Pradesh in April 2017. Unlike the 2009 visit, this visit was accorded “semi-official” status with the minister of state for home Kiren Rijiju and the chief minister formally welcoming him. China responded by cancelling the visit of its foreign minister. The Doklam incident saw the most serious military “standoff” since 1986-87. While China is economically and militarily far superior, the politico-military conflict over the last four years has been evenly matched.
Apart from the primordial border dispute, Tibet has been a major factor in the Sino-Indian competitive conflict. Our stand on Tibet to date has been ambiguous, despite the 2003 and 2006 declarations formally recognising Tibet Autonomous Region to be part of China. The asylum to Dalai Lama in 1959 and the training of Tibetans in conjunction with the CIA was one of main causes of the 1962 war.
The presence in India of the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan government in exile and 10,000 to 15,000 Tibetan soldiers trained as Special Forces, is considered by China to be the most serious potential threat to its sovereignty. India is seen as the principal instigator of the Tibetan struggle for freedom.
In my view, apart from the traditional power struggle among nations, the Sino-India conflict is less about territory and more about the potential threat to the security of Tibet emanating from India. The Tibetan issue has now become the driver for the rapprochement India and China are seeking. There has been a flurry of diplomatic activities post the Modi-Xi meeting on the sidelines of the BRICS summit in September 2017. India distanced itself from “Thank you India” celebrations being organised by the Tibetan Government in exile through a formal advisory issued by the cabinet secretary on the eve of the visit of the foreign secretary to China. China “responded” by withdrawing its objection to the grey-listing of Pakistan with the Financial Action Task Force.
On March 8, the Chinese foreign minister said, “The Chinese Dragon and the Indian Elephant must not fight each other but dance with each other.” Next day the MEA responded, “We are willing to work with the Chinese side to develop our relations based on commonalities while dealing with differences on the basis of mutual respect and sensitivity to each other’s interests, concerns and aspirations.” Earlier this week, joint secretary-level talks were held in Beijing to resolve the deadlock progress over India’s membership of the NSG. On Friday, National Security Advisor Ajit Doval held talks with Yang Jiechi, director of Foreign Affairs Commission and a politburo member of the Communist Party of China, in Shanghai.
During the “Thank You India” event at Dharamsala, Lobsang Sangay talked about the three dreams of the Dalai Lama on the eve of his escape in 1959. The first two of “bloodshed” (a million Tibetans were killed) and “meeting people in white clothes” (the Indians who received him at Bomdila and later Rajendar Prasad and Nehru wore white clothes) have come true. The third dream was of him returning to the Potala palace filled with light and reunited with the Tibetan people. “This third dream will also come true by karmic design. We must all make efforts for His Holiness’ dream to return to the Potala palace come true,” Sangay added.
Will these efforts for rapprochement end with the next “standoff” on the LAC, or is the framework being laid for a settlement of the Tibet problem and the border issue? In my view, history is in the making in the next five years. The Dalai Lama is on board and we may see the successful culmination of the ongoing secret talks to settle the contours of the Tibetan autonomy and his return to Potala. The Line of Actual Control with marginal adjustments is likely to become a peaceful and demarcated border if not the International Boundary.


The War by Consensus

Syria and the opaque geopolitical contestation of the last few years point to an ontological dilemma of the current times. What is the truth and what is fact ? It appears that the 21st century has uneasily and perhaps unwittingly transmuted from the certitudes of the previous century (Cold War, bi-polarity) into post-fact world disorder. And even more bewildering is the dissolution of institutional integrity, values and normative principles.
Orchestration appears to be the more visible leitmotif of the attack on Syria. Moscow has alleged that a British NGO, White Helmets, had staged a fake chemical weapon attack in the Syrian town of Douma on April 7 and that this was used as a pretext for the coordinated US-UK-France action. It is believed, in many quarters, that the intervention in Syria is a diversionary tactic by the leaders of these three nations to divert attention from domestic political discord and citizen dissatisfaction and a loyal TV campaign would shape national sentiment accordingly. The script has been followed, by and large. For a brief period, Russian TV warned of an impending third World War and provided a quick tutorial on how to access bomb shelters, in the event of the military escalation that was being hinted at — but not explicitly stated by Moscow.
US President Donald Trump declared victory on Twitter after raining a hundred missiles on Syria for crossing the red line on chemical weapons. His trusted UN ambassador Nikki Haley announced that the US is “locked and loaded” should Damascus repeat the mistake.
Russian President Vladimir Putin called the strikes “an act of aggression against a sovereign State that is at the forefront of the fight against terrorism”. For good measure, he reminded the world of past US interventions, including Iraq and Libya. His ambassador to the US, Anatoly Antonov, warned of “consequences”.
Was it just a ‘psychodrama’ staged to satisfy the agendas of various countries competing for influence in Syria? Or was there some military value to the strikes? For all the public bluster before the strikes, the US and Russia carefully skirted each other in Syria as planned, President Bashar al-Assad stayed safe and the mini wars on the ground carried on.
Trump had already told Putin via Twitter three days before to “get ready” because missiles “will be coming”. After all, it’s the Russians who control the air space over Syria — nothing flies in or out without some embedded Russian officer knowing its direction.
The Pentagon confirmed it had used the “normal deconfliction” line in place to let Moscow know the channels it would be using for the missiles. The French military had also warned Russian officials who, in turn, passed on the message to Syrian forces who let Assad know who, on his part, probably ordered the targeted facilities be emptied of men and material.
It was war by consensus. No one really wanted to hurt anyone by mistake. There are just too many actors swarming the battlefields of Syria. You stray a bit, and Iran’s Revolutionary Guards are working to secure a land passage from Tehran to the Lebanese coast. Next door to them are Hezbollah fighters, who have been helping Assad’s forces since 2013.
Moving north, Turkey occupies Afrin, which it invaded in January with an eye to expanding its buffer zone and evicting the Kurds from the area. Turkey is determined to kill any moves to create an autonomous Kurdish zone in Syria. But the Kurds and US forces are allies in the fight against the Islamic State (IS), which had operated from Raqqa in Syria until last year.
Not to forget Israel, which watches everything and occasionally takes a swipe at the Iranians running about in Syria but generally after letting the Russians know. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has pleaded with the Russians to curb Iran since Trump will only go so far.
Russia has become the arbiter in the many mini-conflicts and battle lines in Syria. With Moscow’s finger on the balance, Assad is winning the war, using all means necessary, including chemical weapons.
Western capitals are keenly aware of the Syrian reality but don’t want to dislodge Assad. Painful lessons from Libya still resonate in the Pentagon. The 2011 US-French intervention was based on a false premise that Muammar Gaddafi was about to slaughter tens of thousands of civilians.
He wasn’t. By the time the allies were done, Libya was in chaos, IS had gaineda foothold and a migrant crisis developed in Europe.
The Pentagon was very clear that missile strikes had a limited purpose —to send a message that the use of chemical weapons can’t be normalised. But it may be too late even for that. The use of chemicals on civilians already is ‘normal’ in Syria. The UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria found at least 34 incidents of use of chemical weapons by different parties since 2011.
Sadly, the latest attack in Douma has become political football with Russia hinting that Britain was behind it and Washington suggesting that Moscow is trying to tamper with evidence. The inspectors haven’t got to the site yet.
Also worrying is all the talk about another Cold War. Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov said it’s worse today because channels of communication are barely working and Russophobia in the West is at an all time high.
UN Secretary General António Guterres had similar thoughts ahead of the missile strikes, “The Cold War is back with a vengeance but with a difference.” Safeguards to prevent escalation are weak and UN mechanisms are jammed by dangerous rhetoric.
With no real understanding between Trump and Putin about Syria or the larger West Asia, smaller powers are in a dangerous game of acquiring Syrian real estate.

The true spirit of science is not parochial

Being a true scientist, Charles Darwin wouldn’t have been at all miffed by human resources development minister Satyapal Singh claiming that Darwin’s theory of evolution was incorrect and that humans had not, in fact, evolved from apes.
Similarly, Isaac Newton wouldn’t have taken exception to the same minister’s pronouncement, that much before the English scientist explained how gravity kept in motion the celestial mechanics of the cosmos, ancient India had advanced similar theories regarding the workings of ‘great forces’ in the universe.
As practising scientists, both Darwin and Newton would have subscribed to the view of the philosopher Karl Popper, that in science, there is no perennial truth engraved in everlasting stone; there are only working hypotheses which, inevitably, have to be modified, or even totally rejected, when another, more workable hypothesis comes along.
As in the case with spirituality, with which it is often compared, science is not a terminal destination but a perpetual quest.
The other aspect that science and spirituality have in common, is that both have a universal perspective, and not one which is parochial.
We can’t patent, by nationality or geographical boundary, a scientific discovery or a spiritual revelation, like we do for such products as basmati rice, Darjeeling tea, or champagne.
Nationalities and geographical boundaries have to do with the world of politics, a realm which science and spirituality transcend.
Perhaps the best illustration of such transcendence was the first photographic image of our blue planet taken from outer space by an astronaut. It brought home, in the true sense of the term, the blinkered vision which makes us see our common Earth as divided into different, and often mutually antagonistic, nationalities, races and religions.
That unforgettable image also established a link between science and spirituality. It was science which produced the technology which made it possible to capture that image. It was spirituality which interpreted the image as a symbol of a shared humankind above and beyond manmade borders and barriers of political and cultural chauvinism, and the mental and emotional parochialism which they breed.
Regrettably, all too often, such politically and ideologically inspired parochialism tries, frequently with success, to hijack the parallel quests of science and spirituality.
To claim on the grounds of ultra-nationalism, as has been done, that ancient India had devised organ transplant surgery as evidenced by the elephant-headed god, Ganesh, is to make a mockery both of true science – to which age-old India made significant genuine contributions in fields as diverse as astronomy and metallurgy – and the spiritual allegory of mythology.
We don’t have to make up legends of a mythic past, lost in pre-history, to legitimise the role that what today we call India has played in advancing the ever-expanding frontiers of both science and spirituality, to the uncopyrighted benefit of all humankind.
Like bargain-hunters at an auction, we don’t have to make competitive bids against others to claim proprietorship of a scientific or spiritual milestone.
At the conclusion of his international bestseller, ‘A Brief History of Time’, physicist Stephen Hawking says that the ultimate goal of human knowledge, which he acknowledges may remain unrealisable, is for us to come to “know the mind of God”.
As a postscript, he might have added: And not ask what passport that mind holds.

Indian Attraction to The Nordic Cool A Welcome Phenomenon

PM Modi’s meeting with the region’s leaders could end India’s neglect of a part of the world that has punched above its weight in diplomacy.
When he travels to Sweden this week, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be confirming a new trend in Indian diplomacy — collective engagement with key regional groups. Earlier this year, at the annual Republic Day celebrations, the PM hosted all the 10 leaders of the Association of South East Asian Nations.
In 2016, the PM had invited colleagues from the Bay of Bengal littoral to join the BRICS summit in Goa. And in 2015, he hosted all leaders from Africa in Delhi. Many major powers like the US and China to take advantage of the possibilities for joint engagement with regional leaders. In the past, Indian diplomacy was excessively focused on the bilateral. Today, it is breaking that mould.
In Stockholm, Modi will meet the leaders of the Nordic group — Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden — both collectively and individually. This marks an end to the prolonged Indian neglect of a very important sub-region that has always punched way above its weight in the world.
The focus on great power relations and on the neighbourhood since the end of the Cold War has meant that Delhi did not have much bandwidth left for nurturing inherited good relations with small but influential countries like Sweden or build new ones. India can reap significant long-term rewards if Modi’s visit can lay the foundation for a sustained engagement with a part of the world that is often called the “Norden” — or simply the north.
The Nordics do not see themselves as a mere sub-region of Europe. They value their own unique international identity. Two of the five Nordic countries, Finland and Norway, have stayed out of the European Union. Copenhagen’s attitude has, for long, been regarded as a barometer of Euro-scepticism and Greenland, an autonomous part of Denmark, had walked out of the EU.
The special significance of the Norden was underlined by former US President Barack Obama, when he hosted the leaders of the group at the White House at the end of 2016. The world might be a better place, Obama said, if the Nordic leaders were left in charge for a while. The Nordics are widely admired for their instinct for promoting peace, strengthening universal human values and more broadly for doing good.
The Nordics were not always peace-mongers. They have the awesome warrior legacy of the Vikings. But over the last century, they have tended to reject Europe’s martial tradition and colonial legacies. The Nordic enthusiasm for moral politik inevitably found great affinity with Nehruvian India.
If India was non-aligned, Sweden was neutral. Both championed decolonisation and a more just global order. From the 1950s to the mid 1980s, as leaders of the neutral and non-aligned nations, India and Sweden led the campaign for nuclear arms control and disarmament.
The shared commitment to moralpolitik, of course, ran into some difficulties when India wanted to become a recognised nuclear weapon power after Pokhran-2, in the summer of1998. Some of the Nordic countries found it very hard to endorse the US campaign for a nuclear exception for India. That obstacle is now largely behind us, thanks to the political engagement in recent years.
The idea of mediating conflicts, which is very much part of the India’s internal and international experience, is quite dear to the Nordics. Recall Norway’s successful role in launching the Middle East peace process in 1993. Oslo’s interest was not limited to the Middle East. India was initially wary as Norway sought to promote peace between Tamils and Colombo during the 2000s. Although the effort was unsuccessful, it opened up paths to peace that remain relevant for Sri Lanka and India.
The Nordics are not all about utopian idealism. They also have a strong pragmatic streak that is quite evident in their current strategic outreach to emerging Asian powers. Nor do all of them have the same international orientation. If Sweden and Finland stayed out of NATO, Denmark, Iceland and Norway are active members of the NATO. But they have managed, through strong sub-regional cooperation, to insulate the Norden from the negative impact of great power rivalries.
Sweden might be neutral but it always had strong defence industry. If the Bofors purchase was not trapped in the kind of political controversies that followed, it could have the laid the foundation for a strong defence industrial cooperation with Sweden, which has been eager to restore that possibility with an aerospace partnership around the sale of Gripen fighter aircraft to India.
Beyond defence, there is a deep engineering talent in the Norden and the region is an impressive champion of technological innovation. That fits in well with Delhi’s current hopes for igniting the innovation revolution in India. At the dawn of Independence, India was deeply attracted to the Nordic claims of finding a “third way” between capitalism and socialism. As a region that helped advance the idea of an efficient welfare state, the Norden can be important partner for India’s own experiments to strengthen its social sector through technological and policy innovation.
An India that is less inhibited about trade liberalisation and more open to commercial, technological and civil society partnerships will find the Norden ready to accelerate its internal modernisation and international rise. India’s political discovery of the Norden this week should also be the first step towards a more substantive outreach to different sub-regions of a very diverse continent —- from the Baltics to the Balkans to Iberia to Mitteleuropa

SOS! We Are on Brink of the Abyss

It’s imperative to also focus on how to prevent the health of our planet from failing. This is not “doom and gloom” – the risk is real.
The main theme this year’s World Economic Forum Annual Meeting was the role of technology in solving the world’s biggest problems. We are already embarking on a new phase of the technological revolution that will fundamentally change the way we live, work, relate to one another and interact with the external world. The speed, breadth, and depth of current breakthroughs has no historical precedent and is disrupting almost every sector in every country.
The challenge and opportunity before us today is to begin to think of development through the lens of environmental health. The environment as a primary concern, not an afterthought. The science has never been clearer. We know the impact, the consequences and the unsustainability of our development model. As we continue to connect in new ways, we must also reconnect to Earth. The undeniable truth is that we continue to do great damage to the planet, and that we haven’t learned how to grow our economy without harming nature. More than technology, doing so will take a fundamental shift in mindset – one that will redefine our relationship with the planet and its natural systems.
No human technology can fully replace “nature’s technology”, perfected over hundreds of millions of years in delivering key services to sustain life on Earth. A productive, diverse natural world and a stable climate have been the basic assets at the foundation of the success of our civilisation, and will continue to be so in future. A fundamental issue in the previous technological revolutions has been the lightness with which we have taken for granted the natural environment rather than valuing it as a condition necessary to development.
If we continue to produce, consume and power our lives the way we do right now, forests, oceans and weather systems will be overwhelmed and collapse. Unsustainable agriculture, fisheries, infrastructure projects, mining and energy are leading to unprecedented biodiversity loss and habitat degradation, overexploitation, pollution and climate change. While their impacts are increasingly evident in the natural world, the consequences on people and businesses are real too.
From food and water scarcity to the declining quality of the air we breathe, the evidence has never been clearer. We are, however, in many instances failing to make the link. We act as Homo technologicus, with the mindset of our hunter-gatherer ancestors. Alongside the technological revolution, we need an equally unprecedented cultural revolution in the way we connect with the planet.
The failing health of our planet
Every day, new evidence of our unsustainable impact on the environment is emerging. A destabilized climate generates more frequent and deadly extreme weather. The last five years have been the warmest five-year period on record, while the Arctic warmed much faster than predicted and the UN estimates that, in the last 10 years, climate-related disasters have caused $1.4 trillion of damage worldwide.
In just over 40 years, the world has witnessed 60% decline in wildlife populations across land, sea and freshwater and is heading towards a shocking fall of two-thirds by 2020. This has happened in less than two generations.
Forests are under pressure like never before, through unabated deforestation. 170 million hectares of additional deforestation will occur by 2030 – the size of Mongolia – driven by large- and small-scale livestock farming and soy and palm oil production.
Our oceans are under great stress. We dump plastic and toxic chemicals into the sea, poisoning our own food. We catch fish wastefully and unsustainably, with 90% of the world’s fish stocks overfished. We’ve lost 50% of the world’s coral reefs in the last 30 years. In a generation, the world has lost nearly half of its marine species populations.
Why does this matter?
The unaccounted value of nature
It matters because we can’t have a prosperous future on a depleted planet, and all signs are pointing to human activity driving the Earth to the edge.
Biodiversity – the complex web of life made by millions of species, plants, bacteria and fungi – underpins the natural systems that we take for granted; systems that provide us with the air we breathe, the food we eat and the water we drink. It maintains the ecosystems that society needs to thrive, ensuring access to essential raw materials, commodities and services. The unprecedented loss of biodiversity we are seeing today is an existential threat to human life and economic development. If the biodiversity index were considered akin to the stock market, our planet would be heading for a spectacular crash.
There’s also an economic value to biodiversity loss. WWF assesses the value of key ocean assets at $24 trillion, and that’s a conservative estimate. If compared to the largest national economies, the ocean would rank seventh, with an annual value of goods and services of $2.5 trillion. Too big to fail, you could say. Regular access to quality freshwater is also vital for most businesses and industries – in manufacturing, heating, cooling, cleaning or as an ingredient. Having too little or too much, or water that’s too dirty or too expensive, will have an impact on bottom lines.
Conserving forests, the ocean and wildlife is in everyone’s interest for sustainability and our own prosperity. That’s why now is the time for businesses, governments, institutions and civil society to work together to halt climate change and the devastation of nature.
Our civilisation finds itself at a crossroads. The equation is a simple one: we will not build a stable, prosperous and equitable future for humanity on a degraded planet.
Together, we must halt nature loss
Technology will no doubt change our lives and we are already seeing breakthroughs in conservation. The renewable energy revolution is probably the most impressive example of the positive impact of new technologies. Remote sensing technologies allow to monitor the state of the planet like never before. Blockchain is being used to establish systems of certification and traceability for agricultural commodities and fish so that consumers can be assured of their origin, legality and sustainability.
Financial institutions have a huge role to play. The banking sector at large is failing to redirect financial flows away from environmentally and socially destructive business practices, and importantly not yet tapping into growth opportunities needed to finance the transition to a sustainable economy, whether they are renewable energy or sustainable water projects.
Business must also be at the forefront in halting climate change and biodiversity loss. The latest World Economic Forum Global Risks report lists climate instability, extreme weather events and water scarcity as major challenges faced by business today. As the effects of climate change worsen and our planet’s resources come under increasing strain, sustainability issues will increasingly hit companies’ bottom lines as well as their social license to operate. Protecting land, oceans, rivers, forests and communities not only helps mitigate risks in the supply chain, but makes perfect business sense.
The UN Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Climate Agreement, if fully and urgently implemented, are an opportunity to fundamentally shift the way we produce, consume and safeguard our natural wealth. We can still bring the planet back from the brink. We have made commitments, signed declarations, and started to make progress with implementation. But what we are doing is not enough. Business as usual has the planet at breaking point. We must see a quantum leap in the speed and depth of change. Companies can be both profitable and socially and environmentally sustainable by delivering triple bottom lines: planet, people and profit. The time to achieve this is now.

Need of a Plan to Tame Dark Side of Internet

The internet has changed the world. The world is also continuously changing the internet. We all contribute to those changes – as users and creators and sharers of content, consumers, investors, and as voters. Many readers of this blog and participants of this week’s World Economic Forum Annual Meeting have done much to shape our information environment through leadership positions as entrepreneurs, business executives, lawmakers, regulators, journalists, activists, researchers and thought leaders.
We are collectively responsible for the results.
While there is much to be proud of, it is clear to anybody who follows the news that the world is not going to be more free, democratic, just and prosperous simply because the internet connects billions of people, and innovative new information technologies continue to proliferate and bring handsome returns to investors.
If we want a global information environment that supports human rights, accountable governance, social justice and economic justice, then our information technologies – along with the institutions that influence and operate them – need to be structured and governed in a manner that reflects and reinforces those values.
We’re failing the next generation
Our physical existence is now shaped by complex information ecosystems. We depend on an array of software and hardware, media platforms, data storage and transmission systems to conduct most aspects of our personal and professional lives. But are these information ecosystems being built and managed in a manner that sustains a rights-respecting society?
To borrow from the language of environmental sustainability: are we creating and using information technologies and systems in a manner that meets our needs for the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs? Are we working mindfully to ensure that in using and shaping technology to address today’s urgent problems we are not compromising the ability of future generations to enjoy their political, economic, cultural and social rights regardless of ethnicity, creed, gender, or sexual orientation?
No, we are not.
According to the human rights group Freedom House, global online freedom has been on a steady decline over the past six years. Two-thirds of all internet users “live in countries where criticism of the government, military, or ruling family are subject to censorship.” The organization’s researchers also found dramatic growth in the number of countries that “required private companies or internet users to restrict or delete web content dealing with political, religious, or social issues”.
Preventing our voices from being heard
This trend has had a clear impact on people I work with. At one time we celebrated how new technologies made it possible for individuals to circumvent mainstream media gatekeepers and report to the world about what was happening in their communities.
It is now more challenging, more risky, and sometimes simply dangerous to produce the kinds of stories we do. This is not only due to censorship but also because our online lives are continuously surveilled and monitored, by social media companies, by third-party applications and advertisers, and by government agencies.
Granted, all governments face serious and often urgent threats to national and public security that the internet has exacerbated. Unfortunately, even major Western democracies are grabbing at solutions that may address threats in the short term, but over the long term are corrosive and unsustainable for human rights and accountable governance.
Internet freedom in 2015: since then, even Western democracies have put in place measures that threaten freedom online.
For example, in November the UK parliament passed the Investigatory Powers Act, granting police and intelligence agencies the most sweeping surveillance powers in the Western world, lacking due process or checks against abuse. The US-based non-profit Internet Archive, a digital library that works to preserve a historical record of online content, is so concerned about the incoming Trump administration’s attitudes about the press and public speech that it has announced plans to store a backup of its data in Canada.
Meanwhile, billions of people have come to depend on the digital products and services of an increasingly small number of companies that serve as choke points for our personal data, our speech, what we know and even believe. I warned in my 2012 book, Consent of the Networked that these “sovereigns of cyberspace” – multinational behemoths like Google, Facebook and Apple – hold growing sway over our civic lives and therefore should be accountable to the public interest.
Networked authoritarianism
Today, citizens of Western democracies are debating the impact on our elections of “fake news” spread through social media platforms. Globally, this is not so new: manipulation of social media by governments and political parties to spread disinformation and sow division between different social, political and religious groups was already part of the digital landscape in many parts of the world five years ago. In 2011 Global Voices contributors identified cases in Bahrain and Syria after the Arab Spring and in Russia at the height of opposition protests. My argument that authoritarian regimes can actually adapt and thrive in the age of social media did not resonate widely with Western audiences so soon after the Arab Spring. Now, in 2017 the phenomenon I called “networked authoritarianism” is clearly spreading.
Communications law scholar Tim Wu describes today’s internet as the “party that went sour”. Utopian fantasies about the internet as an intrinsically liberating force have given way to realization that the world’s most advanced societies have developed an unhealthy dependency on platforms and services that monetize every scrap of our attention – incentivizing the spread of salacious and titillating content over fact-based discourse and driving corporate collection of vast troves of information about our habits and activities. Internet critic Evgeny Morozov is calling for a total “rethink [of] the fundamentals of digital capitalism”.
Looking to environmentalists for solutions
Even though we are a long way away from achieving environmental sustainability, thanks to the hard work of scientists, advocates, policy-makers, responsible investors and corporate visionaries over many decades, we at least have a roadmap for how companies, nations and communities can not only operate and live sustainably but contribute to – and even profit from – the development of sustainable technologies.
Yet as we struggle along that already difficult path that values long-term impact over short-term gratification, we find ourselves urgently needing a second roadmap: for an information ecosystem that sustains human rights. Indeed, due to the importance of politics and public opinion for implementing effective environmental and climate policy, it has become clear that our hopes of environmental sustainability are diminished if we lack freedom of expression and privacy that enable people to speak up, organize and hold government and corporations accountable.
Fortunately, some of the tools that were first built to help companies and governments improve environmental sustainability can also be adapted to help foster a more sustainable information ecosystem. Environmental, social and human rights impact assessments are now a standard component of responsible business and policy planning across the world. For example: before a new energy facility is built in a given location, it is standard practice that the relevant government agencies and private companies carry out impact assessments to identify how the natural environment and human communities will be affected, then take steps to mitigate potential harms and ideally implement measures that bring net benefits.
A small number of some of the world’s biggest internet and telecommunications companies, including Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Vodafone and Orange, have started to carry out human rights impact assessments that include an examination of how their products and services affect users’ freedom of expression and privacy. Most of these companies are members of either the Global Network Initiative or the Telecommunications Industry Dialogue, organizations that bring companies together with other stakeholders to advance best practices in dealing with censorship and surveillance demands from governments.
Still not doing enough
At Ranking Digital Rights, a project I run that benchmarks ICT sector companies on their commitments, policies and practices affecting users’ freedom of expression and privacy (modeled after the way companies are assessed on other environmental and social sustainability practices), our research has found that companies still do not adequately address a range of issues, particularly those related to consumer privacy and the way in which terms and conditions are decided and enforced. There isn’t yet clarity or consensus among experts on how one would evaluate corporate responsibility in the use of algorithms that shape how information is prioritized and highlighted to users – though it is clear that more transparency and stakeholder engagement is critical. But the impact assessments taking place are nonetheless an important step in the right direction because they reflect a recognition by the companies that, regardless of intentions, bad things can occur unless they make an effort to anticipate and mitigate harm.
Governments often fail to carry out any impact assessments on information policy. While hate speech and the spread of extremist content online are valid problems, the European Commission made no attempt to assess the broader impact on the global information ecosystem – in which censorship of political and peaceful religious speech is rampant – of its new code of conduct compelling internet companies to remove speech as soon as it is flagged as problematic without instituting recommended measures for due process, accountability or transparency to prevent abuse of the system by authorities. When impact assessments are done, they’re generally confined to the jurisdiction where the policy is made, even if it will have an impact across globally interconnected information networks. While the UK government did undertake an impact assessment to determine how the Investigatory Powers Act would affect British citizens, it did not consider the broader impact on the global information ecosystem, even though human rights groups around the world have warned that its impact will be decidedly negative.
What we can do
As investors, consumers and voters there is much that everybody can do to push companies and governments to do a better job of protecting and respecting basic digital rights like freedom of expression and privacy. The struggle will never end – just ask people who have spent their lives working on environmental and social sustainability – but at least we do have some models on which to proceed. An impact assessment model for evaluating information policy solutions for the private and public sectors can provide us with a more stable foundation for addressing an even more complicated and confusing layer of questions about information manipulation, hate speech, demagoguery, propaganda and media business models without reaching desperately for drastic measures (like holding platforms liable for users’ speech or reviving criminal libel laws) that will ultimately make the global information environment even less free and open.
Building an information ecosystem that respects and protects human rights will be the job of a generation, or perhaps even two, but will be vital if we want the Fourth Industrial Revolution to take humanity in a more just, prosperous, healthy and peaceful direction.