Net rule by divine right is not the American way

The third world war will happen in cyberspace, unless America comes to its senses

You can always rely on America to do the right thing, said Churchill, after it has exhausted all other options. It's currently exploring the idea that it and it alone should control the Internet — to the open disapproval of the EU, Japan and other major power blocs.

The brave of heart can find much support for the US position in the halls of the right-wing bloggers. There, the argument runs that the US invented the Internet so has moral rights to it, that no other countries can be relied on not to do something that might work against US interests, and that international bodies are ipso facto incompetent.

None of these arguments hold water for a nanosecond. Invention — insofar as the Internet isn't the result of international collaboration on a vast scale — does not confer untrammelled rights. Other countries have as much right to be wary of US interests as the US has of theirs: America is not magically more moral or just than any other nation, nor is it divinely elected. And international bodies make mistakes, but they can also be very effective: those who disagree are invited to inspect the history of the International Telecommunications Union.

The facts are not to the American administration's taste, but they are facts nonetheless. It is not possible to impose your will on every nation in the world by simple fiat. You either invade by force of arms or you reach an agreement. We suggest that the history of the former approach recommends the latter.

With the Internet, it will be comparatively easy for other nations to establish a co-operative Net management scheme and just to start using it. The US would then be free to join in or not, depending on whether or not it wanted to isolate its online economy from that of the rest of the world. Nobody wants to see the Net fractured — but most of the world does not want to be beholden to an America bent on global domination.

Perhaps the most dangerous aspect is that by its stubborn attempt to retain absolute power, the US will lose a disproportionate amount of influence in whatever forum evolves as a result. The Internet needs American traditions of independence, justice, fairness and equality, but as in the real world they cannot be imposed. In time, the US will have to do the right thing: the sooner it comes to this conclusion, the better it will be for everyone.


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