The moment when, in the military arena, America turns to isolationism, it confirms its will for hegemony in cyberspace – because the security and the prosperity of the United States depend on the control of the internet.
France and Germany sat down with Russia without the presence of a representative from the United States at the table. For the first time America is absent in a conflict with Moscow: a major conflict that is devastating parts of Ukraine, destabilizing the European borders and has killed over 5,000 people. Washington limits its contribution to thinking about possibly sending weapons to Kiev’s government. A week later, Barack Obama broke his silence on a completely different “European” subject: he defended some internet groups (GAFA: Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon) who accuse Europe of “protectionism.”
The American president, as mentioned by the owner of Orange, Stéphane Richard, did it with contempt: “But sometimes their vendors — their service providers who, you know, can’t compete with ours — are essentially trying to set up some roadblocks for our companies to operate effectively there.” The Europeans are bad players since they are incompetent. He also did it with great strategic clearness, like an approval: “We have owned the Internet. Our companies have created it, expanded it, perfected it in ways that they can’t compete.” Right?
The moment when, in the military arena, America turns to isolationism, it confirms its will of international hegemony on the cyberspace front. Let’s not be mistaken, it’s a very intelligent twist: American security is based more and more on control of the net, and wars are becoming cyberwars. The war on terrorism proves it: a complete and systematic monitoring of all forms of computer and phone communications on the whole planet allows the elimination of enemies by drone, more accurately and with less risks than traditional warfare or putting boots on the ground. The collusion between GAFA and NSA is intimate in this context, and we understand from the military point of view that the American president supports the internet giants who support his soldiers. George W. Bush pushed the Blackwater mercenaries – the hard version; Barack Obama pushed Google – the soft version. He’s the first president to fit in the postmodern universe, in that he distances himself from the powerful military-industrial complex to back the force of the Californians of the net. He meets with them very often, and Google was a big contributor to his election. Barack Obama doesn’t hide that fact at all: “I think it’s also fair to say that my relationship with Silicon Valley and the tech community has historically been really good. Many of these folks are my friends, and have been supporters, and we interact all the time.” Is that clear?
The transition from hard to soft goes further than this military or electoral aspect. GAFA and other American groups of the web represent not only a possibility to listen to enemies, but they are also vectors of a culture: an American culture, and even Californian one, of behavior, spirit, freedom, vision of the world. One could say that the net doesn’t prevent the Coulibalys of the world from using it for strictly opposite causes. It’s true, but, from an American point of view, it’s simply proof that surveillance should still be much tighter. Beyond that, the Internet generates new abilities where it is still difficult to tell what the boundaries and the consequences are, though they are still being implemented. It has e-capacity, the one which feeds and cultivates spirits, organizes knowledge, collects and analyzes big data. Let’s distance ourselves from Orwellian fears – no one is thinking about that. But the Internet is an ultra-powerful vector of this e-civilization. Obama understood this more than perfectly; he’s its elected official.
And, of course, the gigantic commercial aspect remains. There’s nothing seemingly new in this support from the White House to the Yankee groups. American diplomacy is always associated with trade, often without qualms, like the schemes of the United Fruit Company or ITT showed in the 1970’s in Latin America. But, in 2015, the stakes are of a different magnitude. The Web is destabilizing and is replacing more and more professional trades one after another: music, information, commerce, the bank. We’re just getting started. Google’s ambitions in health, space, the tourism industry, etc. or Apple’s in the car industry may seem exaggerated or even delirious. It would be a serious mistake: GAFA has better customer insights than the pharmaceutical groups or the car manufacturers. They can grant this customer relationship overnight, claim large margins and transform the industrial businesses by subcontracting, like they did in tech/computer science and telephony. Tech revolutions – like, for example, the driverless car – are going to amplify the capacity of GAFA considerably. These perspectives of a software takeover freeze the leaders of many industrial groups, and we understand them.
Germany and France, at the forefront of a common will to regulate the giants of the Internet, notably on data, and accused of “protectionism” by the American president, should not misunderstand what’s at play. Barack Obama thinks that supporting GAFA is more important than having talks with Vladimir Putin: A very regrettable and condemnable position. However, Putin represents the past and an archaic form of power; Obama has his eyes set on the future. We must understand his reasons. They make sense. It’s time that we watch a little closer.