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New Rice University Paper Chronicles Impact of the Internet On U.S. Foreign Policy

BY Sarah Lai Stirland | Tuesday, May 22 2012

We all know that the Internet has transformed the way that the United States conducts diplomacy, and the way that it views national security, but where should we look to find evidence of this?

This is the wide-ranging subject matter of a new paper published on Tuesday by Rice University's Baker Institute for Public Policy. The paper provides a round-up of some of the major turns of events between 2005 and 2011 in the realms of Internet governance, the development of online public diplomacy at the State Department, the evolution of the Internet-fueled Arab Spring, and the establishment of the shadowy U.S. Cyber Command in Fort Meade, Maryland, among other things.

The paper, authored by Baker Institute Fellow Christopher Bronk, covers a lot of ground, and doesn't quite tie all the pieces together, but it does offer a useful point of reference in the sprawling topic area of "international Internet governance policy."

The author starts off, for example, by explaining how the United States still pretty much controls much of the basic infrastructure of the global Internet because 10 of the 13 organizations that control the root servers for the management of domain names are located in the United States and overseen by the U.S. Department of Commerce. This was the result of a 2005 meeting between international bureaucrats in Tunis, where representatives of the U.S. fought off attempts to wrest control of the domain name system by other countries.

Bronk, a veteran of the State Department, then takes us through a history of the development of what could be called eDiplomacy at the State Department from Colin Powell's tenure to Hillary Clinton's, the phenomenon of Wikileaks, and discusses the involvement of the FBI in helping foreign countries track down the authors of the Zotob worm.

Again, the paper's wide ranging, and it would be nice to see more detailed analyses of the implications of the developments in all of the areas that the author touches on, but it's a thought-provoking look back at just how deep of an impact the Internet has had on the U.S.' relationship with the rest of the world.