Recently an international media house reported that over 300 verified Indian mobile phone numbers were on a list of potential targets for surveillance using Israeli firm NSO's Pegasus spyware. The alleged hacking of phones belonging to journalists, doctors, lawyers, activists, ministers and opposition politicians seriously compromises the exercise of the fundamental right to free speech and expression. What does such snooping attempts made possible only due to the accessibility of better technology? Our world is far more interconnected today, where no nation can afford to be isolated, no matter how powerful or self-sufficient. Technologies of global reach are changing the timelines of the geopolitics of international interactions, diplomatic perceptions and global affairs. In recent decades, economic globalisation and explosive growth of Information-Communication-Technology (ICT) has dominated the political agenda that is defining a new paradigm where competition and cooperation must coexist amongst societies and nations. This calls for skilful diplomatic manoeuvring of priorities that will have to be based on sound understanding of the role of science and technology (S&T) in international affairs.
International Relations is concerned with relations across boundaries of nation-states. It addresses international political economy, global governance, intercultural relations, national and ethnic identities, foreign policy analysis, development studies, environment, international security, diplomacy, terrorism, media, social movements and more. Technology is linked to many key phenomena of international relations, including conflict, economics, and culture.
“Technology is driving the innovation. Technology is driving the creativity” –Historically, technological evolution has deeply impacted global politics, security, economics, culture and the environment. For example, the diffusion of the stirrup in the Middle Ages allowed for development of mounted shock combat in connection with a feudalistic society revolving around chivalry. Rapid evolution of shipping technology and navigation during the 16th century provided European states with pivotal technological advantages to accelerate their colonial overseas endeavours. Technological superiority over colonized territories was finally achieved with the help of vastly improved firearms, cannons and new medical discoveries. In fact, modernity is deeply connected to technological progress. For instance, the invention, improvement and diffusion of the steam engine and other inventions catapulted the industrial revolution of the 19th century, bringing about Britain’s hegemony over the world politics.
A new era in the deep connections between technology and global politics was unleashed during the Cold War period. The decades of cold war between the United States and the erstwhile Soviet Union demonstrated how science and technology (could be leveraged actively, not only for avoiding war but also in the conduct of ‘International Relations’ to maintain diplomatic balance. The technology of nuclear weapons is often credited with bringing World War II to an abrupt end, saving continued destruction and loss of life. The very concept of ‘’deterrence’ via techno-military supremacy over the adversary is nothing but coercive diplomacy using the advantage of technological superiority.
Since the 1990s, the competition for techno-economic power has become increasingly serious among nations and there is clear realisation of the impact of technology on economic progress, military might as well as on statecraft that shapes the balance of power equations among nations. It is believed that scientific research creates knowledge and innovation converts that knowledge into economic wealth. Hence, the technological advances of the past few decades have been instrumental in creating globalisation. Technologies such as advanced computing, ICT, bio-technology and nano-technology are transforming the spectrum of civilian as well as military applications. Today, most critical technologies for defence are often feeding many military requirements.
Like most other phenomena, the crucial role of technology in international relations comes with its own set of problems, which, if left unregulated, can have immense implications for the world. Firstly, preventing misuse of advanced technology is much more challenging. While technology controls will remain important in IR, new approaches to enable S&T cooperation among progressive nations will also be vital for the future. Secondly, the private sector is increasingly becoming the main player in international technology exchanges while the role of government agencies is changing to being a facilitator than controller. Developing nations in need of technology face complex challenges for technology transfer based on assurance of responsible ownership and use of sensitive technology. Additionally, the growing world population and its dependence on technology is increasing the global consumption of energy at an alarming rate. This is amplifying the ecological footprint of mankind in ways that is altering the chemical, physical and biological makeup of the earth on a geological scale. It is clear that this way of life will not be sustainable in the long run and hence there is urgent need for well-coordinated international cooperation to devise more sustainable and eco-friendly laws to govern the misuse of technology. Another negative impact is the use of ICTs by other non-state actors, such as terrorist groups, to coordinate, plan, and execute attacks and for new member recruiting.
Lastly, the increasing asymmetry of conflicts between states and non-state actors has caused persistent institutional and policy differences among countries and regions. The persistence of these varieties calls into question deterministic assumptions about the homogenizing powers of techno-globalization. In the 21st century, technology has also been silently used by nations to serve their own interests. For instance, countries like China have used technology as a new surveillance system, while others like India have used it to increase its power through technology to combat terrorism.
“Globalisation is a fact, because of technology, because of an integrated supply chain, because of changes in transportation” – the role and relevance if technology in shaping the international community is undeniable. It has penetrated every aspect of our life and we have benefitted from it too. In the wake of a global pandemic, technology allowed nations to continue to hold meeting and international conferences to come together and fight this deadly virus. On the other hand, students could continue to attend lectures and interact with others from around the world only due to advances in technology. It is true that unchecked use to technology can turn into an abuse and for this the international community has to come together with stringent laws. Establishing and nurturing links between the scientific and foreign policy communities informs scientists and policy makers alike. Improving the scientific capacity of delegations from all concerned countries has become particularly important, especially for international negotiations on human health and climate policy.
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