Internet Governance, Cyber Power and Transnational Cyber Power Diffusion

Essay, 2013

16 Pages, Grade: 1,3


Internet Governance, Cyber Power and Transnational Cyber Power Diffusion

During the last two decades, a revolution of the Internet has been witnessed, leading to significant changes in our society. These changes, especially regarding availability and dissemination of information, are well comparable to Johannes von Gutenberg’s invention of the letterpress in the fifteenth century. The governance and maintenance of the Internet asks for considerable efforts by powerful state actors, notably the United States of America. However, the degree of Internet-usage is marked by a power-shift from state to non-state actors. Regarding this issue, during an IBEI- lecture about “Communication and Education in International Relations”, César de Prado used the term ‘Transnational Cyber Power Diffusion’ (De Prado, 2013), inspired by Joseph Nye’s (2010) concept of ‘Cyber Power’.

This paper seeks to explain who is in charge of Internet governance, how power within cyberspace is wielded, and what it may mean for future developments. In order to achieve this, the structure of this paper is fourfold. First of all, a short introduction is given, outlining the history of the Internet’s creation. Afterwards, the matter of Internet governance is dealt with, connecting it to several aspects of Joseph Nye’s Cyber Power concept. In a third step, a case study is presented, examining two relevant non-state actors, -Wikileaks and Anonymous-, aiming at systematically fitting them into context. Finally, the findings are summarized, analyzed and framed into an application of the concept of ‘Transnational Cyber Power Diffusion’.

Introduction: The creation of the Internet

The Internet emerged originally out of a research assignment of the US Ministry of Defense. The Cuban Missile Crisis from 1961/62 had shown that nuclear war was a real possibility and capable to put a central communication system out of action. This scenario would have had significant consequences with regard to the United States’ retaliatory strike capabilities. This is why a decentralized military communication system ought to be put in place. Therefore, in 1969, US President Kennedy obliged the Advanced Research Project Agency (ARPA), a military organization, to design the first de-centralized network, the ARPANET.

After the launch of the Email in 1972, ARPANET was taken over by the National Science Foundation (NSF). With the expiry of aid money in the 1990s, the Internet developed from a ‘research-net’ to a commercial net, with the National Telecommunications and Informations Administration (NTIA) taking over the IANA-authority.1 In February 1998, the NTIA forged the socalled “Green Paper”, which proposed the establishment of a non-profit organization in order to be delegated to fulfill the IANA- and other functions. With the publishing of a “White Paper” by Ira Magaziner (an advisor of then US President Bill Clinton), which stated that the US Government was credited to this plan, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) was able to be established in Marina del Rey, California (Borchers, 2008).

Up to the point where ICANN was established, the Internet domain system had been controlled by the US Government. Still nowadays “the world-wide distribution of domains illustrates the American presence in the Internet” (Ibañez, 2006, p.12). Out of the historic reasons mentioned earlier, ten out of thirteen ‘Root Servers’, ICANNs central directory, are based in the United States (The Panos Institute, 2005). Besides governmental influences, geographical jurisdictions play a significant role in cyberspace; however, the “cyber domain is marked by extreme power diffusion” (Nye, 2010, p.3). This fact leads to questions like: How is the Internet governed? Who governs it? And whose interests are served?

Internet governance

In order to approach this topic in a broad manner, it would be expedient to look at the definition of “Internet Governance” as given by the Working Group of Internet Governance (WGIG):

Internet governance is the development and application by Governments, the private sector and civil society, in their respective roles, of shared principles, norms, rules, decision-making procedures, and programmes that shape the evolution and use of the Internet. (WGIG, 2005, p.3)

WGIG identifies and examines “public policy issues that are potentially relevant to Internet governance”, which include the Internet’s infrastructure and its use, as well as issues which are connected with ramifications outside the cyberspace, namely “developmental aspects” and “security and safety of the Internet” (p.3). Moreover, Eriksson and Giacomello (2009) identify three dimensions of Internet control: access, functionality and activity (p.206). Within those three dimensions with several sub-factors, the “most fundamental sources of power in Internet governance” are “technical protocols of Internet communication (IP, TCP, etc.)”, as overseen by ICANN (p.206-7).

Against this background, concerns were being expressed by ICANN’s critics in terms of their own proprietary rights and ICANN’s accountability. ICANN’s Multi-stakeholder structure has been labeled “centralized and fundamentally hostile to the spirit of the Internet” (Feldmann, 2000, p.29). Moreover, the selection process for leading members of ICANN were described as a “closed door process that is impenetrable by outsiders” (p.29). Deriving from public expressions of discontent it might appear that societal interests are possibly undervalued in ICANN’s administrative structure.

Klimburg and Tirmaa-Klaar, senior advisers to the European Parliament’s Subcommittee on Security and Defence, define two domains of Internet governance: the technical domain and the policy domain (Klimburg and Tirmaa-Klaar, 2011, p.20).

The technical domain, also described as ‘ ad hoc ’, involves both volunteers and civil society. The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) is in charge of inventing and maintaining the technical fixes and software protocols upon which the Internet is dependent today. The IETF does not have any regulations, and its criteria of membership are not clear. Another group in the technical domain of Internet governance is the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), which is more organized, has above 350,000 members and is responsible for connectivity (Klimburg and Tirmaa- Klaar 2011, p.22).

The policy domain of Internet governance is more institutionalized and includes the ICANN whose function comes close to regulating (policing) the Internet. ICANN allocates Internet Protocol (IP) numbers, Domain Name Server (DNS) names and the Top Level Domains (TLD) to regional Internet registries (RIRs) which in turn assign the identifiers to users (web publishers) across the world (Choucri, 2012, p.185). Those three elements constitute significant Internet functionality (Klimburg and Tirmaa-Klaar 2011, p.21).

In view of these few of the multifold facets of Internet governance, questions may arise regarding whether there should be an ‘Internet government’. Wolfgang Kleinwächter, professor of International Politics of Communication at the University of Aarhus, Denmark, holds the view that nobody should ‘rule’ the Internet:

The Internet does not need a government. The Internet is a central network of networks, sufficiently managed and organized by a myriad of institutions and organizations. Therefore, it does not need a government on top” (Banse, 2012).

Joseph Nye, creator of several concepts of power, opines that societal interests are becoming more and more prevalent in cyberspace. In this context, he reckons that the center of interest should be the power-shift from the policy domain to the technical domain. He adds to this discussion by introducing his concept of ‘Cyber Power’ (Nye, 2010).

Cyber Power and Internet Governance

At first glance, Nye’s conception of Cyber Power appears to be very straightforward. He states that “(…) cyber power is the ability to obtain preferred outcomes through use of the electronically interconnected resources of the cyber domain” and that cyber power is marked by “the ability to use cyberspace to create advantages and influence events in other operational environments and across the instruments of power.” (Nye, 2010, p.3-4). However, the concept implies more than the mere use of cyber tools in cyberspace in order to get what you desire: “power always depend[s] on context” and the rapid growth of cyberspace over the years is a crucial context in world politics (p.2).

Consequently, Joseph Nye develops his concept further: since power is dependent on context, cyber power is also dependent on the resources that portray the realm of cyberspace. However, a primary problem poses the measurement of power. Is it measured by a state’s ability to limit Internet access and usage? Or is measured in terms of the ability (and activity) of non-state actors to influence state behavior? In the following, light is shed on both ideas.

First of all, Nye sees a shift from the importance of state to non-state actors. Crucial in this context are the so-called “cyber tools”, i.e. software and hardware used to facilitate one’s goals in cyberspace. Nye states that “cyber tools begin to blur the lines between organizations with highly structured networks and individuals with lightly structured networks” (p.13). However, Nye also stresses the importance of the differentiation between “intra cyberspace” and “extra cyberspace” activities by both state and non-state actors (p.5). In this context, two non-state actors are presented and compared in order to depict nowadays’ cyber power diffusion: Wikileaks and Anonymous.

Wikileaks, Cyber Power, and Internet Governance

Wikileaks was officially established by Julian Assange, an Australian computer programmer and activist, and by John Young, a “veteran of the scene” who registered the URLs “,, and” on October 4th 2006 (Rosenbach and Stark, 2011). From then on, Wikileaks served as a platform where politically charged documents could be uploaded and published anonymously. In a recent interview, Julian Assange postulated the un-changed aim of his centralized non-profit organization: “Every document, every record that the state has control over must be a public record” (laSexta, 2013). Controversial leaked material reached from the uncovering of corruption in Kenya (Rice, 2007), over classified video coverage from illegal killings in Afghanistan, called “Collateral Murder” video (Bumiller, 2010), up to a quarter of a million of highly classified diplomatic cables from the U.S. State Department, a leak later known as “Cablegate”(Welch, 2010). As a source of the latter two, US Military Private Bradley E. Manning was arrested and detained under questionable circumstances in May 2010 (Zetter and Poulsen, 2010).2

Shortly after Manning’s detention, the United States Government restricted access to the Wikileaks website for all federal workers (MacAskill, 2010) and Wikileaks was cut off its donations because financial actors like Mastercard, VISA and PayPal deemed their reputation worth more than marginal profits (Greenberg, 2010). As a consequence, Wikileaks supporters started public campaigning, using the “Occupy Wall Street” movement as a forum (Dolly, 2011).

The Wikileaks’ developments depict what Nye calls “Physical and Virtual Dimensions of Cyber Power” (Nye, 2010, p.5; see appendix). The following table connects Nye’s concept with actions of the Wikileaks-case.


1 The Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) is responsible for the global coordination of the DNS Root, IP addressing, and other Internet protocol resources (IANA, 2013).

2 Bradley Manning’s official trial began, more than three years after his detention, on June 3rd 2013 (Pilkington, 2013). 5

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Internet Governance, Cyber Power and Transnational Cyber Power Diffusion
University of Pompeu Fabra  (Institut Barcelona d'Estudis Internacionals (IBEI))
Global Governance
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Global Governance, Internet Governance, Cyber Power, Cyber Power Diffusion, Wikileaks, ICANN
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Alexander Tutt (Author), 2013, Internet Governance, Cyber Power and Transnational Cyber Power Diffusion, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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