Monday, December 8, 2003

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An update on the Internet and the UN

Last week I red-flagged the upcoming World Summit on the Information Society and developing country efforts to have greater UN involvement (in the form of the International Telecommunications Union) in Internet governance. The United States, European Union, and Japan all opposed this move -- out of normative fears that it would enhance the ability of states to regulate content, and positive fears that such a switch would dilute their influence in ICANN.

Looks like the status quo will be preserved for the near-future -- meaning that ICANN still runs key parts of the Internet and states like China and Saudi Arabia can still regulate content to their heart's content. Here's the Reuters story on it. The Register has some good behind-the-scenes stuff:

Most significant among these issues was over who should run the Internet. Western countries want ICANN to continue to head it, whereas the rest of the world wants the ITU to take over to lend a more international flavour.

The two sides were stuck in a deadlock (despite extra days of meetings) which threatened to put the entire meeting - the first of its kind concerning the Internet - at risk. And so, in true diplomatic form, all sides agreed to put the issue on the back burner.

Discussion papers dated 5 December (the first day of the special weekend meeting) suggested that a “Preparatory Committee” be set up that will hold its first meeting in the first half of 2004 and review “those issues of the Information Society which should form the focus of the Tunis phase of the WSIS” - to be held in 2005.

And that is what everyone agreed to - since agreement was going to be impossible, farm the issue out to a committee to report back in a year’s time when hopefully the hot potato will have cooled down....

The equally contentious issue of free speech and the role of the media on the Internet was also broached. China didn’t like the Western wording about press freedom. And so the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights was used as the reference point instead. The exact paragraph may read: “Nothing in this declaration shall be construed as impairing, contradicting, restricting or derogating the provisions of the Charter of the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, any other international instrument or national laws adopted in furtherance of these instruments.”

The Washington Times suggests the clear faultlines when these issues re-emerge:

Senior diplomats familiar with the confidential talks said the compromise stemmed from the firm stance taken by the United States and compromise language offered by Canada and the Swiss chairman of the talks, Marc Furrer. The latter is the director of Switzerland's Federal Office of Communications.

"The Swiss were good at cooling things down," said one diplomat who participated in the talks. "At times, things got quite feisty between China, Brazil, South Africa, the U.S. and others."

China, Brazil, South Africa. Hmmm... These countries also played a pivotal role in derailing world trade talks at Cancun three months ago.

In all the talk about transatlantic tensions -- in the blogosphere and the mediasphere -- methinks that analysts have overlooked a deeper division that may emerge in future negotiations on the global political economy: the developed and developing world.

More on this in a few days.

posted by Dan on 12.08.03 at 11:58 AM


"methinks that analysts have overlooked a deeper division that may emerge in future negotiations on the global political economy: the developed and developing world."

Um, methinks from reading the account that it's the U.S. and the developing world, with the rest of the developed world brokering "compromises". I actually don't know whether that's a good thing or a bad thing.

posted by: Al on 12.08.03 at 11:58 AM [permalink]

“methinks that analysts have overlooked a deeper division that may emerge in future negotiations on the global political economy: the developed and developing world.”

Nope, that’s not quite the reality of the situation. This deeper division actually revolves around those who wish to emulate American values---and those who prefer to wallow in self pity and envy of our earned preeminence.

posted by: David Thomson on 12.08.03 at 11:58 AM [permalink]

I do think Daniel Drezner is on to something. Countries like China, India, Brazil are asserting themselves in the international arena. They are fastly developing (at least China and India do) and want to translate this new economic power into political power. Golman Sachs is talking about the Bric's (brazil, india, china, russia) taking over European countries, Japan and maybe the U.S. as economic powerhouses before 2050. Although one has to be very carefull with this kind of predictions (especially for Brazil and Russia, i guess) it is another indication that the world dynamics is shifting away from Europe and the U.S. and to new fast developing countries. And i don't believe that it will be the U.S. alone against the developing world. It is in Europe, not the U.S. were policians try hard to prevent letting immigrants from those countries in. It is in Europe, not the U.S. where outsourcing/offshoring to India is seen as a threat (Americans see this - mostly - as an oppurtunity - rightly so: see a recent study from the McKinsey Global Institute). Yes, the U.S is very busy with China bashing, but a lot of American businesses are reacting agaist this - see Stephen Roach, who writes for a business-audience). And while Business Week called for seeing a developing India as an opportunity, Europe is starting with India-bashing: it filed a complaint against protectionists measures from India (maybe rightly so - but it's the kettle...)

posted by: Ivan Janssens on 12.08.03 at 11:58 AM [permalink]

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