Internet Activism and Authoritarian Regime – Jared Cohen

Apr 2, 2021

by Ishika Bhatia

Jared Cohen met with The World Affairs Council of Greater Houston to give a lecture on what is known as the 21st century statecraft. He explains that when people think of the 21st century they assume that statecraft and foreign policy is about building connections as much as it is about doing negotiations and that never has this been more important in observation than today.

In the last 10 years internet growth has risen from 361 million to two billion users around the world. Cellphone growth has risen from 970 million to roughly five billion.

Jared Cohen speaks to the fact that he has served in the last two administrations at the time – first as a member of the policy planning staff to Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton. Secretary of State Hillaray Clinton really looked at how to leverage and harness the potential for connection technology and the internet to be a viable tool of foreign policy. The way people typically thought about technology at this time was that it was a tool to communicate or convey messages. However, a reality that they were just realizing at the time was that 21st century technology is an incredibly powerful tool to connect people to information, to each other, to actual resources, and be a financial, judicial, health, and educational tool. People started to really realize how the exponential rise and access to technology was really shaking things up around the world in ways that made foreign policy adapt to new challenges as well as take into account an entirely new set of stakeholder that can be engaged, empowered, and leveraged.

Mr. Cohen speaks about how in the government, he was often confronted with the notion that while technology is growing and becoming a tool, it is important to remember that technology itself is neutral and will not pick sides and that rather, people are the ones who choose sides. One thing they really had to realize was that as they thought about foreign policy moving forward, whether they liked it or not, the technological tools that were now available were changing power dynamics around the world and empowering citizens at the expense of bureaucratic state authority and the question that was present at the time of whether or not these tools will continue to empower people for good or for ill is where 21st century statecraft really came into play.

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