By Ian Bremmer and David Gordon
Individual hackers and organized crime organizations have targeted businesses for years, but cyberattacks have rarely created political risk. They do now. The centralization of data networks -- both in energy distribution (the move to the smart grid) and information technology more broadly (the shift to cloud computing) -- is increasing the vulnerability of states to potentially debilitating cyberattacks. As governments become more directly and actively involved in cyberspace, geopolitics and cybersecurity will collide in three major ways.
First, new cyber capacity allows governments to project power in a world where direct military strikes are much more costly and dangerous. There have been plenty of stories about well-funded efforts from inside China to manipulate access to the Internet, but it's the almost-certainly state-sponsored Stuxnet attacks on Iran's industrial infrastructure that provide the clearest early glimpse of what tomorrow's carefully targeted state-sponsored attack might look like. When a missile is launched, everyone knows where it came from. Cyberattacks are a very different story.
Second, we'll see more cyber conflicts between state-owned companies and multinational corporations, providing state capitalists with tools that give them a competitive commercial advantage. China and Chinese companies are by far the biggest concern here. Throw in Beijing's indigenous innovation plans, which are designed to ensure that China develops its own advanced technology, and this is probably the world's most important source of direct conflict between states and corporations.
Third, there is the increasing fallout from the WikiLeaks problem, as those sympathetic to Julian Assange unleash attacks on governments and the corporations that support them in targeting WikiLeaks and its founder. In fact, the principal cybersecurity concern of governments has shifted from potential attacks by al Qaeda or Chinese security forces to radicalized info -- anarchists undertaking a debilitating attack against critical infrastructure, a key government agency, or a pillar of the financial system. Whether attacks are waged for power (state versus state), profit (particularly among state capitalists), or for 'the people,' (as in the WikiLeaks case), this will be a wildcard to watch in 2011.
On Friday, we'll talk about Top Risk no. 4: China -- and why its policymakers will frustrate much of the international community this year.
Ian Bremmer is president of Eurasia Group. David Gordon is the firm's head of research.
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By Ian Bremmer
Some of the information from those WikiLeaked U.S. diplomatic cables is interesting, or at least entertaining. But will the revelations actually have an impact on the conduct of international politics? Looking around the world, I've seen one policy so far that looks to be changed as a consequence of WikiLeaks.
On Dec. 6, Uruguay and Argentina joined Brazil in announcing they would formally recognize a Palestinian state, following the failure of Obama administration efforts to jumpstart talks between Israeli and Palestinian leaders.
Brazil's decision is interesting only in that it provides more evidence that major emerging market countries are carving out their own approaches to the world's big diplomatic conflicts, including in the Middle East, which is not a place where Latin American countries have many vital interests at stake. Remember when Brazil joined Turkey in direct engagement with Iran on its nuclear program? Or when outgoing President Lula invited Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to visit Brazil? That was a pretty clear statement that Brazil would not simply follow Washington's lead on every issue.
Argentina is more of an eyebrow raiser. After all, for reasons historical and cultural, Argentina is traditionally more sympathetic toward Israel than any of its Latin American neighbors. So why this shot across Israel's bow? Or was it the Obama administration's bow?
Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner can't have been pleased to read that one of the cables exposed by WikiLeaks revealed that U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had questioned her "mental state" and how she was "managing her nerves and anxiety." Making matters worse, the cables were written a year ago, but they went public one month after Kirchner lost her husband, former president Nestor Kirchner.
The leaks also revealed that a U.S. embassy official in Buenos Aires found her government to be "to be extremely thin-skinned and intolerant of perceived criticism." Maybe he had it right. Maybe the leaks explain, at least in part, why Argentina has decided to recognize a Palestinian state.
Ian Bremmer is president of Eurasia Group and author of The End of the Free Market: Who Wins the War Between States and Corporations?
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The Call, from Ian Bremmer, uses cutting-edge political science to predict the political future -- and how it will shape the global economy.