A Network of Dictators

There's a fight brewing for the future of the Internet.

The Internet came very close to being kidnapped last week. Russia and China used the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) to push for government control of the Internet and restrictions on access to information. WCIT was supposed to update an obscure U.N. treaty on international telecommunications, but instead a longstanding fight over control of the Internet to reduce the risks it poses to authoritarian regimes came to a head. This was not entirely a surprise. In 2011, Vladimir Putin announced that Russia's WCIT goal was "establishing international control over the Internet using the monitoring and supervisory capabilities of the International Telecommunication Union" (the U.N. body responsible for telecommunications and the WCIT).

The WCIT saw national sovereignty return with a vengeance. Blocs of states competed for power. This is not a bipolar contest, with the West on the side of righteousness. Our righteousness has been dented and there are many more players. Governments as diverse as Malaysia, Vietnam, and India want their values and their national laws to have precedence in cyberspace. If the overworked term "globalization" means a borderless world, where American culture and values dominate, and if the Internet is the primary vehicle for delivering this, other nations want greater control of the car. The Russians cleverly used discontent with the status quo to win support for repressive ideas, including international endorsement for blocking access to troubling websites.

Authoritarian regimes fear the Internet because they fear their own people. Russia, China, and Iran see the access to information brought by the Internet as a threat to regime survival. Last year, when he was still Russia's president, Dmitry Medvedev said of the Arab Spring and social networks, "Let's face the truth. They have been preparing such a scenario for us, and now they will try even harder to implement it." Medvedev would not identify who he meant by "they," but the finger-pointing brings back memories of the Kremlin's jittery reaction to popular uprisings that toppled entrenched regimes in Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan in the 2000s. At the time, Putin and other senior officials publicly accused the West of meddling. Authoritarian regimes believe that the Internet is, as one Chinese official put it, part of "an American plot" to undermine other governments.

The United States was on the defensive, shielding the Internet's status quo. This is too easily portrayed as America's desire to keep its political and economic control of the Internet. Americans may be surprised to learn that they control the Internet, a conglomeration of millions of individual networks, but the belief that the United States has a grand strategy to preserve "hegemony" has a deep hold on thinking in many nations. Hegemony, in this case, means using American technology and the services of giant American companies to access a global resource managed by an American corporation under contract to the Commerce Department. Russia and China argued persuasively that this global resource should be managed by all nations, under the auspices of the United Nations. Eighty-seven nations, led by blocs from the Middle East and Africa, supported Russia and China, while only 54 agreed with the United States.

There were many reasons for the broad support of the Russian and Chinese proposal. The United States has less influence after its misadventures in the Middle East, a tarnished human rights record, and is the victim of a widespread belief that it was responsible for global recession. The apparent decline of Europe reinforces the unwillingness of other nations to accept without question Western leadership (and values). Many countries were swayed by development considerations (meaning more high-speed telecommunications services for poor countries), for which the authoritarian proposals seemed to offer greater support.

The WCIT showed that the end of the Cold War was a temporary triumph for democracy. When Russia and China abandoned communism and embraced markets, some expected that they would play by Western "rules," but they do not regard these rules as binding, immutable, or legitimate. International relations are in a period of ambiguity -- not quite great power politics (too much economic interdependence for that), but also not a single, international community sharing similar values and content to accept the United States as its leader.

Fin de siècle ideas about a borderless world where governments would play a lesser role remain strongly embedded in American thinking about the Internet. These old ideas let authoritarian regimes capture the agenda for change. We are past the moment when it appeared that borders would disappear and nation-states would be replaced by an amorphous international community. Far from disappearing, borders and states, after an initial period of decline, are adjusting to and adopting new technologies. The resurgence of sovereignty means governments will extend their laws into cyberspace and create technologies to enforce them, but this resurgence is linked to a troubling trend. This new sovereignty disputes Western values once thought to be universal. There is questioning, if not rejection, of the ideals and institutions for global governance imposed on the world 65 years ago. If the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was put to a vote now, it might not win.

The longstanding U.S. position that an open, free Internet is the best for innovation and growth is no longer persuasive. If it were true, the European Union would be outperforming China. Linking democracy to dubious commercial arguments puts human rights at risk. America needs a more compelling narrative to defend universal values.

That narrative has to be political, more like the Helsinki Accords than Davos. Internet governance is only one part, albeit an important one, of the larger rebalancing of global power. It is also the latest chapter in the struggle for democracy and rule of law. The United States must explain -- in the face of the resurgence of sovereignty, the shift of power away from Europe, and the growing importance of non-Western states -- why democracy remains best for both justice and growth.

Some say that Dubai was a victory for Internet freedom. This is true in the same way that Dunkirk can be considered a victory for escaping defeat. The American negotiators performed admirably given how weak a hand they inherited. But this was no real victory. A contest of ideas explains why a technical discussion turned into a politicized debate. The battle for the WCIT is over. The battle for the Internet has begun, and we need better ideas if we are to win it.



Born on the Seventh Floor

John Kerry is about to get the secretary of state job he was always meant to have.

With a little prodding, Sen. John Kerry once reluctantly showed me his childhood passport. It was tattooed with border crossing stamps from almost all the Western European countries. From 1951 to 1954, his father Richard Kerry, a career Foreign Service officer, worked as an attorney for what was then called the Bureau of United Nations in the State Department. But when John was 10 years old, Richard Kerry was assigned to Berlin to serve as legal advisor at the U.S. mission in the divided German city.

From that Cold War outpost base, young John was taken sailing by his father across the vast fjords of Norway. He wandered the beaches of Normandy collecting shell casings from D-Day. He studied history and learned languages in a Swiss boarding school among the sons and daughters of other American diplomats. But young John's most memorable experiences came as a Cold War kid in a Berlin divided between East and West, split between democracy and communism, watching allied American, British, and French troops guarding their own sectors of the city. On one occasion, Kerry mischievously rode his bicycle into Soviet East Berlin, where he saw starkly just how polarized daily life was on sides of the city, from the fear of those living under the yoke of communist oppression to the gratitude and goodwill toward an America that had liberated a former enemy.

Kerry recalled vividly sitting on a train watching an American officer who had the diplomatic pouch handcuffed to his wrist.  Along with the crowd deboarding the military train, Kerry stood at attention as an Army band played patriotic tunes. His heroes back then were -- naturally -- the names he heard around the dinner table: President Dwight Eisenhower, and diplomats George Kennan, Dean Acheson, and George Marshall. His passport had him at 4 foot 3 inches tall.

By the time Kerry enlisted to serve in the Vietnam war in 1966, he was 6 foot four and conversant in five languages. Like his father, he was attracted to the world of diplomacy. Because he was a student at Yale University, he perhaps could have finagled out of the draft. But Kerry was raised to be a public servant. He and his closest classmates -- including future Ambassador David Thorne, the future founder of Federal Express Fred Smith, and the grandson of General "Black Jack" Pershing -- together pledged to join the military. Pershing would never return from the war.

Kerry chose the Navy because of his interest in all things nautical. From 1966 to 1970, he served on the guided-missile frigate USS Gridley, spending time in the Gulf of Tonkin in North Vietnam, at Subic Bay in the Philippines, and in Wellington, New Zealand. Later, he reported for duty to Coastal Squadron 1 of Cam Ranh Bay, South Vietnam, the strategic nerve center for the U.S. Navy's MarketTime anti-infiltration operations, which since 1965 had searched half a million vessels. He'd been attracted to the squadron's small boats because they offered a young officer the chance for a command. As a Swift boat lieutenant in South Vietnam, Kerry was wounded, awarded three Purple Hearts, while probing enemy strongholds and sanctuaries in and about the river mouths, inlets, caves and canals of coastal Asia. He was awarded both the Silver Star and Bronze Star with Combat V for valor and meritorious action in combat.

In 1969, Kerry came back to the United States, where he served as an admiral's aide in New York. But he continued to be troubled by the war and haunted by the deaths of close friends. He felt compelled to speak out as an activist -- an activist disillusioned by the widening of the war into Cambodia, questioning the strategy of American military intervention in Southeast Asia in general. For Kerry, it was an at times uneasy plunge into the anti-war movement. He was uncomfortable with the radicalism of some, or the broader agenda others crusaded for. Still shaped by his own childhood experiences, Kerry was not a pacifist or a doubter of America's ability to make a difference in the world or of the occasional necessity to use force. Diplomat Richard Holbrooke would later describe Kerry as "an eloquent but moderate member of the anti-war movement."

Kerry's best-known moments came as an eloquent spokesman for Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW), a group whose singular mission was to end U.S. military involvement in Southeast Asia. Famously, he testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on April 22, 1971 asking; "How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?" But in that very testimony, Kerry offered other powerful observations about a war he felt had gone off course, including his disenchantment over the absurdity that "American lives are lost so that we can ... Vietnamize the Vietnamese." Many others in VVAW hated the war passionately. Kerry, though, seemed to be probing deeper questions about a foreign- policy strategy he found unsustainable and a poor use of American power and influence. It was Vietnam -- both his battlefield heroism and anti-war dissent -- that brought Kerry to the nation's attention, and it was also Vietnam that doomed his first run for Congress in 1972 in Lowell, Massachusetts. His voice breaking, Kerry in his concession speech said simply, "If I had to do it all over again, I'd still stand with the veterans." But a political future appeared off the table.

Fast forward 12 years, and, after time as a prosecutor taking on organized crime and modernizing a sleepy backwater of a district attorney's office in Middlesex County, Kerry, a Democrat, won a difficult race for the open Massachusetts Senate seat, defeating Republican Raymond Shamie and bucking the tide of a reelected Ronald Reagan who for the second time would carry the Bay State. The once shaggy haired anti-war activist was now Ted Kennedy's junior Senate colleague, and he requested and was assigned a seat on the Foreign Relations Committee -- the same panel before which he'd delivered the testimony that 13 years before had earned him a place on Richard Nixon's enemies list.

Kerry's life had come full circle. Inside the Senate, the former outsider at times bristled inside clubby Washington. Unusual for a Senator, let alone a freshman, he gravitated toward difficult foreign-policy assignments. In 1991, Majority Leader George Mitchell (D-Maine) tapped Kerry to chair an investigation into the fate of Americans missing in Vietnam. Kerry seized an opportunity to begin to heal the wounds of the war in which he'd served. He became unlikely friends with Sen. John McCain, a former prisoner of the North Vietnamese, and together they unified a diverse and ideologically disparate Senate Select Committee behind the investigation's historic finding that there were no living American POWs left in Vietnam. In so doing, Kerry demonstrated an intensity rarely seen on Capitol Hill, making 14 trips to Vietnam -- fourteen! -- searching for answers and securing the Vietnamese government's cooperation.

Kerry's engagement with Vietnam didn't stop there. He partnered again with McCain and President George Herbert Walker Bush's national security advisor Brent Scowcroft, and later with President Bill Clinton, to lift the trade embargo with Vietnam and normalize relations. One wonders if, standing in Hanoi as Clinton in 2000 became the first U.S. president to visit Vietnam since the end of the war, Kerry wistfully harkened back to his own antiwar testimony -- and his hopes then that one day "small boys" would talk about Vietnam and think not of a war but of "the place where America finally turned and where soldiers like us helped it in the turning." Indeed, Kerry had done exactly that. He had achieved in the reconciliation process what had so eluded him both in the war and in the antiwar movement: a place of comfort and peace.

Over the years, his closest Senate friends became men like John McCain, Chuck Hagel, Max Cleland, Bob Kerrey, and Chuck Robb -- all Vietnam vets. They shared the same high-minded covenant, you might say: a willingness to serve America in any capacity. Kerry was attracted to other diplomatic assignments unusual for a senator. He amended U.S. policy to press for free elections in the Philippines, was appointed by President Reagan along with Sen. Richard Lugar to observe that election, and helped exposed Ferdinand Marcos's voter fraud, leading to the United States separating itself from its corrupt Cold War ally and ushering in a democratic Philippines. During the Clinton administration, he revived the U.N.'s moribund genocide tribunal effort with Cambodia and over successive weekends in 2000 flew to both Phnom Penh and Havana to negotiate with Prime Minister Hun Sen the very genocide tribunal structure that has in recent years led to trials and convictions for war crimes of former Khmer Rouge officials. He had learned -- and applied -- a lesson his father had taught him: that a good American diplomat is one who "advances America's interests by learning to see the issues through the eyes of another country."

Now that it looks like Kerry will be President Obama's nominee for secretary of state, it's worth pondering his record to understand his intellectual predisposition and modus operandi. While Hillary Clinton, the current occupant of Foggy Bottom, earned her Senate spurs on the Armed Services Committee, Kerry has been on the Foreign Relations Committee since 1985. His orientation tilts toward the art of diplomacy even as he understands war in personal ways. He has championed free trade, supported U.S. intervention in Kosovo and Bosnia, partnered with Sen. Bill Frist to write and pass the first global AIDS bill (which President George W. Bush turned into PEPFAR), fought against the trafficking of persons, led relentless investigations into Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega's involvement in illegal narcotics that laid the predicate for the invasion of Panama and Noriega's arrest, exposed the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) for illegal money laundering that funded global criminal activities including Osama bin Laden's former base in Sudan, and earned his spurs on global climate change as Al Gore labeled him "the Senate's best environmentalist."

If there is such a thing as a Kerry Doctrine, it is a clear-eyed willingness to pursue engagement and test the intentions of other countries, even present and former enemies or difficult partners on the world stage. Just as Kerry used to journey to Vietnam searching for POWs, he now regularly travels to Afghanistan and Pakistan as a high-octane negotiator for the White House. As chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee since 2009, he played a trouble-shooting role for President Obama in reaching agreement with President Karzai on a run-off election in Afghanistan to avert a constitutional crisis, negotiated with Pakistan's President Asef Ali Zardari and General Ashfaq Kayani on the release of American contractor Ray Davis and the return of the American helicopter's tail following the Osama bin Laden raid. On Sudan, Kerry parlayed several trips to the region into a special easing the peaceful and successful independence referendum in the south. He is committed to the Middle East peace process and America's special relationship with Israel, a country he feels deeply about as someone whose grandparents were Jews and whose own brother converted to Judaism. On Iran, he is a hawk. (There is no such a thing as containment, Kerry says: Tehran simply won't be allowed to have nuclear weapon.) Quite unusual for a Washington insider, Kerry flat out refuses to use the phrase "Arab Spring." He prefers "Arab Awakening." His reasoning is simple: Seasons like spring come and go. An "awakening" is the beginning of a true democratic reform movement that is just getting started.

Kerry -- patient but quick to see opportunities -- has a negotiator's mindset. Working on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for 27 years has honed his skills as a dealmaker -- and a legislator in a Senate where those skills are now in short supply. After Democrats were walloped and Obama's agenda endangered by the 2010 midterm elections, with steely determination Kerry led the improbable fight to ratify New START, the president's nuclear arms treaty with Russia, in 2010 even as others urged Kerry to wait for a smoother legislative calendar. He got 71 votes.

As secretary of state, Kerry would no doubt invest enormous time leveraging his relationships on Capitol Hill and selling the president's agenda in the Senate and on the committee he now chairs. And he would make great use of the friends and contacts he's made around the world in his three decades quietly and diligently working on foreign policy. There is no learning curve for Kerry at Foggy Bottom.

And Kerry would be a great pick to lead the State Department at this specific moment in time. Just as he learned everything he could about Southeast Asia from the 1960s to the 1990s, Kerry has amassed an encyclopedic knowledge of the Middle East -- often putting him ahead of his potential future boss on the region's urgent crises. He was the first senator to call for President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt to step down, pressed the administration to create a no-fly zone in Libya to topple Muammar al-Qaddafi, and has been a sharp critic of Syria's murdering of its own citizens, having meticulously tested Bashar al-Assad's willingness to change his ways in 2009 and come away unimpressed. Consider the grace with which Kerry has handled his 2004 presidential defeat. Instead of retreating into bitterness and self-doubt, he put his shoulder to the wheel and worked. Much like his evergreen heroes of the early Cold War -- Eisenhower, Kennan, Acheson, and Marshall -- Kerry exudes noblesse oblige. But his courtesy and diplomatic finesse can mask a toughness and a willingness to speak hard truths. That's what he learned all those years ago in Vietnam: that loving his country could mean both picking up arms and speaking out against a failing war. And that's why America needs him as its top diplomat today.