Information and Communication Technologies in International Relations

UDC 327
Publication date: 29.04.2021
International Journal of Professional Science №4-2021

Information and Communication Technologies in International Relations

Khlopov Oleg Anatolyevich
PhD, Political Science, Associate Professor,
Department of American Studies
Russian State University for the Humanities (Moscow)
Abstract: The article analyzes the role of modern technologies and their impact on global policy, the role of information technologies in the modern world politics focuses on the complex relationships between social, political and economic processes. The increasing technical and scientific possibilities, inventions and discoveries are changing the forms of interstate communication, introduce their dual (ambivalent) character. At the same time, they affect many areas, create new features and mechanisms for various actors to participate in global processes. Although large data technology can positively affect many aspects of human life, they also create new vulnerabilities for humanity (for example, confidentiality, information transparency). The author argues that states, and other actors can use technologies in different ways, depending on their own interests that points to the ambivalence of technologies. Under these conditions, the scientific community must learn to understand and confront the challenges have created by these revolutionary technologies, conduct new interdisciplinary research in the field international relations.
Keywords: information technology, industrial revolution, international relations, research, interdisciplinary approach.


Integration of Russia into a single global scientific, educational and information space puts new tasks for the introduction and implementation information and telecommunication technologies (ICT) in the study and analysis of key problems of international relations. International relations as a research area play a significant role in the assessment of global events and trends, and there is a growing need for professional training specialists in the field of international relations. Well-developed training programs provide students with the possibility to form and develop the necessary knowledge and skills for future work.

Today knowledge and information are the main keys to obtain productivity, competition, wealth among states, and countries are focused on approaches to improved education and to develop human capital. It is necessary that science and education should keep up with the times and be able to bring changes quickly. The problem is that if we compare the modern world with the past century, we are encountered with dazzling developments of sciences in the field of humanities, business, medical services, communications, technical and many other areas [1]. While many issues have been changed with the help of science and technical development, education and research methods often remain unchanged. But there is also an understanding that scientists and experts today should prepare to ensure opportunities for education and research based on modern technologies. In fact, the preparation for the implementations of technologies to improve the quality of research and training should be one of the main analytical skills. Since 1990 in many countries of the world, the most effective leap in the development was have been made by using information technology in higher education [2].

Information technologies refer to the process of knowledge about the application of methods of processing, transmission and provision of information. It includes collecting, organizing, storing, publishing and using information. Several forecasts show that new information technologies will promote international understanding, peace and cooperation. Others see technology as a factor in strengthening independence and promoting democratic ideas, or that access to technology leads to structural and behavioral problems associated with it. The effectiveness of these technologies depends on political, cultural, economic, technical factors and the level of software and its use.

The article defines and discusses modern information and communication technologies, shows their role in world politics in the studies of  international relations.

The role of technologies

Technology is associated with many key phenomena in international relations, including conflict, economics and culture. The link between technology and global politics has been and remains underestimated. Technological change deeply affects global politics, security, economy, culture and the environment. For example, the rapid evolution of maritime and navigation technology during the sixteenth century accelerated colonial conquests and the development of trade. Technological superiority over the colonized territories was finally achieved with significantly improved firearms, guns, cannons and new medical discoveries cope with tropical diseases [3].

The first industrial revolution with its technological advances fundamentally changed the needs and aspirations of economic and social development. The beginning of this technological process led to the mass production of industrial goods with the maximum use of natural resources. There was a need to develop the markets for the sale of these goods, for example, the United Kingdom used to promote their goods to many overseas navy colonies. Consequently, the technology imperceptibly began to transform the ways that people and things are connected.

With the invention of the assembly line and electricity, facilitating the mass production of consumer goods, the second industrial revolution accelerated the growth of the industrial sector, making international transport networks possible to enter the global market. The third industrial revolution, with progressive automation and advances in information and communications technology, spurred the uncontrolled large-scale development of international markets and international migration, and led to marked changes in the way countries interact with each other in political, economic and cultural ties.

The use of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki has made the people wonder what nuclear technology can do to the world. A nuclear state with nuclear arsenals can defend its sovereignty as well as help other states. Territorial expansion associated with aspirations and aggression can lead to an international cataclysm, much worse than world wars. Nuclear deterrence as a strategic concept is aimed at preventing war and encourages people to reach a consensus, do not to try to realize any territorial ambitions.

Transnational corporations have a great influence on international affairs. Home and host governments remain very keen on their interests as they have huge sources of revenue and channel remittances of profits and provide easy access to technology to host countries. They have created a world in which success is realized on the basis of money and technology. Multinational corporations are shaping new technologies, converging technologies into capital, and many governments see that these potential investments are necessary for creating jobs. The technological advances of TNCs are always counted in reflecting both pressures and persuasions as governments strengthen their relationships.

Technologies affect all our accumulated knowledge, are the basis of all our thoughts and actions. Thus, technology is a universal achievement and contribution, and that is why it acts as a catalyst for international governance, diplomacy, compliance and accountability.

North America, Western Europe and Japan have been the driving force behind the globalization of technology and have subsequently enabled technology to facilitate the globalization of economic and social beliefs. Their existing and new technologies are helping Third World countries — developing countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America — to transform domestic resources into value-added goods and services.

The fourth industrial revolution, which is about the convergence of the physical, digital and biological spheres, where technologies are combined to create economic growth, helps each stakeholder to use big changes and progress, will use artificial intelligence, blockchain, 3D printing and machine learning to make each participant in global value chains [4]. It will involve all strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. These massive technological changes and incentives have already quietly entered world politics and herald a rapid paradigm shift in the dynamics of international relations.

New and emerging technologies are changing jobs and future opportunities and are manifested in soft power, which involves the use of economic and cultural influence to expand international relations. In addition, some of these technologies warn nations about what could happen if they plan to violate the sovereignty and territorial integrity of another state. This means that technology has very serious consequences if it is used as a hard power, when the involvement of military power in international political relations cannot be denied and neutralized. It is an established fact that technology is inherently dual in nature.

Modernity is deeply associated with technological progress. For example, the invention, improvement and diffusion of the steam engine in the Industrial Revolution subsequently fueled British hegemony during the XIX century, the adaptation of rail technology for military purposes and subsequent victories against the Habsburg Empire and France demonstrated the advantages of fast and orderly transport of troops through efficient transport networks. Nuclear weapons and the Cold War symbolized the globalization of military capabilities for a limited number of states, together with the prospect of nuclear annihilation of humanity.

At the turn of the XX-XXI centuries, information and communication technologies (ICT) have contributed to the transition from the industrial to the post-industrial information society, which is characterized by new forms of transnational production and distribution processes, the use of ICT in an expanded range of products and services, as well as conflict forms, which are cybersecurity, drones and robotics used in the military field [5].

In the statement by Pentagon Chief Data Officer David Spirk,   made at the Digital Government Summit conference, he outlined the main provisions of the new strategy developed under his leadership. As D.Spirk noted, the main goal of this document is to accelerate the Pentagon’s transition to the use of digital data in all areas of activity. At the same time, special attention is paid to the management of data as a strategic resource and its importance for the creation and maintenance of operational superiority of the US armed forces in theaters of military operations is emphasized [6].

At the present stage of military development and in the future, states give the main priority to  information systems as the  weapons systems.  Defense Chief Information Officer Dane Shirk believes that «data is the main aim the DoD’s digital modernization strategy and is becoming an increasingly important means of achieving US military superiority, both on and off the battlefield». D.Spirk also noted that the main emphasis is the formulation of rules for the collection, transmission and processing of data used in joint operations of troops. The strategy implements all the previously proclaimed directives of the Pentagon leadership to use data as a «strategic asset» and to ensure equal availability.

The U.S. Army’s new “Network” is already introducing new combat dynamics by virtue of bringing an ability to connect armored vehicles, drones, helicopters, and dismounted soldiers on a single data-sharing system, a scenario which multiplies attack options, shortens sensor-to-shooter time, and integrates targeting sensors [7].

Now there are no agreements between the United States and Russia in the field of the use of cyber weapons. And this is largely due to the fact that the implementation of cyber attacks is not recognized at the state level. Nevertheless, at present, the leading countries are faced with the question of «legalizing» cyber weapons and cyber wars. And legalization, naturally, will be followed by the need to create legal mechanisms to control the use and development of cyber weapons.

Some experts call for the administration of US president Joe Biden to enter into a dialogue with Moscow on cybersecurity issues in order to find new mutually beneficial agreements. It is dialogue that is the best way to express concern and solve problems. The unprecedented scale of the recent cyberattack on US government agencies, which is attributed to Russian intelligence services, has sparked a heated debate over whether this failure of America’s information security services is the result of a «wrong» strategy in this area.

In connection with this incident, Biden pledged to «raise the status of cyberspace in the state,» as well as «urgently launch an initiative to build capacity, preparedness and resilience» in cyberspace and «firmly oppose Russia’s actions,»

State and non-state actors have developed new strategies, policies and tools to solve these technological problems, to shape the technological evolution itself, or to use new opportunities in realizing their specific goals [8]. This selection of examples demonstrates that technology does matter for global politics. And yet the academic discipline «international relations» only recently has begun to seriously and systematically deal with and research this topic.


Technology, IR and interdisciplinary.

The multifaceted nature of technology has prompted various social and humanitarian disciplines such as history, sociology, philosophy, economics, geography and anthropology to explore the origins, evolution, and implications for humanity. The academic discipline International Relations has also addressed technology-related issues in one way or another since its inception in the 1920s. Unfortunately, in early research (mostly policy oriented), technological issues in world politics  remain at the margins of this discipline. However, recent trends such as economic and military globalization, along with increased interdependence, shrinking space and the emergence of new non-state actors, as well as global economic and political challenges, have highlighted the difficulties of the discipline in conceptualizing the role of technology in it. The main reason is that in the study of international relations for decades, technology has been seen as an external factor in relation to the international system. Often the theoretical role of technology was the last variable when all other explanations of structures and processes in world affairs have been exhausted and technology and their role have been introduced as the remaining variable that could explain the observed changes [9].

However,  since the early 1990s systematic research has begun on the impact of technology on politics, as well as on globalization and international relations. To better understand theoretically what technology is, what it does and how it is represented in terms of international politics and vice versa, scientists are gradually developing interdisciplinary approaches to address the growing technologically complex world problems. These challenges include growing social, political, economic and cultural interconnections between people and societies, as well as the use of artificial intelligence, technological and environmental risks and opportunities, often associated with «progress» [10].

International relations experts have begun to systematically present their work in an interdisciplinary study called “Science and Technology Studies” (STS) to better understand the driving forces of technological evolution and global sociotechnical change. “Science and Technology Studies” or science, technology and society research is the study of how society, politics and culture influence scientific research and technological innovation and how they, in turn, affect society, politics and culture [11]. “Science and Technology Studies”, as an interdisciplinary research program, offers a wide range of useful concepts and ideas that have been incorporated into the theoretical foundations of international policy research and empirical research in such a way as to understand the role ambivalent nature of technology.

The controversial impact of technology on world politics. Considering predominantly technology as an apolitical instrument in the discipline of  “international relations” some researchers underestimates  the ambivalent nature of information technologies in global affairs” [12].

The ambiguous influence of technology on global policy. In the  view of most  narrow ideas about technologies, as an apolitical instrument, the discipline «International Relations» underestimates its ambitious nature in global affairs «[9].

Different actors can use the same technology for a variety of purposes. Large socio technical systems, especially in advanced stages of their development, acquire the qualities of quasi-actors, deeply shape the possibilities of systemic interaction, space-time relations, and the ability of various actors to act. Within this general path of development, various actors (states, companies, NGOs, individuals) can use or try to shape technologies in different ways, depending on their own interests, needs and desires within the framework of technological constraints, thereby increasing the ambivalence of technologies in the world affairs[13].

For example, the dual impact of information and communication technologies (ICTs) on education and the ability of people to interact with each other, exchange ideas and more effectively coordinate political action at the global level. ICTs are also widely used by other non-state actors such as terrorist groups to coordinate, plan and carry out attacks, and to recruit new members [14]. The growing asymmetry of conflicts between state and non-state actors, ironically, has also extended the lifespan of older technologies such as video or audio tapes, which are harder to find today than mobile phones.

Even older forms of communication such as human messengers have experienced a renaissance in various conflicts. Countries do not necessarily converge on one ideal political economy model of market relations or a national innovation system to respond to the pressure from new technologies.

The comparative political economy literature points to persisting institutional and political differences between countries and regions [15]. The persistence of these varieties of capitalism and innovative outcomes challenges deterministic assumptions about the homogeneous power of techno-globalization. These differences are mainly attributed to institutional and historical dependencies, national labor relations, the degree of government regulation, and societal norms and values. Technology may exert the same adaptive pressure around the world, but each society filters this pressure differently.

Prospects for future research

It is difficult to identify a complete list of possible directions for future research, but several examples demonstrate the continuing need for research on topics in international relations with technology. Ethical, legal and other questions in connection with the growing use of robots and potentially autonomous weapons systems on the battlefield raise normative and ethical questions about human control over human-made technologies. These regulatory issues are an important — but nonetheless secondary — challenge from both the DoD and STS perspectives, especially given that technological development paths are still open.

These issues are also important to address in emerging policy areas, such as the large-scale and systematic collection and exchange of citizen communication data by national security agencies, as well as in the analysis of the ever-evolving relationship between public institutions and private actors regarding access to data, the formation of critical national infrastructure and global security architectures.

One of the most pressing issues that will affect future research is the growth of big data, the large-scale application of statistical analysis to a wide range of increasingly quantifiable problems of humanity (social, economic, political, etc.) in order to better understand events and decision making and forecasting [16].

While big data technology can positively affect many aspects of human life, it also creates new vulnerabilities for humanity (privacy, information transparency). The availability of data, both in the public domain and in collaboration with private enterprises, also creates new opportunities as well as challenges for economic research (methodology; confidentiality). The Internet of Goods, the convergence of ICTs with other technical systems such as the production and distribution of energy, transport, as well as the production of goods and services, is still at an early stage of its formation. Nevertheless, scholars question how these interdependent transformations will affect the currently prevailing socio-economic and political structures and processes associated with information capitalism. Optimists predict further devolution of economic powers to individuals and local communities and a weakening of national or transnational corporate organizations.

The prevailing forms of global information and communication have led to the development of new business models known as the sharing economy. E-commerce businesses such as the taxi service “Uber” or virtual markets such as “Airbnb” are examples of “sharing” based on a single access to information, goods and services. These new developments challenge the traditional notions of capitalist exchange and economic governance processes in the information economy, which is currently dominated by certain states and companies. The growing conflicts over the distribution of goods and services generated by such technical and economic developments are likely to remain a hot topic for experts and researchers of international relations.

The academic community seems to agree with the growing relevance of technology, as can be seen in the growing number of articles and discussion forums at conferences, as well as in technology publications. A recent step towards a coherent study of the role of technology in international relations is the creation of a new sector in the Association for International Studies called Science, Technology and the Arts in International Relations. (Science, Technology and Art in International Relations — STAIR) [17].


The organizers of this section recognize that science, technology and the arts influence global politics, the shaping of much of everyday reality, international security, governance, the design of critical global infrastructures, different approaches to social justice and global governance practices. Science, technology and art (in the broadest sense, i.e., the form of creativity, art, architecture and design) permeate international relations in the form of material elements and networks, technical tools, knowledge systems and scientific practices. Nevertheless, new technologies also challenge existing conceptual approaches and encourage us to look beyond canons and traditional approaches to international relations in search of interdisciplinary cooperation. This new division creates space for international relations as a discipline and broadens the research field to address these issues alongside other disciplines. The main goal is to facilitate a theoretical understanding of how researchers create, evaluate and discuss the role of science and technology and their impact on the shifts of the modern world order.

Thus, the importance of focusing on technological innovation and its diffusion is twofold. We should be able to track these processes as humankind is increasingly confronted with technological changes that call into question the international legal order. International institutions and the scientific community must learn to understand and confront the challenges posed by these revolutionary technologies and develop a scientific and theoretical apparatus that will help us understand the consequences that these technologies will have in the future.


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