By Meltem Müftüler-Bac
In the 21st century, the information societies, particularly the media and the Internet began to play an important role in world politics, which resulted in the emergence of a literature in international relations theory analysing the impact of information societies on power and international politics. Information societies frame international events and issues in such a manner that they greatly impact the relevant positions of various social groups and reduce the possibility of objective foreign policy choices. Thus, information societies play an important role in international politics by adding an additional layer of complexity to foreign policy making. What is important here is to recognize the role that information societies play in influencing public opinion. Information societies create a new linkage between governments and the masses; this is not to claim that the public is the most important actor in foreign policy making. However, since the public sets the boundaries around which the governments’ foreign policy decisions are made, the factors that determine the public’s views on foreign policy issues become relevant. This is how the information societies become actors in the foreign policy making process, connecting the domestic and foreign spheres. Viewed in this light, information societies become agents of diplomacy, making the governments’ positions public, thereby impacting domestic audience costs. On the other hand, they also play an important role as agents of legitimacy as they might create a basis of legitimacy for governments in justifying their actions to their public. What is more, since some scholars argue that ‘democracies are classifiable according to their ability to generate domestic audience costs’, the impact of information societies on states is intensified as a major source of information for such audience costs is the media.
An unexpected impact of information societies has been on the changing nature of warfare: namely terrorism. Information societies lead to a decline in state hierarchies, which then enables the small terrorist organizations to take advantage of this decline to wage their war against states. What is crucial here is to note that the information societies are challenging state authority and add additional constraints on state sovereignty. Since sovereignty and authority are essential cornerstones of the Westphalian order and the modern state system, a relevant question to pose is whether the developments in the information societies in the 21st century are bringing a transformation in these basic pillars of the state system. There is a recent literature in international relations that claims that the information societies might be reversing “the modern centralized state that has dominated world politics for the past three and a half centuries.” On the other hand, there is an opposing argument where the state is conceptualized as still strong and capable of surviving by transforming its power and capacities in order to deal with the challenges coming from information societies.
Within the information societies literature, one needs to differentiate between the media and the Internet. The Internet plays a qualitatively different role than media in information societies, because the Internet is inexpensive, subject to very little regulation and can reach a global audience. The Internet is “electronically promoting the diffusion of protest ideas and tactics efficiently and quickly across the globe, less concerned with such constraints as time and geographic space, it has caught the policy makers off guard with its ease of public accessibility and immediacy of impact”. As for the role of the media, mostly attention has been diverted to the role played by large media networks such as the CNN, specifically in the aftermath of the 1990-1991 Gulf War. As a result, “the emergence of CNN as a major influential global news network produced a new communications approach to international relations known as the ‘CNN effect”. The CNN effect is a much-researched topic in international relations based on the idea that instant, continuous media coverage of crisis will shape the governments’ policies. Some scholars, for example, have examined the role of the CNN effect in humanitarian interventions of the 1990s and predicted that the CNN effect is critical, i.e., the media’s ability in framing foreign policies when the governments’ positions and preferences are uncertain.
In short, this paper will investigate the impact of information societies and the framing of issues by the media on foreign policy in general, but by doing so; new insights onto the impact of information societies on terrorism, diplomatic negotiations, and wars will be generated. In that manner, the paper will contribute to the literature on the information societies’ role in the 21st century politics especially in terms of the new threats to security and in impacting public opinion.
Information Societies, Power and Foreign Policy
There are two important developments in the 21st century through which the impact of information societies was mostly felt; the war against terrorism and the war in Iraq. The 9/11 tragedy has led to a systemic transformation, greatly altering the nature of security threats, and at the same time leading to a paradigmatic shift from the state-centric perspective in international politics. Starting in an increasing fashion with the 9/11 attacks, the role of information societies and specifically the role played by the media became highly crucial. Equally important, the 9/11 attacks increased the role played by information societies in international politics as most of the world watched what was happening through their TV sets, and the USA made its first response from the CNN as “America under Attack”. As the world slowly comprehended that the terrorists used civilian aircraft as their main tools of attack, it became obvious that the world as is known was over. The revelation that every civilian is a potential target any where in the world from unknown and undefined enemies had a chilling effect. The information societies became the main mechanism that this effect was diffused throughout the world. One needs to note that since an important goal of terrorism is state collapse, sometimes unwillingly the information societies become the main tool in demonstrating states’ incapacity in dealing with the new threats.
The September 11 tragedy has not only altered how one defines security threats but also directly impacted the American psyche in terms of homeland vulnerability. This is probably one of the main impacts of the tragedy that will have long-term consequences as to how the Americans perceive the world. In the struggle against terrorism, the role of information societies intensified. On the other hand, the information revolution has changed the nature of security risks. The state centric definitions of threats to security were replaced by threats of unknown origin that could wage war at unexpected places. It is for that purpose that the British Defence Minister John Reid suggested to revise the Geneva conventions on war. “I believe we need to consider whether we-the international community in its widest sense-need to re-examine these Conventions, if we do not, then we risk continuing to fight a 21st
century conflict with 20th
The risk of fighting with a 21st century conflict based on 20th century rules and theories has become most apparent with September 11. The 9/11 attacks against the USA alerted the world that a new type of warfare has emerged, and the US military capabilities did not protect them against attacks, particularly because these attacks were organized to use the internal dynamics within the American society. The attacks in London in July 2005, in Madrid on March 11, 2004 and in Istanbul on November 15 and 21, 2003 were also in the same realm. These attacks were also similar in their methods, where the terrorists used cell phones to detonate the explosives. Thus, the new terrorism relied on the technological changes that were developed within the premises of information revolution that were then used as weapons by terrorists. Interestingly, it was through a cell phone that was found in one of the bags that failed to explode during the Madrid attacks that the Spanish police was able to track down the attackers couple of weeks later.
What is particularly different in the new terrorism is that terrorism conducted by groups like Al-Queda differs from traditional forms of terrorism in terms of their transnational character and in their targets that most of the European countries faced in the past. New terrorism does not aim to increase one’s own power on the negotiating table but to destroy the opponent by intense violence.
After the Cold War terror mutated from the logic of deterrence based on a nuclear balance of terror into a new imbalance of terror based on a mimetic fear and asymmetrical willingness and capacity to destroy the other without the formalities of war. This imbalance is furthered by the multiple media, which transmit powerful images as well as triggering psychological responses to the terrorist events. 
This new terrorism requires different sets of responses than those used by the Europeans against the ETA or the IRA. The Europeans who have had their share of terrorism in the past had dealt with limited terrorist acts that are relatively easier to cope with. “The events of 11 September 2001 represent a new element within terrorism, in terms of both the objects of the terrorist attacks and the extent of the damage caused.”
Thus, the tools generated by information societies-such as the Internet-transformed terrorism and posed a new, direct challenge to state capabilities. For example, since the American intelligence agencies failed to gather evidence on such a large-scale terrorist operation, there were serious questions on the efficacy of these organizations and their function in the age of information. This, in turn, demonstrated that the ability of nation states to protect their security interests, or something as specific as homeland security, required the ability to gather and process information. However, the ability to collect information is not an easy feat, it involves a delicate balance between protecting fundamental freedoms and state’s security. “The war on terrorism has led the American government to make noteworthy changes in the balance it strikes between national security and the protection of personal privacy”. Military capabilities without the ability to collect strategic information on individuals no longer suffice to protect one’s own security interests. Thus, one major revelation from the 9/11 attacks was that in the 21st century, survival in global politics required the adoption of mechanisms to collect information and systematically decode such information, no longer on a state level basis but on individual activities. This meant that the attacks have demonstrated the changing nature of power in international system. The USA seems, however, lagging behind in the technological race and the communications revolution as it “has been slow to adapt its Cold War forces….and is not well enough versed in these technologies, with senior personnel –military-largely lacking a space or technical background and having little appetite for change”.
International Restructuring and Role of International Societies
In the 21st century, terrorist groups such as Al-Queda emerge as non-state actors posing a major security challenge to state actors. Even though there are some states that support terrorist groups by giving them safe haven, weapons and funds, these transnational terrorist groups are mainly non-state actors. For example, “what set Al-Queda apart was the degree of independence from state influence…it avoided the political control often exercised by state-based regimes.” This, in turn, challenges the mainstream approaches in international relations theory where state based interactions form the basis of scholarly analysis.
As a consequence, the terrorist attacks since 9/11 reflect the new path in international politics where security risks no longer come from state actors and state based responses might no longer be adequate for promoting human security. According to Matthew and Shambaugh, ‘recognizing the dynamic nature of network-based terrorism has important political and theoretical implications….terrorists will exploit the existing networks easily, a threat that is hard to contain or defeat through traditional security strategies.” In the age of information revolution, it became easy for the terrorists to hide themselves in the Internet environment which they have used as the medium of communication. Joseph Nye refers to an incident in 1998, “about seven Moscow addresses identified in the theft of Pentagon and NASA secrets”,  which illustrates that state based interactions have become less important in dealing with the threats posed by individuals using information societies, specifically the Internet. Thus, one needs to consider that the information societies have become the most important tools for the terrorists. For example, it is through the Internet that terrorist groups such as Al-Queda are able to reach its recruits all over the world and publicize its deeds as well. In that fashion, the terrorists are able to tap onto an unlikely resource to gather international visibility for them, this is an unexpected use of the information technology but nonetheless, it is to be expected as the terrorists aim at generating a public reaction in order to attract attention to their cause.
The use of force against Afghanistan in 2002 and Iraq in 2003 were justified within the general framework of war against terrorism. The war in Afghanistan, Operation Enduring Freedom, led to the elimination of Taliban-an extreme religious group- from power and the restoration of moderate rule in Afghanistan, even though the main aim of the war-capturing Osame bin Laden-was not realized. The war in Iraq, Operation Iraqi Freedom, in 2003 has witnessed not only the elimination of a regime and a dictator from the Middle East, but it also marked the beginning of a new era in international politics, with new norms such as pre-emptive strike entering the justification process and the IR literature. The war in Iraq also was an interesting precedent where a new idea of ‘embedded journalism’ was introduced, through which the information societies played an important role in shaping the world public opinion. The media portrayal of the developments in Iraq and Afghanistan defined the framing of the wars as well.
However, it is wrong to propose that the media determines governments’ positions. For example, Hallin severely criticized the argument that the role of the media turned the American public against the Vietnam War. Similarly, Mernin argues that journalists are “incapable of focusing on an issue or perspective on US foreign policy that has not been identified or articulated in the official Washington debate.”
The war Iraq in 2003 has dramatically increased the role of information societies played in international politics. This is not to claim that the media did not play an important role prior to 2003, but that the international developments in the 21st century have intensified this role. The second major role that information societies played in international politics as illustrated by the war in Iraq was the possibility that information societies could become tools of war on their own right. This became apparent during the war in Iraq, as the Internet and information societies were utilized by the terrorist groups to wage war against the USA and its coalition forces, the broadcasting of the assassination of hostages through the internet became a tool in the war mechanism used by the terrorists, in an attempt to pressure domestic public opinion against their governments in the countries who were doing business in Iraq or whose governments were supporting the USA. Thus, the information societies became international policy tools to an unforeseeable degree. During the Iraqi crisis, the role of the information societies as agents of public diplomacy intensified.
An important impact of the information societies’ role on international politics was on the Transatlantic divide as it deepened over the role played by the media. The portrayal of the allies such as France or Germany in the American media was extremely derogatory; this also complicated the relations between the USA and the Europeans. The following statements illustrate the extent to which the leaders used the information technologies to communicate openly with each other and create a public audience. According to the US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, “Germany has been a problem and France has been a problem”. In response, the French Environment minister, Roselyne Bachelot, stated, “If you knew what I felt like telling Mr.Rumsfeld”, insinuating that it was offensive. These reflections of US declarations and the French and German reactions in the media deepened the crisis in Europe and in the Transatlantic relations. The role that the information societies played during the crisis deepened the Transatlantic divide, for example, the US media called the French ‘cheese-eating monkeys’ and tried to threaten France with a ban on French wine imported into the USA on the argument that French wine was contaminated with mad-cow disease. The British media, supporting the American position, began its assault on France by arguing that Jacques Chirac is a ‘Le Worm’ and is against war because of his ‘pig-headed arrogance’.  As the conflict deepened between the USA on the one hand and France and Germany on the other hand, the role played by the media intensified, to the extent to which the media became an advocate of the US position on these countries. France was likened to a ‘rat that tried to roar’  and the US media accused the Germans for being ungrateful for all the efforts the Americans put in for their protection against the Soviets and their Nazi past. Thus, it might not be far-fetched to claim that the American media acted as a spokesman for the US foreign policy and in that realm reflected the American priorities. However, the media portrayal has intensified the crisis and did not leave a back down space for governments that they could rely upon to modify their positions without losing face. This is one of the most important roles that information societies play in international politics, by making foreign policy positions explicit, the media could actually decrease the win-set for governments on the negotiating table. Reflecting on Robert Putnam’s 2-level games, one could conceptualise the role of the media as an agent of information diffusion and restricting the win-sets available to governments. The media is able to dramatically influence public opinion, thus governments find themselves trapped in their positions with more-or-less little room to manoeuvre. Upon the American portrayal of France and Germany in such a fashion as described above, it would be far fetched to expect these governments to alter their positions and give into the American demands.
This is similar to the impact of the information societies on Turkey during the Iraqi crisis. At the end of 2002, Turkey was faced with a demand from the USA to open its bases and territory for American troops to stage an invasion of Iraq from the north. The diplomatic pressure on Turkey, for example, was partly intensified through the media.
When the US started to plan its operations in Iraq, a likely scenario emerged as staging an invasion through Turkish soil. However, the plan failed as the Turkish Parliament rejected the government resolution for allowing the United States to use Turkish airspace and bases to launch an attack from the north for their military campaign against Iraq on March 1, 2003. During the Turkish-American negotiations over the conditions of the Turkish involvement in the Iraqi war, the media became an active player, actively influencing the outcome of negotiations that neither the Turkish nor the American diplomats could actually foresee. For example, William Safire claimed: “The new, Islamic influenced government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan transformed that formerly staunch US ally into Saddam’s best friend….by helping Saddam make the war longer and bloodier”.he Transatlantic Trends of 2004 which reported that Turkish public support to American actions in 2004 are only 28%, lowest among the European countries, most likely a legacy of the media portrayal of the Turks in the USA. This is also very interesting because the USA benefits from the Turkish partnership as there is a convergence of interests in the South East European region where Turkey is located. Thus, the information societies’ impact on Turkey’s relations with the USA has been substantial in impacting the Turkish support to the USA. The Turkish public opinion was greatly disturbed by the American media’s insult like treatment of Turkey which became the critical factor in changing the Turkish support to American policies. The Turkish government then had to respond to the Turkish domestic audience.
As a result, the portrayal of Turks in the American media had contributed significantly to the domestic opposition in Turkey towards an involvement in Iraq, making it very hard for the Turkish government to convince its citizens. In that manner, the US media’s role worked against the advantage of the US government’s foreign policy objectives by antagonizing the Turkish sensitivities. Paul Wolfowitz, Deputy Secretary of Defence noted this in February 2003 who claimed that the reports in the American media for Turkey were not ‘appropriate’.
Interestingly, when Prime Minister Erdogan visited the USA in January 2004, he acknowledged that there was a correlation between the March 2003 parliamentary decision not to support the US and the cartoons in the American media depicting Turks in such an insulting fashion.
This example illustrates an additional layer of complexity that the media and information society added to international negotiations. The role the American media played in the Turkish-American relations soured the friendly relations between the two allies to the extent to which it almost wrecked the strategic partnership they have built over the years. The American media pictured the Turks as greedy merchants, belly dancers, untrustworthy, sneaky and the arrogance of the USA during the negotiations significantly hurt the Turkish-American relations. Due to the reports in the media, the two governments could not most probably negotiate over the issues as their negotiations had significant audience costs at their domestic constituents, and their respective media very narrowly determined the boundaries of their actions. Thus, the Turkish government was caught in a hard place and a rock, it had to take into account the reactions at the American and Turkish media and try to get concessions from the Americans without losing face. Most probably, the USA underestimated the level of domestic opposition to the war in Turkish public opinion and the role that information societies played during the American-Turkish negotiations for the Turkish support to the USA in Iraq backfired as it increased the anti-American feelings in Turkey.
Consequently, for the first time ever, Turkey’s public support to the USA hit rock bottom as demonstrated by t
This paper argued that in the 21st century, information societies became important actors in international politics by constraining government choices. On the other hand, the information revolution also created new avenues in international politics, altering the traditional security risks that states face. Thus, one can conclude that the information societies’ main impact comes from determining the public support to their governments’ positions and in that way, they become important actors in influencing foreign policy. The information societies, specifically through the role played by the media, is becoming an important actor in international politics, thereby challenging the state centric vision of the dominant international relations paradigm, realism. In that manner, the information societies, media and the Internet, are challenging the very basis of international politics.
Equally important, information societies led to the emergence of a major challenge to state authority and sovereignty by intensifying the role played by non-state actors in international politics. Unfortunately, this role has not always been benign as terrorist networks emerged as an important player in world politics. The increased role played by non-state actors has in turn created new challenges to state and state capabilities. This revelation could enable us to conclude that the role played by information societies in today’s international politics theoretically challenges the state-centric explanations of international relations.
 Professor of International Relations and Jean Monnet Chair , Sabanci University, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences - The author gratefully acknowledges the support provided by the Turkish Academy of Sciences, GEBIP program, for this paper’s research.
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