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What Do the Snowden Leaks Reflect?

Jul 10 , 2013
  • Chen Jimin

    Associate Research Fellow, CPC Party School

It has been nearly one month since Edward Snowden leaked United States intelligence documents to international media. Now, people around the world have various speculations on his fate, which seems to make the event more dramatic and newsworthy. Beyond its dramatic appearance, however, the event reflects the extension of the wings of US hegemony, the lack of regulation of cyber security and the upgrade of strategic games among major powers. 

Cyber Hegemony: New Development of the Wings of U.S. Hegemony 

Although some analysts made the judgment that the US is likely to lose its hegemonic position in the future due to its domestic economic downturn, financial difficulties, political stalemate and social antagonism, few would believe US global primacy will end. Even if US scholars put forward the so-called “post-American world” or “post-Western world,” other countries need to realize these arguments are the manifestation of US traditional crisis thinking, in which they describe precisely the prospect in order to avoid fulfilling this vision. Therefore, other countries, especially emerging powers, may listen to the argument, but should not take it seriously. 

In fact, US hegemony has not been fundamentally shaken in the decades after the Cold War. Instead, US dominance in some fields has been further reinforced, such as the military power and cyber warfare capabilities. Snowden’s leaks tell the fact that the United States has superior capabilities in cyber monitoring. Ironically, the US, which has repeatedly claimed to be the victim of cyber attacks, has now become the menace of cyberspace. 

More importantly, the US PRISM program also indicates the extension of US hegemonic wings. That is, the areas covered by US hegemony go beyond the traditional predominant fields and extend to cyberspace. Just imagine:  If there were no leaks by Snowden, other countries would likely continue to be in the dark. 

Snowden Leaks Expose Lack of Cyber Rules 

No rules, no standards. If there is a lack of constraints on international norms, the entire international order will be in serious disorder, which is not a good thing for any country in the world. In particular, the Snowden leaks exposed the fact that there are no general rules or standards for cyber behavior. 

In today’s digital age, national security relies heavily on information and cyber security. If one power acts irresponsibly in cyberspace, there could be problems harming many other countries. Therefore, it is necessary to work out codes of conduct for cyber security. This has become the common interest of the international community. Currently, how to break this impasse has become one of the top priorities for the whole international community. In this regard, major powers should play a more active role. 

Building the Regulations of Cyber Behaviors: Strategic Games Upgraded Among Major Powers 

In the contemporary world, strategic games among major powers build and shape the future of international patterns. To some extent, the power distribution system in a traditional sense, such as fields in the economy, military and politics have already had some stable factors, often in some institutional framework, which is an indispensable element to create and maintain world peace and prosperity after WWII. 

New technological revolutions, especially the use of cyber technology, have posed new challenges to traditional politics, whether international or domestic. Now, the major powers have formed a certain consensus on the need for proper behaviors for cyber security and the need to establish rules for cyber behavior for the world community. However, there are also differences among major powers in what kind of norms should regulate cyber behaviors, how they should be built, or who leads and presides over the formulation of such norms. Discussion, consultation and cooperation are absolutely necessary. 

The maintenance of cyber security may become a new opportunity for cooperation among major powers, which can build a new paradigm of games for the world community in cyberspace. If that can be achieved, the Snowden case may have a more far-reaching historical significance. 

Chen Jimin, Ph.D, is an Assistant Research Fellow for the Institute for International and Strategic Studies at the Party School of Central Committee of C.P.C.

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