Challenging The Structures Of The Current Era

With technological change comes social change and a shift in the organizing systems that oversee how our communities are governed

LYDIA KOSTOPOULOS – Emerging Domains of Conflict in the 21st Century

It has long been my belief that the structures supporting this current era have experienced diminished effectiveness and are reaching end of life. When I would share these thoughts back in 2012, I remember getting strange looks – but fast forward ten years and it’s not so strange anymore. That quote above comes from a recent article that identifies five emerging domains of conflict. Taken together with an exploding number of additional factors, it is easy to see why our organizing system is on the verge of dramatic change.

The article identifies a common thread that weaves through each emerging domain of conflict – they all challenge the Westphalian model of state sovereignty. The model is defined as: a global system based on the principle of international law that each state has sovereignty over its territory and domestic affairs, to the exclusion of all external powers, on the principle of non-interference in another country’s domestic affairs, and that each state is equal in international law.

These five domains of conflict make it is easy to see why the model is in peril. The article states that many regulatory norms and laws still represent an era that is clearly in transition. In her book titled The Big Nine, Amy Webb explored the role of nine major technology giants – Google, Amazon, Apple, IBM, Microsoft, Facebook, Baidu, Alibaba, and Tencent – in shaping society. The article goes to a similar place, stating that technology has created new power structures that policymakers are still grappling with, and societies are rapidly upending and rewriting new norms. I focused on this broad phenomenon in my Looking Glass series. Here, let’s focus on the five domains of conflict.

The first domain addressed by the article is nation-state governance tensions – governance being one component of an organizing system. Both forms of governance (i.e., democratic, authoritarian) are being challenged. As described by RethinkX, when civilization experiences technology-driven periods of change, our rules, systems, and mindsets are challenged. We are in the throes of one of these periods. This leads to a second domain of conflict; one the article calls friction with pervasive supra-national technology governance structures. As described by the article, this is about the emergence of a non-state governance structure that crosses over international sovereign boundaries and mediates the lives of billions of people – specifically, big technology. The global economy has come to rely on critical infrastructure provided by the big nine and others.

This challenges the sovereign state to contend with a pervasive supra-national tech governance structure that, in some circumstances, wields power that was once only privy to sovereign nations.

LYDIA KOSTOPOULOS – Emerging Domains of Conflict in the 21st Century

That quote captures the issue. Is the governance structure represented by the nation state unfit for the organizing system that emerges? The Ukraine-Russian war is used as an example, as companies have imposed their own economic restriction measures, effectively taking sides in a political conflict in ways they never have before. That’s a microcosm of a larger movement, as business leaders are forced to weigh in on societal issues that were once unthinkable. As technology is further embedded into the physical world, questions of governance will only intensify. Beyond the issues of technology companies lies yet another challenge to the governance portion of our organizing system – cryptocurrencies and decentralized autonomous organizations (DAO). As these two capabilities evolve, they will drive more governance conflict.

The third area of domain conflict referenced by the article is environmental constraints. The pace of environmental change is moving faster than governments, institutions, and people can adapt. The article describes several environment-related disasters, from mudslides, to brushfires, to floods and more. These events are tangled with economies and politics. Forced migrations will exacerbate current immigration tensions. The article states that already, an average of more than 20 million people leave their homes and move to other areas each year.

These 20 million climate refugees require homes, jobs, and resources in the new countries they have immigrated to, which at times places constraints on the existing resources. Within subsets of some communities, this is breeding a new form of nationalism—environmental nationalism—where protectionist nationalism encompasses protecting access to valuable environmental resources within the territorial sovereignty, and excluding foreigners who may threaten their access to these resources.

LYDIA KOSTOPOULOS – Emerging Domains of Conflict in the 21st Century

The fourth area of domain conflict covered by the article is non-state interest-based arms. This quote from the article is important, because it gets to the heart of the challenge: “Author of The New Rules of War, Sean McFate, argues that we live in a state-centric world that is slowly eroding and while “states won’t go away, they will become less important because war is now divorcing from the state and technology is a huge enabler of this and that will change international relations in the next thirty years.” Consider this, over US$100 million have been raised from around the world in support of Ukraine in cryptocurrency alone. People have flown to Ukraine to help with the fight, and cyber-hacking groups have rallied to defend them. The bottom line for this domain is simply people can participate in conflict, regardless of nationality, race, or religion, around the world in defense of interests they align with.

The final domain of conflict is contentious space. The resurgence in the global focus on outer space brings with it a series of questions surrounding space weapons, human settlements, standards, and commercial interests. The author concludes by using a term that is growing in its use – unlearn.

To anticipate and interpret the emerging domains of conflict as they unfold in the coming decades, we will need to unlearn many of the ways we have understood the international area to operate and open our mind to observe the new ways in which value is created and the emerging power structures that arbitrate them.

LYDIA KOSTOPOULOS – Emerging Domains of Conflict in the 21st Century

I will add a sixth domain representing the emerging conflict between cities and nations. Much has been said about rapid urbanization and the rise of megacities. But less discussed is the self sufficiency that is likely to become a defining characteristic of these future cities. Cities that become less dependent on the global community for their energy, food, and goods, challenges our current structures. This provides another example of a domain of conflict that could alter our centuries old view of nation states.

These domains of conflict make it clear that future structural change is complex. It’s not simply a choice between democratic or authoritarian governance models. As this brilliant content via Visual Capitalist demonstrates, the governance models of the world sit on a spectrum between authoritarian and democratic. However, as a new organizing system emerges, the governance model may not be that black or white.

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