Is The Geopolitical Chessboard Now Digital?

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Authored by Tim Kirby via The Strategic Culture Foundation,

Geopolitics is based on the nature of politics and relations defined by the real spaces in which we live. Over time thanks to technology these spaces have changed and have become much closer. The seas that used to make a ground invasion impossible have become much smaller on a planet where a nuclear strike could hit any location in the world in a matter of hours or some would speculate minutes. Technology has also opened up new spaces onto which a geopolitical logic can be applied. In fact there is a surprising correlation between the layout of the world’s current military landscape and its digital geopolitical landscape and this is not by some bit of random chance.

If we take a look at a “Hard Power” map of the world, showing the rough locations of foreign military bases, especially those of NATO then we can see a very clear picture of the geopolitical landscape of our planet.

Source: Telegraph.co.uk (via Pinterest)

Source: Foreign Policy

Source: Swiss Institute for Peace and Energy Research (via Big Think)

We shouldn’t be so naive as to think that NATO and Russia just give out the addresses to all their bases to the press so they can compile nice infographics for Google to show in search results. Furthermore, change happens quickly and the US base in Kyrgyzstan often shown on such maps has already been closed, but in general, we are able to see a Hard Power picture of the world with the following characteristics.

  1. NATO: Dominates the majority of the surface of the globe surrounding Russia and China.

  2. China: Is the second most powerful economic nation on the planet yet it does not project much power outside of its borders, however within itself it has very solid control.

  3. Russia: Does try to project power outside of its borders but mostly in terms of the territories it lost as a punishment for losing the Cold War. Russia has a spread but it is very limited.

Now let’s compare this Hard Power layout and compare it to maps of the digital world (an aspect of Soft Power) to see if the picture looks any different starting with the most popular search engine/most visited site.

Source: Internet Geographies at the Oxford Internet Institute (via Cogney Digital Marketing)

Source: indy100 (The Independent)

Source: The Atlantic

Although there should in theory be no correlation between military power and search engines/top sites we can see that the same tendencies of the Hard Power map ring true in the digital world. It is hard not to notice immediately that on all the maps almost all the globe is covered by “NATO” digital presence (Google, Facebook, Youtube) with Russia and China as two glaring massive blips on the radar that use their own homegrown services far more.

Let’s take a look at social network usage over the last two years to see if the correlation holds true as well.

Source: Vincos

Source: ECSM Digital Marketing

Although the infographics are a bit conflicting we yet again see an overall tendency of the world being swallowed up by NATO with China hiding behind its Great Firewall and Russia trying to project itself at least over lost territory. It should also be noted that Iran and North Korea also seem very defiant when it comes to social networks. Again these maps seem to line up with our Hard Power world layout.

If we take a look at global online content then we see another correlation, that Russians are very proud of.

Despite being small population wise Russians generate the 2nd largest linguistic chunk of content over the whole world. This is a vastly distant second behind NATO tongue but it still shows a trend that geopolitical power may well transfer over to the digital space. Spanish and Arabic are absolutely massive language groups, that have nearly zero (hard) power geopolitically speaking and so they are behind Russian with Arabic distantly far. China makes its own content for itself so its isolation may skew these numbers. If we were to review all online content including the internal material in China it would surely rise to #2.

What can we take home from all of this?

Although it is possible that these tendencies are just coincidence or bad data, it would seem that there is a real correlation between Hard Power plus the geopolitical landscape of the world we live in and the Soft Power/digital landscape.

This could mean that if geopolitical victories in the traditional sense are reflected by the digital landscape then it could possibly be true that victories on the digital landscape should begin to affect the real traditional geopolitical map of the world. Meaning that the digital front should get no less attention and funding than the hard power physical front.

It is important for the survival of the emerging great powers of Russia and China to understand that their Media/Digital presence is apparently just as crucial to their survival as their military one. If we look at the internet we see a slowly collapsing yet still Monopolar World with two rising key challengers (and a few other outliers with limited power but the desire for freedom). Shattering the Monopolar state of affairs is in theory far cheaper, easier and less risky in the digital space. If Russia and China truly want a Multipolar world, the key front is probably on the Grand Online Chessboard of Digital Media and that is exactly where they need invest in their futures. This investment must include everything from search engines, online TV/video content to even video games, programs and operating systems.