This article is divided in four parts: 1) we introduce the seminal work of Tim Jordan, 2) we will discuss on Hannah Arendt's thoughts about power and violence applied to cyberspace; 3) we complete the theoretical explanation analyzing Joseph Nye's exhaustive study of cyberpower, and 4) we conclude studying the more pragmatic characteristics of cyberpower, as interpreted by Franklin Kramer.



1) Tim Jordan and the three dimensions of cyberpower.

Sociologist Tim Jordan wrote his book "Cyberpower. The Culture and Politics of Cyberspace and the Internet" in 1999. The first idea that we have to take into consideration is that during these first years of cyberspace, most scholars were focused on finding the essence of the cyber-sciences, lacking most of the key elements that we have today to understand social life online. Notwithstanding this, Jordan's thoughts are the best starting point to open the debate on what cyberpower is.

The first, and most obvious, definition of cyberpower is: cyberpower is the power in cyberspace. So the first step is to try to understand what power means. There are three most important sociological perspectives on what power is:


1) Power is Possession: German Sociologist Max Weber conceived power as the capacity to produce certain effects, to impose an intention on someone or something, also against resistance.
2) Power is Domination: from French sociologist Michel Foucault's perspective power is a relational process of oppression, that involves many areas and functions of a given society (from education and micro-tactics to grand strategies). It implies the division and opposition between powerful and powerless, dominator and dominated.
3) Power is a social order, based on routine and knowledge. Why do we respect red lights while driving? Simply because we understand that it gives us security and order (to pass with green and stop with red). So red light has power on traffic based on social structures, on a collective agreement on what to do when we face a red light. This power relies on collectively constituted knowledge that is validated again and again at each red light. So power is the capacity for action that is created by collective held knowledge. Power, from this point of view, is not an individual possession but a collective structure. This kind of power is not impose against an opposition, but it relies on an interactive process combining knowledge and respect.


Jordan translates these kinds of power into three ideal types of cyber-power:

Cyberpower as the individual capacity to use the cyberspace for the own benefit: new informational spaces, new cyber identity, no real life hierarchies, cyber equality. Cyberspace empowers people. Cyber Power as a possession means individual freedom online against real institutions and threats. Key elements of this kind of Cyber Power are: open access and the respect of online rights.
2) Cyber Space is designed by a cyber-elite, the architects of the code that structures everything online. If you domain the code, you domain the cyberspace. Cyberpower as a domination is strictly connected with knowledge (the more you know, the more you can do) and network (the control of the interactional behavioural patterns as the main SNSs do).
3) Cyberpower as a social order is constituted by the users’ conceptions about cyberspace: as an utopian space (with the possibility to create a new free and equal society, avoiding real life inequalities, managing infinite amount of information, dreaming of immortality and omnipotence) or as a dystopia (conceiving cyberspace as an imposition by the states, the global economy or other hidden powers for total surveillance and perfect social control). Every cyber community is created and modelled based on these hopes and fears, through a process of recognition of every user as a part of a “virtual we”.


Jordan underlines the relationship between the first (individuals) and the second types of cyberpower (cyber-elite): individual empowerment generates a spiral of technopower, committing more and more people to use the information that constitutes cyberspace's power, and demanding for new technology to the cyber-elite, who has the dominant cyberpower to modelate the cyberspace. As a consequence of this synergy between individual cyberpower and the cyber-elite domination, online time is somehow speeded up and changes pass in a blur.


These dynamics then meet the third dimension of cyberpower: the hopes and fears of the collective imagination. Internauts thus conceive cyberspace based on their hopes and fears, dealing with their illusions about a brand new technological world and the real and virtual threats that menace its realisation. In the first period of internet, until the end of the 20th century, Cyberlibertarians, such as Barlow's Declaration of Independence of Cyberspace, believe in the liberatory power of Cyberspace: to liberate people from any power in real life, also discographic firms (i.e. Pirate Bay), MNCs or governments (i.e. Anonymous). With the massification of internet and the use of the social networking sites, both utopic and dystopic ideals have lost most of their attractiveness and fundamentalist positions.


2) Hannah Arendt: cyberpower and cyberviolence in a "cyberspace of appearance".

In a recent book, "Cyberspace and International Relations" by Kremer and Muller (eds) (2014), K. Below analyses Hannah Arendt's Conceptions of Power and Violence in the Age of Cyberization.
Her perspective can be explained in four points:
1. Power is a collective action, not individual as Weber has said, and is produced within a "space of appearance", that Arendt defines as an autonomous, networking association of people, in which something like the self-government of free and equal participants with a variety of opinions takes place by the means of speech and persuasion. There is no power without politics and there is no politics without a space of appearance for common, free, equal, pluralistic and civic action. Both context (space of appearance) and means (collective action through speech and persuasion) constitute the legitimation of the power.
2. Any other action outside this space of appearance is violence. Violence is outside politics, and is based on a destructive principle that imposes force by eliminating words and persuasion.
3. Power doesn't need to be justified, can be only legitimate. Violence may be justifiable, but it will never be legitimate. Power and violence are the opposite faces of a single medal: power decreases when violence increases.

4. As we can see, Arendt orients the focus of the discussion about cyberpower to the context. In other words, in order to determine the existence of cyberpower we have to answer to the question if cyberspace is a proper "cyberspace of appearance" and if it is based on the institutionalization of spontaneous political deliberation and discussion oriented to the citizens.

In certain social situations, such as the Arab Spring, cyberspace works as a space of appearance, encouraging people to exercise power, organizing the movement and spreading the news worldwide. But, paradoxically, this utopic cyberspace of appearance was actually feeding violence in the real world. Also the examples of Chinese Great Cyber Wall and the filtering techniques of Weibo demonstrate how difficult far cyberspace is from being considered a real dimension of dialogue, respect, equality and consensus.
Politically speaking, cyberspace was never a real space of appearance to generate the legitime power Arendt was thinking on. Moreover, if we take into consideration the evolution of cyberspace, it is because of the original "technically oriented", "ethically innocent" and "a-political" conception of the web, more focused on maximizing connectivity rather than making it safe, nowadays we have a cyberspace full of threats and obstacles against democratic and civilian values. Arendt's expectations about the environment in which cyberpower is generated tend to be too high if compared with the real configuration of the web.


3) Joseph Nye on cyberpower.

There are "three faces of power":
1. Power is coercion: getting others to do what they would not otherwise do. (Dahl)
2. Power is the capacity to manage, control and impose the agenda setting or framing issues in such a way that the issue of coercion never arose. (P Bachrach and M. Baratz)
3. Power resides on the ideas and beliefs that help shape others' preferences (S. Lukes)


J. Nye himself contributed with other very famous distinction:
- Hard power: coercion and payment.
- Soft power: framing agendas, attraction or persuasion.


Behaviorally speaking, cyberpower is the ability to obtain preferred outcomes through use of the cyberspace. And this cyberpower can be exercise in a double couple of situations: within cyberspace or outside cyberspace, with the use of information or physical instruments.



Applying to cyberspace the three faces of power and his own distinction on hard/soft power, Nye offers us this cathegorization of different kinds of cyberpower:




4) Kramer and a pragmatic concept of cyberpower.

Kramer starts defining cyberpower as "the ability to use cyberspace to create advantages and influence events in all the operational environments and across the instruments of power." Cyberpower is the intermediate level of a pyramid, between cyberspace level at the base and cyberstrategy at the top.


- Cyberspace are an "operational domain" constituted by the whole infrastructure composed by electronic and electromagnetic energy, technological devices, logic structure, networks, networks of networks, data content and social elements. The output from this cyber infrastructure enhances the traditional levers of power: P/DIME (Political / diplomatic, informational, military and economy. The main responsible for the management of cyberspace are the computer scientists and system engineers.
- Cyberstrategy is the overall development and employment of capabilities to operate in cyberspace, integrated and coordinated with the other operational domains, to achieve or support the achievement of objectives across the elements of national power. So, on the one hand, it manages cyberpower to dominate cyberspace and, on the other hand, it is structured to protect and defend against the vulnerabilities it simultaneously presents. Cyberstrategies are commonly managed by interdisciplinary experts in PMESII (political, military, economic, social, informational and infrastructure issues).
All these three main dimensions (cyberspace, cyberpower and cyberstrategy) are influenced by institutional factors and are managed by lawyers, governance experts and civil liberties and industry.

Taking into consideration the actors of cyberspace, there is a clear distinction between, on the one hand, States and big companies that manage and control the three levels and, on the other hand, many other relevant components of cyber scenario -hackers, individuals, corporations- which exercise cyberpower and have little influence on cyberstrategic issues.

In short, to increase cyberpower we need to:
1. manage, increase and control cyberstructures,
2. understand how cyberspace is created (components, architectural features and priorities, military systems of systems) and its future trends (growth in users, their activities and patterns of behaviours, economic actors, interaction, etc.). this is important in order to identify vulnerabilities, protections and capabilities to strike and to apply different measures of cyberpower.
3. understand the new dynamics of cyberwar: how to efficiently adapt traditional principles into the new cyberspace scenario, identify and develop new theories about cyberpower (i.e. Bob Metcalfe's law of cyberpower: "the value of a telecommunications network is proportional to the square of the number of users of the system), how to deal with the variety of adversaries (non state actors, hidden organizations, spies, corporations, transnational crime) and attacks (DDoS attacks, exfiltration of information, vulnerable sensitive data, virus, netbots, etc.), how to react to cyberspace dynamics (rapid change in speed and scope of operations, concentration and mobilization of devices, management of technical advantage/disadvantage), how to enhance force structure mix and new opportunities.

These are only the most important of the variables to take into account when we talk about cyberpower. And this analysis thus helps us to configure an adequate cyberstrategy in order to :
1. identify interests, aims and means to achieve them.
2. identify potential and actual adversaries and allies, understand their social, cultural and historical background, with an accurate calculation of risks and gains.
3. tailoring cyber deterrence taking into consideration specific actors, capabilities and infrastructures.
4. master diversified plans of action depending on actors, situations, interests and types of cyberpower to apply.



5) Conclusion.

In order to offer an adequate counselling on cyberpower we have to counterbalance the two sides of the phenomenon: 1) the socio-political background related with "power", that helps us to understand the nature of the problem and to explain future trends, and 2) the pragmatic elements imposed by the cyberspace, which changes not only our perspectives on war and strategy, but also requires new multidisciplinary skills to achieve a satisfactory evaluation of the new scenarios in which cyberpower is created and managed.



You might also like these articles:


How would you define Cyberspace?
An open discussion.

Read More

introducing cyberpolitics

An introduction to
Cyber Politics.

Read More