Tag Archives: 11/09/2015

The US and its conflicting strategic narratives in internet governance

Carlos Diaz Barriga

Do you think there are conflicting aspects of the “strategic narratives” that the US promotes around its internet governance policies? If so, why?

The United States government positions itself as a fighter for freedom and firmly opposed to censorship. However, their policies on surveillance of internet users in the US says otherwise.

The strategic narrative the US has created for themselves is “the country that puts free speech above everything.” They’re very critical on the way China limits its use of the internet for their citizens. They claim it’s censorship to not allow social networks like Facebook and Twitter over there.

At the same time, the US has very strict policies in how they monitor that “free speech” and heavy measures on that speech they deem dangerous. For years, the National Security Agency (NSA) has collected American’s private data in bulk without any consent. It was only until Edward Snowden became a whistleblower that the citizens became aware of the US government acting like Big Brother, a very different narrative than the one they had been cultivating in the media for years.

This is not to say the US and China are comparable in internet governance aspects. China is still extremely limiting in the way their citizens can use the internet and how people from all over the world can communicate with them online. China is a firm believer that a nation’s sovereignty also covers cyberspace and works to control network technology.

One can make the argument that the NSA spying is a “necessary evil” in order to combat terrorism. However, not many people agree: polls show the majority of Americans are against this type of surveillance.

Communism: A Manipulative Narrative

2) What sorts of domestic “strategic narratives” do you think constrain the current administration in terms of foreign policy options and indeed, what the President can say about US foreign policy moving forward?

In regards to foreign policy and relations there are few messages that have been more dogmatically asserted by the United States government in the past century than their anti-communist stance. The stigma of communism was vehemently injected into the U.S. population because its economic paradigm is so non-conducive to capitalism; self-sustainability vs. trade, public-ownership vs. private property, collectivism vs. individualism. And with this opinion, the strategic narrative imparted by the United States instilled a palpable fear into the minds of U.S. citizens, which was in turn, exacerbated by the “Red Scare,” McCarthyism, and the Cold War.

“Strategic narratives are a means for political actors to construct a shared meaning of the past, present, and future of international politics to shape the behavior of domestic and international actors ... The point of strategic narratives is to influence the behavior of others.” [1]

Thus, this internal sentiment by U.S. citizens against communist countries helped propagate support for embargoes, violent actions and even war on communist countries; from the Soviet Union to North Korea to Vietnam to China to the communist regime currently in the U.S. foreign relations headlines, Cuba.

The strategic narrative the United States has propagated about Cuba since the revolution in 1959 has been both notorious and effective. Because of anti-communist sentiments an embargo has been held over Cuba since 1961, halting trade (including oil), travel (by U.S. citizens) and financial transactions (a major economic thorn that deterred foreign investment and international banking).

However, along with the easing of “time” in regards to the 54-year-old embargo, Obama has recently been pressed to lessen restrictions on Cuba by other Latin American countries who have established stronger ties with Cuba. These disapproving sentiments were made specifically clear at the 2015 Summit of the Americas in Panama, just months after Obama took steps to give his December 17, 2014 speech about reestablishing relations with Cuba.

In this speech, Obama said that he was “under no illusion about the continued barriers to freedom that remain for ordinary Cubans,” and that he was convinced that “through a policy of engagement, we can more effectively stand up for our values and help the Cuban people help themselves.”

This, along with reopening the Cuban Embassy in D.C., the U.S. Embassy in Havana, and removing Cuba from the State Sponsors of Terrorism list, the new U.S. narrative about Cuba has made a huge ‘90-miles of open ocean’ leap in strategy toward improving relations with Cuba, and subsequently, Latin American countries where trade and collaboration have been tense due to a plethora of factors; from the U.S. declaring Venezuela to be a “national threat” to the U.S. and Bolivia kicking out each other’s ambassadors in 2008.

The new U.S. Cuba narrative has indeed spawned controversy, but, on a brighter note, it’s also initiated its aim to influence the behavior of others.

Cuban activist and blogger, Yoani Sanchez wrote, “The official propaganda will run out of epithets. This has already been happening since the December 17 announcement of the reestablishment of relations between Washington and Havana took all of us by surprise. That equation, repeated so many times, of not permitting an internal dissidence or the existence of other parties because Uncle Sam was waiting for a sign of weakness to pounce on the island, is increasingly unsustainable … ‘Are they the enemy, or aren’t they?’ ask all those who, with the simple logic of reality, experienced a childhood and youth marked by constant paranoia toward that country on the other side of the Straits of Florida.” [2]

This is just one example of the effectiveness well strategized narratives can have on the mindset of individuals, domestic and international, and how the repercussions just might get the ball rolling to turn things in the strategists favor.

1. Miskimmon, Alister, Ben Loughlin, and Laura Roselle. Strategic Narratives: Communication Power and the New World Order. New York, NY: Routledge, 2013.

2. Sanchez, Yoani. “The Meaning of a U.S. Embassy in Havana.” The Atlantic. August 15, 2015. Accessed November 12, 2015. http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2015/08/cuba-us-embassy-yoani-sanchez/401405/.