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Digital Vassal States

We often talk about the benefits of digitalization, within almost every industry and endeavor, including governments and non-profits. Add some AI, and the digital nirvana is there to make everything better. This narrative started already in the 70s, but our future has turned out quite different, with planet-scale problems still unresolved and nuclear weapons considered as best safeguards of nationhood. Yes, still in in 2019. When I first connected to the Internet in 1985, boy I thought things were going to evolve faster and differently, planetarywise.

Today, much of the new value in business is created within the digital realm, be it unique architectures in CAD files, Digital Twins of complete fighter jets or the algorithmic foundations of a carbon capture & sequestration plant process. Companies used to safeguard this intellectual property value with own servers and datacenters, but with the ever-increasing complexity of those local systems, the Cloud emerged as the new staple digital platform. Cloud, yes, but whose Cloud? For today's executives, the pivotal questions are: What are the actual value-bearers in my business, and who has practical access to it?

Unfortunately, Geopolitics has not gone anywhere. It just presents itself more clandestinely, attracting businesses and governments with politically driven solutions, be them Chinese 5G network infrastructures for Africa, cybersecurity from Russia, network and defence gear from Israel or content delivery & DDoS protection services and clouds from American suppliers. All of these are deeply connected to the respective political apparatus and will be used for political - and commercial - benefit when the time is ripe. And no, it does not happen in a quick, Bond-movie like data heist but is more of a doctrine-like, decade-scale process to ensure political supremacy with all the means available. With the re-emergence of powerful nationalism, this development presents an existential threat to countries and constructs such as the European Union.

There is a parellel in the colonialism of the 1800s. Overseas countries were conquered and infused with home-proven technologies, ideas and rule - but the process was never complete and sincere, and usually the locals had to pay the ultimate price due to reckless local government and ever-changing priorities. The result was more often than not bloodshed.

Therefore it is more important as ever to maintain local digital sovereignty and not to become a colony - or a Digital Vassal State. Alliances can be forged and information should flow, but if nation states are to remain relevant, they must maintain a crisp situational awareness on digital maintainability of services critical to citizens and businesses.

What comes to military - each country has one, but it's either your own or someone else's. The same applies to the digital platforms of today. It is more important than ever to understand the strings attached when forging your great innovations in the digital world.