Snowden, Cold War Nostalgia, and The New Politics of International Power


I've got a new article up at The Daily Beast. It looks at what Edward Snowden's flight tells us about international politics—and how states actually wield less power than they used to (thank god).

Here's are some snippets:

As Edward Snowden lams it, his story is morphing from a new-media surveillance scandal into something closer to a classic Cold War thriller. The Snowden saga started off redolent of Girl With Dragon Tattoo (computer hacking, manifesto-style sloganeering about justice, rights, and corrupt goverments, and a half-naked dancer girlfriend). But it's now driving deep into Graham Greene territory as the world's most famous high-school dropout is reportedly seeking refuge in a left-leaning Caribbean banana republic run by a Hate-America-First autocrat. Call it Our Man in Quito: Cold War Redux….

What Snowden's revelations—like those by WikiLeaks, Anonymous, and other, lower-tech channels—really underscore is what Moises Naim documents so powerfully and optimistically in his new book, The End of Power: "Power is shifting—from large, stable armies to loose bands of insurgents, from corporate leviathans to nimble start-ups, from presidential palaces to public squares. It has become harder to wield power and easier to lose it, and the world is becoming less predictable as a result. As people become more prosperous and mobile, they are harder to control and more apt to question authority."

It's as likely as not that Ecuador's Correa will turn on Snowden in relatively short order. Snowden has told the South China Morning Post that he plans on leaking more and more secrets about more and more countries over the coming months. How long will it be before he either reveals something unflattering about Ecuador or, same thing, inspires a citizen there to hack Correa's own massive surveillance program? Today's hacktivists—broadly defined to include social-media-savvy rebels such as China's Ai Weiwei and Russia's Pussy Riot—are nothing if not persistent. However unpatriotic they may be as citizens, they're even more frustrating to governments as prisoners or honored guests.

Read the whole thing.