0839 GMT May 24, 2022
EFE CAN GÜRCAN*: Globalist arguments on “powerless states” had gained currency in the 1990s and the early 2000s. For the most part, these arguments were fueled by a widespread perception about the ultimate victory of a so-called “unipolar” world order. However, the late 2000s helped to invalidate such baseless accounts in the context of growing multipolarity. Globalists had believed that globalization eroded the power of nation-states and opened a new era of so-called “transnational” capitalism, where even the Chinese and Russian economies would be absorbed by Western transnationals. On the contrary, growing multipolarity helped many to finally realize that neoliberal globalization as an imperialist project serves nothing but to empower Western states, while dismantling nation-states in the developing world. Indeed, Western-based multinationals assumed a key role in pillaging developing nations’ natural and human resources with the strong backing of Western armed forces, economic sanctions, and subsidies. One of the strongest and most recent cases that exemplify the power of state-supported multinationals is the US-led trade war against China, where Chinese information and communication firms are being denied to Western markets. The idea here is to retain the competitiveness of Western-based multinationals.
More specifically, how do you analyze the role of gigantic, mostly American, Big Tech companies, which have presumably provided the US government with unimaginable tools of mass surveillance, market monopoly, and public opinion manipulation? They seem to be prime examples of a combination, if not the culmination, of military, cultural, and economic imperialism.
Digital monopolies, otherwise known as “Big Tech”, are among the building blocks of contemporary imperialism. Thanks to the digital revolution and neoliberal policies that encourage corporate mergers, their control extends beyond personal computing, entertainment, and online advertising to have a significant impact on global technological infrastructure, data ownership, and surveillance. An important detail to keep in mind is that the Pentagon and the CIA are among the closest business partners of Big Tech, which in turn exerts a strong influence within the US government and the World Trade Organization. It is also important to know that Big Tech executives take active part in (semi)public channels such as the Defense Innovation Board, the Network Centric Operations Industry Consortium, and the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence. As such, they are placed in a strong position to influence government policies through public-private partnerships for mass surveillance and tech wars against potential US rivals such as China, Russia, and Iran.
*Efe Can Gürcan is associate professor of international relations at İstinye University, Istanbul. He is the author of ‘Imperialism after the Neoliberal Turn’ published by Routledge in 2021.