Lars Gjesvik

University of Oslo, Department of Political Science

Lars Gjesvik
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Digital sovereignty and autonomy

Cyberspace is increasingly distributed thanks to recent advances in cloud computing and higher network capacities. An online service is now a collection of macro-services that are hosted at diverse geographic locations that may be under different jurisdictions. A closer look reveals that services which most nations rely on are not contained within the respective national borders. Examples include services such as Facebook, Google, Whatsapp and PayPal, as well as infrastructures such as DNS, and authentication micro-services that are critical to national services including public services, health and online banking. As these digital services frequently cross boundaries and function globally, technological change undermine and challenge national autonomy and sovereignty. This is seen reflected at the political level, with an increasing number of states invoking the need for national autonomy to impose tighter controls on service placement and Internet connectivity. 

Extant research in social science is too heavily focused on the policy side, on strategies and securitization discourses, paying too little attention to the interplay with the technical facet of the Internet. Based on the mapping of digital pathways NUPI will examine how cyber infrastructure augments and undermines national capacity to act, and may challenge national autonomy. NUPI will compare the changing technological realities with existing political assumptions and initiatives through case studies of Norway, Sweden, Estonia and the Netherlands. 

Furthermore, we will explore the implications of such recent digital developments on international governance. From the policy perspective, we will investigate whether the digitalized world order leads to more interdependence between states or whether it leads to a higher degree of mistrust in international politics. Our hypothesis is that it leads to both. More specifically, we will study cyber governance and the role of international organizations, NGOs and enterprises. The emergence of new arenas, informal networks, conferences, and multi-stakeholder initiatives, enterprises and NGOs indicates a reduced relevance of organizations like the UN and WTO. The rise of informal structures at the expense of the UN and international organizations is not confined to the digital domain (e.g. G20 ++) but represents a global trend towards power shift to informal arenas with more selective representations, fewer commitments, less legality and authority, but potentially more efficiency.