Over the past couple of years I have had the opportunity to talk to US policy makers and have seen how ITU and ICANN have emerged as proxies for a much wider diplomatic dispute over who is going to control cyberspace.
The Internet is now the engine of the new global economy. It is a communication infrastructure. Both have been correctly regarded as national security interests of the very highest level of priority. Some of the participants in the ICANN/ITU world are former participants in arms limitation circles. Their mode of thinking is illustrated by the frequent use of phrases such as 'why would we give up...'.
Behind the scenes there are others who argue that the US won the cold war through communications strategy, not military power. I am also led to believe that this is a common belief in Russian military circles. Only there the fall of the Soviet Union is seen as a catastrophe rather than the end of one of the most brutal and worthless regimes in history.
The stakes are high and he stakes matter. Which is why the oppressive regimes of the world must on no account be allowed to gain control of the Internet. Today they have two choices, they can try to cut themselves off from the net and watch their regime die quickly as the economy goes the way of North Korea or they can attempt to control the net and watch their power slowly drain away. They must on no account be allowed to create a third option for themselves.
All of which provides a pretty good explanation for what we currently observe in ITU politics. The oppressive powers would like to gain control and the ITU is far more susceptible to their influence than ICANN. The ITU is formed around the notion that nation-states are the primary actors in governance for a start. They will use terms such as 'security' and purport to be countering 'crime' and 'terrorism'. Here it is interesting to note that in a recent treaty, Russia and China defined information terrorism to include any form of speech that might lead be detrimental to the interests of government. The claims with regard to crime are equally insincere, if the Russian government wants to act against Internet crime we have a list of a couple of hundred criminals that their police would very much like to prosecute if they were allowed to.
Backing ICANN appears to be the only sensible course for the US. But the problem with this approach is that the US cannot risk ICANN itself being captured by hostile powers, and that in turn means that the US cannot ever release its de facto control of ICANN. The status quo prevails, but as with original status quo, the division of responsibility for the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, it is an inherently unstable situation that is only maintained through constant vigilance on all sides.
The weakness in the present approach is that many countries that should be natural US allies have to be equally concerned about possible defection by the US. Let us consider for a moment what the policy of a Palin government might be, it is not an unreasonable hypothetical since this time two years ago she had a non-negligible chance of being a heartbeat of a septuagenarian cancer survivor away.
My belief is that the US has incorrectly analyzed its interests with respect to ICANN and control of the Internet. The core interest of the US is not to gain control, the core interest is to prevent any other party from gaining control.
I do not see it as being in any parties interest to maintain the current ITU/ICANN standoff. I think it would be much better to end it as soon as possible by forcing a draw. Rather than attempting to maintain its position as the sole control entity for the Internet, ICANN should parcel off a chunk of DNS space and a chunk of IPv6 space for ITU to manage as it sees fit.
For example ICANN creates a new TLD .ITU and a /16 of IPv6 space that the ITU will manage in whatever way it considers best. Neither would have the slightest impact on the technical administration of the Internet. There is no possibility of such an assignment being used for malice as ICANN and the RIRs would still be assigning address space from their pools.
The main positive for ICANN is that it would essentially forestall any ITU takeover maneuver. If you have a monopoly it is pretty easy for various parties to dispute who should be in control of it. Once the monopoly is broken up into a duopoly it is practically impossible to reverse the process. Ceding a small amount of territory in the right way makes it much harder for the ITU to acquire more. they would as a minimum have had to had done something of consequence with their existing assignment. And in the unlikely event that they had, that would itself create barriers to their acquiring more.
Whether you agree with my analysis or not, I hope that I have at least persuaded you to think about the possibility that there might be better approaches here than confrontation.
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