DolémieuxDr Comtesse is among those who believe and support the emergence of new governance. Master in Mathematics and PhD in Computer Science (University of Geneva), Xavier L. Comtesse worked in academic institutions, as a start-up CEO and at the Swiss Federal Administration, including 7 years as a diplomat in the US. He was the first Swiss Consul in Boston where he founded the Swissnex Network, an organization in charge of technology and science exchange between the USA and Switzerland. Since 2002, he has been head of the Geneva Office of Avenir Suisse, a prominent think tank in Switzerland for economic and social issues. He enjoys what he sees in today’s political evolution. He is looking forward to the achievement and assimilation of what he calls “Cloud Power”.

Hard Power, Soft Power, Smart Power, and now Cloud Power. How does it all tie in with reality ?

We are at the heart of political reality. After the era of relations between nation and nation, at the beginning of the 20th century we saw the birth of multilateralism, which in turn, at the end of the first world war, gave rise to the Society of nations. It was no longer possible to settle problems just between two. From the 19th century onwards we saw the emergence of non-political, multinational organizations, such as the Postal Union, the Telegraph. After the second world war, multinationalism started to appear in the UN, although not as rapidly as in the two great antagonistic blocs of the Cold War. With the fall of the Berlin Wall, a new period of multilateralism began – with a difference. Neither bilateralism, nor multilateralism but a notion of multistakeholders took form. In addition to nations, there were also companies and civil society. An example was the rise in power of NGOs in the sixties, especially concerning issues of global governance. The idea of ‘soft’ law arose at this time –non-obligatory regulations based on voluntary commitment, without legal enforcement, without sanctions, giving complete freedom to withdraw.

Soft law was expressed notably through the increase of labels and norms, especially those proposed by the ISO (International Organization for Standardization).
With these famous soft laws in the ascendance, Joseph Nye a rmed his concept of Soft Power, which he considered to be just as important as Hard Power, essentially represented by the police, the military and control. Since then we have witnessed an unprecedented development of soft law.
When Obama moved into the White House, he would try to reconcile these two major currents and define Smart Power, a project undertaken and embodied byHillary Clinton as the American Secretary of State.

What makes you believe in the appearance of a new movement that you call Cloud Power ?

Having published a series of four books on Soft Power for the Geneva Foundation, it seemed to me that those concepts had been overtaken by new realities. For example, the networks of megalopolises or regions, like the one set up by the R20, are developing and assuming importance. These networks represent political and economic power of the fi rst rank. As a result, even if they are trying to include civil society and the private sector in their decision making, the classic multilateral organizations feel thrown of course. The emergence of the Internet society is a major innovation that has a completely new set of rules, both with regard to intellectual conception and physical boundaries. Up until now power lay in a linear framework, transmitted from one end to the other. From now on, the new symmetry of information will completely change our thought patterns. What does this phenomenon mean for us? That’s where it seems to me we are entering a new era of global governance : we are entering Cloud Power. What it means is that from now on we can think of power as made up of a collection of processes, capacities and concepts, and that, faced with a problem, we can search for a suitable solution from the Cloud. When we’re confronted by an environmental problem it’s possible that resorting to an Internet-type operation will be the best solution, with a massive involvement of participants, more labels than laws –this is where I can draw from the panoply of ‘soft’ laws. For issues of migration or distribution of growth I can turn to an R20 type of structure for greater economic capillary action –targeted, e ective, green and sustainable. This vision of Cloud Power allows us to get past certain aberrations.

But isn’t that the role of the international organizations ?

Like many others, the United Nations would like to continuously reinvent itself to become more e cient, but is that really the right way of thinking? Each international organization has its history, a contemporary history what’s more, from which it is di cult to detach itself. Why seek to transform oneself when it would be simpler and more e cient to turn to a better adapted and more mobile structure? Cloud Power, as a vehicle for global governance, o ers a capacity to adapt both to the age and to each issue. Rather than rely on a single organization to answer every question, why not use a customized solution for each major problem ? From this point of view, Cloud Power encourages direct governance. I need a tool and I use it for a given issue.

Could this concept encourage us to share and make available the tools and processes for decision-making ?

Indeed, the Cloud borrows from information systems. Uploading and downloading are part of the game, and that’s very appropriate for our polycentric world. If a particular person or organization emerges, their knowledge becomes shareable, in the non-proprietorial manner of Internet space. They become an element of Cloud Power. From 2020 half the world’s inhabitants will be born with the Web. This half will think Cloud. 

You have to accept that all our forms of governance to resolve world problems, be they local or global, are inherited from the 18th and 19th centuries, and apart from the major powers entering the game, we have not experienced any great upheavals. What we are witnessing now is the swing into a new form of development, of acquiring and applying di erent types of governance.

Isn’t there a risk ? Fear of social instability and the temptation to return to Hard Power ?

Let’s take the recent world fi nancial crisis. It wasn’t sorted out by the Basel agreement. Numerous protagonists took action. No specifi c organization was appointed to fi nd the answer. A diverse group of organizations were called upon, but no hint of hard power. 

One of the paradoxes is that the G20 appears to be an institution without power. The will to act is there, but its effectiveness is no better than that of a UNO. 

I’m so convinced that Cloud Power o ers us a perspective to explain what is happening around us and to advance our thinking. We managed to fi nd some solutions to the 2009 crisis, albeit with the risk of deferring the problem, but at least a response was produced. In 1929 no politician or organization was able to curb the crisis. 

Internet also has rules and is making changes which may pose problems. ICANN’s (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) recent authorization to create domain names incorporating the name of an entity such as .nestle or .danone, all the same, has sent out shock waves. 

Internet is managed according to a posteriori requests, the famous Request for Comment (RFC) for all new ideas about regulations. The request is accepted if it is applied. Many of us fi nd this strange, but that’s how Internet governance operates. No vote, but trial and error. Proof lies in the pudding. It resembles case law rather than code law –and it works. The change you mention was formulated according to the RFC procedure. The real reason for it is that the .coms and other domain names brought money to these regulatory bodies. It corresponds to their business model. All these globalized organizations, ICANN, Internet Society (.org), W3, are all fi nanced according to this model and it was brought into play because they need fi nancing. This latest authorization will give them new scope for fund-raising. A .brand will cost a lot, about US$ 250,000. It’s a sort of tax on globalization to fi nance these Internet structures. Oppositioncomes from those who won’t have access to any of this income. Naturally, the others who stand to benefi t agree. In supporting this proposition the ‘soft’ organizations can maintain their self-fi nancing.

In Cloud Power, will there be a greater need to widen the debate to involve ordinary citizens ?

Even if the number of debates increases through think tanks or summits between leaders, ordinary people are not involved. It should be a much wider debate. Two major events in 2011 give us hope : the youth revolt in North Africa taught the establishment a lesson, and it embodied a new form of politics ; the second event was the nuclear disaster at Fukushima which produced an instant global discussion, with a noticeable distrust of the authorities. Nowadays, discovering the truth is perceived as a search or quest. What we are told day by day may be false, but we’ll fi nd out the truth in the end. Even a medical patient now goes through a process of questioning and verifying the accuracy of what the doctor says. Internet is the source of this phenomenon. It was the case with the images of torture in Egypt where people tried to fi nd out if they were genuine or not. When it was proved to be genuine, it totally liberated the revolt. It all contributes to a new form of global political dialogue. And for those in hard power the situation has become very complex.

But hard power won’t disappear completely ?

True, but it will soon be only one element among other forms of power, and will never regain the position it once had. Let’s take the case of football hooliganism in Europe. Incarceration was the fi rst response, with an assortment of fi nes and bans from the stadium. The real solution came from a dialogue between the police, the teams and an ‘NGO’ of fans. We are witnessing the failure of hard power, that’s the world we are entering now. There’s a sort of Darwinian evolution happening in the progressive empowerment of individuals, and we’re experiencing an acceleration of this phenomenon

by Henry Montana

photographs by Pascal Dolémieux