In the 2000s, “public diplomacy” became a central part of the function of diplomacy. As a result of the communications and transportation revolutions, diplomats, national leaders, and more can now be seen and heard by more people in more places than at any previous time in history. Skillful public diplomacy can influence public opinion beyond one’s own country to support policies and positions, and can influence foreign peoples to have a favorable view of one’s country. Conversely, blundering public diplomacy can undermine even well-conceived policies and positions, and can project an extremely negative image of a country.

Public diplomacy is important at other levels as well. Diplomats often seek and accept speaking engagements and media interviews, and work with other outlets in which they can obtain the opportunity to influence others to view their country and its policies favorably. At times, such public diplomacy may be considered by host countries as meddling in their internal affairs. At other times, such it may be virtually identical to a diplomat’s representation function. However, recently a new type of diplomacy, more malign, came into being.

On January 7, 2010, Google announced that it had been victim of a major hacker attack that began in mid-2009 and continued through December 2009. The attack, known as “Operation Aurora” and described by the largest search engine in the world as “sophisticated” and “high-level,” was aimed at more than 30 other organizations, including Adobe Systems, Rackspace, Yahoo, Symantec, Juniper Networks, Morgan Stanley, Northrop Grumman, and Dow Chemical.

In 2011, Google also said that the hackers, who were based in China’s Jinan province, had compromised personal email accounts of hundreds of top U.S. officials, military personnel, and journalists. Nobody has yet produced conclusive proof that such attacks were state-sponsored, but Google’s Press Office stressed that the primary goal of the hackers was to penetrate Google’s computers and access the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists. Google also said that, apparently, the attack failed, as users’ data was not compromised.

More specifically, it appeared that the cyberattack was also conducted by advanced persistent threats carried out by the Elderwood Group—an organization based in Beijing, China, with ties to China’s Politburo, at least according to a U.S. State Department cables that WikiLeaks released in November 2010. Security experts have linked the attacks to servers at a university used by the Chinese military. Also, according to many computer specialists, the December 2009 attack, in terms of the style and instruments used, was very similar to the one perpetrated in July of the same year. The difference was that the second cyberattack targeted specific individuals. These attacks took advantage of some of the Google software’s vulnerabilities, which were still “unknown.”

Within hours of Google’s acknowledgment of the Aurora attacks, the U.S. State Department issued a statement asking the Chinese government for an explanation. Official Chinese media responded stating that the incident is part of a U.S. government conspiracy. For its part, Google decided to pull out of China and defied Chinese censorship regulations. It also moved further Chinese operations to Hong Kong, as it would have otherwise remained a constant target for Chinese cyberattacks.

These incidents led to diplomatic confrontations and raised profound questions about the future of online freedom and cybersecurity. Google, through former U.S Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, requested an official explanation from the Chinese government.

In a speech on Internet freedom, delivered on January 21, 2010 at the Newseum in Washington, DC and coming on the heels of the cyberattack, Clinton stressed the importance of freedom of information. In her own words, “as in the dictatorships of the past, governments are targeting independent thinkers who use these [internet, social networks] tools… As I speak to you today, government censors somewhere are working furiously to erase my words from the records of history. But history itself has already condemned these tactics.” Clinton’s remarks made it clear to online operators that the U.S. Government stands prepared to support them when they are willing to challenge the censorial policies of repressive foreign regimes.

China was cited numerous times in Clinton’s speech, especially with regards to its government’s policy on information. She concluded by saying that “historically, asymmetrical access is one of the leading causes of interstate conflict" and that “both the American people and nations that censor the internet should understand that our government is committed to helping promote internet freedom.”

Cyber security also dominated the first summit between Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Obama in June 7-8, 2013, Palm Springs, California. Obama confronted the Chinese president on the cyberattacks carried out from within Chinese borders throughout 2012 against nearly 40 Pentagon weapons programs. The Washington Post reported in May 2013 that compromised programs included missile defense systems, aircraft, and ships. Although the extent of official Chinese involvement cannot be clearly determined, U.S. officials have called upon the Chinese leadership to take a more active role in countering violations of cyberspace.

If the use of new technologies by governments is nothing new, especially in matters of espionage and control of public opinion, the scars wrought by the hacker attack can be considered the starting point of a new type of diplomacy—Cyber Diplomacy. Such technologies will continue to impact the geopolitical balance of power.

One novelty in terms of the Google and Pentagon weapons programs attacks is the high level of sophistication of these cyberattacks, which affected global leading companies in computer and information industries as well as the private lives of many powerful individuals around the world. Another feature is the immediate reaction coming from those placed in high level positions in the U.S. government, including the direct intervention of the Secretary of State. In her speech, she officially sanctioned the birth of Cyber Diplomacy, and highlighted computer security and freedom of the web as now crucial diplomatic issues. The economic, financial, industrial, and military sectors’ development and prosperity are increasingly linked to the free flow of information. Moreover, electronic networks are now irreplaceable instruments for international politics.

In addition to the traditional contentious issues between the United States and China—freedom of information, human rights, commercial rivalries, and the most recent agreement between Washington and Taiwan for continued military procurements—the Google episode is the prelude to further diplomatic confrontations. It places the two superpowers increasingly on an antithetical plane, even after the thaw initiated in 2008 with the election of Barack Obama.

Richard Rousseau is Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences at the American University of Ras Al Khaimah, United Arab Emirates. His research, teaching and consulting interests include Russian politics, Eurasian geopolitics, international political economy, and globalization. He lived Three years in Baku, Azerbaijan.

But it’s difficult to think about value when we have no buoy for understanding it outside our traditional lenses: for example, our time, our job, and what others tell us they are worth in cash. This, largely, is the world’s paradigm for value so far. But understanding what value really means changes everything—and will be at the center of the decentralized revolution in global coordination that will unfold over the next decade. So, where do we begin?

Let’s start with gold.

Gold is an inherent value. When backing a market, gold allows us to grow a balanced economy well into the trillions. But why does it allow for massive stable markets to form around it? It is gold's permanence that creates stability. We understand that gold will always have value, because it is inherent in all of us, not just in one part of the world, but everywhere, not just today, but tomorrow and for the long haul.

In the 1930s when the gold standard was removed, we learned that the U.S. dollar didn’t need gold to back its economy to flourish. We learned that it was just a symbol for U.S. citizens to decentralize their coordination around the United States economy.

It turns out, common agreement is a philosophy for building shared economy.

And so it seems inherent value is a marker for us to begin exploring what the future could look like—a future beyond gold and the existing realm of credit. And so what else has inherent value? Is education as valuable as gold? What about healthcare? What about a vote that can’t be tampered with? What about an ID that can’t be stolen or erased? What about access to nutrition or clean water? You will find value everywhere you look.

It turns out, we’ve already done the legwork necessary to uncover the most elemental inherent values: The Sustainable Development Goals are commitments grown out of the drive to bring to life basic tenets of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights—the closest possible social contract we have to a global, common agreement.

We’ve already agreed, as a global community, to ensure inclusive and equitable access to quality education. We’ve already agreed to empower all women and girls, to ensure pure and clean water access for all, to promote health at all stages of life, and to end hunger.

We’ve already agreed.

Our agreements are grounded in deep value centers that are globally shared, but undervalued and unfulfilled. The reason for this is our inability to quantify intangible value. All of these rich, inherent values are still nebulous and fragmented in implementation—largely existing as ideals and blueprints for deep, globally shared common agreement. That is, we all agree education, health, and equality have value, but we lack common units for understanding who and who is not contributing value—leaving us to fumble in our own, uncoordinated siloes as we chase the phantoms of impact. In essence, we lack common currencies for our common agreements.

Now we find ourselves at the nexus of the real paradigm of Blockchain, allowing us to fuse economics with inherent value by proving the participation of some great human effort, then quantifying the impact of that effort in unforgeable and decentralized ledgers. It allows us to build economic models for tomorrow, that create wholly new markets and economies for and around each of the richest of human endeavors.

In late 2017 at the height of the Bitcoin bubble, without individual coordination, planning, or the help of institutions, almost $1 trillion was infused into blockchain markets. This is remarkable, and the revolution has only just begun. When you realize that Blockchain is in a similar stage of development as the internet pre-AOL, you will see a glimpse of the global transformation to come.

Only twice in the information age have we had such a paradigm shift in global infrastructure reform—the computer and the internet. While the computer taught us how to store and process data, the Internet built off that ability and furthered the conversation by teaching us how to transfer that information. Blockchain takes another massive step forward—it builds off the internet, adding to the story of information storage and transfer—but, it teaches us a new, priceless and not yet understood skill: how to transfer value.

This third wave kicked off with a rough start—as happens with the birth of new technologies and their corresponding liberties. Blockchain has, thus far, been totally unregulated. Many, doubtless, have taken advantage. A young child, stretching their arms for the first couple times might knock over a cookie jar or two. Eventually, however, they learn to use their faculties—for evil or for good. As such, while it’s wise to be skeptical at this phase in blockchain’s evolution, it’s important not to be blind to its remarkable implications in a post-regulated world, so that we may wield its faculties like a surgeon’s scalpel—not for evil or snake-oil sales, but for the creation of more good, for the flourishing of commonwealth.

But what of the volatility in blockchain markets? People agree Bitcoin has value, but they don’t understand why they are in agreement, and so cryptomarkets fluctuate violently.  Stable blockchain economies will require new symbolic gold standards that clearly articulate why someone would agree to support each market, to anchor common agreement with stability. The more globally shared these new value standards, the better.

Is education more valuable than gold? What about healthcare or nutrition or clean water?

We set out in 2018 to prove a hypothesis—we believe that if you back a cryptocurrency economy with a globally agreed upon inherent value like education, you can solve for volatility and stabilize a mature long lasting cryptomarket that awards everyone who adds value to that market in a decentralized way without the friction of individual partnerships.

What if education was a new gold standard?

And what if this new Learning Economy had protocols to award everyone who is helping to steward the growth of global education?

Education is a mountain. Everyone takes a different path to the top. Blockchain allows us to measure all of those unique learning pathways, online and in classrooms, into immutable blockchain Learning Ledgers.

By quantifying the true value of education, a whole economy can be built around it to pay students to learn, educators to create substantive courses, and stewards to help the Learning Economy grow. It was designed to provide a decentralized way for everyone adding value to global education to coordinate around the commonwealth without the friction of individual partnerships. Imagine the same for healthcare, nutrition, and our environment?

Imagine a world where we can pay refugees to learn languages as they find themselves in foreign lands, a world where we can pay those laid off by the tide of automation to retrain themselves for the new economy, a world where we can pay the next generation to prepare themselves for the unsolved problems of tomorrow.

Imagine new commonwealth economies that alleviate the global burdens of poverty, disease, hunger, inequality, ignorance, toxic water, and joblessness. Commonwealths that orbit inherent values, upheld by immutable blockchain protocols that reward anyone in the ecosystem stewarding the economy—whether that means feeding the hungry, providing aid for the global poor, delivering mosquito nets in malaria-ridden areas, or developing transformative technologies that can provide a Harvard-class education to anyone in the world willing to learn.

These worlds are not out of reach—we are only now opening our eyes to the horizons of blockchain, decentralized coordination, and new gold standards. Even though coordination is the last of the seventeen sustainable development goals, when solved, its tide will lift for the rest—a much-needed rocket fuel for global prosperity.

“Let us raise a standard to which the wise and the honest can repair.”  —George Washington
Richard Rousseau
Richard Rousseau is Associate Professor at the American University of Ras Al Khaimah, United Arab Emirates. His research and teaching interests include Russian politics, Eurasian geopolitics, International security, international political economy and globalization.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.