Friday, October 29, 2010

Noopolitik and 21st Century Statecraft?

Ronfeldt and Arquilla present in their article “The Promise of Noopolitik” the articulation of a new, and I argue distinct, concept not just in the field of communications but one that is positioned to oppose the approach of realpolitik in International Relations studies. To what extent is their concept of the noosphere emerging as a reality in the world of today’s statecraft and 21st century public diplomacy? What would a post-post script to their article include today, particularly if they were to address Sec. of State Clinton’s speech at the opening ceremony to the Newseum in Washington, D.C. on January 21st of this year?

Their first claim is that in the latter half of the 20th century, there were revolutions in the business affairs and in military affairs. They argue that the time has come for a “revolution in diplomatic affairs” or a RDA. This will depend on the recognition of the importance of the noosphere. The noosphere is similar to more widely-used concepts like “cybersphere” and “infosphere.” They present several definitions for the term. The first, that of the man who coined it, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, was that the world evolved in several stages: the first was a geophere, then a biosphere, and the next will be a noosphere—“a globe-circling realm of the mind…full of fibers and networsk, and a planetary ‘consciousness.’” (Ronfeldt & Arquilla 1999/2007 ) Tielhard claimed, “Fully realized, the noosphere will raise mankind to a high, new evoulutionaryplane, one driven by a collective devotion to moral and juridical principales.” ( )

The noosphere is similar to other network theories of communications, but better, in their opinion. The term encompasses information-processing and information-structuring. It looks at not just how messages and ideas are transmitted but also why they are transmitted and how those ideas fit into the larger goals and values of an organization or system. But is this noosphere becoming more important than other concepts in international relations? Are ideas, and where and how effectively they are dissmentated, the new source of power in the world today? One could answer yes, as again and again, civil society (and not so civil non-state actors) are starting to influence and compromise the nation-states options diplomatically.

Rondfeldt and Arquilla are at their strongest in the postscript’s section on American public diplomacy. Writing at the height of the Bush-era crisis of legitimacy for American foreign policy, they sum up their argument in one sentence: “The point to which we keep returning is that noöpolitik is ultimately about whose story wins.” Obviously, America’s story is now competing with Al Qaeda’s in the global public sphere.

They argued that at the time the post-script was written, public diplomacy in this country had gone off track and looked more like realpolitik than noopolitik. But what about the approach of the U.S. State Department today? First, we should look to Sec. Clinton’s address to the attendants at the opening of the Newseum at the beginning of this year. (link to full text below) I believe that the title of the address itself, “Remarks on Internet Freedom” suggest that the State Department has started to shift its focus.

After her introduction, Clinton gets to the subject of her address with the following statement: “The spread of information networks is forming a new nervous system for our planet.” Later, she paraphrased President Obama, saying “he defended the right of people to freely access information, and said that the more freely information flows, the stronger societies become.” She introduced the idea of 21st century statecraft that would call on the State Department to take advantage of these sort of means of diplomacy, that this was a time when a shift was necessary. She stated, “Realigning our policies and our priorities will not be easy.” (Clinton 2010)

So it would seem, at least in theory, the State Department today is shifting toward an acceptance of the importance of ideas in the marketplace of international civil society today. Whether this will help begin a revolution toward a complete noosphere is still yet to be seen, but at least this trend does suggest noopolitik may be starting to win out over realpolitik.


Clinton, Secretary of State Hillary. 2010. "Remarks on Internet Freedom." (November 3, 2010 2010).

David Ronfeldt & John Arquilla “The Promise of Noopolitik” First
Monday 12 n. 8-6 (1999/2007).

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