Jared Cohen: But, there was also — there’s an even more serious part of this, which is before we went to North Korea we met with a number of defectors and the defectors told us that the penalty for being caught with a smuggled smartphone in North Korea, can in some cases be the death penalty. And then they persecute three generations of your family, and people take that risk and then take it again to get a signal from across the Chinese border. So people like Eric and me, and really all of us in this room, we have no frame of reference for wanting access and connectivity so badly that we’re willing to risk being shot for it.
And so we wanted to go to the country that is so extreme that these are the consequences, and understand what it looks like. And the conclusion, as Eric mentioned, is if you think back to the days of the Cold War, there were totalitarian societies, cults of personality, et cetera. In the future you’re still going to have autocracies. You’re still going to have horrible societies. But the one silver lining in all of this is, the totalitarian societies, the true cults of personality have literally been eliminated by the internet in the same way that scientists were able to get rid of small pox. Once North Korea changes, you’ll never see a cult of personality again because the ability to create a society without doubt will no longer be possible.
Dr. Condoleezza Rice: So, there are societies in which you wish to instill doubt, like North Korea. By the way, my favorite story about North Korea is that some of you may know that I’ve taken up golf, and I really love it. Kim Jong-un will shot 39.
Jared Cohen: Right, that’s very impressive.
Dr. Condoleezza Rice: Period. Not on the front 39. And apparently it was so easy the game that he gave it up. So that tells you something about this regime. But, so you’ve got the regimes like North Korea. You also have regimes that are more integrated into the international system, but are doing terrible things to their people. Is there anything that you see technologically — technology playing a role in alleviating, for instance, let’s take the suffering in Syria, at this point. Where people, you talk about connectivity, but one problem is if you are a Syrian refugee, you have left everything behind that mattered to you. Is there anything that technology can do for the Syrian refugee for instance?
Jared Cohen: I was just on the Syrian border about three weeks ago and I went to a number of refugee camps in northeastern Lebanon and turns out one of the biggest problems that the refugees have among many is dealing with the refugee organization bureaucracy. It’s so bad and so difficult to get papers that refugees are literally going back to Syria to get documentation. So you think about the risk. But the problem that you have in Syria is the Syria context basically creates a bug in our technological optimism because you have literally thousands of videos that are coming out of Syria, each one more horrific than the next. And it’s doing nothing to increase political will on the part of states to intervene. At the end of the day, without a state led intervention of some kind, the horror is not going to stop.
I heard some horrible stories from Syrian friends of mine that I hadn’t seen since I was living there in 2004 and 2005 about government checkpoints in Damascus, Holmes and Aleppo, where they stop you and ask for your phone, they hold a gun to your head and ask for your log in information. They then look at what’s been posted on your wall by you or somebody else. My friend’s brother told me that when they did — my friend told me that when their brother did this they saw someone had posted a page sympathetic to the revolution on one of his social networking platforms. And a signal came from the checkpoint to the top of a building where they then shot him in the head. You know, technology can’t fix that problem. This is a brutal regime doing terrible things and I think it’s important that we understand, because we’re far away from it out here, that there are limits. It’s a part of the solution, but at the end of the day, states are still the dominant unit in the international system, and they’re the ones that have to take charge of the situation.
Eric Schmidt: So we’ve been debating this for a while because, you just hate it when you find a bug in your model, right? And we all start from the premise, that you empower individuals and the thing that’s new here is the empowerment of citizens around the world, right? We’ve never had a situation where people were so empowered, there’s also some good and mostly good, but some bad things as well.
So where does it break down? Well, the first place in these countries they shut down the internet, because they’re in a war. And so that’s always a bad, bad deal. But ultimately, knowledge and awareness is not the same thing as shooting guns, right. So, if you’re going to know everything, which is a reasonable presumption of the future, we’re going to know every massacre. We’re going to know the horrors. You’re going to have to — still have to have some way of using, of stopping it. Now you can do it with an international — In the book we write that you could in fact begin the criminal trial of the criminal — the war criminals during the time they’re doing the war, the criminals. And there’s evidence that this kind of awareness is reducing the number of people being killed. So a cynical way of talking about the Ukraine is to say that only 78 people were killed in the square, and they got a new government. And obviously every death is bad, but you could imagine that would have been 10,000 or 20,000 or 30,000. So awareness and knowledge probably reduces the number of deaths and probably constrains the misbehavior of these deaths that’s within reason, but it doesn’t stop the killing. That’s the question I have for you guys, or to foreign policy. Is there any solution to that problem aside from the traditional foreign policy?