For many issues, there are those who will start the discussion with, “Why is America better than any other country/culture/organization to manage this?” When we went to Iraq, it was argued that the rest of the world didn’t support us, so we should not do it. When we discuss global warming, it is argued that the world has decided we are the worst carbon producers so we should abide by their decision that we decrease our output. When we discuss the morality of our law, it is argued that international law is more sophisticated and nuanced, so we should take our cues from the international “consensus”.
Needless to say, I will almost never agree with the idea that our culture or way of life is morally equivalent to any other. This is, by far, the most productive, most freedom-loving, and most altruistic nation this planet has ever seen. I am a firm and proud believer in the idea of American Exceptionalism.
This is some grand stage-setting to make a case in point. One of the many issues that has been driven by the mantra of, “Why should America be in charge?” is the management of the Internet naming authority
The IANA, the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority, is the organization responsible for managing top-level domains. Top-level domains are the last parts of URLs like .com, .org, .edu and the country-based domains like .uk for the United Kingdom, .nz for New Zealand, etc. The IANA is operated on behalf of the US Department of Commerce. How this came about is a winding story, but it boils down to the fact that the United States build the first parts of the Internet and we’ve managed the naming schemes ever since.
Now that the Internet is clearly necessary for governments and businesses to function internationally, those who believe that the United States would abuse it’s authority are demanding that the IANA turn control of the top-level domains over to an international body like the UN. Has there been any major mismanagement at the IANA? Has there been any legitimate controversy that would suggest they are abusing their privilege? No and no. This is simply a case of arguing that the United States has no more rights than any other country to run this service and, in fact, the US is less equal than others (this is where moral equivalency morphs into anti-Americanism. A very common occurrence.).
Ariel Rabkin wrote this great article for The Weekly Standard describing the situation and the legitimate fears and dangers of letting anyone else control the top-level domains. He makes the case that letting any other group decide how to manage those domains would invite censorship and persecution by a group that likely wouldn’t have to answer to any particular population. See how Islamic countries feel about Israel in the UN. Do you think they wouldn’t argue for shunning them technologically? See how the UN feels about whether to recognize Taiwan (who currently has it’s own top-level domain separate from China). Do you think a permanent Security Council member wouldn’t argue for downgrading Taiwan’s Internet status?
Mr. Rabkin wraps up with a great point:
It is natural for other countries to resent the privileged role of the United States in Internet governance and to demand a greater measure of control. But if we believe in free speech, we ought to keep control of the Internet away from foreign governments that value it far less than we do.
Which brings us back to the beginning. How many foreign governments value free speech like we do? How many foreign governments value property rights like we do? How many foreign countries are built on the idea of limiting government like we are?
You see, America is exceptional.