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Global internet in a precarious state, but that could be a positive

Apr 22


Over 500 underwater cables span over 870,000 miles worldwide, serving as the foundation of the modern global internet. Despite their critical role in facilitating communication, these cables often go unnoticed, even as the amount of data transmitted through them has surged. So what happens if the cables fail?

Straight Arrow News contributor Peter Zeihan contends that the stability and security of the global internet are at risk due to the precarious state of these cable systems. However, Zeihan argues that this vulnerability could also present opportunities for positive change.

Excerpted from Peter’s April 22 “Zeihan on Geopolitics” newsletter:

This is probably the scariest video I’ve posted for any of my Gen Z audience… that’s right, we’re talking about the one thing they can’t live without – the internet. So, just how vulnerable is the global internet?

Global internet connectivity is heavily reliant on trans-oceanic cables (sure, we have things like Starlink, but that has limited capacity to the traditional cable systems). These cable systems are fragmented and sequestered in nature, which create isolated regions. This means that there are specific points of vulnerability.

The bigger problem is that the locations of these cables isn’t all that hidden, so a group like the Houthis could target them with ease. However, the fragility of international connectivity can also be seen as a strategic advantage, because the U.S. could cut communication channels at the drop of a hat… should they ever need to.

Everybody, Peter Zeihan coming to you from Colorado today is our latest entry in our ongoing series of things I do and don’t worry about and this one is both has to do with transoceanic cables, which connect the continents in terms of the internet. We basically have a highly sequestered and fragmented system in North America, South America, Africa, western Eurasia and South Asia and Southeast Asia. All of these things are barely linked together into the group degree that they are that goes through a series of cables that go through predictable routes. So obviously, North America and South America are separate from the rest of the world by the Pacific and the Atlantic Ocean. But they’re also separated from each other with the Panamanian ism as being the only point of connection. And there’s a section called the Darien Gap. It has no roads, no rail, no pipe, no power, in terms of separating Europe from China, the Russian space has become a lot less reliable of late. And so while there are still cables across that zone, they’re not nearly as capable, as reliable as they used to be. There’s no connections between the Middle East and Africa because it goes through Israel. And that’s the connection that cannot be made. And then South Asia and Southeast Asia have reasonable connections, Southeast Asia and China have reasonable connections. But the Himalayas stop any direct connections between South Asia and say, China and then of course, countries like South Korea, Taiwan and Japan are either littoral islands or functional islands. So it doesn’t take particular genius to find these cables and cut them as the Houthis have already shown that they’re willing to do. For some of the connections between Southern Asia and Europe, there are routes that go through the ocean, through the Gulf of Aden, through the Bab el Mandeb. And the red sea before crossing Suez and going on to Europe. So we’ve got this fractured system of five bit or to eight based on how you draw the line for connectivity systems that are linked by just a handful of cables. So it doesn’t take much genius to basically break down international trade and services. The only way you could get things if the cables go down is something like Starlink, which has less than 4% of international traffic. Now that said that is hard to disrupt because there’s hundreds of Starlink satellites with more going up every week. If we ever get into a situation where the United States is in an information war, where targets to transmit information are being targeted, you can guarantee the Starlink is going to be nationalized, as one of the first access to the US government. We’re not there yet, thank God. Anyway, that’s the part I do worry about. The one part I don’t worry about is if we ever really are in a hot war of the near pure power, say for example, China. It’s not just would be disruptors, like the Houthis, who know where these cables are, the US government knows where each and every one of them is. In fact, they’re on maps. So if we get to a situation where there’s kind of a mass hacking attack from China, all we have to do is go out and cut the cables. Because let’s be honest, if we’re in a real war, the last thing that Washington is gonna be concerned about is whether or not internet connectivity and emails going back and forth across the Pacific at a high speed. So this is something that is very easy to disrupt. And as long as you’re interested in a world that works together, that’s bad. But if we ever get to the point where it’s obvious that the world is not working together, it’s good because it means it’s easy to bring down in a matter of just a few days.

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