How small states prepare for cyber-war

Parag Khanna - edition.cnn.com - CNN.com - Technology

Story highlights Estonia is electronically securing what's geographically at risk, says Parag Khanna He says a recent visit to Estonia's capital revealed the world's truly cyber-ready society Smaller nations are uniting digitally to protect themselves from larger nations, he says Parag Khanna is a senior research fellow at the Centre on Asia and Globalisation at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in Singapore. His books include The Second World (2008) and How to Run the World (2011). The views expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
(CNN) With Russian tanks and rebels firmly lodged in eastern Ukraine, Eastern Europe has been on high alert for months. As Russian bombers intermittently skirt or trespass Western airspace -- and a foreign submarine was reported to be hiding out in waters just off Stockholm last year -- the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have ramped up expenditures on armored personnel carriers, mobile missile launchers and other hardware to defend their borders.
But the Baltic states are as fixated on their screens as their borders. Since Russia launched a major cyber-attack on Estonia in 2007 that crippled banks, broadcasters, and political parties, the smallest of the Baltic republics redoubled its efforts to secure electronically what geography dictates will always be at risk physically.
Citizens became instantly educated to protect their data; banks and telecoms cooperated and shared information. The phrase "whole of government" or "whole of society" has become a catchphrase in Washington, but is more of plea for bureaucracy to stop getting in its way.
On my recent trip to tiny Estonia, however, I witnessed the world's first truly cyber-ready society.
After famously gathering in public to sing its way to freedom from the Soviet Union in 1991, Estonia quickly reclaimed its Nordic and Hanseatic linkages, joining the EU, NATO and the eurozone. Necessity, not evolution, sparked Estonia's rapid metamorphosis from tiny post-Soviet republic into world-leading info-state, my term for countries at the forefront of achieving secure connectedness. Centuries of Russian subjugation, German invasion, and Soviet occupation created a messy record of who actual citizens were and the legitimacy of land titles.
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Last Look: E-residency in Estonia 01:59 Estonia decided to take advantage of Sweden and Finland's early lead in creating digital ID cards and databases and run with it, earning it the label that has stuck since native hero Skype became a global sensation: "E-Stonia."
In Tallinn, medieval buildings have been seamlessly augmented with ultramodern design and the latest digital fittings from electronic doors to motion-sensitive lights and ubiquitous Wi-Fi.
Today every single government transaction or service is performed online, from paying taxes to voting. ID cards are mandatory and issued to everyone at the age of 15, and almost the entire population of 1.3 million has one. This one card is a federal ID, driver's license, library card, and almost every other function rolled into one. But there is no risk in losing it -- or point in stealing one -- because it holds no data. Rather it has an embedded SIM card that holds an encrypted key that corresponds to an anonymized government code accessed by entering a PIN. Sound complicated? Estonians have no trouble deciphering the mechanics of the system since all public schools begin teaching coding at age seven.
Estonian officials mock countries where banks try to outmaneuver each other with flashy security tokens and other gimmicks rather than sharing basic protocols that allow individuals more flexibility. Because banks require more signatures than any other institution, bringing groups such as Swedbank that came on board early meant Estonia had its most important allies in pushing digitization through the country. Telecom operators such as Nortal also play their part both in communications and government services: All citizens get an encrypted SIM which they can insert into their mobile phones to access all the same features without even using a computer. Combining this distributed mobile technology with mandatory voting would create true digital democracy.
With all of Estonia's government agencies online, the society enjoys the growing efficiencies of machine-to-machine communication. Just one day spent enjoying Estonia's digital conveniences makes any visitor resentful of the bureaucratic nightmares found almost everywhere (except other info-states). In a world plagued by check fraud, Estonia has eliminated check. A digital signature supersedes a hand signature in a court of law. (Hand signatures have precisely one remaining symbolic use in Estonia: Marriage.) A lost ID can be replaced in 30 minutes rather than 30 days.
When I explained to Estonian officials about company stamps and inkpads, matching signatures at banks, and getting documents notarized, they looked at me as if I were an 18th century time-traveler wearing a wig. (This may also be because Estonia's prime minister is only 36.) Estonians have gone paperless to such an extreme that cabinet meetings are "BYOD": Bring Your Own Device. My floppy Moleskine notepad and pen were the only writing instruments I saw during my visit.
Digital ecosystem
In small states, trusting data is a convenience; people can always go knock on the president's door (as they do in Estonia). Large states simply have no choice but to trust data -- and if done right, privacy protection can be remarkably simple to enforce. Estonia's X-Road system holds the data of government agencies, but distributes, anonymizes and encrypts its storage. Government employees can only access department specific data about a person, and every search query is logged. (No flashlights and combing through file cabinets with gloves on.) If you are pulled over by a policeman, he scans your ID and can only see your license, registration and insurance information; anything more requires a warrant and judicial grant. Data thus belongs to the public -- not the public administration.
From Hong Kong to Estonia, a technologically empowered digital rallying cry can be heard across the world's smartest small nations: 'Info-states of the world, unite!'
Parag Khanna
The experiments and mistakes of small European countries inform the plans of their larger-scale associations. With the Nordic countries, Belgium, Portugal, Austria, Denmark and other small European countries all implementing various digital schemes, the EU has set out a Digital Strategy 2020 to harmonize its data systems and services, making itself a more seamless union for flows of people and services.
This midware connectivity among European data clouds is not digital welfare of the traditional European variety. Rather, it is the creation of a much larger eco-system in which a common technology platform enables companies and entrepreneurs to share digital X-rays for patients moving across countries, eliminate mobile phone roaming tariffs, and other steps that improve overall quality of life. Having already been through the experience of trading one currency for another, adding new countries to the economic and digital grid such as Moldova and Albania becomes a matter of snapping them on like small Lego pieces.
How can one of the world's smallest countries enlarge its digital footprint even further? At Ulemiste City, an integrated ICT campus near Tallinn's airport, offices are sprouting up to manage Estonia's latest cyber-venture, one as much diplomatic as social: E-citizenship. While Estonia has barely one million citizens, its nascent e-citizenship scheme could give it more than 10 million virtual ones by 2025: Investors and customers who take advantage of Estonia's 0% corporate income tax, professional e-commerce technicians, and legal access to the entire European Union. A friend of mine shuttling between San Francisco and Portland proudly touts her Estonian e-citizenship card as a portal to all her European clients.
In Estonia one experiences how lonely it is at the top of the digital heap. Its data security technicians have ideas for putting passports on mobile phones, but then they'd be the only ones to have it, rendering it useless ... for now.
The Digital Hanseatic League
Estonia still exhibits the vulnerabilities and strengths of being a small state next to a giant one. During World War II, its far larger cousin-state of Finland was only rendered geopolitically inert (hence "Finlandized"), while Estonia was occupied and subdued into the Soviet Union. In 2014, Russians jammed the virtual fence that serves as their border and snatched an Estonian federal agent. Even with broadband speeds faster than South Korea, Estonia cannot escape its geography.
Still, the country is taking steps to protect everything that isn't dug into the Earth such as creating a cyber-defense league of government supported volunteer IT specialist units -- a virtual version of the fully armed Swiss populace, assigning itself to various quadrants of Estonia's critical infrastructure the way Swiss know which borders they are assigned to defend if communications are shut down. If the government's secure sites are fully exposed or hacked, it can de-activate all tokens through a "red button" style kill switch and reassign all national ID numbers and pins afterwards.
The "Emergency Act" also requires that over three-dozen institutions from banks to grocery stores have back-up strategies to provide the population with necessary cash and supplies should there be a digital shutdown. Cyber-attacks have replaced nuclear war as the daily risk -- and reality -- of geopolitical life. Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT) has become the new Nuclear Emergency Search Team (NEST).
Knowing all too well that they could one day again wake up occupied and potentially exiled, Estonians have come up with novel solutions every diaspora group could use to better organize themselves. Besides their embassies and ambassadorial residences abroad, Estonians have also set-up sovereign "data embassies" in secure locations abroad to which they back-up their national data so they can reconstitute as a virtual, post-territorial nation should the need arise. The virtual country would remain alive even if the physical country becomes inaccessible.
The best defense a small info-state has against an overwhelming physical mismatch is digital deterrence. Estonia now hosts NATO's Cyber-Defense Unit, and gathered over a dozen NATO allies in early 2015 for operation "Locked Shield," a training exercise to ward against attacked emanating through operating systems such as Microsoft Windows. Recent history demonstrates that hacks come from many sources -- but especially Russia, China and North Korea -- and target government and high-value corporate data as well.
In July 2015, Estonia also became a founding member of the world's first formal cyber-alliance known as the "Digital Five" alongside the UK, South Korea, Israel and New Zealand -- disparate but advanced countries agreeing to securely host each other's servers. Note that the Digital Five isn't named after a place or geography; it's neither North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) nor Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). It's not a geographic alliance but a geodesic one.
Countries don't have to share a border to become more functionally integrated. Indeed, one of the fastest growing categories of trade isn't between any two particular regions, but between governments themselves as they seek to outsource -- or insource -- the best practices from their peers. States increasingly contract services from each other such as energy supplies, currencies, military protection, port facilities, airlines, telecoms, postal services and satellite launches. Eurozone countries have outsourced their central banking to Frankfurt, Morocco places substantial military forces in the UAE to defend it against terrorism, Finland is building an LNG terminal on the Baltic Sea that Estonia will share to cut both of their reliance on Russian gas, and so forth.
The Digital Five is an early stage info-state alliance reminiscent of the medieval Hanseatic League, a maritime federation of northern European city-states that resisted encroachment from Europe's monarchies, refusing allegiance to any overlord in favor of open trade and political autonomy. The inter-city Hanseatic world declined with the rise of sovereign princely states and the 1648 Peace of Westphalia, but in the emerging world of increasingly autonomous city-regions, a postmodern Hanseatic League is rising again, continuing the heritage of maritime connectivity but adding all the new technologies info-states have mastered.
Larger neighbors
Most small countries pose little military threat to their larger neighbors. Rather, they must concentrate on building financial firepower through currency reserves, wealth funds and foreign investment to boost in economic geography what they lack in political geography. Like Switzerland, they need to be connected to the world but not overly integrated, lest they lose their competitive advantages.
Short of nuclear deterrence, most info-states have little physical defense against the potential military encroachment of larger powers. Israel stands out as having a nuclear arsenal, fortified borders, a world-class military as well as robust cyber-capabilities, while Switzerland and Singapore maintain strict border protections, aerial superiority, and constantly train for ground combat operations as well. All three now have trained units of hackers and drone pilots for offense and defense operations.
The digital Hanseatic League has become a robust marketplace of innovative knowledge sharing. There are countless examples already of how leading city-states direct adopt lessons and practices from each other's recent experience. Singapore has studied the planning of London's underground subway expansion before its next major underground lines are developed, the requirements for women in Israel and Switzerland's national service programs, and how Bilbao has turned former manufacturing districts into thriving artistic hubs. Dubai has already been imitating Singapore's e-government services for customs, immigration and police functions. Singapore also guides other city-states not just in governance effectiveness but the pursuit of national self-sufficiency through its construction of oil storage depots wastewater recycling facilities. Singapore is doing whatever it can to survive should its connectivity be switched off.
144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – Police remove barricades and tents outside government headquarters in Hong Kong on Thursday, December 11, 2014. The main site of pro-democracy protests for the past two months was broken down piece by piece, and police dragged out the last remaining demonstrators one by one. Hide Caption 1 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – Workers clear barricades on December 11. Protesters wanted to pressure the government to allow open elections for Hong Kong's chief executive in 2017. Hide Caption 2 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – Authorities dismantle a barricade December 11 at the main protest site. Hide Caption 3 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – A police officer removes a protest banner from a bridge December 11. Hide Caption 4 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – A worker cleans the street after Hong Kong police dismantled the main protest camp December 11. Hide Caption 5 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – Protesters attend a sit-in rally as police officers break down the campsite. Hide Caption 6 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – Police officers take away a protester December 11. Hide Caption 7 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – A protester is carried away by police officers on December 11. Hide Caption 8 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – A crowd listens to a speaker at the main Hong Kong protest site in Admiralty on Tuesday, December 9. Hide Caption 9 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – Few pro-democracy activists tents remain on the road outside Hong Kong's Government Complex on December 9. Hide Caption 10 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – Hong Kong teenage protest leader Joshua Wong ended his hunger strike after about five days on Saturday, December 6, on the advice of his doctor. Hide Caption 11 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – The three co-founders of the Occupy Central movement -- from left, Benny Tai Yiu-ting, Chan Kin-man, and the Rev. Chu Yiu-ming -- surrender to authorities in Hong Kong on Wednesday, December 3. Hide Caption 12 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – Student protest leader Joshua Wong carries his belongings toward a tent at the main protest site in Hong Kong's Admiralty district on Tuesday, December 2. Wong and two other student demonstrators have begun a hunger strike to demand discussions with Hong Kong's leaders over political reform for the city. Hide Caption 13 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – Pro-democracy protesters gather outside the Central Government Complex in Hong Kong on Monday, December 1. Hide Caption 14 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – Police arrest a protester outside government headquarters in Hong Kong on December 1. Hide Caption 15 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – A police officer clears umbrellas from the Lung Wo road tunnel after clashes between protesters and police on December 1. Hide Caption 16 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – Pro-democracy protesters face police forces after clashes in the Admiralty district of Hong Kong on Sunday, November 30. Hide Caption 17 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – A protester reacts after being hit by pepper spray on November 30. Hide Caption 18 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – Hundreds of pro-democracy protesters face off with Hong Kong police on November 30. Hide Caption 19 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – Pro-democracy protesters collide with police officers on the main road outside the government headquarters in Hong Kong on November 30. Hide Caption 20 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – Police prepare to face protesters on Lung Wo Road outside Hong Kong's Government complex on November 30. Hide Caption 21 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – Pro-democracy protesters push police back as they advance on Lung Wo Road outside Hong Kong's Government complex on November 30. Hide Caption 22 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – Policemen keep vigil as pro-democracy demonstrators gather on street parallel to where a protest site was cleared in the Mongkok district of Hong Kong on Friday, November 28. Hide Caption 23 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – Protesters cry as police officers try to stop them from blocking the road in the Mong Kok district of Hong Kong on Wednesday, November 26. Hide Caption 24 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – Police clash with protesters as they try to clear a major protest site on Tuesday, November 25. Hide Caption 25 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – A protester is carried away by police officers on November 25. Hong Kong's high court authorized police to arrest protesters who obstruct clearance of the area. Hide Caption 26 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – Police try to arrest a protester on November 25. Hide Caption 27 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – A demonstrator is sprayed with pepper spray by the police after refusing to leave the protest site on November 25. Hide Caption 28 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – Protesters break a glass door of the Legislative Council on Wednesday, November 19. Hide Caption 29 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – Protesters stand off with police officers outside the Legislative Council building after clashes on November 19. Hide Caption 30 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – Security staff members remove a barricade outside the CITIC tower near a protest site in the Admiralty district of Hong Kong on Tuesday, November 18. Hide Caption 31 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – There were no signs of resistance from protesters, some of whom helped bailiffs, police and CITIC representatives move barricades away on November 18. Hide Caption 32 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – The Admiralty protest site is shown on the road outside the Hong Kong Government complex on Monday, November 17. Hide Caption 33 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – Student leaders attempted to fly to Beijing to deliver a message to the Chinese government on Saturday, November 15. They were denied boarding after being informed that their entry permits were invalid. Hide Caption 34 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – A businessman walks to work past protester-placed barricades that blocked a road at the Admiralty protest site on Thursday, November 13. Hide Caption 35 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – People open umbrellas at the main protest site in Hong Kong on Tuesday, October 28. The umbrella has become the defining image of the protest movement, used to shield protesters from tear gas and the elements. Hide Caption 36 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – Riot police stand guard near a barricade in a protester-occupied area on Wednesday, October 22. Hide Caption 37 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – Pro-democracy protesters at an occupied area outside the government headquarters in Hong Kong watch a live broadcast of talks between Hong Kong government officials and protesters on Tuesday, October 21. Hide Caption 38 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – Police and protesters face each other across a barricade as tensions continue in Hong Kong on Monday, October 20. Hide Caption 39 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – Riot police advance on a pro-democracy protest encampment early Sunday, October 19. Hide Caption 40 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – A woman reads on a road barricaded by pro-democracy protesters on October 19. Hide Caption 41 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – Police officers yell at pro-democracy protesters as they push forward in an attempt to clear a street on Saturday, October 18. Hide Caption 42 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – Pro-democracy protesters sleep next to a barricade on October 18 after reclaiming streets in Mong Kok after a night of violent scuffles with police. Hide Caption 43 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – A journalist collapses in agony after being hit in the face with pepper spray during clashes with police on Friday, October 17. Hide Caption 44 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – Police use batons to hit pro-democracy protesters who are using raised umbrellas for protection on October 17. Hide Caption 45 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – Protesters and riot police officers face off at a main road on October 17. Hide Caption 46 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – People shout at pro-democracy protesters on October 17. Hide Caption 47 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – Riot police clear out an encampment of protesters on October 17. Police swooped in early to dismantle the protest campsite. Hide Caption 48 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – Demonstrators remove their belongings from a protest camp early on October 17. Hide Caption 49 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – Pro-democracy protesters break down as riot police clear their camp October 17. Hide Caption 50 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – Riot police remove barricades on October 17. Hide Caption 51 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – Hong Kong Chief Executive C.Y. Leung arrives for a news conference on October 16. He said talks would resume with students as early as next week, but he said street protests had caused severe disruption and could not continue. Hide Caption 52 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – Pro-democracy demonstrator Ken Tsang gets taken taken away by police before allegedly being beaten up in Hong Kong on October 15. Authorities have vowed to conduct an investigation into a widely circulated video that appears to show plainclothes officers kicking and punching the man. Hide Caption 53 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – A police officer shouts at a protester who was hit with pepper spray on October 15. Hide Caption 54 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – Pro-democracy protesters hide behind umbrellas to protect themselves from pepper spray on October 15. Hide Caption 55 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – Protesters move barriers as others block a main road in Hong Kong with metal and plastic safety barriers on October 15. Hide Caption 56 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – Police march toward pro-democracy protesters outside central government offices on October 15. Hide Caption 57 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – Protesters gather near central government offices on October 15. Hide Caption 58 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – Police move toward pro-democracy protesters during a standoff outside central government offices on October 14. Hide Caption 59 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – Police remove bamboo that pro-democracy protesters had set up to block off main roads on October 14. Hide Caption 60 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – Pro-democracy protesters watch as police remove barricades on October 14. Hide Caption 61 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – Cleaners sweep the main road after the police's removal of barricades on October 14. Hide Caption 62 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – Police ask a protester to leave the main road of Hong Kong's Central district on October 14. Hide Caption 63 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – Police dismantle barricades from the streets on October 14. Hide Caption 64 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – Police officers run to barricades set up by protesters on October 14. Hide Caption 65 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – Protesters raise their hands behind police officers after people tried to remove the metal barricades that protesters set up to block off main roads near the city's financial district on October 13. Hide Caption 66 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – A police officer tries to stop a man from removing metal barricades set up by protesters on October 13. Hide Caption 67 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – A police officer scuffles with a man on October 13. Hide Caption 68 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – Police officers arrest a demonstrator on October 13. Hide Caption 69 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – A demonstrator sets up a new barricade made of bamboo in Hong Kong on October 13. Hide Caption 70 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – Police officers remove barricades used by protesters on October 13. Hide Caption 71 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – Taxi drivers protest in Hong Kong on October 13, urging pro-democracy demonstrators to clear the roads. Hide Caption 72 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – People gather beneath the statue "Umbrella Man," by the Hong Kong artist known as Milk, which has become a symbol at the protest site, on Saturday, October 11, in Hong Kong. Hide Caption 73 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – Pro-democracy protesters remain scattered at the protest site in Admiralty on Thursday, October 9. The government canceled talks that day after protest leaders urged supporters to keep up the occupation. Hide Caption 74 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – Taxi drivers attend a small demonstration calling for protesters to stop blocking roads through the city on October 9. Hide Caption 75 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – A woman drinks a soda as she walks past a barricade erected by pro-democracy demonstrators in Hong Kong on October 9. Hide Caption 76 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – A pro-democracy protester sleeps on a street in the occupied area surrounding the government complex in Hong Kong on Wednesday, October 8. Hide Caption 77 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – A pro-democracy protester reads a newspaper in Hong Kong's Mong Kok district on Tuesday, October 7, as a police officer stands nearby. Hide Caption 78 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – Protesters walk up an empty street inside the protest site near Hong Kong's government complex on October 7. Hide Caption 79 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – Joshua Wong, a 17-year-old student protest leader, is interviewed at the protest site near government headquarters on Monday, October 6. Hide Caption 80 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – A man walks to work as pro-democracy demonstrators sleep on the road in the occupied areas surrounding the government complex in Hong Kong on October 6. Hide Caption 81 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – A ray of sunlight bathes sleeping protesters as they occupy a major highway in Hong Kong on October 6. Protesters say Beijing has gone back on its pledge to allow universal suffrage in Hong Kong, which was promised "a high degree of autonomy" when it was handed back to China by Britain in 1997. Hide Caption 82 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – People take an escalator to work as protesters sleep on October 6. Hide Caption 83 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – The statue "Umbrella Man," by the Hong Kong artist known as Milk, stands at a pro-democracy protest site in the Admiralty district on October 6. Hide Caption 84 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – People walk to work on a main road in the occupied areas of Hong Kong on October 6. Hide Caption 85 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – Police officers remove barriers outside government offices in Hong Kong on Sunday, October 5. Hide Caption 86 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – Student protesters carry a barrier to block a street leading to the protest site on October 5. Hide Caption 87 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – Pro-democracy demonstrators occupy the streets near government headquarters on October 5. Hide Caption 88 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – Pro-democracy demonstrators surround police October 5 in the Mong Kok district of Hong Kong. Hide Caption 89 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – A pro-democracy protester holds on to a barrier as he and others defend a barricade from attacks by rival protest groups in the Mong Kok district on Saturday, October 4. Hide Caption 90 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – Pro-democracy student protesters pin a man to the ground after an assault during a scuffle with local residents in Mong Kok on October 4. Hide Caption 91 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – Pro-democracy protesters raise their arms in a sign of nonviolence as they protect a barricade from rival protest groups in the Mong Kok district on October 4. Hide Caption 92 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – A pro-Beijing activist holds up blue ribbons for anti-Occupy Central protestors to collect as pro-government speeches are made in the Kowloon district of Hong Kong on October 4. Hide Caption 93 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – A man sits in front of a barricade built by pro-democracy protesters on October 4 in the Kowloon district. Hide Caption 94 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – Thousands of pro-democracy activists attend a rally on the streets near government headquarters on October 4 in Hong Kong. Hide Caption 95 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – A group of men in masks fight with a man who tried to stop them from removing barricades from a pro-democracy protest area in the Causeway Bay district of Hong Kong on Friday, October 3. Hide Caption 96 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – Police raise hands against protesters as an ambulance tries to leave the compound of the chief executive office in Hong Kong on October 3. Hide Caption 97 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – A protester tries to negotiate with angry residents trying to remove barricades blocking streets in Hong Kong's Causeway Bay on October 3. Large crowds opposed to the pro-democracy movement gathered to clear the area. Hide Caption 98 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – Pro-democracy demonstrators protect a barricade from "anti-Occupy" crowds in Hong Kong on October 3. Hide Caption 99 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – A man shouts at a pro-democracy demonstrator on October 3. Hide Caption 100 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – Police try to pry a man from a fence guarded by pro-democracy demonstrators on October 3. Hide Caption 101 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – Pro-democracy demonstrators sleep on the street outside a government complex in Hong Kong on Thursday, October 2. Hide Caption 102 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – As the sun rises, a protester reads during a sit-in blocking the entrance to the chief executive's office on October 2. Hide Caption 103 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – Yellow ribbons, a symbol of the protests in Hong Kong, are tied to a fence as police and security officers stand guard at the government headquarters on October 2. Hide Caption 104 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – Protesters confront police outside the government complex in Hong Kong on October 2. Hide Caption 105 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – Protesters camp out in a street in Hong Kong on Wednesday, October 1. Hide Caption 106 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – Founder of the student pro-democracy group Scholarism, Joshua Wong, center, stands in silent protest with supporters at the flag-raising ceremony at Golden Bauhinia Square in Hong Kong on October 1. Hide Caption 107 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – Hong Kong's Chief Executive C.Y. Leung attends a flag raising ceremony to mark the 65th anniversary of the founding of Communist China on October 1. Hide Caption 108 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – A pro-democracy activist shouts slogans on a street near the government headquarters on Wednesday, October 1. Hide Caption 109 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – Hong Kong police stand guard outside the flag-raising ceremony October 1. Hide Caption 110 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – Pro-democracy demonstrators gather for a third night in Hong Kong on Tuesday, September 30. Hide Caption 111 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – Protesters sing songs and wave their cell phones in the air after a massive thunderstorm passed over the Hong Kong Government Complex on September 30. Hide Caption 112 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – Protesters take part in a rally on a street outside the Hong Kong Government Complex on September 30. Hide Caption 113 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – Student activists rest on a road in Hong Kong on September 30, near the government headquarters where pro-democracy activists have gathered. Hide Caption 114 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – A pro-democracy demonstrator guards a bus covered with messages of support in Hong Kong on September 30. Hide Caption 115 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – Protesters sleep on the streets outside the Hong Kong Government Complex at sunrise on September 30. Hide Caption 116 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – Protesters hold up their cell phones in a display of solidarity during a protest outside the Legislative Council headquarters in Hong Kong on Monday, September 29. Hide Caption 117 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – Protesters put on goggles and wrap themselves in plastic on September 29 after hearing a rumor that police were coming with tear gas. Hide Caption 118 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – Police officers stand off with protesters next to the Hong Kong police headquarters on September 29. Hide Caption 119 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – A man helps protesters use a makeshift ladder to climb over concrete street barricades on September 29. Hide Caption 120 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – Riot police fire tear gas on student protesters occupying streets around government buildings in Hong Kong on September 29. Hide Caption 121 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – Police officers rest after protests on September 29. Hide Caption 122 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – Pro-democracy protesters argue with a man, left, who opposes the occupation of Nathan Road in Hong Kong on September 29. Hide Caption 123 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – Pro-democracy protesters sit in a road as they face off with local police on September 29. Hide Caption 124 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – Pro-democracy protesters rest around empty buses as they block Nathan Road in Hong Kong on September 29. Multiple bus routes have been suspended or diverted. Hide Caption 125 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – Police walk down a stairwell as demonstrators gather outside government buildings in Hong Kong on September 29. Hide Caption 126 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – Stacks of umbrellas are ready for protesters to use as shields against pepper spray on September 29. Hide Caption 127 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – Protesters turn the Chinese flag upside-down on September 29 outside a commercial building near the main Occupy Central protest area in Hong Kong. Hide Caption 128 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – Protesters occupy a main road in the Central district of Hong Kong after riot police used tear gas against them on Sunday, September 28. Hide Caption 129 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – Demonstrators disperse as tear gas is fired during a protest on September 28. There is an "optimal amount of police officers dispersed" around the scene, a Hong Kong police representative said. Hide Caption 130 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – Police use pepper spray and tear gas against demonstrators September 28. The protests, which have seen thousands of students in their teens and 20s take to the streets, swelled in size over the weekend. Hide Caption 131 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – Riot police clash with protesters on September 28. Hide Caption 132 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – Police and protesters clash during a tense standoff with thousands of student demonstrators, recently joined by the like-minded Occupy Central movement, on September 28. Hide Caption 133 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – Benny Tai, center, founder of the Occupy Central movement, raises a fist after announcing the group would join the students during a demonstration outside government headquarters in Hong Kong on September 28. Hide Caption 134 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – Pro-democracy activist and former legislator Martin Lee wears goggles and a mask to protect against pepper spray on September 28. Hide Caption 135 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – A pro-democracy activist shouts at police officers behind a fence with yellow ribbons on September 28. Hide Caption 136 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – A sign for the Hong Kong central government offices has been crossed out with red tape by democracy activists on September 28. Hide Caption 137 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – Pro-democracy protesters gather near government headquarters on September 29. Hide Caption 138 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – Protesters gather during a demonstration outside the headquarters of the Legislative Counsel on September 28 as calls for Beijing to grant the city universal suffrage grow louder and more fractious. Hide Caption 139 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – Protesters tie up barricades on September 28 during a demonstration outside the headquarters of the Legislative Council in Hong Kong. Hide Caption 140 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – An injured protester is tended to after clashing with riot police outside Hong Kong government complex on Saturday, September 27. Hide Caption 141 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – Riot police use pepper spray on pro-democracy activists who forced their way into the Hong Kong government headquarters during a demonstration on September 27. Hide Caption 142 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – People watch from on high as pro-democracy demonstrators are surrounded by police after storming a courtyard outside Hong Kong's legislative headquarters on Friday, September 26. Hide Caption 143 of 144 144 photos: Photos: Hong Kong unrest 2014 Hong Kong unrest – Students march to Government House in Hong Kong on Thursday, September 25. Hide Caption 144 of 144 The case of Hong Kong, however, reminds me of the vulnerability that comes from proximity to a major power. Though Hong Kong has a special history as a Chinese territory, its more than one century as a thriving and open British colonial enclave set the conditions for it to become a top-tier info-state perennially ranked as one of the world's most free, entrepreneurial and dynamic societies. Since the 1997 handover of the island back to China, however, Hong Kong has experienced a steady erosion of its autonomy. Beijing has sought to unilaterally dictate Hong Kong's political structure and leadership, manipulate its history books, diminish its press freedom, and take control of many companies, all the while undermining the unique positioning of its port as Shenzhen's grows, setting up a rival free trade zone in Shanghai, polluting its air with mainland factory smog, and crowding it with hordes of mainland tourists, workers and child-bearing women, and encouraging more talent and cash to seep out to Vancouver. The substantial narrowing of Victoria harbor through land reclamation is a metaphor for how Hong Kong is being swallowed by China, absorbed into the empire as the southern tip of the giant Pearl River Delta urban archipelago.
The sometimes brutal crackdown on the 2014 "Umbrella Revolution" in Hong Kong made clear that China has time on its side and resistance would be futile. At the same time, Hong Kong is evidence of the rupture from an age of empires trading territories to one where even small and vulnerable cities will fight to maintain urban autonomy even if they can't be independent. As I clamored through the throngs of 50,000 protestors in October 2014, I saw all the elements that make a sustained urban occupation possible from portable power generators to small drones, fast food and fresh fruit, and mesh-net Wifi and Bluetooth coordination apps. Hong Kong and the mainland may be growing together physically, but they are growing apart politically due to devolutionary pressure and generational change.
From Hong Kong to Estonia, a technologically empowered digital rallying cry can be heard across the world's smartest small nations: "Info-states of the world, unite!"