IGF 2018 WS #375
Digital peace and security: historical parallels 1918-2018


Sub-theme description: Historical analysis of internet governance and digital policy

Organizer 1: Civil Society, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)

Speaker 1: Katharina Höne, Civil Society, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)
Speaker 2: Paul Meerts, Civil Society, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)
Speaker 3: Geoff Berridge, Civil Society, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)


Panel - 90 Min


The moderator will invite each speaker to provide short reflections at the beginning of the session, no longer than 4 minutes. After that, the moderator will ensure the discussion unfolds in the form of a dialogue with the audience, including the online participants.


The panel is gender-balanced and age-balanced. During the preparations, we will further wait for ethnicity-balanced panel and approach additional speakers.

The Paris Peace Conference ended the First World War (WWI) which was considered, according to David Lloyd George, a ‘war of the engineers’. Every phase of WWI was marked by technological developments. First, one of the reasons that contributed to diplomatic confusion in July 1914 and, ultimately, outbreak of the war was lack of understanding how to use of the telegraph as a means of communication between, in particular, Berlin and St. Petersburg. Telegraph messages added to escalation of rhetorics and threats between two capitals. During the war, several crucial milestones in the development of ‘digital’ technology took place. Photography gained in quality. Wireless technology was introduced in aviation for air-to-ground communication. The interception and decoding of the Zimmerman telegram brought the US into the war. In this telegram sent to German ambassador in Mexico, Zimmerman sent instructions to offer Mexico an alliance in exchange for reconquering the lost territory in Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona.

The Paris Peace Conference is also an example of ‘data diplomacy’. Negotiation parties involved statisticians, geographers and other scientists with the aim to back their data in negotiations of reparation and territorial disputes.

In our session, we will identify historical parallels, analyse the similarities and differences between the two era (WWI and our own), and focus on insights for our time concerning the (mis)use of technology before and during the Versailles Peace Congress.

Major historical parallels between 1918 and 2018 (facts, context)
The (mis)use of the telegraph for diplomatic communication during the July crisis in 1914
The development of key communications technologies during WWI(in particular - wireless technology)
The use of data during the Paris Peace Conference.

More than half time of the session will be dedicated to an interactive discussion. That is why a very engaging and experienced moderator was appointed. Speakers will be encouraged to be brief and provocative in their opening statements. This will be a panel discussion, however, with an interactive twist. Speakers should rather be considered as resource participants or initiators of the discussion to a topic, that will provide a nice and fresh addition to usual Internet governance and digital policy debates happening at the IGF.

This session puts the current discussion on digital peace into a wider historical context, going all the way back to the end of the First World War and the Paris Peace Conference. This session aims to discuss the parallels between two eras, and challenges the challenge faced by them. Historical lessons are particularly important on issues such as the dual use of technology, the arms race and disarmament, and the use of communications technology in diplomatic exchanges.

Online Participation

Online participation will be used by individuals and organisations.