July 27, 2022

Harnessing the Metaverse: States of All Sizes

By Michael Greenwald

State powers are beginning to make their presence known in the metaverse, as Barbados launches a virtual embassy and China leverages its dedicated blockchain research group to harness data in virtual worlds. Though these two examples are distinct due to the varied size of the nations, the metaverse poses opportunities for state actors to capitalize on access to a captive global audience. With these opportunities comes a variety of concerns around how resources will be controlled from the political economy perspective and how the evolving U.S.-China relationship will be defined in this new realm.

Relative geopolitical power, for the most part, is already locked in for states across the globe due to their combined standing politically, economically, financially, and militarily. The combination of these sectors has traditionally determined where states sit in relation to their counterparts, and how much they can influence world events or the actions of their partners. With the innovation of the metaverse and its capacity to support different methods of social interaction outside of our physical universe, there is opportunity for states to differentiate themselves virtually, developing a larger influence and soft power presence than was previously possible.

With the innovation of the metaverse and its capacity to support different methods of social interaction outside of our physical universe, there is opportunity for states to differentiate themselves virtually.

We have seen this same progression happen in other web-evolutions, such as social media, where entities have gained massive amounts of influence through no more than developing popular content. In a similar fashion, could increased interactions in virtual environments be the ticket for smaller states to gaining a larger seat on the world stage? How will the leading world powers (China and the U.S.) position themselves for competition and cooperation in the metaverse?

Key Issues: U.S. & China

In December 2021, the Eurasia Group released an article on the Geopolitics of the Metaverse, noting that, “...the widening divide in terms of ‘values’ between the U.S. and China and other authoritarian countries has already significantly bled over into cyberspace. The decoupling of data flows, applications, and deeper layers of the technology stack has already been happening for some time, and is likely to continue, catching metaverses in its wake.”There has been a significant fracturing of global economics and politics over the past 20 years. Naturally, this type of fracturing that occurs over foundational ideas of privacy, security, sovereignty, social values, and finance expands into virtual worlds, which are ultimately controlled by telecommunications corporations.

Read the full article from The Wilson Center.

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