Vol. 2, No. 21 (November 01, 2009)

Toward a world without borders: Azerbaijan and the information revolution

Ali Abbasov, Prof., Dr.
Ministry of Communications and Information Technologies of Azerbaijan


Ayaz Bayramov
Head of Department of International Relations and Cooperation with Non-Governmental Institutions
Ministry of Communications and Information Technologies of Azerbaijan
The information revolution has brought with it the digital divide (Arachchige 2003, p. 1), but the growth of information technology has opened the way for new approaches toward information technology at the global, regional and national levels.  Sometimes this technology is used as a tool by individuals, groups and states to promote narrow interests, and sometimes it is being employed to encourage broader integration rather than narrow self-interest.  This latter idea governs Azerbaijan’s approach to information and communication technologies (ICT), an approach intended to make these new communication resources cheaper, more flexible and more powerful for the people of Azerbaijan as they interact with the rest of the world.
One of the reasons Azerbaijan has been so interested in ICT is that it changes the position of small countries.  In the past, smaller countries were typically at a disadvantage to larger ones.  But the information revolution by creating hubs and satellite hubs in smaller states has changed that, and there is every opportunity for Azerbaijan to use ICT to overcome what some describe as the “small country effect.”  And that in turn gives Azerbaijan advantages beyond those outlined by Harvard’s Jeffrey Sachs. [1]  
Because this possibility is so new, individuals and governments still find themselves facing difficulties in attempting to integrate the information revolution in their national policies, to overcome the existing digital divide between countries that launched the new technologies and those who have joined it later and to exploit the new system to promote cultural change and exchange.  Today in Azerbaijan, we are working on new approaches to trans-national ICT infrastructure with all these issues in mind.
But there is a bigger challenge: those who were the initial winners in ICT, the Western countries, have sought to maintain their dominance, even as they have been confronted by the possibilities of globalization.  Given that, Azerbaijan and other countries who seek to develop an ICT strategy must work together to promote the globalization of production, internationalization of trade, and taking full advantages of economies of scale, the  permeability of national borders, the development of systems intended to render traditional definitions of time, space and distance irrelevant and meaningless, and the geo-politicization of public-private relationships, and the universalization of values, like rule of law and world governance. 
Power no longer comes from above; it comes from middle level institutions like the multinational corporations.  That is leading to the collapse of public sector dominance and the emergence of new rules for engagement across borders, trends that open a new window of opportunity for countries like Azerbaijan to participate in a world without borders.
Unfortunately, because this process is so new, there are few universally accepted ideas as to what this process should look like and few opportunities to discuss it in terms of traditional economic measures like GDP.  But there are some good first efforts in this direction like those of Harvard University’s Michael Porter that involve multi-modeling principles such as those used in the Global IT Report compiled by the World Economic Forum teams (Dutta & Mia 2009). 
We believe that Azerbaijan is in a position to make a contribution to this discussion:  For example, in our work, ICT infrastructures (let’s call them “global-IT-facilitators” (GITF)) are viewed as essential for achieving sustainable development in the Virtual Network World (VNW).  GITF via ICT holds the promise of generating the additional economic efficiencies needed to attract both local and foreign investments.  And we believe that nation-states should “sell” themselves not more cheaply but at a higher price, thus opening yet another window of opportunity for global information corporations via the GITF.  
Our analysis shows that the most important challenges faced by countries in transition involve lags in the development of GITF and also that GITF could realistically facilitate the development of the political, economic, financial and technical structures of those countries.  Not every country is positioned to take advantage of this opportunity, but Azerbaijan is by virtue of its location, resources, people and leadership.  And that is an advantage we want to exploit. 
Given its location amidst a much larger marketplace and its existing advantages, Azerbaijan needs to define its strategy so as to become a genuine “hub” for the West, as well as the rest of the world, and thus transform its image as an oil-driven economy in a secular Muslim country into a new one which would show Azerbaijan as an emerging hub in the knowledge-based world.  Such a strategy on the part of the government could ensure Azerbaijan’s long-term dominance in the region and provide enormous benefits for its people.
The technologies, products and services that permit our effective participation in the global knowledge society already exist, but GITF remains a disadvantage.  President Ilham Aliyev’s slogan -- “let’s convert black gold into human” – provides the conceptual basis for this transformation and informed the drafting of the Baku Declaration on Transnational Eurasian Information Super Highway of November 11, 2009. [2]
But that declaration is only the beginning. To realize this framework, we must craft a set of plans and missions, to set priorities for ICT and to gain an access to GITF in order to move toward a “borderless world.” In this process, the immediate neighbors of Azerbaijan, its “peripheries,” if you will, could be our primary assets as potential markets for “Made in Azerbaijan” products and information services.  And because of the enormous prospects that presents for Azerbaijan, we strongly argue that the government should move in this direction by working to eliminate all restrictions that stifle competition and promote Regional Innovation Zones as part of Azerbaijan’s move to become an ever more important country in the future.


[1] According to Jeffrey Sachs, Professor of International Political Economy at Harvard University, “International economies are constantly and gradually being fulfilled through four basic ways: through trade, financial flows, production and a certain web of conditions and institutions” (Sachs 2000). 

[2] For details, consult http://unpan1.un.org/intradoc/groups/public/documents/GAID/UNPAN033008.pdf (accessed 19 September 2009).


Arachchige, Neville S. (2003) “Information Revolution, Digital Divide and Development Paradox: A Global Framework for ICT Policy Formulation,” Second Preparatory Meeting of the United Nations World Summit on the Information Society, WSIS/PC-3/CONTR/162-E, 15-26 September, Geneva.   

Dutta, Soumitra & Mia, Irene (2009) The Global Information Technology Report: Mobility in a Networked World, World Economic Forum. 

Sachs, J. (2000) “International Economics: Unlocking the Mysteries of Globalization,” in Pelagidis, Theodoros K., ed. Understanding Globalization, Athens: Parazisis Publications.