Since the end of the Cold War, businesses have built an awe-inspiring global infrastructure. Digital pipelines move vast amounts of capital and data around the world, and supply chains crisscross international boundaries in a spider web of commerce. An intricate system of networks keeps the global economy running smoothly, but it’s easy to take for granted, because it remains largely hidden from view. Though these networks appear to have multiple redundancies and to be decentralized, many have significant choke points. Global finance relies on a single organization in Belgium to relay the majority of transactions between banks. Cloud computing’s information storage facilities are often located in the United States. Complex supply chains can be dependent on a handful of components, like the chips Qualcomm makes for devices with the Android operating system. These choke points allow seemingly neutral infrastructure to be manipulated by governments to further their national strategic goals.
From the January/February 2020 issue of HBR. More here.