Information and communication technology present new challenges to international affairs.The scale and speed of technological advancements in cyberspace are unprecedented. As the fourth industrial revolution dawns, bringing with it the reality of big data, artificial intelligence, and quantum technology, the world is entering a new level of more sophisticated hypoconnectivity, blurring the nature of interaction and exchange between offline and online communities.
‘Cyber everything’ has profound implications, including for international peace and security. The role of the new cyber frontier is significant for the way that nation-states conceptualise their interests in a contemporary world. It is somewhat of an Achilles heel for governments who seek to mitigate its threats while maximizing the opportunities it offers. As the possibilities for innovation in cyberspace grow, so too does the potential for competition and to some extent, conflict.
We need a better understanding of these challenges and of ways for addressing them. With more and more states and non-state actors developing and using cyber capabilities, what rules apply to responsible state behavior in cyberspace? How can we inspire confidence between states that others will not abuse information and communication technology? At what levels do we need to act – globally, regionally, bilaterally? And how can we ensure that the IT industry, the science community, and civil society assume their appropriate roles and responsibilities?
It is crucial for countries to realise that their economies, global competition, and cyberspace security rely
on a functioning and secure cyber space. States are gradually focusing on policy mechanisms that might promote and safeguard their interests within the cyber domain.
Cyber diplomacy refers to the use of diplomatic tools and the diplomatic mindset to achieve a state’s national interest in cyberspace and resolve issues arising from cyberspace. Cyber diplomacy encompasses a wide range of diplomatic agendas, such as establishing communication and dialogue between state and non-state actors; preventing of a cyber arms race; developing of global norms; and promoting of national interests in cyberspace through cybersecurity policies and engagement strategies.
Amid increasing cyber-attacks to critical infrastructures, data breaches, cybercrime, cyber espionage, online theft and pilferage of trade secrets, and offensive cyber operations carried out by state or non-state actors, cyber diplomacy can mitigate cyber aggression or the escalation of conflicts.
Fundamental elements in the cyber diplomacy toolbox are cyber capacity-building, confidence-building measures, and the development of cyber norms. Capacity building in cybersecurity is motivated by the ultimate goal of deterring threats. States are developing the cyber capacity to reduce cyber-related as well as conventional threats posed by rival actors. It involves the diffusion of technical, governance, and diplomatic expertise required to ensure resilience against online threats, encompassing the enactment of national cybersecurity strategies, the establishment of computer incident response teams, and the strengthening of law enforcement bodies. However hyperconnected and transboundary nature of cyberspace makes it critical for states to develop and engage in cyber diplomacy rather than exclusively rely on cyber defense.
Confidence-building measures (CBMs) in the cyber domain enable greater information-sharing to mitigate uncertainty, enhance predictability and transparency on motivations and intent, and facilitate crisis management or remediation strategies among states.
Cyber norms are defined as the “standards of appropriate behaviour concerning the use of ICT” in the context of maintaining international stability and security. They are “voluntary, nonbinding norms as an alternative to law.” Conversely, international law can serve as a basis for cyber norms, and cyber norms can be codified into international law for cyber conflict or cyber warfare, as exemplified in the Tallinn Manual.
The past decade has seen a rise in the call by states for more cooperative cyber diplomacy strategies. Most notable among these cyber diplomacy efforts was the US–China Cyber Agreement in 2015 entered by President Barack Obama and President Xi Jinping. The agreement led to the reduction of Chinese cyber-espionage activities along with a recalibration of cyber policies on the part of Beijing, which led to a friendlier US–China cyber relation.
But despite the positive momentum in cyber diplomacy among individual state and non-state actors, underlying tensions at the multilateral level have stalled cooperation especially on critical issues of further developing cyber norms and the applicability of international law in cyberspace. Western democracies led by the US advocate for a multi-stakeholder approach that champions inclusivity of participation in the promotion and adoption of international norms and rules, particularly the free flow of information.
Russia and China believe that the US could potentially use international law to justify the use of cyberweapons in the event of an armed conflict. Russia and China are more concerned about maintaining information control for the sake of national security which falls under their notion of cyber sovereignty. This growing divide thus makes a strong case for the potential balkanisation of the internet marked by the rise of digital borders between those who espoused cyber sovereignty versus the free and open flow of information.
The Paris Call for Cyber Peace is a cyber initiative launched by France, during a speech delivered by French President Emmanuel Macron. The Call was held at the Internet of Trust on 12 November 2018 at UNESCO, in Paris, in the presence of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
The Paris Call is characterized by:
• Involvement of a gathering of a multitude of actors, both private and public.
• The highlighting of the need for international law to apply automatically in cyberspace.
• The positioning of France as a leader in cyber issues on the international front, as compared to other cyber powers leaders (e.g. United States, France, Israel, China, Russia, United Kingdom).
2021 is already a landmark year for cybersecurity challenges, both in the scale and sophistication of major attacks, which illustrates the need for greater engagement from nations worldwide to set and observe expectations for responsible behavior to promote security and stability online. International cybersecurity cannot move forward based on dialogues among a limited number of advanced cyber powers alone. In a connected world, all nations have a responsibility to help establish, uphold and abide by international commitments to improve security for everyone.
Additionally, non-state actors, including multinational and private companies, are also actively engaged in cyber diplomacy. Microsoft boasts its own Global Security Strategy and Diplomacy Team, while Huawei has collaborated with Microsoft and East-West Institute to develop standards to influence ICT procurements. Despite being sub-state actors, such ICT companies are exuding diplomatic agencies to promote cyber norms.
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