A Normative Approach to Preventing Cyberwarfare
The Russian cyber attacks that were meant to skew the 2016 US election toward Donald Trump have raised new concerns about conflicts in cyberspace. How might normative taboos, such as those against chemical and biological weapons, be adapted to the cyber realm?
CAMBRIDGE – A series of episodes in recent years – including Russia’s cyber interventions to skew the United States’ 2016 presidential election toward Donald Trump, the anonymous cyber-attacks that disrupted Ukraine’s electricity system in 2015, and the “Stuxnet” virus that destroyed a thousand Iranian centrifuges – has fueled growing concern about conflict in cyberspace. At last month’s Munich Security Conference, Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders announced the formation of a new non-governmental Global Commission on the Stability of Cyberspace to supplement the UN Group of Governmental Experts (GGE).
The GGE’s reports in 2010, 2013, and 2015 helped to set the negotiating agenda for cybersecurity, and the most recent identified a set of norms that have been endorsed by the UN General Assembly. But, despite this initial success, the GGE has limitations. The participants are technically advisers to the UN Secretary-General rather than fully empowered national negotiators. Although the number of participants has increased from the original 15 to 25, most countries do not have a voice.
But there is a larger question lurking behind the GGE: Can norms really limit state behavior?