Originally Published 2013-09-05 14:23:19 Published on Sep 05, 2013
While the initiatives taken at the UN, including the draft code, could be viewed as a step forward, the clear differences in what the American and Russian sides seek to address through such a mechanism will remain a stumbling block.
Cyber Space governance: Moscow and Beijing's efforts at the UN
" As challenges in cyber space rapidly expand, the United Nations (UN) has made efforts over the last decade to arrive at rules and norms to govern the new domain. However, geopolitical differences among the major powers have kept these efforts from achieving their final goal. Broadly, there are two approaches to the issue of cyber security within the UN, one led by the US and the other by Russia and China. This article explores the discourse led by Russia and China within the UN, particularly within the UN First Committee on Disarmament and International Security.

While the US seeks to contain transnational Internet crimes, particularly those affecting its economy, Moscow and Beijing are working towards cyber arms control and greater say for states over information dissemination mechanisms including the Internet. The US has opposed state or international governmental control over the Internet and has tried to avoid negotiating rules that could restrict it from using its offensive cyber capabilities.

Russian and Chinese positions on tackling international cyber security challenges can be analysed by looking at the draft Code of Conduct for Information Security circulated by the two countries along with Tajikistan and Uzbekistan during the 66th session of the UN General Assembly in 2011. The draft aims "to reach consensus on the international norms and rules standardizing the behaviour of countries concerning information and cyberspace".

The code highlights Russian and Chinese concerns about the use of information technology (including the Internet) to disseminate information which they feel could promote political dissent and disturb social harmony within their borders. Thus, the draft code calls on signatories to refrain from "dissemination of information which incites terrorism, secessionism, extremism or undermines other countries' political, economic and social stability, as well as their spiritual and cultural environment". To this extent, Russia also appears to be
supporting greater control of governments on the Internet, a view which is strongly opposed by the US Currently, technological enablers of Internet are governed by international technical and not-for-profit organisations such as the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).

The code restricts states from using "ICTs including networks to carry out hostile activities or acts of aggression and pose threats to international peace and security". This reflects the Russian and Chinese insecurity about a state using its technological capabilities in the cyber space in a military scenario. It also restricts the proliferation of "information weapons and related technologies" suggesting that Russia and China do not want such technologies to be passed on to other countries by those who posses it.

While espionage is an accepted norm within the international community, cyber espionage has resulted in countries exploiting it to further their commercial interests. Numerous reports, particularly those coming from the US have alleged that China and Russia are both engaged in economic espionage using cyber space. The Office of the US National Counterintelligence Executive in its report to the US Congress alleged that China and Russia were illegally accessing sensitive information that belonged to the private sector, academic and research institutions for economic benefits. The report suggests that China and Russia "are the most aggressive collectors of US economic information and technology". Moscow and Beijing do not seem to prioritize economic espionage in their list of concerns in cyber space as it gets very little attention in the code.

Most of the concerns highlighted in the code were raised by Russia and China in the meetings of the Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) which was setup by the UN to examine "existing and potential threats from the cyber-sphere and possible cooperative measures to address them". Their views within the GGE faced strong opposition from the US-led camp and as a result the first GGE (2004) failed to achieve consensUS According to the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs, "Disagreement among the experts emerged primarily over two substantive policy issues. The first issue was the question of the impact of developments in information and communications technologies (ICTs) on national security and military affairs. While there was general agreement regarding the importance of such developments, consensus could not be found on the amount of emphasis to be placed on this concern, and whether or not to include language that stressed the new threats posed by State exploitation of ICTs for military and national security purposes. The second issue was the question of whether the discussion should address issues of information content or should focus only on information infrastructures. There was particular disagreement regarding the claim that trans-border information content should be controlled as a matter of national security. Other areas of disagreement arose on proposals for capacity-building and technology transfer to developing countries".

After the Obama administration took over in 2009, the US appeared to be more willing to engage with Russia and China to address issues in cyber space. As a result of the policy shift, the 2009 GGE was successful in agreeing on a report released in 2010 which recommended further dialogue "to reduce collective risk and protect critical national and international infrastructure."

The GGE's 2013 report is even more significant as, according to the US Department of State, "The Group agreed that confidence-building measures, such as high-level communication and timely information sharing, can enhance trust and assurance among states and help reduce the risk of conflict by increasing predictability and reducing misperception. The Group agreed on the vital importance of capacity-building to enhance global cooperation in securing cyberspace. The Group reaffirmed the importance of an open and accessible cyberspace, as it enables economic and social development. And, the Group agreed that the combination of all these efforts support a more secure cyberspace". Moreover, the members agreed that international law, particularly the UN charter, applies to cyber space.

While the initiatives taken at the UN including the draft code could be viewed as a step forward, the clear differences in what the two sides seek to address through such a mechanism will remain a stumbling block. The American approach and support to these efforts will be a critical factor in taking the process forward. The future of governance of cyber space will be determined by how much these nations are willing to compromise and accommodate at the negotiating table. Given the transnational nature of the problems confronting cyber space, these rules will impact other stakeholders such as India who should monitor these negotiations carefully.

(Rahul Prakash is a Junior Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, Delhi)

Courtesy : ORF Cyber Monitor

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