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Advancing Cyber Stability - Developments and Challenges

Advancing Cyber Stability - Developments and Challenges

December 12, 2022
Advancing Cyber Stability - hosted w. the Permanent Representation of Estonia to the United Nations

On December 12 the event “Advancing Cyber Stability: Developments and Challenges” took place at the Palais des Nations of the United Nations Office in Geneva. It was hosted by the Permanent Representation of Estonia to the UN and the Digital Society Institute (DSI) of the ESMT Berlin. The event aimed to address questions on how to accelerate the implementation of norms and raise awareness on the principles of international law central to state behavior in cyberspace, but also discussed the importance of cyber diplomacy more broadly.

After an opening address by H.E. Jürg Lauber, the Permanent Representative of Switzerland to the United Nations in Geneva, H.E. Prof. Muhammadou M.O. Kah, Permanent Representative of the Gambia to the United Nations in Geneva and H.E. Dr. Regine Grienberger, Ambassador for Cyber Foreign Policy German Federal Foreign Office provided  high-level interventions. Their remarks were followed by Heli Tiirmaa-Klaar, Director of the DSI, who moderated a  panel discussion focused on the implementation of norms of responsible state behavior and international law in cyberspace. This panel included H.E. Dr. Regine Grienberger, Ambassador for Cyber Foreign Policy of the German Federal Foreign Office; Mr. Léonard Rolland, Head of Cyber Unit of the French Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs; Dr. Kubo Mačák, International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC); Dr. Tereza Horejsova, Global Forum on Cyber Expertise (GFCE) and Mr. Stéphane Duguin, CyberPeace Institute. The event ended with closing remarks of H.E. Mrs. Katrin Saarsalu-Layachi, the Permanent Representative of Estonia to the United Nations in Geneva.

As was discussed during the event, the digital sphere drives economic growth and social progress globally, but it is also perceived as a battleground for strategic competition. Meanwhile, cyber security is no longer an emerging or theoretical threat to international peace and security as cyber-attacks are conducted in coordination with  kinetic warfare. Especially in the context of the Russian war of aggression in Ukraine, the use of cyber space as the fifth dimension of warfare is very visible. The role of cyber security and the debates on the military use of cyber space are becoming ever more relevant at the United Nations.

During the last decade, the United Nations member states have established a series of discussions on how to achieve greater stability and security in the cyber domain. In the United Nations First Committee, two distinct processes in the field of information and telecommunications in the context of international security have taken place: The Open-ended Working Group (OEWG) and the Group of Governmental Experts (GGE). Despite progress made within these two groups, there are many challenges remaining in implementing the consensus agreements on cyber norms, international law, confidence and capacity building measures. This leads to a lack of clarity regarding the key requirements for strengthening cyber resilience and addressing the gaps in cyber capacity building. Cyber capacity building is of crucial importance to achieve cyber stability, as it is a necessary precondition to the observation of norms and international law in cyberspace. In order to improve cyber resilience, there is a need for closer cooperation between all relevant stakeholders – including governments, the private sector, civil society and academia – while also keeping in mind the specific needs of developing countries.

Furthermore, it was highlighted that the normative framework guiding state behaviour in cyberspace should be implemented more efficiently.   Not all states adhere to the agreed-upon cyber norms, exemplified by various state-sponsored attacks and cyber incidents around the world. Hence, it is imperative that the UN takes further steps to implement the framework for responsible state behavior. An essential role in the implementation is reserved for cyber diplomats, who will have to introduce, organize and ensure adherence to these agreed-upon norms and existing international law.