Critics have derided the White House’s decision this past May to scrap its Cyber Coordinator post—created by the Obama administration to consolidate policy courses of action on cybersecurity issues—as short-sighted and tone-deaf, particularly at the height of concern over Russia’s nefarious activity toward U.S. political processes. However, the move creates an opportunity to examine whether the overall U.S. approach to cybersecurity has been overly narrow relative to the Russian threat—which itself has demonstrated the need for Washington to forge partnerships with industry and to expand beyond the network-centric aspects of information warfare.
Since the onset of Internet ubiquity in the early 1990s, Moscow has sought agreement with the U.S. to avoid a digital arms race, finding little receptivity on the U.S. side. However, in the early stages of the Obama and Medvedev administrations, the “reset” atmosphere found envoys locked in extensive bilateral consultations on cybersecurity. Despite some initial optimism, by 2012 the primary fruit of these consultations was a better grasp of the intractable differences in how Russia and the U.S. defined the cyber problem and its corollaries. On one hand, the U.S. has held the free flow of information to be sacrosanct—an extension of human rights, critical to innovation—while emphasizing the security of digital networks against intrusion. On the other side, Russia has claimed nations’ sovereign “information space” inviolate, seeking to legitimize their exertion of broad control over how the Internet and media can be used within their own borders—to include blocking “undesirable” content. Despite the ongoing debate in the UN and other multilateral fora, bilateral talks on the issue have languished since Putin’s 2012 return to the presidency, as overall relations with the U.S. deteriorated.
Judging by 2018 standards, this philosophical deadlock appears both prescient and ironic. In the intervening years, Russia would go on to become the world’s foremost transgressor of sovereignty in the information space, flooding the marketplace of ideas with distortion, falsehood, and propaganda. As a result, the laissez faire approach to Internet governance once advocated by the U.S. appeared significantly less advisable; the Council on Foreign Relations last October went so far as to advocate for abandoning it as a strategy. Meanwhile, prospects for increased Internet regulation in both countries have been tempered by Russian authorities’ embarrassing inability to sustain it, and U.S. lawmakers’ woeful inability to conceptualize it. This state of play likely equates to an inability on either side to conclude, much less ensure compliance to, any meaningful pact on rules and norms in the cyber realm.
Full Article: U.S. Cyber Policy, Beyond Ones and Zeros.