The expanding global communication infrastructure brings with it the possibility of a worldwide conversation across all dimensions and at all levels of human life. In most of the cases of human interaction, customs, protocols and ‘rules of the road’ emerge with usage. Where government interactions are concerned, however, there is a tendency to revert to established ideas and methods with which to stabilise and then manage competitive strategic relations – often those drawn from the Cold War.
Yet, while cyberspace should indeed be managed as an arena of human interaction and contestation, more thought is needed as to how this can be achieved in an efficient and durable manner. The relaxation of cyber tensions between China and the West, for example, will not come as a result of a technological fix of some sort, and nor will it lie in a Cold War-style strategic stand-off.
The current strategic narrative is dominated by mistrust, by claims of espionage, crime and terrorism, by rumours of worse to come and by disagreement over the basic terms of debate. Cyberspace appears to be a lawless frontier in which each actor operates according to the rules he prefers. Consequently, the governance of cyberspace is in a state of arrested development.
A strategic ecology for cyberspace is needed: a sense of cyberspace as a rule-bound political environment in which the scope and limitations of interaction can be discussed, in which trade-offs and compromise are made possible, and in which mutual interest can be pursued. Above all, this ecology should correspond more closely to the digital environment of the 21st century than to the missile environment of the 20th.
Paul Cornish is Professor of Strategic Studies at the University of Exeter, having previously been Carrington Professor of International Security at Chatham House. He has taught at the UK Defence Academy and at the University of Cambridge, and has served in the British Army and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. His work covers national strategy, cyber security, the ethics of armed conflict and civil-military relations. He is a member of the UK Chief of Defence Staff’s Strategic Advisory Panel, a Fellow of Oxford University’s Global Cyber Security Capacity-Building Centre, and a Senior Associate Fellow of the Royal United Services Institute.
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