After more than 5 years of research and review of literature, these are my conclusions regarding the way forward for cyber arms control.
Conclusion: The Search for Cyber Peace
There is still a very long way to go before we see an international convention to stop the cyber arms race. Humanity is in a race against time. It must either control the proliferation of cyber weapons, or face the prospect of a global cyber emergency that will kill millions of persons and could possibly occur accidentally.
What will motivate the Herculean efforts required to bridle the momentum of this headstrong mania to develop destructive cyber exploits? Will humanity need to await a global cyber holocaust that damages societies and their economies, possibly leading to significant loss of life, or might it muster the willpower necessary to take proactive and preventative measures that will allow us all to dodge the bullet?
The historical record is not auspicious. If the past is a reliable guide to the future, then much damage from cyber will need to occur before there is enough of a consensus built up to demand change. In the past, only after suffering a major war, and coping with the psychological and economic trauma of millions of lives lost and families destroyed did arms control and disarmament become popular. And even then there always is the realistic threat that one of the cyber superpowers will thwart any efforts to arms control. This outcome certainly is possible. For the time being, the international community has given up on cyber arms control. It is opposed by the United States, and probably by China.
What is the crux of the problem? It is this — Nations will not make agreements to limit development and deployment of cyber weapons until they perceive it is in their interest to do so. It is the task of diplomats and strategists to think through the scenarios that will provide mutual advantage, the task of scientists to design how to make cyber arms control work, and the task of the cybersecurity industry to build the enabling technologies specified by the scientists.
After reviewing herein a small portion of the literature on the subject of arms control, my advice is as follows:
Focus only on strategic cyber weapons developed by nation states;
Leave all other cybersecurity matters to the domain of criminal law and international cooperation for investigation, evidence gathering, and prosecution;
Create a club of states that have cyberweapons, then adopt non- proliferation measures to prevent other states from acquiring these dangerous technologies;
For states that agree to forego development of cyberweapons, provide reliable cyber security guarantees including defense in case they are attacked;
Build an international secretariat to monitor cyber events world wide as well as provide inspections and training (capacity building) in cybersecurity;
License access to information technology for important systems and regulate the market in cyber exploits, cybersecurity technologies and services;
Develop a cyber peacekeeping strategy for the United Nations Security Council;
Develop a separate international arbitration and mitigation mechanism for cyber disputes and conflicts, e.g., an “International Cyber Court”.
What these notes herein have shown is that there is a way forward. The many technical problems can be solved, and the world can be made safer and more peaceful. It all depends on leadership at the top.
The story of cyber arms control is as old as the story of humanity itself. When societies are full of hatred, there will be war. When societies value peace, then there will be peace. Cyberpeace will be achieved when societies wish to achieve it.
Public opinion will play an important role in influencing events. Our leaders are like the straggler in Plato’s Georgias. “I have to catch up with them; I’m their leader.” So everyone can do their part, even the powerless academic and pensive citizen.
Edward M. Roche
New York City
The year of coronavirus.