Can cyberwar treaties avert an arms race?

Should the nations of the world work toward a treaty banning or at least limiting cyberwars? If we don’t, might we fall into an arms race that could be bad for everyone? Would A war in cyberspace be less dangerous for people than traditional wars? Or maybe worse?

John Markoff and Andrew Kramer have an interesting article, U.S. and Russia Differ on a Treaty for Cyberspace in Sunday’s New York Times.

“The United States and Russia are locked in a fundamental dispute over how to counter the growing threat of cyberwar attacks that could wreak havoc on computer systems and the Internet. Both nations agree that cyberspace is an emerging battleground. … But there the agreement ends. Russia favors an international treaty along the lines of those negotiated for chemical weapons and has pushed for that approach at a series of meetings this year and in public statements by a high-ranking official.
    The United States argues that a treaty is unnecessary. It instead advocates improved cooperation among international law enforcement groups. If these groups cooperate to make cyberspace more secure against criminal intrusions, their work will also make cyberspace more secure against military campaigns, American officials say. “We really believe it’s defense, defense, defense,” said the State Department official, who asked not to be identified because authorization had not been given to speak on the record. “They want to constrain offense. We needed to be able to criminalize these horrible 50,000 attacks we were getting a day.”

Russia has some specific proposals that it would like to have considered. But there are complications that arise due to cybercrime and Internet censorship.

“In a speech on March 18, Vladislav P. Sherstyuk, a deputy secretary of the Russian Security Council, a powerful body advising the president on national security, laid out what he described as Russia’s bedrock positions on disarmament in cyberspace. Russia’s proposed treaty would ban a country from secretly embedding malicious codes or circuitry that could be later activated from afar in the event of war. Other Russian proposals include the application of humanitarian laws banning attacks on noncombatants and a ban on deception in operations in cyberspace — an attempt to deal with the challenge of anonymous attacks.

But American officials are particularly resistant to agreements that would allow governments to censor the Internet, saying they would provide cover for totalitarian regimes. These officials also worry that a treaty would be ineffective because it can be almost impossible to determine if an Internet attack originated from a government, a hacker loyal to that government, or a rogue acting independently.”

The article makes the interesting revelation that this is not the first time that cyberspace arms control have been discussed between the US and Russia.

“In 1996, at the dawn of commercial cyberspace, American and Russian military delegations met secretly in Moscow to discuss the subject. The American delegation was led by an academic military strategist, and the Russian delegation by a four-star admiral. No agreement emerged from the meeting, which has not previously been reported. Later, the Russian government repeatedly introduced resolutions calling for cyberspace disarmament treaties before the United Nations. The United States consistently opposed the idea.

John Arquilla, an expert in military strategy at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif., who led the American delegation at the 1996 talks, said he had received almost no interest from within the American military after those initial meetings. “It was a great opportunity lost,” he said.

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