A balance of power in cyberspace

June 15th 2018 - 11:25

Cyberspace is managed by stakeholders from civil society, the private sector, and, to a lesser degree, by governments. The latter, however, is increasingly asserting its role in cyberspace, leading to a redistribution of power in which States are not only competing with other stakeholders, but also amongst each other. All cyberspace users thus face a power struggle between States that stands to affect the private sector and civil society, the multi-stakeholder approach to managing Internet resources, and therefore cyberspace writ large.

This article appropriates a realist model in international relations– the balance of power theory (BOP) – and adjusts it with neoliberal concepts of power to help better understand the challenge of stability between States in and on cyberspace. It specifically enables the “cybered” international relations of governments to be analysed against the backdrop of the complex ecosystem of stakeholders. This does not presuppose that States are or should be the most important or influential actors in cyberspace. Instead, this article focuses on State interests. It identifies two conditions of the BOP theory and applies them to cyberspace in three different scenarios previously suggested by States, and offers one suggestion on the way forward.

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This article was published in the European Cybersecurity Journal Volume 3 (2018) Issue 4.

Dr. Alexander Klimburg is Director of the Global Commission on the Stability of Cyberspace Initiative and Secretariat and Director of the Cyber Policy and Resilience Program at The Hague Centre for Strategic Studies. Dr. Klimburg is an Affiliate at het Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, a nonresident senior fellow with the Atlantic Council, and an associate fellow at the Austrian Institute of European and Security Policy. He is a former associate and former research fellow of the Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center.
Louk Faesen is Strategic Analyst at the Cyber Policy and Resilience Program of the Hague Centre for Strategic Studies. He mainly focuses on international peace and security in cyberspace, norms of responsible state and non-state behavior, and confidence-building measures (CBMs) in cyberspace. Louk functions as the Project Manager of the Global Commission on the Stability of Cyberspace (GCSC), a multi-stakeholder initiative launched at the 2017 Munich Security Conference by the Foreign minister of the Netherlands that brings together leading experts from all major cyber powers and regions to help develop norm and policy initiatives related to international peace and security in cyberspace.