Review the development trend of cyberspace governance from a strategic perspective



At the end of the year and the beginning of the year, it is the annual situation summary and outlook season. In recent years, almost without exception, when it comes to the analysis of cyberspace situation, the same narrative logic is followed, that is, threats are constantly rising, the situation is becoming more and more severe, major powers are competing and coexisting, and cyberspace governance has entered a deep-water area. The way to respond, and the future hovers at a “crossroads”.

Just looking at the facts, it is true, but are there deeper driving factors behind these appearances, and what are the changing trends? This paper attempts to jump out of the descriptive narrative logic, and analyzes the root causes of changes and changes in the international governance of cyberspace from the strategic perspectives of cyberspace cognition, power structure, order construction, and institutional gaps.


Has the international community’s perception of cyberspace fundamentally changed?

As we all know, the Internet is a technology that aims to promote global interconnection. The so-called cyberspace that has gradually formed based on this has been marked with a clear technological imprint from the very beginning, that is, it is naturally based on trust, freedom and openness. In addition to the technical architecture decision, the subsequent deepening of the commercialization and socialization process more fully proves that its operation mode is naturally international.

Because of this, cyberspace governance has long been regarded as a new domain of global governance, which must be promoted by multi-stakeholders, and effective governance can only be achieved by relying on cooperation. In cyberspace, the security and development of any party, whether it is a country or an individual, are built on the basis of common security and development. This kind of cognition has occupied the mainstream cognition of international governance of cyberspace for a long period of time.

But is that still the case? Frankly speaking, since the beginning of the Snowden incident in 2013, profound changes at the cognitive level have begun to emerge. The sober awareness of the gaps in cyber power among countries has led to a strong sense of insecurity. Countries have begun to constantly seek to prioritize their own security. While vigorously improving their cyber capabilities, they are constantly testing the bottom line of other countries’ strengths in various ways. In fact, the process of pursuing safety constantly brings new security threats and hidden dangers.

Accordingly, some experts say that cyberspace as a whole is in a security dilemma. Since 2019, the situation seems to be even more pessimistic. The technological and geopolitical colors in the game of big powers in cyberspace have continued to increase. The conflicts between the network and reality are superimposed on each other, and the resonance is intensified. Especially in the context of the adjustment of global cyber policy by the United States and the trade war between China and the United States, the two major powers with the most demonstrative effect in cyberspace have obvious differences on many important cyber governance issues, and cooperation is difficult to achieve. Especially in the field of technology, the trend of politicization is obvious.

The 5G war in 2019 is a clear example. During this period, the United States has repeatedly used national security as an excuse to use the “entity list” of export control and lobbying related countries to comprehensively contain the development space of Chinese enterprises in this field, trying to Chinese companies represented by Huawei are suppressing the bottom of the global industrial chain or even squeezing it out of the global industrial chain.

“Technological competition in cyberspace has led to the gradual enlargement of the gray area in the international political game.” The current high-frequency words describing cyberspace are no longer interconnection and cooperation, but the so-called “fragmentation” and games. Faced with such a situation, the voices of the international community calling for “rebuilding” trust in cyberspace have grown louder. 2

In 019, the Internet Society launched a series of activities under the theme of “Connecting the World, Improving Technical Security, Building Trust, and Shaping the Future of the Internet”. The United Nations “High-level Panel on Digital Cooperation” also launched the “Digital Age of Interdependence” report, reaffirming that “digitalization makes human interdependence more and more”, and called for the formulation of “Global Cyber ​​Trust and Security Commitment” to jointly maintain cyberspace stability and defend globalization.

In fact, from another perspective, the introduction of these calls and measures just reflects the general concern of the international community for the trust and stability of cyberspace. Do not ignore the profound impact of cognitive changes at any time, because cognition often represents the basic judgment of the situation, and the basic judgment will directly affect the policy orientation.

The change in cyberspace cognition means that for a long period of time in the future, the consensus foundation of the international governance process will be weakened, and concrete progress will face quite realistic difficulties, and even a historical “resurrection” cannot be ruled out.


Is there a major adjustment in the pattern of cyberspace power?

The so-called power distribution or power pattern in cyberspace refers to the situation in which different “actors” who play a role in the entire international governance system of cyberspace hold resources, and the relationship between them, which is ultimately reflected in the influence that determines the future development direction. force. Cyberspace is a highly comprehensive and complex space, and the actors involved are also very diverse. Therefore, it is quite difficult to judge the power pattern of cyberspace. In general, an analysis of three pairs of force relationships is included:

One is the relationship within various actors, such as the relationship between state actors, especially the relationship between major cyber powers, which is reflected in the division of major cyber powers into cyber powers, major powers, and emerging countries according to their strength and influence; An assessment of the relationship between non-state actors, their respective areas of play and their competitive relationship with each other;

The second is the relationship between various actors, especially the relationship between state actors and non-state actors, that is, which type of actors play a leading or key role in specific governance areas;

The third is the composition of “allies” or “partners” in cyberspace, and the forces with similar ideas and policy propositions are classified and evaluated. For example, in the early days of cyberspace, the so-called “multi-stakeholder model” and the “government-led model” camps were divided. The two most important pairs of relationships are the power pair between major cyber powers and the power pattern between states and non-state subjects.

Starting from the logic that cyberspace is a natural extension and mapping of real space, the current pattern of cyberspace power has undergone major changes. For the real space, the international community generally believes that the “power transfer” within the international system has already occurred.

As Joseph Nye said: “There are two major power transfers in world politics, one is the transfer of power between countries, that is, the transfer of power from Western countries to Eastern countries, and the rapid rise of Asian economies represented by China and India; The second is the transfer of power, which is manifested in the diffusion of power from the state to non-state actors, which is mainly due to the rapid changes in information technology represented by the rise of the Internet.”

The current information revolution puts a range of transnational issues such as financial stability, climate change, terrorism, pandemics, and cybersecurity on the global agenda, while at the same time it is bound to weaken the responsiveness of all governments. Transnational domains beyond national borders and beyond government control include actors of all kinds… World politics is no longer the exclusive domain of national governments… Informal networked organizations will weaken the monopoly of traditional bureaucracies.

“In recent years, the changes in the power pattern of cyberspace have also strongly confirmed this. From the perspective of power comparison among countries, China, India and other emerging and developing countries have risen, and their awareness and actions to participate in the international governance of cyberspace have been continuously strengthened. Influence and discourse power are also increasing; more importantly, there is a major change in the power pattern between state and non-state actors.

In the traditional international governance of cyberspace, although multi-stakeholders participate together, the state mainly focuses on the field of public policy formulation, and non-state actors mainly focus on the field of technical standards and industrial development. With the deepening of the high correlation between online issues, the boundaries of traditional governance are further blurred, and the demands of both state actors and non-state actors for full participation in the governance process have become more prominent. Specializing in the field of “performing their own duties”.

For example, the high correlation between technology and geopolitics has made the country pay attention to the development of technology itself from a strategic height. In 2019, behind the development of AI, IPv6 and 5G, there are shadows of the game of great powers; another example is the competition between state entities. The activities of subjects in cyberspace have a direct impact. Enterprises in all countries are faced with issues such as supply chain security, data protection, intellectual property rights and market access, which are highly related to state relations and policies. More and more private sectors are aware of more The importance of broad participation in rule-shaping for their global operating environment has led to an increasing number of large corporations “involving” in the formulation of rules of conduct in cyberspace.

State and non-state actors are “competing on the same stage” on many major online issues, and the pattern of intertwined forces is more complicated. Although relevant countries are currently rejecting this, it cannot ignore the fact that with the vigorous development of social networks and digital platforms, the power of IT giants cannot be underestimated, whether it is the previous “Cambridge Analytica” incident or the uproar in 2019. The launch of “Libra” by Facebook shows that the operation model, influencers, lobbying power, resource channels and social mobilization ability possessed by the giants can influence, dominate and even kidnap the trend of relevant policies to a certain extent.

It is foreseeable that the future trend of cyberspace governance will face more complex interest entanglements and games.


Are the prospects for the construction of cyberspace order optimistic?

In short, the construction of cyberspace order is mainly about “establishing regulations and institutions”, but as mentioned above, due to the fundamental change in cyberspace cognition, the focus of various countries’ concerns on cybersecurity has shifted from common security to their own security, especially in the United States. The shrinking trend in global public affairs, the unwillingness to assume more responsibility for providing public goods, and the firm stance of turning to the United States first, these factors directly make it difficult for the international coordination mechanism to play its due role and have a landing effect. Most of the governance plans and practices of China are based on regional or bilateral agreements, showing the so-called fragmentation tendency.

Although from an objective point of view, these mechanisms are also important channels and beneficial supplements to the overall process of international cyberspace governance, but in the long run, if the degree of healthy development.

In the formulation of international rules in cyberspace, whether it is the norms of national behavior or the rules of the digital economy, there is a big difference between the Western countries led by the United States, and the “emerging” and developing countries represented by China and Russia. The situation is that each of them is looking for “allies” or “partners”. In recent years, the United States, Europe, and Japan have interacted frequently. They have strengthened their role in cybersecurity and data economy by coordinating their positions on rules, establishing economic partnerships, and reaching data agreements. Cooperation in other fields, trying to “group battles” in the field of rule-making, and working together to increase the bargaining chip to influence the rules.

This trend is particularly evident in 2019. On September 23, 27 countries including the United States and the Netherlands held a ministerial-level meeting on “Promoting Responsible State Behavior in Cyberspace” in New York, and issued a joint statement calling on all parties to abide by the norms of state behavior in cyberspace and increase responsibility for “responsible state behavior in cyberspace”. Accountability for Responsible Cyberspace Conduct”.

Before and after the meeting, the United States and other Western countries also coordinated their positions and actions to clarify their policy positions in the formulation of cyberspace rules by publishing documents, issuing statements, holding international conferences, and public speeches by officials, in order to create international public opinion. influence related processes.

At the same time, China, Russia and other countries also rely on the United Nations framework, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, ASEAN and other mechanisms to exert influence. 2019 is the launch year of the sixth UN GGE. Under the advocacy of China and Russia, an “Open Working Group” (OEWG) mechanism has been added under the UN framework. In this context, the United States, the West and other countries have intensively launched relevant policy propositions, with the intention of preventing and counteracting relevant countries to use the new mechanism to strive for the right to formulate rules.

In view of this, the new mechanism was surging as soon as it was launched. Compared with China, Russia and other countries wanting the two mechanisms to complement each other, the US Deputy Secretary of State Sullivan claimed that the OEWG may actually hinder the progress made by GGE for many years. , bringing new challenges to established norms. Under such circumstances, the difficulty of breaking through the bottleneck in the construction of cyberspace order has not been alleviated by the new mechanism, and the new mechanism does not seem to necessarily bring new hope.


Can the institutional gap in cyberspace governance be effectively bridged?

The “institutional gap” has always been a major challenge restricting the current process of cyberspace governance. Specifically, it is mainly reflected in two aspects:

First, the existing system is difficult to accommodate or effectively solve the current governance problems. The complexity and rapid development of modern society make the defects of system lag especially prominent, especially in the field of Internet, technology and application can be described as changing with each passing day, and various security hidden dangers and supervision difficulties are emerging one after another. Effectively address these new governance needs.

Second, the existing pattern of international interests is difficult to change for a while, and the improvement and innovation of relevant systems are hindered to varying degrees. The cyberspace situation is developing rapidly, and the demands of various stakeholders are becoming stronger and stronger, and the interest pattern under the existing system is required to protect its own interests to the greatest extent. In many cases, it is unwilling to make corresponding adjustments and changes. In fact, It affects the effectiveness of the construction of the governance mechanism. This is why, in recent years, the improvement and construction of the governance mechanism has become an important issue in the reform of the cyberspace governance mechanism.

The rapid development and updating of network technologies and applications has created new governance issues and mechanism requirements, which not only require the existing mechanism to ensure sufficient flexibility in adaptation, but also ensure sufficient efficiency in response speed. For example, in 2019 In 2018, in the fields of preventing cyber attacks on important infrastructure, Internet of Things security, artificial intelligence security, supply chain security, and big data governance, all parties in the international community have accelerated the construction of mechanisms. There is still a considerable distance between the follow-up of the mechanism and the norm;

Secondly, the vested interests in the cyberspace governance mechanism, out of the need to protect their own interests to the greatest extent, often have insufficient motivation to make corresponding adjustments and changes, while other forces willing to promote change lack the ability to set agendas and lead changes. mechanism.

Regarding the former gap, since it involves specific issues in specific fields, from a practical perspective, it is not difficult to advance theoretically. However, the problem is that due to the intensification of the game between major powers in cyberspace, the overall lack of an atmosphere of trust and cooperation, in fact, will lead to Cooperation in specific areas has a negative impact.

The author has conducted research in relevant European countries, and many private sector and front-line practitioners involved in these issues have said: “The relationship between countries, especially the politicization situation is the main obstacle to the promotion of cyber security cooperation at present”; for the latter gap, That involves a deeper game, and the difficulty is more predictable.

Of course, bridging the institutional gap itself is a long-term task. Effective bridging requires not only focusing on the overall situation in the future, but also having advanced strategic thinking; The international governance of cyberspace puts forward higher requirements.

Finally, it needs to be pointed out that when we look at the international governance of cyberspace from a strategic perspective from a “top-down” perspective, the situation is indeed not optimistic, and it can even be said that the tone is a bit pessimistic, but the most interesting thing about cyberspace governance is that, on the one hand, it It is true that it is more and more constrained by the operation logic of the real space, and dilemmas and uncertainties can be seen everywhere; but on the other hand, its unique vitality has always flowed in deep waters, and contains great hope, that is, “technological change” and “the most best practice”.

After all, cyberspace is based on unique Internet technology, and the transformative impact of technology often exceeds human expectations and even brings surprises. For example, in the IPv4 era, Internet address resources are limited, so the allocation of key basic resources has become the focus of governance, but in the IPv6 era, resources are unlimited, and the focus issues can be easily solved; and the historical development of cyberspace governance shows that many times , the acquisition of solutions is not “planned and then acted”, but suddenly enlightened in practice.

Looking at the cyberspace governance situation in 2019, it is the best portrayal of this kind of giving up fantasy and facing reality and continuing to work hard because of hope.

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