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The Future of Security
A Blow Against Cyberwar with China?

The United States and China are hard at work negotiating the early stages of a cyber warfare accord that could see both countries adopt a “no first strike” policy of attacking each others’ vital infrastructure, according to the New York Times:

While such an agreement could address attacks on power stations, banking systems, cellphone networks and hospitals, it would not, at least in its first version, protect against most of the attacks that China has been accused of conducting in the United States, including the widespread poaching of intellectual property and the theft of millions of government employees’ personal data.

The negotiations have been conducted with urgency in recent weeks, with a goal to announce an agreement when President Xi Jinping of China arrives in Washington for a state visit on Thursday. President Obama hinted at the negotiations on Wednesday, when he told the Business Roundtable that the rising number of cyberattacks would “probably be one of the biggest topics” of the summit meeting, and that his goal was to see “if we and the Chinese are able to coalesce around a process for negotiations” that would ultimately “bring a lot of other countries along.”

The putative deal may not be fully ready for an unveil during President Xi Jinping’s visit to Washington this week. It seeks to have both countries publicly embrace the cyber code of conduct developed by a working group at the United Nations and published last month, and it would be only aimed at preventing a first strike of a certain kind. Many security analysts fear cyber warfare could create serious electrical outages and take down cell towers, leading to significant economic damage, and that’s the danger this accord seeks to forestall. But so far, hackers have focused on American businesses’ intellectual property and government databases. If the Times‘ description is accurate, this deal would do little to stop those attacks.

Last week, we noted that President Obama has repeatedly talked tough about cybersecurity, threatening sanctions against Chinese businesses that he promised would “get their attention.” If he inks this accord, we hope President Obama remembers that a “no first strike” agreement is just the beginning of a complete cybersecurity strategy.

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  • Kevin

    Sounds more like unilateral disarmament like the Washington Naval Treaty. The problem with a treaty like this is that someone might actually believe it and fail to prepare for its inevitable violation.

    • Tom Chambers

      I’ll give you (with reservations) the unilateral disarmament thrust of your comment, but not the Washington Naval Treaty as an example of such.

      • f1b0nacc1

        Come now, the Washington Naval Treaty did lead to a lot of aircraft carriers being built. After all, we had to do SOMETHING with those junked battlecruiser hulls (grin)…

        • Tom Chambers

          That’s true, but my only point is that it was not an example of unilateral disarmament. The treaty changed our shipbuilding plans (maybe a good thing considering the survivability of battlecruisers), but it changed Japan’s plans just as much, and Britain was the one who had to scrap some dreadnought battleships already in service. So to the Brits I guess you are right! 🙂

          • f1b0nacc1

            Indeed we largely agree on this (I was trying to be clever…a bad practice for me at the best of times), though my point was that disarmament treaties are rarely what they seem to be. For instance the Japanese, as a rising power without much of a legacy fleet, were able to gain a significant strategic advantage from the treaty, especially since they had only one ocean to concern themselves with, while the Brits and the US (their strategic competitors) had two. Hence the Japanese were in fact emboldened to be more aggressive thanks to this disarmament treaty than they would have been without it.
            Interesting bit of trivia, the real impact of the treaty in Europe was in the Med, where France and Italy were pushed into a ‘light ships’ (mostly DDs and smaller) arms race, which the treaty didn’t cover…

    • f1b0nacc1

      Interesting comparison…..and quite apt.

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    Obama is the worst President in American History, everything he does is to the detriment of America and modern civilization.

  • Greg Olsen

    If the agreement is using the UN recommendations as a model, we will be sorely disappointed. There will be no curtailment of espionage, only an agreement not to attack critical infrastructure that harms civilians, which is fully in accordance with Article 56 of the additional Protocol I of the Geneva Conventions. Theft of data will continue. All the agreement would do is limit the scope of retaliation in cyberspace to military targets.

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