Cyber and mediation

Cyber and mediation

Text by Dr. Janne Taalas

The cyber space is increasingly relevant to conflict resolution and mediation work. From the perspective of mediation, conflicts in the cyber space are not standalone phenomena, but rather an extension of the “real life” conflicts driven by geopolitics, socioeconomic factors and political grievances. The cyber space is used to mobilize support and resources as well as attack opponents in more and more conflicts.

The rise of the cyber dimension of the conflicts gives a new spin to mediation, but does not mean a complete forgoing of traditional methods.

The digital world is increasingly important in understanding the dynamics of the conflicts as well as designing process aimed towards conflict resolution. However, resolving cyber issues alone is not sufficient, and any sustainable peace would need to comprehensively address the underlying causes of the conflict. Digital issues need to be dealt with as a part of mediation efforts, not a standalone element.

The mediation field has been more active in embracing social media in their work. (See e.g. “UN Digital technologies and mediation in Armed Conflict”) there are increasing efforts to use social media data in analysing conflict dynamics and even attempts to add clauses restricting the use of social media in peace treaties. There has been less attention on malicious cyber actions, like spying, hacking, sabotage and terrorism from mediators.

I am proposing a three-pronged strategy to better address the malicious cyber actions as a part of mediation. First, there is a need to see their significance and recognize digital risks. The best place to start is the Cyber Hygiene and Digital Risk Management E-learning Platform for Mediators (https://mediation-digitalrisk.org/login) put together by the UN, CyberPeace Institute and CMI.

The second element of the strategy is to bolster the norms and rules of the cyber space that have been evolving over the last ten years.  The UN processes have established norms of responsible state behaviour in cyber space. At the same time there has been several processes (e.g. Paris Call) that have aimed to clarify rules for non-state actors, namely companies. Any mediation work should aim to strengthen these efforts to create more regulated and predictable behaviour and well as lend support to the nascent confidence building measures in the cyber space.

Thirdly, mediation should recognize the importance of transparency in dealing with cyber issues.

Enhanced ability of attribution in the cyber space is increasingly a key enabler of mediation work. The threat of transparency constrains the capabilities of the malicious actors and contributes towards their deterrence.

Transparency concerns also regarding unintended consequences of cyber operations have arisen. Previous cyber operations, like NotPetya and WannaCry, have had significant knock on effects and wreaked havoc among the general population. Mediators should be vocal on the potential (catastrophic) damage instigated by parties of conflict resorting to malicious cyber operations.

These three elements of the strategy are not new for mediators who are used to dealing with highly conflictual situations and parties that are willing to use any methods possible to pursue their goals. Maybe the most novel part for them is the deepening cooperation with private companies.

The cyber space differs from other domains where the conflict evolves through its relation to the actions of private actors; it is truly a multistakeholder operation.

Therefore, mediators need to enhance their co-operation with companies active in cyber space.

Video Interview

Dr. Janne Taalas, Chief Executive Officer at CMI- Martti Ahtisaari Peace Foundation

Janne has worked in cyber diplomacy since 2019 and has served at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland some twenty five years. During his career he has acted as the Special Envoy to the 2020 Afghanistan Conference, Ambassador of Finland to Italy, Malta and San Marino (2015 to 2019), Deputy Permanent representative in the Finnish Mission to the United Nations in New York (2010-2015) and Director of Policy Planning in Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs (2008-2010). Ambassador Taalas holds a Doctor of Philosophy in Politics from the University of Oxford (St Antony’s College) and degrees in Politics and Economics from University of Jyväskylä.

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