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March 05, 2012

Read: Cybersecurity and U.S.-China Relations
Posted by Jacob Stokes

China Cyber SecurityThere’s no doubt that this week, like almost all of the last year-plus, will see breaking news events that keep us refreshing our Twitter feed and peeking at CNN. That said, it’s worth taking some time to read up on something a little more forward-looking: Kenneth Lieberthal and Peter Singer’s report “Cybersecurity and U.S.-China Relations.”

The report does a great job breaking down the issues America faces on cybersecurity and then explains how those issues play into Sino-American relations. This is the best kind of think tank report in that it’s put together by people with deep knowledge and written in clear, readable prose.

The report works great as a primer on cybersecurity issues generally, and it also provides a roadmap for addressing concerns bilaterally with China so as to tamp down the distrust that cyber issues are injecting into the relationship. And it does so without downplaying the difficulty of such a task. It starts with basic facts, including that the two parties lack common understanding of the issue’s terms and that many older policymakers simply don't get computers and, by extension, cyber issues. And it goes on from there.

Here are just a few of the insightful bits: 

On why cyber will challenge the Sino-American relationship. “[T]he cyber realm has a number of particular characteristics that significantly challenge current U.S.-China relations and the prospects for reaching a consensus on either norms or cooperative implementing mechanisms.”

One reason why the danger is so acute. “Historically, an imbalance in favor of the offense increases the incentives to act maliciously and quickly, while it also lowers each side’s confidence in its ability to deter attack and defend itself effectively.”

On how to start building a cybersecurity agenda. “Any such agenda must be realistic, respecting that each government will protect its ability to use cyber capabilities to carry out espionage activities and to support military actions should they become necessary. It must accept that the two political systems have significantly different views concerning freedom of information in cyber space. It must take into account that each government’s decision making concerning cyber activities is fragmented among many bureaucracies and is not well coordinated at any single node in the system. Finally, it must respect the reality that a variety of nongovernmental actors are significant players in each country’s use of and deliberations about the cyber realm.”

And a “wow” moment. “It is telling that even the vaunted U.S. National Security Agency, arguably the most sophisticated entity in the world at cyber issues, operates on the assumption that its networks are compromised.”

Read the whole thing here.

Photo: Brookings

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