The Rocky Road to Cyber Norms at the United Nations

By Louise Marie Hurel

Published in the Council on Foreign Relations

Between July 25 and 29, UN member states gathered in New York for the third substantive session of the Open-Ended Working Group on the security in and of information and communications technologies (OEWG). The mandate of the OEWG is to develop norms, rules and principles for responsible state behavior in cyberspace, consider how international law applies in cyberspace, establish regular institutional dialogue under the auspices of the United Nations, study emerging cyber threats and cooperative measures, and to understand the role of confidence building measures and cyber capacity building within this context.

The biggest challenge facing the new OEWG is how to see progress amidst deepening cleavages between Western countries and Russia and China. The first year of the OEWG exposes how these geopolitical disputes have led members to block stakeholders from participating in meetings and avoid detailed discussions. If these and other issues continue, they may compromise the work of the current OEWG and undermine its capacity to advance efforts to implement cyber norms.

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