To Forecast Global Cyber Alliances, Just Follow the Money (Part 2): Cooperation in the Cyber Domain - A Little-Noticed Global Trend That is Mirroring Economic Regionalism

This latest development in the realm of cyber cooperation is by no means unique. In fact, the US has signed its own cyber security agreement with Russia (although it is not as comprehensive as the potential Sino-Russian one) – as well as with India, with the EU, one with Australia as part of a defense treaty, and a cyber security action plan with Canada. Similarly, the EU has formal cyber agreements with Japan, and the UK with Israel, while Japan and Israel also have formed their own bilateral cyber security agreement. India has cyber security agreements with countries as diverse asKazakhstan and Brazil. RTAs are also being augmented with the inclusion of cyber. The African Union, the Shanghai Cooperation Agreement, and the EU’s Budapest Convention are all examples of this. This pattern parallels one found in the economic arena, with cooperative agreements often following closely to geopolitical affinities.

To better understand the impact of future cooperative cyber security agreements, policymakers should revisit the economic models and RTAs of the last quarter century – looking especially at the divergent perspectives that RTAs would either be building blocs or stumbling blocs of a global international order. The building bloc camp believes the RTAs are merely a stepping-stone toward global integration. The stumbling bloc camp believes that RTAs are a new form of neo-mercantilism, which would lead to protectionist walls built around member-states. These camps have theoretical equivalents in today’s cyber domain. The stumbling bloc argument has profound parallels to discussions around the Balkanization of the Internet (i.e. the Splinternet), while the building bloc camp is representative of those suggesting a global diffusion of the Internet. In fact, these two perspectives greatly mirror the divergent ways in which China and Russia approach the Internet (i.e. cyber-nationalism) as opposed to the US approach (i.e. global integration).

While cyberspace will continue to be portrayed as a combative domain as long as attacks persist, policymakers cannot ignore the cooperative aspects of cyber, which increasingly reflect the larger geopolitical and economic landscape. Beijing and Moscow have been expanding collaboration on a range of economic issues. While it’s convenient to point to Sino-Soviet tensions during the Cold War to discount any trans-Asian partnerships by these two giants, such a heuristic not only would be erroneous but it would be detrimental to understanding global cyber trends. These two countries are increasingly aligned diplomatically, and even more so economically. This past spring, Russia and China signed an agreement between their largest banks to exchange in local currencies, bypassing the historic role of the dollar. This summer, the two countries signed a more comprehensive agreement to further trade in local currencies, again eliminating the need for the US dollar. If the latest rumors are correct, next week Russia and China will sign a cyber security agreement at–of all places–the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit.

APEC will provide a global forum for China to assert an agenda of greater economic integration in the region, including a push for the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). This AIIB is viewed as a Chinese attempt at restructuring the post-World War II economic order established by the US and Europe. The US has openly challenged the creation of the AIIB exactly for this reason, and the possibility that it would emerge as a competitor to the World Bank (which was created at the Bretton Woods conference as one of the three pillars of the new Western-dominated global order). While China pushes forth with the AIIB, the US continues to press for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a proposed free-trade agreement among a dozen states in the Asian region, and currently excludes China. China claims the TPP is a US attempt to contain China in the region and has been pushing forth with its own alternatives in the region such as the AIIB as well as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. Now with a potential cyber agreement between Russian and China, it’s likely that this tit-for-tat behavior will overtly manifest in the cyber domain.