At the current stage, driven by increasing conflict potential around the world, humanity must look for ways not to turn the digital environment into a theatre of war.
As far back as 25 years ago – in a time of rapid development of information and communications technologies (ICTs), Russia predicted that the safe use of these technologies would become an integral part of the international political agenda of the 21st century. In 1998, our country submitted a UN General Assembly resolution calling attention to the risks of the use of such technologies for unlawful purposes. Over the next decade, our concerns were shared by all nation-states without any exception, supporting the call for the prevention of global conflicts in the information space. But then Western countries began actively experimenting with the use of ICTs for political and military purposes, taking advantage of their technological superiority in this area at the time.
Unfortunately, over time, this has become a trend. The US, desperately clinging to its elusive global dominance, has embarked on the way of imposing a digital neo-colonial dictatorship. As declared, the main goal is to counter independent actors, especially Russia and China. Sanctions are imposed against “undesirable” countries; and attempts are made to “undermine” capacities in the most advanced areas – artificial intelligence, high-speed Internet, and quantum computing. Online resources broadcasting a viewpoint alternative to the Western one are blocked. Blatant attempts are made to interfere in the internal affairs of states through the global system of espionage and interception of personal data set up by US intelligence agencies – as Snowden told the world.
In an attempt to cover up their own destructive actions in information space, Washington and its allies are pushing forward the issue of “Russian hackers”. Meanwhile, NATO countries are vigorously building up their offensive potential and practising methods of warfare with the use of ICTs. It is no exaggeration to say that since Russia launched its special military operation, Western states have unleashed a full-scale campaign against our country. Ukraine has been given the role of a testing ground in this scenario. It is no coincidence that Kyiv was involved in the activities of the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence – in other words, it was included in the “cyber NATO”. At the same time, Western leaders cannot comprehend the fact that the so-called “IT Army of Ukraine” created with their help – in fact, a conglomerate of criminal gangs – will begin (and, according to information at our disposal, has already begun) to rob citizens of states of the “civilized world” in the future.
It is clear, that the United States and their like-minded partners are trying to reshape the agenda of specialized international negotiating platforms in line with their aggressive policy in the information space. Namely, they are imposing the concept of the applicability of certain provisions of the Charter of the United Nations and international humanitarian law, thus trying to legitimize the militarization of the sphere of ICTs. There is an obvious intention to introduce the practice of groundlessly attributing responsibility for malicious actions in information space to any state, primarily those defending their digital sovereignty. In other words, any means to an end in the global confrontation that Western countries pursue.
We advocate the concept of creating a just system of international information security based on confidence-building, cooperation, prevention of conflicts and an arms race, and the elaboration of a legal framework regulating the responsible behaviour of states. In our view, a treaty under the auspices of the United Nations would put an end to the impunity of the “wild West” in information space. We are actively promoting corresponding initiatives primarily within the United Nations Open-ended Working Group (OEWG) on the security of and the use of ICTs.
Our partners, including a vast majority of developing countries, unanimously share this approach, while Western countries often refer to the idea of universal legally binding agreements as “utopian”. They said the same thing 10 years ago when Russia advocated for a universal treaty against cybercrime to replace the Budapest Convention which is flawed and obsolete. But as time went on, common sense prevailed: now the UN Ad Hoc Committee is working on the draft text of the international convention on combating the use of ICTs for criminal purposes. Of course, there is still a long way to go, but the important thing is that a lot of work has already been done.
A separate aspect is ensuring equitable and secure access to the Internet for all states and their citizens. Although most politicians and ordinary users regard the Internet, which has become part of our everyday lives, as a global asset, the reality is not as cheerful. The leading IT corporations with the Western governments behind them believe that they have the right to impose their own rules. As a result, many countries face discriminatory policies, their citizens have accounts blocked or even access restricted from the territory of “undesirable” countries. Ultimately, such actions by the US administration lead to the fragmentation Internet, and its division into “friends” and “foes”.
Obviously, this problem has to be solved. A system built on the principle of the “rule of force” is doomed to collapse. It is in the best interest of most nations that the Internet remains an accessible and reliable platform for communication, education and business, as long as the security of its national segments is assured. In this context, it is crucial for the international community to define the parameters of the internationalization of Internet governance. In doing so, the discussion should be conducted on an equal footing within the UN and specialized platforms, including the International Telecommunication Union and the Internet Governance Forum.
The development and emergence of advanced technologies are undoubtedly associated with the risks of their use for malicious purposes. However, at the current stage, driven by increasing conflict potential around the world, humanity must look for ways not to turn the digital environment into a theatre of war. If the ICT-sphere, our smartphones and computers become an arena for chaotic confrontation between states, there will ultimately be no winners. Everyone will lose – above all, from missed opportunities for cooperation and peaceful development.
(Ambassador Andrey Krutskikh is the special representative of the Russian president for international cooperation in the field of information security.)