New US State Dept. Bureau opens door to next generation cyber diplomacy

United States (US) Secretary of State Antony Blinken recently announced plans to establish a new Bureau of Cyberspace and Digital Policy at the Department of State. With a mandate to advance international cybersecurity, internet freedoms, and broader digital policy issues, the new State Dept. bureau will build on many years of US-led efforts to promote a free, open and secure online world. Amid escalating conflict in cyberspace, this renewed emphasis on cyber diplomacy is an important and welcome development. The Cybersecurity Tech Accord looks forward to opportunities to engage with the Bureau and provide industry input for advancing peace and security online.

“We want to prevent cyberattacks that put our people, our networks, companies, and critical infrastructure at risk. We want the internet to remain a transformative force for learning, for connection, for economic growth, not a tool of repression.”

– US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announcing the new Bureau of Cyberspace and Digital Policy (Oct. 27)

Building on a legacy of leadership and diplomacy in cyberspace

The US has long been at the forefront of international efforts to advance a rights-respecting and rules-based order in cyberspace. This includes being a prominent voice in successive rounds of the United Nations (UN) working groups that have affirmed the application of international law in cyberspace and established norms for responsible state behavior online. The US has also pioneered critical transparency measures on its own – being among the first countries to publish an international cybersecurity strategy (2011), as well as a policy for handling ICT vulnerabilities. Despite this legacy, however, this renewed commitment is refreshing as challenges in cyberspace have been running ahead of diplomatic efforts for several years – as Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman put it in remarks last week, “It’s the future… and we’re behind.”

Escalating numbers of sophisticated nation state attacks online in particular require persistent and robust engagement. It is our hope that the new Bureau will not only support US diplomatic efforts but also serve as a reference point for other countries in developing or revitalizing their own approaches to cyber diplomacy. With that in mind, the Cybersecurity Tech Accord recently released a new white paper on the importance of cyber diplomacy as part of modern foreign policy.  

Opportunities for greater multistakeholder cooperation

The world is at an inflection point. The conclusions of the two UN working groups on cybersecurity in the past year affirmed international commitments but did little to set new ones. In addition, more needs to be done to establish effective deterrence and accountability frameworks, as well as defend freedoms online.

 “We have got to do more listening. That’s not just the right thing to do, it’s the necessary thing to do. If key stakeholders aren’t with us on the take-off, they are less likely to stick with us on the landing. We need their ideas, and we need their buy-in… We are going to reach out much more regularly to civil society, to private companies, state and local government, community organizations, universities….”

– Secretary Blinken (Oct. 27)

Success in upholding international expectations will rely on close multistakeholder cooperation, especially with the technology industry. The Cybersecurity Tech Accord has always been grateful for opportunities to engage with and provide input into the deliberations of governments around the world, including the US State Dept. We are encouraged by Secretary Blinken’s words that the new Bureau will engage even more deliberately with the multistakeholder community going forward.

As part of its multistakeholder outreach, we also encourage the United States to join the with majority of the world’s democracies in supporting the Paris Call for Trust and Security in Cyberspace. The nonbinding agreement is the largest international multistakeholder commitment on cybersecurity and has provided an invaluable forum for cross-sector collaboration since its announcement in 2018. Joining the agreement would help the US to capture the perspectives of the multistakeholder community and to build the kind of common cause that Secretary Blinken spoke to in his remarks when announcing the new Bureau. Most importantly, the support and engagement of the United States in the efforts of the Paris Call would further strengthen multistakeholder cooperation to advance a free, open, and secure online world for all.

With these shared goals in mind, the Cybersecurity Tech Accord looks forward to future opportunities to engage, partner, and collaborate with the State Department’s Bureau of Cyberspace and Digital Policy.