Where do negotiations take place

7 May 2024 10:20h - 10:30h

Table of contents

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Full session report

Navigating the complexities of global cybersecurity: The evolution of UN negotiations

In a comprehensive discussion, Jovan Kurbalija and Ambassador Jürg Lauber explored the evolution of cybersecurity negotiations within the United Nations, focusing on the shift from the Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) to the Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG). Ambassador Lauber explained the necessity of moving to a more inclusive format due to the growing global interest in cybersecurity, which called for wider participation beyond the limited number of countries involved in the GGE.

The ambassador emphasised the significance of socialising the cybersecurity issue among UN member states, particularly those not previously engaged in the GGEs. This was achieved through a process that prioritised dialogue and expert presentations over negotiations, allowing member states to familiarise themselves with the complexities of cybersecurity and to engage with each other's perspectives.

The integration of external stakeholders, such as businesses, civil society, and academia, into the discussions was another critical aspect of the process. The OEWG's mandate facilitated exchanges with these non-state actors, who contributed proposals and ideas that were made accessible on the OEWG's website. A key milestone in this inclusive approach was the inter-sessional stakeholder meeting in December 2019, which Ambassador Lauber praised for its productive and high-quality discussions. He noted that the success of this meeting was due to the careful selection of participants, ensuring diverse representation across stakeholder categories and regions.

Ambassador Lauber also addressed the challenge of consolidating the wide array of opinions into a unified document. The solution was to create a report with two parts: a consensus section reflecting the agreed content and a chair summary that included various ideas and proposals, regardless of consensus. This approach allowed for the documentation of the rich discussions and provided a resource for future cybersecurity work.

On the topic of geopolitical dynamics, Ambassador Lauber acknowledged the existing tensions but also perceived a shared understanding among diplomats of the need to manage cyber risks and prevent escalation into more severe conflicts. He offered reassurance that, despite media portrayals of conflict, there is a diplomatic consensus on the importance of containing risks to ensure the continued growth of cyberspace.

In conclusion, the dialogue highlighted the complexities of international cybersecurity negotiations and the need for a delicate balance between inclusivity, representation, and consensus-building. The UN's move towards a more inclusive process is seen as a positive step that reflects the global stakes in cybersecurity. Engaging a diverse set of stakeholders is essential, but it requires proactive efforts to ensure their meaningful participation. Despite geopolitical tensions, there is a collective will among diplomats to manage risks and lay the groundwork for ongoing collaboration in cybersecurity. The final documents from the negotiation process aim to capture both the consensus reached and the breadth of ideas and proposals for the future.

Session transcript

Jovan Kurbalija:
We are back with Ambassador Laube and now we will focus on the question of the process. The process is where quite a few innovations happened. And in answering this question where cyber security is happening, we have different forms which have been evolving, UN government group of experts which have been going since 2004 through the different iterations and we have now a very interesting experience from open ended working group and we have also some discussion about possibility of having program of action proposal by Egypt and France. Could you reflect more on that question, on this initial mapping, where it is happening and what are the specificities of these processes? Do they complement each other and what we can expect in the future?

Ambassador Jürg Lauber:
Process-wise we've gone, as you said, from a relatively small group, 15, I think they started at 15 the first time around, went up to 25 in the sixth iteration of this group of government experts. I think it made sense over the last 20 plus years because of the complexity of the issue. You bring 25 people together who have a lot of technical insight, also their mandate was to come up with like a normative framework that is probably easier to do with 25. But it came to a point where the issue was of interest to so many countries that you have to be careful not to be counterproductive. If many states see that something is being discussed that is of direct concern to them and they would like to participate but can't because the number is limited, then the legitimacy of that process will sooner or later be put into question. So the switch to a larger format, to the open ended working group, I believe made sense, especially when I look at it also from a Swiss perspective for us, multilateral approaches in such issues is very important and to be inclusive is important. So it's a good thing. We had over the last two years, as long as this open ended working group was working, we had two processes in parallel. I think it's a sign of this transition phase. I think it made sense to continue with the group of government experts, to drill down deeper on the issues, to see what can be done on the norms, etc. And at the same time to have the open ended working group. The program of action, it's not clear yet whether it's a substantive approach first, it's an idea of how to deal with the issue, whether this will be discussed in a future format similar to the open ended working group, again, everybody participating, or whether it will go somewhere else like a coalition of the willing. I don't know. I personally, you won't be surprised, I think the open ended working group is a good format because of the importance of the issue for everybody. It has its disadvantages. If you have to establish consensus among 193 states, that's a challenge.

Jovan Kurbalija:
What you just explained is an interesting aspect of evolution of the process and some sort of geometry, drilling deep into the norms of the UNGG, which required relatively limited participation and more socialization of this discussion through the open ended working group. Now, important part of this socialization of discussion was involvement of other stakeholders or other actors, whether it is business, civil society, academia, cyber security experts. It is always challenging in the multilateral framework to find the right formula. What would be your contribution on the pieces to the search for this optimal formula?

Ambassador Jürg Lauber:
You know, the socialization has two levels, two aspects. I think the first one was even to socialize the issue with the member states and in particular with those who were not part of the GGs in the past, which is why we tried to organize the negotiations, the whole process in a way that we spent in the initial phases a lot of time on, not on negotiations, but on dialogue, on having experts presenting the issues, giving the member states an opportunity to ask questions, to familiarize themselves first with the issue and with themselves, each other. So that's one part of the socialization. Then the second, as you said, is bringing in outside actors. I think that also helped. You know that, of course, the peace and security area of multilateral diplomacy is traditionally very sensitive to non-state outside actors, a bit conservative, if I dare say, in the approach. And here we had, thanks to the mandate that was included when the group was established, we had certain openings. So we were able to have some exchanges with outside actors. And we tried throughout the process to have these exchanges, to make our meetings accessible. They were not always able to participate, but at least they were informed about what was going on. They were able to send in their proposals, their ideas. We published them on the website of the Open-Ended Working Group. So on that level, there was a fairly good exchange. And then we had, and that was really an exciting moment, and I can be very enthusiastic about it, also because I was not responsible for it. It was not my idea, or not my making anyway. We had this two, or I think two or three days it was. In December 2019, we had this exchange, inter-sessional meeting with stakeholders. And that was very, very useful, very productive in a sense that we had an excellent exchange of ideas. Member states were in the room, stakeholders were in the room. The key to that, I think, was that it was choreographed. The participants were selected to make sure that we had representatives from all three categories of stakeholders, traditional civil society, academia, and the private sector, and from all over the world, these three from all parts of the world. And the quality of the discussion was really excellent. We had a lot of interesting ideas, a lot of expertise in the room, which shows that stakeholder participation, I think, is important, plus it has to be organized. Traditionally, you just say, stakeholder means everybody can come. That's fine, but it's not good enough, I think. You have to, me, member states, those who are responsible of these processes, we, one, have to make sure that the right entities, people, come, that can participate, so we need to reach out. Then also, we have to see where it comes down to member states' responsibility, where we have to take decisions, but it needs effort to have the right people there.

Jovan Kurbalija:
It is open, generally, in principle, to everybody, but then, when it comes to the concrete events, it has to reflect the diversity of regions, diversity of backgrounds, and other elements, and have it more focused in discussion.

Ambassador Jürg Lauber:
This is, you can't just wait, you know, you can't be passive about this to get the right composition. You have to be active.

Jovan Kurbalija:
Now, this is an excellent intro for the next part of our discussion. By opening it, you got a huge diversity of opinions, obviously, from not only different national geopolitical angles, which have been very complex in cybersecurity, but also professional. Black people have a different view from human rights people, or from humanitarian, or other economic, just to name a few. What was your technique to converge this diversity into, ultimately, one or two papers at the end of the process? This is always a challenge in diplomacy, and since we have been addressing the students of diplomacy, what are the techniques to make this transition, and to make people relatively happy that their views are reflected, while also having a reasonably-sized document?

Ambassador Jürg Lauber:
Yeah, like so often, you know, you can't really control this, and we had to go with the flow. We tried two approaches. First, I was trying to keep it relatively focused by reminding people repeatedly where we came from. Our mandate came from the First Committee of the General Assembly of the United Nations. The First Committee deals with peace and security disarmament, so clearly, cybersecurity focus in the original sense of security. Secondly, what I was trying from the start, and many states, member states, supported that, let's not just repeat what has been done in the past by the GGEs, and do a report on where member states have consensus, but use this new inclusivity, and as you said, the richness of the opinions and the expertise in the room, and try to reflect the different proposals and ideas in the report, even if there is no consensus. That was not accepted by everybody, so in the end, we had to go this way of two parts of the report, so there is this consensus part, the actual agreed summary, agreed by everybody in consensus, and then the second part, which has a lot of ideas and proposals of member states, we had to go to a chair summary, so that is my responsibility. Everybody can say it's nice, but I didn't agree with that. But we have the two parts, and I thought in the end it was a good solution, because we wanted, we needed the support of the core part, we needed this reconfirmation of the AKI that was developed by the GGEs in the past, but we have the second part that has a vast resource of new ideas and new proposals that may be useful for the future work on the issue.

Jovan Kurbalija:
We could summarise that you first harvest diversity and then you harness it in these two documents. In the academic community, many people are also indicating that the Chairman's Summary is a very useful resource for teaching and future research, as that harvesting aspect on the element. Now, cyber security is a highly controversial issue, we can find almost every day in the news some sort of coverage, unfortunately, very often about the conflicts, about the risk, about loss of data, attacks, and the big countries are also highly concerned and involved in some of this coverage. How did you manage procedurally to cover this geopolitical aspect of cyber security dynamics?

Ambassador Jürg Lauber:
You know, that's a thing you can't, I don't think you can influence. But what happened, what I felt what happened over this month, we were negotiating it. Yes, on the one hand, you have obvious geopolitical tensions, you have controversy about many of the aspects of cyber security, but at the same time, there is some basic, I think, understanding and agreement that this is an issue we need to deal with in a sense, we need to contain the risks. There are obvious risks of this escalating, getting out of hand, you don't even want to go really down the road into kinetic conflict growing out of this, but there is, I think that's a basic consensus I felt. And then also the will of everybody to pick up where we left in 2015, 2015 was the last time in a general assembly UN context that there was consensus on the issue, I felt that the will, the desire to establish that again as a basis also for future work was very strong in the room and that dynamic, which was not possible to really foresee when we started, but I saw that it became more and more clear over time and that in the end was, I think, a very important factor to come together in the end.

Jovan Kurbalija:
Well, thank you for this reassuring notion, because when you follow media today, one started wondering if there are the only conflicts and tension, but it's really reassuring that on certain level in the diplomatic service, there is understanding that risks must be managed if you want to keep the growth of cyberspace. Thank you, Ambassador Laube, for reflecting on the process aspects on the negotiation, really valuable inputs for some sort of toolkit, or we can call it Swiss knife of cyber security diplomacy, which may develop.

AJ

Ambassador Jürg Lauber

Speech speed

160 words per minute

Speech length

1546 words

Speech time

578 secs

JK

Jovan Kurbalija

Speech speed

139 words per minute

Speech length

632 words

Speech time

273 secs