In 2004, the UN General Assembly has established the Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) to examine the impact of developments in ICT on national security and military affairs. Six GGEs have been convened – in 2004/2005 (A/RES/58/32), 2009/2010 (A/RES/60/45), 2012/2013 (A/RES/66/24), 2014/2015 (A/RES/68/243), 2016/2017 (A/RES/70/237), and 2019/2021 (A/RES/73/266). In addition, the UN General Assembly has also established the Open-Ended Working Group for 2019/2020 (A/RES/73/27).
GGE members in 2019-2021 are Australia, Brazil, China, Estonia, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Japan, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Mauritius, Mexico, Morocco, Netherlands, Norway, Romania, Russian Federation, Singapore, South Africa, Switzerland, United Kingdom, United States, and Uruguay. Ambassador Guilherme de Aguiar Patriota of Brazil was elected as the Chair of the GGE. The map of GGE members from 2004 onward is below.
- Selection and Composition
The UN GGE is composed 'on the basis of equitable geographical distribution'. Traditionally, the five permanent members of the Security Council have a seat on all GGEs, and the remaining seats are allocated by grouping. Upon the call for expression of interests, States send an official request for a seat on a GGE of particular interest to them, and might even lobby at the highest levels of the Secretariat for a place at the table.
The Office of the High Representative for Disarmament Affairs has the task of proposing the Group’s composition to the Secretary-General who decides, taking into account not only geographical and political balance, but a demonstrated interest in the topic, the number of times a country has served on other GGEs, whether they are currently serving on a different GGE, etc. Occasionally a government might decline to participate in a GGE if it believes it lacks the personnel or expertise necessary for the work.
Once the countries have been identified and notified, they are asked to nominate an expert to participate in the GGE. In almost all cases, these experts are government officials. Early GGEs included a mix of experts on information security, some with diplomatic backgrounds and others with a more technical background. Over time, the composition of the experts changed, as countries chose to select experts with, arms control, or non-proliferation experience. Experts technical backgrounds can be 'left behind' in the sometimes intense diplomatic negotiations that accompany a GGE.
Each GGE selects a Chair from among its members. A strong and skillful Chair is vital to the success of the group. The Russian Federation chaired in 2005 and 2010, Australia in 2013, Brazil in 2015, and Germany in 2016. Brazil chairs the 2019-2021 Group. While it is the experts who sit at the table (there are no 'delegations'), some experts are accompanied by advisers. In the recent GGEs, legal advisers have been particularly common.
The Group, guided by the Chair and shaped by the mandate included in the General Assembly resolution, largely determines its own agenda and work plan. The work, particularly commenting on drafts and informal consultations is often conducted.
Most GGEs meet for four one-week sessions. The Group holds its meetings in the UN format, sitting for six hours a day (from 10 a.m. 1 p.m., and then again from 3 p.m. 6 p.m.), with simultaneous interpretation in all six official languages of the UN. The GGEs' meetings are closed and there are no publicly available meeting summaries. The closed-door format is considered essential for the frank discussions to enable GGEs to find agreement. Thus, there are also no observers - whether representatives from other governments, non-governmental organisations, the private sector or international organisations.
On more than one occasion it has been suggested that the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), the UN specialised agency responsible for developing technical standards for ICTs, may be invited to observe the group. However, the General Assembly mandates the work of the GGEs squarely in the realm of international security and disarmament, and thus not as a technical exercise.
The UN Office for Disarmament Affairs serves as the Secretariat to the cyber GGEs.
Decisions, including decisions on the final Report, are made by consensus.
The fact that the GGE falls under the UN First Committee has important implications for how the Group interprets its mandate, by focusing and narrowing the scope of the task. The First Committee is the Main Committee of the General Assembly and is allocated agenda items on disarmament and international security.
After multiple discussions, GGEs have decided that the issues not under the purview of the First Committee - such as espionage, Internet governance, development and digital privacy - are not the focus of the Group’s work. While terrorism and crime are important topics for understanding, previous GGEs have limited themselves to calling for greater co-operation among states, while deciding that detailed discussion of these topics and the development of recommendations for them is best done other UN bodies.
In 2019-2021, UNODA is mandated to organise series of consultations with Regional Organisations, in particular the African Union, the EU, the OAS, the OSCE and the ASEAN Regional Forum. The consultations take place back-to-back with relevant meetings of the Regional Organisations, with participation by some GGE Members and, where possible, the Chair. Summary reports of these consultations are then sent to the GGE.
Source: UNIDIR's Report on the International Security Cyber Issues Workshop Series