2023 Conference on International Cyber Security | 7-8 November 2023
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Panel 2


Bring in the Diplomats: Cyber Conflict and Diplomatic Negotiations

Arindrajit Basu

Arindrajit Basu is a external PHD Candidate at the Leiden University Faculty of Global Governance and Affairs. His research and writing focusses on the geopolitics and governance of emerging technologies.He also works as a Consultant with the United Nations Development Program as well as with the private sector in India. Additionally, he is affiliated with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace as a member of its Digital Democracy Network.Till 2022, he was Research Lead at the Centre for Internet&Society,India.

A lawyer by training, he holds a BA,LLB (Hons) Degree from the National University of Juridical Sciences, Kolkata and a LLM in Public International Law from the University of Cambridge.


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Between 'Freedom' and 'Sovereignty':' New non-alignment' diplomacy in cyberspace

Since its inception, global negotiating processes formulating norms for responsible state behaviour in cyberspace have made slow progress, amidst vigorous political contestation. The divisions among the ‘liberal’ and ‘sovereigntist’ geopolitical blocks have been undergirded by clear departures in ideology and respective visions for cyberspace.

Given this impasse, the role and influence of a group of states termed ‘swing states’ or ‘digital deciders’ by researchers at the New America Foundation has been recognized as critical to determining the future of cyberspace. This group mostly comprises members of the erstwhile Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) and counts the emerging economies of Brazil,Indonesia,Mexico and India as the most influential digital deciders.

Now, the overarching diplomatic and foreign policy approaches of these erstwhile non-aligned countries has also ostensibly undergone a change since 1955 when the Non-Aligned Movement was established. The Non-Aligned Movement weakened  in the unipolar moment following the Cold War but returns today in a reinvigorated form.

Recent literature suggests that with greater economic and military capabilities, the  erstwhile non-aligned countries premise today’s new ‘non-alignment’ on seeking proactive partnerships and cooperation with multiple countries and geopolitical blocs depending on security and economic interests, rather than keeping an arms' length from of all great powers .Unlike the NAM of the Cold War days, the countries prefer ideological agnosticism, preferring to base their diplomatic strategy and public policy thinking on specific interests, rather than more abstract moral concerns.

While the new non-alignment differs by region and by country, it speaks to a diplomatic approach that has been adopted by the countries christened the ‘Digital Deciders’ in cyberspace. Yet the literature on ‘swing states’ or ‘digital deciders’ in global cyber governance has not yet explored how reinvigorated ‘Non-Alignment’ has shaped the diplomatic approaches of these countries.  

By empirically evaluating my selected case studies of India and Indonesia’s foreign and domestic approaches to cyber norms and cybersecurity regime formulation against the New ‘Non-Alignment’ framework, this paper seeks to plug that gap. I demonstrate empirically how ideological agnosticism beyond ‘freedom’ and ‘sovereignty’ at the United Nations and other global forums globally has enabled both countries to adopt flexible models on various cybersecurity policy issues unencumbered by dogma or alliances.

Consequently, the future of ‘war’ and ‘peace’ in cyberspace, therefore, may not be determined by which ideological bloc wins over more ‘digital deciders’ but instead by whether these ‘digital deciders’ can rise above ideological polarisation to ferment policy solutions that work for the world’s critical emerging digital markets.