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Two Cyber Resolutions Are Better Than None

Anastasia Tolstukhina



The latest annual report of the Global Economic Forum lists cyberattacks among the top 5 global risks, along with extreme weather events, natural disasters and the effects of climate change. Moreover, experts offer pessimistic forecasts: in 2019, the risks will only increase as a result of the lack of collective will and the growing divisions in the global community.

Clearly, the issue of international information security (IIS) today is not just pressing, but burning. The problem is relevant to virtually all participants in international relations and requires a political solution.

At the same time, Russia warned of the dangers of cyber incidents 20 years ago and was the first to launch a discussion on the matter at the United Nations. At first, support for Russia’s initiative was reluctant, but the more information technologies progressed and cyber challenges evolved to match them, the greater traction the problem of information security gained in the agenda of the UN and other international platforms.

In late 2018, truly important steps were taken to bolster international information security. In particular, the global community realized the need to re-launch the UN Group of Governmental Experts (UN GGE), the principal multilateral venue for information security talks, which in 2017 found itself at an impasse due to disagreements among its members. Now, though, there will be two groups…

A/RES/73/27 and A/RES/73/266

Today, we can confidently state that the global discussion on international information security has been resumed. In November 2018, the United Nations General Assembly First Committee adopted two draft resolutions at once on the behaviour of states in the information space, and in December, the General Assembly voted in pleno and approved both documents. This article considers the contents of both resolutions.

Resolution A/RES/73/27 “Developments in the Field of Information and Telecommunications in the Context of International Security” was proposed and promoted by Russia in collaboration with 32 states. A total of 109 states voted in favour of the resolution, with 46 voting against and 14 abstaining. The overwhelming majority of states supporting the resolution are members of BRICS and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), as well as many countries of the developing world. The West preferred to collectively oppose the document.

Resolution A/RES/73/27 has several key features. First, it is intended to protect the digital interests of all states regardless of their level of technological development. In that connection, the resolution notes the importance of aiding some states in overcoming the gap in information and communication technologies (ICT), which, as the authors of the document believe, has a major significance for international security.

Second, the resolution presents a code of 13 rules, norms and principles of the responsible behaviour of states in the information space. Their objective is to lay the foundations of peaceful interaction between states in the ICT environment and prevent wars, confrontations and any aggressive actions. The following rules are of principal significance:

  • using ICT for peaceful purposes only;
  • observing the principle of state sovereignty in the information space;
  • cooperation in the fight against the use of ICT in criminal or terrorist purposes;
  • preventing the proliferation of malicious ICT tools and techniques and the use of harmful hidden functions.

Third, a new UN GGE – an Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG) – is set to launch work in June 2019. Its chief task will be to continue to develop norms, rules and principles of the responsible behaviour of states in the information space and consider the issue of the applicability of international law to the ICT environment. Russia believes that the previous UN GGE with limited representation is no longer workable and a new level of interaction on matters of information security must be reached. The resolution proposes making the negotiating process more democratic so that it can be truly open, inclusive and transparent. Initially, the Group of Governmental Experts comprised, at various times, between 15 and 25 states. Now, all UN members states, without exception, will be able to take part in the OEWG. Additionally, for the first time, non-state actors will be involved in the group (business, non-governmental organizations and the academic community) via intersessional consultative meetings. Therefore, the Russian side has succeeded in getting IIS topics to grow beyond the narrow scope of the UN GGE. “The Club of the Elect“ has been transformed into a full-fledged UN organ. The results of the group’s work will be summarized in the consensus report to be presented in two years at the 75th session of the UN General Assembly.

The second document approved by the General Assembly is Resolution A/RES/73/266 “Advancing Responsible State Behaviour in Cyberspace in the Context of International Security.” It was proposed by the United States in collaboration with 35 states. The vote was as follows: 139 in favour, 11 against and 16 abstentions. The resolution was primarily supported by of the EU and NATO member states and other allies of the United States.

The resolution stresses the effective work of the UN GGE and the importance of assessments and recommendations contained in the Group’s reports for 2010, 2013 and 2015. The document calls for the creation of a new Group of Governmental Experts in 2019 based on equitable geographic distribution. As before, it will not be an open group, which, it has to be admitted, does not make the process of developing the “road traffic rules” in the information space truly inclusive. This is certainly one of the principal differences between the U.S. and Russian approaches.

The resolution also requests that the Office for Disarmament Affairs of the Secretariat (UNODA), on behalf of the UN GGE, collaborate with regional organizations (the African Union, the European Union, the Organization of American States, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe and the ASEAN Regional Forum) in matters of information security.

An “American style” UN GGE will be vested with powers to carry out research on possible joint measures to eliminate existing and potential cyber threats and study the norms, rules and principles of the responsible behaviour of states and confidence- and potential-building measures, with due regard to their effective implementation. The results of the group’s work are slated to be presented in three years at the 76th session of the UN General Assembly. The final report, which does not require a consensus of all participants, is expected to contain written national materials on how international law applies to the use of ICT by states.

Complementarity Instead of Competition

On the whole, Russia and the United States proposed two largely competing resolutions. Therefore, discussion on ISS will be more complicated and multilevel, as the dialogue space on the issue is fragmented, especially since the degree of mutual distrust between the two countries is very high. Such circumstances certainly make any constructive international cooperation far more difficult, but they do not mean it is impossible.

However, even given the differences on many issues, there are no particular obstacles to block working in parallel, especially since both resolutions welcome the previous achievements of the UN GGE and their 2013 and 2015 reports. For instance, both resolutions confirm that international law is applicable in the information space and both promote the creation of an open, secure and accessible information environment. Both resolutions also recognize the importance of the business and academic communities and NGOs in increasing the effectiveness of international cooperation intended to ensure security of the ICT environment. These are not the only points of contact between the two documents.

Theoretically, with the political will, a joint negotiating process can be organized between the parties that would be complementary rather than competitive. Moreover, the GGE and the Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG) can motivate each other to develop and steadily move towards a rapprochement, since neither group would want to lag behind the other in terms of agreements or breakthrough solutions achieved.

It is noteworthy that many countries (77 in total) voted for both resolutions, including India, South Africa, Kazakhstan, Indonesia, etc. For those states, these documents do not represent opposite positions on ISS. They believe that both groups could complement each other and increase awareness of the problems related to the ICT environment. And this means that there is potential for creating a single track on the issue of putting information and communication technologies in order. In any case, a huge number of countries are ready for this, and they are interested in it happening. It is important to build a constructive, non-politicized dialogue and launch steady forward movement towards a consensus instead of competing in a “tug-of-war,” thus killing the long-standing dream of a peaceful and secure digital space.

The world has different approaches to solving various problems, and this is normal in the paradigm of the modern democratic process. However, this plurality of approaches notwithstanding, the global community should work for the benefit of a common positive result and not allow the security of some to be based on supremacy over others.

First published in our partner RIAC

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Should Turkey and Azerbaijan Be Worried About Killed Syrian Mercenaries?



Just a few weeks ago many analysts and observers were sceptical about reports of Turkey’s transferring units of its Syrian National Army (SNA) proxies to Nagorno Karabakh, even more so because Turkish officials denied any such claims. However, as evidence of massive casualties among the Syrian mercenaries continues to mount, there is little space left for doubt: SNA fighters have become cannon fodder in the Turkish operation in support of Azerbaijan.

The first batch of bodies of those Syrians who perished in Nagorno Karabakh counted over 50 people, according to messages and videos that went viral on opposition WhatsApp and Telegram channels. Among the dead who were delivered to Syria over Hiwar Kilis border crossing and were given a hasted burial were men from Aleppo, Idlib, Homs and other regions of Syria. Many of their relatives, like families of Muhammad Shaalan from Atareb and Kinan Ferzat from Maarat al-Nuuman, were shocked to learn about their death.

Just like the majority of the Syrians who travelled to Nagorno Karabakh,  Muhammad and Firzat were primarily motivated by lucrative rewards of up to 2,000 dollars promised by Turkey. “I came here to make money and have a better life back in Syria where the living conditions are miserable. I consider this a job, nothing else,” a member of Liwa Sultan Murad, one of the first SNA factions to deploy its fighters to the contested region, told Guardian.

The reason behind heavy casualties of the Syrian mercenaries is that they are thrown into action where the clashes are the most violent, including Jabrayil, Terter, Fizulin and Talysh. This move allows Azerbaijan to keep its military, who mainly provide air support including operating Turkey-made Bayraktar TB2 UAVs and coordinate artillery and missile strikes of the Armenian positions, out of direct contact with the enemy.

The estimates of the numbers of the Syrian mercenaries present in Nagorno Karabakh are wildly different. While initial reports put their number at 500 men, it is currently believed that the actual number may be in thousands. This data indicates that at least 10 percent of the fighters were killed during the very first days of the escalation – a serious alarm for the mercenaries as well as their Turkish backers.

These developments must ring a bell for Azerbaijan as well. The longer the conflict protracts, the higher the risk of casualties among the Azeri servicemen becomes, who have already suffered losses in Armenian retaliation strikes. Baku has managed to avoid discontent among the military as well as the civilian populace – not least thanks to the Syrian mercenaries crushed as cannon fodder – but this can not continue for long.

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Emerging Multipolarity and its consequences

Abdul Rasool Syed



“Make America great again” a slogan that formed the nucleus of trump’s electoral campaign vividly suggests that America is no more a great country. It is, in fact, an implicit admission that U.S is gradually losing its clout in international politics and hence, its image as a sole superpower of the world has virtually tarnished. Let me rephrase this connotation; it means that the era of unipolar world is over and the world has now transitioned to a multipolarirty.

Currently, new power centers are emerging in transnational political landscape. China, Russia, India and Turkey are excessively engaged to carve a niche for them in evolving international order. Most importantly, with China and Russia’s mushrooming proximity, balance of power is now shifting from west to east. Former United States (US) Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton at her state visit to New Zealand was one of the first to observe “a shifting balance of power to a more multi-polar world as opposed to the Cold War model of a bipolar world”. This conspicuous change in multi-national political setup was also realized by Ban ki Moon, the then secretary- General of United Nations who stated at Stanford University in 2013 that we have begun to “move increasingly and irreversibly to a multi-polar world”. Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, also declared at the Russia-China Conference 2016 that “international relations have entered into a conceptually new historical stage that consists in the emergence of a multi-polar world order and reflects the strengthening of new centers of economic development and power”.

These manifestations of political spin doctors have since then revealed a general acceptance of the idea of multi-polar world as a concept that is inescapable political reality in the contemporary international dynamics.   However, when it comes to the transitions and inevitability of power structures, there is a little agreement among the international states.

A much stronger resistance to forego unipolarity remains embedded in the Trump administration vision to “make America great again”. Political pundits such  as Robert Kaplan continue to question, whether there is an overlap of unipolar and multi-polar world realities; where US continues to retain the supremacy in military realm of affairs and is anticipated to remain so for a considerable future time, whereby China leads in the economic realm. Additionally nations in the former Third World are acquiring status as rising powers, notably India who have over the years with smart diplomacy have acquired global outreach to shape international agenda.

Chronologically, After World War II, the U.S. became the undisputed and unchallenged global superpower. It was the only country, equipped with nuclear warheads and was one of the few countries involved in the war that came away from it relatively unscathed at home. The U.S. underwent a meager loss of approximately 400,000 soldiers and a fractional amount of civilians in the war. The Soviet Union, meanwhile, incurred a gigantic loss of around 11 million soldiers and some 7 million to 10 million civilians. While Soviet and European cities were undergoing the process of rehabilitation, American cities flourished. It seemed clear to all that the future belonged to the United States.

But it didn’t take long for the luster of unrivaled power to tarnish. The U.S. military machine relaxed as quickly as it had mobilized, and wartime unity gave way to peacetime political debates over government spending and entitlement programs. Within five years, a bipolar world emerged: The Soviets attained an atomic bomb, and the U.S. was caught flat-footed in a war on the Korean Peninsula that ended in a stalemate. Soon thereafter, the U.S. was withdrawing from Vietnam and rioting at home. In 1971, then-President Richard Nixon predicted a world that he said would soon emerge in which the U.S. was “no longer in the position of complete pre-eminence.” Within 26 years of the end of World War II, Nixon’s prediction saw the light of the day and the U.S. had to resign to its fate.

Theoretically, multipolarity refers to a distribution of power in which more than two states have nearly equal amounts of military, cultural, financial and economic influence.

If we look at the contemporary world, we find that with the rise of like China, India, Russia, Indonesia, Turkey and Brazil, global power will spread across a wider range of countries, hence, a new world order with multipolar outlook is likely to emerge .

Realistically speaking, several revisionist powers are and will shaking up their regions. For instance, Russia invaded Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine in 2014 – annexing Crimea, over which it has fought several wars throughout history (mainly with Turkey). In turn, Turkey is asserting its sovereignty over the eastern Mediterranean to the frustration of countries like Greece, Egypt, Cyprus and Israel. Meanwhile, India has upped its aggression in its border dispute with Pakistan as Modi began a process to revoke the autonomous status of the disputed territories of Jammu and Kashmir.

Notably, after the age of city-states and nation-states, we are now entering the age of continental politics. The most powerful countries of the 21st century (the U.S., China, Russia India, Indonesia, and Brazil) are the size of continents. They have broad economic bases and their digital economies potentially have hundreds of millions of users. Internationally, their scale requires them to seek broad spheres of influence in order to protect their security.

Here the question arises what will be the impact of growing multipolarity in the world? First of all, revisionist powers will increasingly ignite tensions. The growing assertiveness of countries like Russia, Turkey and India is the new normal. As they grow more powerful, these countries will seek to revise arrangements in order to reflect the new realities of power. Because these (continental) states seek broad spheres of influence, many places are at risk of destabilization.

Second, one of the biggest risks is the growing paranoia of the hegemon (the U.S.). The current trade war has shown how destabilizing the policy of the (financial) hegemon becomes as it feels threatened by the rise of a rival. Historically, this has been the most important source of violent conflicts. Indeed, the biggest source of uncertainty in the coming years is how the U.S. will react to the rise of China.

Third, the world order will become more ambiguous. Two developments deserve our attention. First, the growing use of shadow power will make conflict more unpredictable. With digital tools, states (and non-state actors) are manipulating each other in subtle ways. For example, Russian hackers  posed as Iranians to hit dozens of countries and Americans blamed Russia for tampering with American elections. Second, alliances will also become more ambiguous. With ever changing dynamics of world economy, new alliances, motivated by the concept of triangulation (to keep balance in relation with the US and China, the trade warriors) will form and such alliances, as predicted by spin doctors; will be less stable than the blocs, formed in 20th century.

To sum it up, before we reach a multipolar world order, we will see a period of growing uncertainty based on the rise of revisionist powers, the paranoia of the U.S. and growing ambiguity of conflict and cooperation. Moreover, the political pundits are divided in opinion that whether multi-polarity is unstable than unipolarity or bipolarity. Kenneth Waltz strongly was in favor of “bipolar order as stable”. On the other side, Karl Deutsch and David Singer saw multi-polarity as guaranteeing a greater degree of stability in an article published in 1964, “Multipolar Systems and International Stability”. Simon Reich and Richard Ned Lebow in “Goodbye Hegemony” (2014), question the belief whether a global system without a hegemon would be unstable and more war prone. However, whatever the system the world is likely to witness in the days to come, let’s hope that this should be in the best interest of humanity and it should make the lives of the inhabitants of this planet peaceful and prosperous.

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The future of strategic intelligence

Giancarlo Elia Valori



There are currently three types of intelligence transformations, namely conceptual, technological and operational.

 In the first case, we are dealing with a new and original intelligence paradigm.

 From a mechanism based on the identification of the need for information-research-processing and analysis-dissemination-feedback, we are shifting to what some people already call “position intelligence”.

 In other words, we are coming to an information mechanism that continuously perceives data and processes it, and then spreads it permanently and continuously to those who have to use it.

While the old intelligence model was “positivist”, i.e it concerned single objective and empirical data to be included in a decision-making process that is not determined by intelligence, currently it is instead a matter of building acontinuous follow-up not of data, but of political behaviours, perceptions of reality by the enemy-opponent, as well as complex phenomena that constantly reach the intelligence matrix from different parts and areas.

While in the past intelligence was rhapsodic and temporary, à la carte of politicians, and sometimes even unsolicited and not requested, it currently becomes the stable core of political, strategic, economic and industrial decisions.

This obviously results in a new relationship between politicians and Intelligence Services.

While, in an era we have already defined as “positivist”, facts, news and the unknown novelties of the enemy-opponent counted, what currently matters is the ever more evident integration between the intelligence system and politicians.

 There is obviously a danger not to be overlooked, i.e. the danger that – without even realizing it – the Intelligence Services take on responsibilities which must be typical of elective bodies only.

 But certainly intelligence currently plays a much greater role than in the past.

Another key element of the conceptual transformation of intelligence is the use not only of highly advanced and powerful information technologies, but also of scientific paradigms which were unknown to us only a few years ago.

Just think about Artificial Intelligence, but also cloud computing, algorithm theory and Markov chains – and here we confine ourselves to the mathematics that sustains current IT and computing.

 But there is also human ethology, an extraordinary evolution of Konrad Lorenz’s animal ethology, as well as social psychology, sociological analysis and scientific depth psychology.

 A whole universe of theories that, in Kant’s words, have recently shifted from metaphysics to science.

It must certainly be used to analyse, for example, mass behaviours that seem unpredictable, as well as the psychological reactions of both the ruling classes and the crowds, and the interactions between the various group behaviours of a country.

Nothing to do with the old Habsburg Evidenzbureau, which informed the General Staff of enemy troops’ movements or of the various generals’ lovers.

We here witness a substantial union between intelligence and political decision-making or, rather, between the thought produced by intelligence and the foundations of political decision-making.

 CIA has often tried to poison Fidel Castro’s beard.

 Today, apart from the doubtful rationality of that operation, it would be a matter of using – for example – advertising, TV series, Hollywood movies, the sugar, tourist or tobacco market cycles, not to poison late Fidel’s beard, but to put the Cuban economy and decision-making system into structural crisis.

 The typical idea of Anglo-Saxon political culture –whereby, once the “tyrant” is eliminated, everything can be fine and back in place – has been largely denied by facts.

 All this obviously without being noticed, as far as the operations for disrupting a country are concerned.

 Another factor of the conceptual transformation of intelligence is speed: currently the IT networks are such as to allow data collection in real time with respect to facts and hence favour wide-ranging decisions.

 As far as technology is concerned, it is well known that both the AI networks, the new calculation structures, and the networks for listening and manipulating the enemy-opponent data are such as to allow operations which were previously not even imaginable.

At this juncture, however, there are two problems: everybody has all the same tools available and hence the danger of not “successfully completing” the operation is great, unlike when the Intelligence Services’ operations were based on the skills, role and dissimulation abilities of some operatives – or on confidential and restricted technologies.

 The other problem is intelligence manipulation: a country that thinks to be a target can spread – in ad hoc networks – manipulated news, malware, data and information which are completely false, but plausible, and can modify the whole information system of the country under attack.

 Another problem of current intelligence technologies is their distance from the “traditional” political decision-making centres.

 A politician, a Minister, a Premier must know what comes out of the intelligence system. Nevertheless, it is so specialised and sectorial that the distance between technical data processing and the “natural language” of politics is likely to make data ambiguous or unclear and of little use.

 Moreover, there is a purely conceptual factor to be noted: if we put together the analysis of financial cycles, of technology change, of public finance and of political and military systems, we must connect systems that operate relatively autonomously from each other.

 In other words, there is no “science of the whole” that can significantly connect such different sectors.

 Therefore, there is the danger of projecting the effects of one sector onto another that is only slightly influenced by it, or of believing that, possibly, if the economy goes well, also the public debt – for example -will go well.

 The room for political decision-making is therefore much wider than modern intelligence analysts believe.

Political decision-making is still made up of history, political-cultural traditions and of perceptions of reality which are shaped by many years of psychological and conceptual training.

With specific reference to operativity, once again we are dealing with radical changes.

 Years ago, there was the single “operative” who had to decide alone – or with very little support from the “Centre” – what to do on the spot and with whom to deal.

 Today, obviously, there is still the individual operative, but he/she is connected to the “Centre” in a different way and, in any case, imagines his/her role differently.

 On the level of political decision-making, intelligence is always operative, because reality is so complex and technically subtle that it no longer enables even the most experienced statesman to “follow their nose”.

The primary paradox of the issue, however, is that intelligence cannot take on political roles that imply a choice between equivalent options.

 This is inevitably the sphere of politics.

 Another factor of the operational transformation is the inevitable presence of intelligence operatives in finance, in the scientific world, in high-level business consulting, in advertising, communication and media.

 Intelligence has therefore progressively demilitarised itself and is increasingly operating in sectors that we would have previously thought to be completely alien to Intelligence Services. Instead, they are currently the central ones.

 Moreover, we are currently witnessing a particular mix of strategic intelligence, geopolitics and financial analysis.

 Why finance? Because it is the most mobile and widespread economic function.

 We are witnessing the birth of a new profession, namely currency geopolitics.

 Hence we are also witnessing the evolution of two new types of intelligence, namely market intelligence (MARKINT) and financial intelligence (FININT).

 An old and new problem is secrecy. The greater the extent to which old and new intelligence is used, the less it can keep secrecy, which is essential now as it was in the past.

 What has always been the aim of strategic intelligence? To predict phenomena starting from a given context.

Contexts, however, change quickly and the interaction between sectors is such as to change the effect of forecasts.

 The formalised techniques for analysis-decision making are manifold: intelligence data mining, “grid technologies”, knowledge creation and sharing, semantic analysis, key intelligence needs (KINS) and many others.

 All operations which are often necessary, but currently we need to highlight two factors typical of the North American intelligence culture which, unfortunately, also negatively affects the models used by U.S. allies.

 The first aspect is that, strangely enough, the same formal models are proposed for both companies and States.

 A State does not have to maximize profits, while a corporation does, at least on a level playing field with its competitors.

 A State is not a “competitor” of the others and ultimately a State has no specific “comparative advantage” but, on the contrary, some of its companies have, if this happens.

 Therefore, the overlap between business intelligence, which is currently necessary, and States’ intelligence is a conceptual bias, typical of those who believe that a State is, as Von Mises said, “the joint stock company of those who pay taxes to it”.

 For companies, it is obvious that all specific and original intelligence operations must be known to the State apparata, which may coordinate them or not, considering that they inevitably have additional data.

On the other hand, some business operations can become very useful for intelligence.

Hence a structure would be needed to put the two “lines” of operations together, and above all, a new intelligence concept is needed.

In the past, the Intelligence Services’ operations were largely defensive: to know something just before it happened, to avoid the adverse operations of a State hitting its own resources, but all with often minimal time limits.

 Now we need expressly offensive intelligence which can hit the opponents’ (commercial, economic and strategic) networks before they move and in good time.

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