Competition and Restraint in Cyberspace: The Role of International Norms in Promoting U.S. Cybersecurity

Recent years have seen a mounting concern in the United States over foreign efforts to harm election security or legitimacy through cyber means, increased cyber espionage, and attacks of growing sophistication. The United States has been engaged for almost a decade in international negotiations over agreed normative constraints on such activities, but the prospects for a comprehensive international agreement appear dim.

In this report, the authors develop a renewed agenda for utilizing cyber norms to limit destabilizing behavior in cyberspace. To do so, they survey the literature on norms and norm emergence and describe the process by which norms tend to arise. They identify the common and conflicting interests that major states have in cyberspace, summarize the history of intergovernmental and private-sector initiatives on cyber norms, outline the principles governing U.S. policy on the issue since 2007, and survey current proposals for cyber norms.

Based on this analysis, the authors propose a bottom-up, “outside-in” approach to promoting cyber norms that would allow the United States to bypass current international disagreements to encourage the development of norms to constrain the most destructive and escalatory forms of cyber aggression.

This research was sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense and conducted within the Cyber and Intelligence Policy Center of the RAND National Security Research Division (NSRD).

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