Creating ‘Sinews of Peace’ in Cyberspace: How U.S. Diplomatic Engagement Strengthens U.S. Economic and National Security

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The Queen Elizabeth II Tower and the clock face behind which the bell known as Big Ben is situated. (AP photo)

Creating ‘Sinews of Peace’ in Cyberspace: How U.S. Diplomatic Engagement Strengthens U.S. Economic and National Security

Just over seven decades ago a great British diplomat and statesman, Winston Churchill, responding to issues of his day, traveled to Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri to share his landmark speech entitled Sinews of Peace. In 1946, Churchill spoke at a time of increased misunderstanding between great powers, a time that was critical for U.S. national security and prosperity, and a time when the work of American diplomats was vital to creating a global order that promoted stability and enabled economic growth.

While the information landscape has seen an immense shift from the physical to digital realm globally, today we stand at another critical moment of world history — one where global security and prosperity are both increasingly driven by cyberspace. Just as the dawn of the atomic age that Churchill was addressing brought both security threats and economic benefits, so too does today’s digital age. The internet has become one of the greatest engines for global economic growth and one of the greatest communication mediums the world has ever seen, but it also presents new security challenges. Whether through ransomware that exploits for personal gain, theft of intellectual property for commercial gain, or online censorship that stifles freedom of expression, many of the democratic principles Churchill described on that March day in 1946 are under threat in our current digital age.

Today, U.S. diplomats are once again on the front lines working to promote an open, interoperable, reliable, and secure cyberspace that builds U.S. economic prosperity and protects national security. 

Around the world, the dedicated men and women of the U.S. Foreign Service are immersed in the day-to-day work of diplomacy, pursuing our foreign policy goals in cyberspace. Recent developments with information and communications technologies (ICTs) demand that U.S. diplomats undertake their work in new ways.

Earlier this month, the State Department hosted a Global Training for Cyber Policy and Digital Economy Officers here in Washington, DC where we sought to strengthen U.S. diplomats’ understanding of issues related to the internet and cyberspace. Throughout the training, the group engaged with experts from within the U.S. government, as well as from industry, civil society, foreign counterparts, and others to explore two central questions. First, how is cyberspace impacting U.S. economic prosperity and national security? Second, what does that change mean for the work of U.S. diplomats? 

Cyberspace's Impact U.S. Economic Prosperity and National Security

First, cyberspace and ICTs offer us a new reality — one where we can use a smart phone to manage a financial portfolio, access the latest news, adjust our thermostat at home, or document a live event. These advancements have ushered in a digital age that is shifting our lives in tremendous ways. Moreover, they are having an impact on our economic prosperity. For some perspective, the digital economy measures close to a trillion dollars, while the entire U.S. economy is just over $18 trillion dollars. It’s easy to see that the digital economy is quickly becoming a central part of U.S. economic power.

Expanding and protecting that economic power is essential to U.S. exports and job growth. In 2014, the United States exported roughly $400 billion in digitally-deliverable services, accounting for more than half of U.S. services exports and about one-sixth of all U.S. goods and services exports. The same year, high-tech industries employed nearly 17 million U.S. workers, accounting for 12 percent of total employment, and almost 23 percent of U.S. economic output. The impact is clear; this is a major driver of jobs and growth for the U.S. economy.

A Security Director talks with a worker at the tournament’s command center, inside the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in New York. [AP Photo]

No doubt the opportunities are vast and the impact is deep, but we are also seeing that advancements with ICTs can present new security challenges. They have done more than give us a powerful mobile device. Everything from the Internet of Things, to cloud computing, to Blockchain are changing the way we interact, creating new economic opportunities, but also introducing new vulnerabilities.

So many of our systems — communications, energy, financial, military, and transportation — are now connected, which forces us to admit that we are also more vulnerable as a nation because the very connections that provide efficiency and innovation also expose us to malicious hackers and cybercriminals. Likewise, some state and non-state actors seek to exploit these vulnerabilities through technical threats, or promote policies that run contrary to our vision of an open, interoperable, secure, and reliable cyberspace. The economic and security stakes demand that we expand our diplomatic skillsets and design innovative solutions, across the public and private sectors, to meet modern challenges — and this is happening.

Businesses are updating their platforms to combat cyber issues ranging from fake news to terrorist recruitment online. Law enforcement is adapting approaches to investigations and evidence gathering while balancing concerns over privacy. Soldiers are working to develop new capabilities to operate in cyberspace and to protect themselves against new technical vulnerabilities created by their use of connected technologies.

United States Military Academy cadets watch data on computers at the Cyber Research Center. [AP Photo]

That brings us to answering the second question. U.S. diplomats, like other professionals, must continue to adapt to the realities of the digital age. That doesn’t mean that we throw out the playbook completely. Indeed, just as with other emerging security challenges, diplomatic approaches remain an important and effective part of our overall toolkit.

Instead, it means prioritizing cyber policy and digital economy issues in our engagements with other countries and organizations and reflecting those priorities in our budgeting, planning, and training processes. It means refocusing our economic diplomacy and commercial advocacy spur innovation and embrace new digital opportunities, ensuring companies can move data across borders while protecting privacy and intellectual property. It also means applying or adapting many of our existing capabilities to reduce the risk of conflict with adversaries in cyberspace — for example, by establishing real-time communications channels with foreign governments about incidents of national security concern. Finally, it means establishing the expectations for acceptable behavior by states that promotes stability and for the frameworks that governments, markets, and civil society need to thrive in cyberspace.

U.S. diplomats are taking all these actions and more to protect and advance vital U.S. economic and national security interests in cyberspace. Our recent training further strengthened their expertise on cyber and digital economy issues and prepared them to engage with important foreign counterparts.

Establishing a corps of cyberspace experts is a critical step in confronting today’s diplomatic challenges. As they did following Churchill’s 1946 call for Sinews of Peace, U.S. diplomats will respond to the demands of this new digital age.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary James Mattis. [AP Photo]

Churchill put it this way, “It is necessary that constancy of mind, persistency of purpose, and the grand simplicity of decision shall guide and rule…peoples in peace as they did in war. We must, and I believe we shall, prove ourselves equal to this severe requirement.” 

Seventy years later, we shall prove equal to the requirements that cyberspace presents. There will be challenges, doubts, and apprehensions as we chart these new aspects of foreign policy. Through teamwork, partnerships, international engagement, and collaboration with stakeholders we will make significant improvements in addressing these challenges, and leverage the unprecedented opportunities of the digital age.

About the Author: Coordinator for Cyber Issues Christopher Painter and Acting Coordinator for International Communications and Information Policy in the Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs Julie N. Zoller

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Christopher Painter
Julie N. Zoller