Can US get international cooperation on Internet conduct?

White House strategy calls for global engagement on policies, interoperability

The Internet has become essential to global security and economic well-being and cannot afford to become fragmented by national policy differences or a lack of technical interoperability, the Obama administration acknowledges in its newly released International Strategy for Cyberspace.

Recognizing that “distributed systems require distributed actions,” the strategy calls for international cooperation on a broad set of policy goals supporting an open, interoperable, secure and reliable Internet.

“To achieve that goal, we will build and sustain an environment in which norms of responsible behavior guide states’ actions, sustain partnerships, and support the rule of law in cyberspace,” the strategy states.

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The strategy sets no timelines or milestones for achieving these goals.

The document is described as a general road map for agencies to coordinate roles in international cyberspace policy as well as a call for international engagement to ensure collective benefits and address shared challenges.

Developing an international strategy was one of 10 near-term activities identified in the 2009 Cyberspace Policy Review ordered by President Barack Obama. The review called for a policy framework to “strengthen our international partnerships to create initiatives that address the full range of activities, policies and opportunities associated with cybersecurity.”

The Internet has become a double-edged sword, enabling global communication and cooperation and supporting freedom of expression and governmental openness, but at the same time engendering criminal activity and government restrictions that threaten these advantages.

“The world must collectively recognize the challenges posed by malevolent actors’ entry into cyberspace, and update and strengthen our national and international policies accordingly,” the strategy states. “Activities undertaken in cyberspace have consequences for our lives in physical space, and we must work towards building the rule of law, to prevent the risks of logging on from outweighing its benefits.”

To secure the benefits and address the threats, “the United States will work with like-minded states to establish an environment of expectations, or norms of behavior, that ground foreign and defense policies and guide international partnerships.”

But the strategy does not give any rights to self-defense.

“When warranted, the United States will respond to hostile acts in cyberspace as we would to any other threat to our country,” the strategy states. “All states possess an inherent right to self-defense, and we recognize that certain hostile acts conducted through cyberspace could compel actions under the commitments we have with our military treaty partners. We reserve the right to use all necessary means — diplomatic, informational, military, and economic — as appropriate and consistent with applicable international law, in order to defend our nation, our allies, our partners, and our interests.”

The best defense at home is not enough, however, the strategy recognizes: “A globally distributed network requires globally distributed early warning capabilities.”

Development of norms for state conduct does not require a reinvention or disruption of current international law, and long-standing international norms for state behavior both in peace and conflict will continue to apply in cyberspace, the strategy states. But these must be adapted to the new environment of cyberspace, and some new rules of the road must be established.

The strategy sets out policy priorities that agencies will pursue with foreign nations as well as the private sector and other stakeholders. They are:

  • Promoting international standards and open markets to sustain free trade, protect intellectual property and promote interoperability standards.
  • Enhancing network security, reliability and resiliency by developing international consensus recognizing respect for property and network stability and improving the security of the high-tech supply chain.
  • Extending law enforcement collaboration by expanding and participating in international agreements such as the Budapest Convention and eliminating safe havens for cyber criminals and terrorists.
  • Addressing 21st century military challenges by building and expanding alliances and cooperative agreements for collective security.
  • Promote inclusive structures for Internet governance by encouraging broad participation in establishing online openness and security.
  • Building online capacity and security in developing nations by providing training, expertise and other resources and supporting law enforcement activities.
  • Support civil liberties, including freedom of association and expression online, by establishing international safeguards and ensuring end-to-end interoperability.


About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.


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