International Relations in the Cyber Age, the first book ever by a political scientist and a computer scientist

Professor Nazli Choucri, MIT, and Board Member of the Boston Global Forum and Michael Dukakis Institute for Leadership and Innovation, also a very active member of AIWS Standards and Practice Committee, and David Clark, a pioneer of the Internet, MIT, have launched a new book:” International Relations in the Cyber Age “.

This is a first book ever by a political scientist and a computer scientist.

I      Cyberspace and International Relations

  1. Context and Co-Evolution
  2. Cyberspace: Layers and Interconnections
  3. International Relations: Levels of Analysis
  4. The Cyber-IR system: Integrating Cyberspace and     International Relations
  5. Co-Evolution and Complexity in Twenty-First-Century International Relations

II     Complexities of Co-Evolution

  1. Control Point Analysis: Locating Power and Leverage
  2. The Power over Control Points: Cases in Context
  3. Cybersecurity and International Complexities
  4. Distributed Internet Governance: Private Authority and International Order
  5. The Co-Evolution Dilemma: Complexity of Transformation     and Change
  6. Alternative Futures: Trends and Contingencies
  7. Imperatives of Co-Evolution

Excerpts on interactions between cyberspace and international relations
From Chapter 1 of International Relations in the Cyber Age,

Almost everyone recognizes that cyberspace is a fact of daily life. Given its ubiquity, scale and scope, cyberspace – with the Internet at its core and the experiences it enables – has become a central feature of the world we live in and has created a fundamentally new reality for almost everyone and everywhere.  Today, the influence of cyberspace is evident in all aspects of contemporary society, in almost all parts of the world.

One result is a powerful disconnect between 20th century theories of international relations and the realities of the 21st century. Theories of international relations are largely anchored in the post-World War II era of the last century. Today, we see increasing interconnections and joint evolution of two domains fundamental to the 21st century world, the international system with its actors and entities, structures and processes, and cyberspace, with its rapidly growing uses and users, and the formal and informal institutions that seek to provide forms of order in the new arena. The pace of evolution is rapid, and has not received sufficient attention as a topic of research.

If knowledge is power, as is commonly argued, then harnessing the power of knowledge becomes an intensely political activity. The flow of data now defines the international landscape as much as the flow of material and people. But the implications of data flows have not become an important issue in world politics, nor central to theory, policy, and practice. More often than not, communications in world politics harbor some form of contention over how data—knowledge, commercial content, criminal content, or speech—flow in cyberspace. There are, of course, many ways that nations contend to excel at the creation and exploitation of knowledge. But today, almost all of these activities center on, and to a considerable extent are directly acted out in, cyberspace.
Until recently cyberspace was considered largely a matter of “low politics”, the term used to denote background conditions and routine decisions and processes. By contrast, “high politics” is about national security, core institutions, and decision systems that are critical to the state, its interests, and its underlying values. Nationalism, political participation, political contentions, conflict, violence, and war are among the most often cited aspects of high politics. But low politics do not always remain below the surface. If the cumulative effects of normal activities shift the established dynamics of interaction, then the seemingly routine becomes increasingly politicized.
Cyberspace is now a matter of high politics. This new domain of interaction is a source of vulnerability, a potential threat to national security, and a disturber of the familiar international order. So critical has cyberspace become that the United States has created a Cyber Command in the U.S. Department of Defense in recognition of potential cyber threats that can undermine the security and welfare of the nation. The new practice of turning off the Internet during times of unrest in various countries, the effective leakage of confidential government documents on WikiLeaks, the cyberattacks that accompanied past conflict in Georgia and Estonia, the use of cyber-based attacks to degrade Iran’s nuclear capabilities, and the Russian interference with the United States presidential elections in 2016, all illustrate that state actors cannot ignore the salience of cyberspace and its capabilities. We see many incidents of power and politics, conflict and competition, violence and war—all central features of world politics—increasingly manifested via cyber venues.
Both cyberspace and international affairs are defined by their own principles and characterized by distinct features of structure and process. The cyber domain in now being shaped by power and politics, as well as modes of leverage and control. Invariably when issues of power and control arise, propensities for conflict and contention are not far behind. In addition, traditional views of world politics, including notions of deterrence and defense, are not readily portable to cyberspace. How can we connect cyberspace and international relations in theory, policy, and practice?  How can we track who does what, when, how and with what impacts?

If the reality of cyberspace is changing the character of international relations, so are the concerns of various states changing the character of cyberspace. It is already apparent that political pressures impinge upon the current Internet to render its function more in line with power and politics. Threats to cyber security are only one side of the proverbial coin. The other side consists of cooperation and the challenges associated with international governance, especially governance of cyberspace.

Today, the growing politicization of the two domains is creating a system of interlocking and mutual influence that may well shape all aspects of the human experience. As these domains become more interwoven, a core dilemma emerges: the two systems are changing at different rates, and elements of each are also changing at different rates. Cyberspace is evolving much faster than are the tools the state has to regulate it. The consequence is a set of ongoing challenges that are difficult to anticipate or manage – let alone regulate.

To appreciate the importance of this dilemma, consider some examples. Why do damaging uses of the Internet seem to grow much faster than our ability to identify, let alone to control or prevent them? Why is it that the power of the state—with its monopoly over the use of force, in theory at least—seems inadequate for responding to threats from the cyber domain? Do states have the same propensity to behave in the cyber domain as they do in the traditional international arena? What is the possibility that cyberspace can “out-evolve” the tools of the state, leaving the state poorly equipped to address its needs. Then, too, how is the overall cyber domain managed? Will critical cyber-centered organizations and institutional practices evolve at the rate that cyberspace itself evolves, or will they themselves be “out-evolved”?

One start to understanding these two domains is to look at their core structuring principles. Cyberspace is typically explained as a series of layers—for example physical technology, data transfer, applications, information and users. International relations is typically explained using levels of analysis—the individual, the state, and the international system, adding in the global level. One can combine these two frameworks into an integrated Cyber-IR model that seeks to provide a combined view of these two domains. By positioning specific challenges—forms of cybercrime, for example—within this model, it is possible to draw some conclusions about how these challenges can best be met. As an example, as we look at the layers of cyberspace, the lower layers usually manifest more generality. Generality makes contention between parties more difficult, since the parties can exploit that generality to maneuver around each other. So a problem that arises at one layer of cyberspace needs to be addressed at that layer, not by shifting the burden of mitigation to a lower layer.

Models of this sort do not allow us to predict the future. The interplay of the complex forces shaping the future preclude any simple predictions. But a catalog of these forces, organized around structural models (both of cyberspace and international relations) can allow us to explain the range of realistic options for the future.  Framing them in the context of a joint reality provides added understanding. Further, they can alert us to potentials for powerful change. These, at the highest level, are the objectives of this book.

Nazli Choucri
Nazli Choucri is Professor of Political Science at MIT, Faculty Affiliate at the MIT institute for Data Science and Society, Director of the Global System for Sustainable Development (GSSD), and the author of Cyberpolitics in International Relations (MIT Press).
David D. Clark
David D. Clark is a Senior Research Scientist at the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab and a leader in the design of the Internet since the 1970s.