Cyber War Rules of Engagement Report based on Geneva Convention

The rules of conventional warfare are very clear and spelled out by the Geneva Convention. Certain types of weapons have been banned and certain protections exist for civilian and medical entities.

But what about in a Cyber War? Are civilian facilities off limits? Should Hospitals be immune from attack? What about civilian airlines or even communication lines that connect countries together? What should the cyberwar rules of engagement be?

These were some of the topics that World Leaders addressed in last week’s EastWest Institute:

The influential EastWest Institute is due to present proposals for the cyberspace equivalent of the Geneva convention at the Munich Security Conference, which has included a debate on cyber-security on its agenda for the first time this year. Delegates to the conference include UK Prime Minister David Cameron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

Russian and American security experts stepped through a point by point analysis of the Geneva and Hague Conventions and came up with the report: “Working Towards Rules for Governing Cyber Conflict: Rendering the Geneva and Hague Conventions in Cyberspace”. 

According to the EWI website, the five recommendations made by the joint US-Russian team were:

  • Can protected critical humanitarian infrastructure entities be “detangled” from non-protected entities in cyberspace?
  • Just as a Red Cross designates a protected entity in the physical world, is it feasible to use special markers to designate protected zones in cyberspace?
  • Should we reinterpret convention principles in light of the fact that cyber warriors are often non-state actors?
  • Are certain cyber weapons analogous to weapons banned by the Geneva Protocol?
  • Given the difficulties in coming up with an agreed definition for cyber war, should there be a third, “other-than-war” mode for cyberspace?

The report was reviewed and discussed by world leaders at last week’s meeting. This was the beginning step in creating rules of engagement for cyber war.

The report is the first product of an ongoing EWI Track 2 bilateral program that seeks to open dialogue, build sustainable trust and have a positive impact on cybersecurity. In addition to engaging Russia and the United States, EWI is also working with a range of experts from the Cyber40, the world’s most digitally-advanced countries. Next up?  Bilateral and multilateral working group sessions to implement the recommendations, followed by the Second Worldwide Cybersecurity Summit in London in June. 

Links to view and download the report are located on the EWI website.


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