Establishing Cyberspace Sovereignty

Establishing Cyberspace Sovereignty

Kris E. Barcomb, Dennis J. Krill, Robert F. Mills, Michael A. Saville
Copyright: © 2012 |Pages: 13
DOI: 10.4018/ijcwt.2012070103
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International norms governing appropriate conduct in cyberspace are immature, leaving politicians, diplomats, and military authorities to grapple with the challenges of defending against and executing hostilities in cyberspace. Cyberspace is unlike the traditional physical domains where actions occur at specific geographic places and times. Rules governing conduct in the traditional domains emerged over centuries and share a common understanding of sovereignty that helps establish and justify the use of force. In cyberspace, sovereignty is a more abstract notion because the geographic boundaries are often difficult to define as data and applications increasingly reside in a virtual, global “cloud.” This paper proposes a construct for establishing sovereignty in cyberspace by studying similarities between space and cyberspace. The characteristics of the space domain challenged traditional notions of sovereignty based on geography. As nations deployed space-based capabilities, the concept of sovereignty needed to mature to deal with the physical realities of space. Sovereignty is defined, and general requirements for claiming sovereignty are presented. The evolution of sovereignty in space is then discussed, followed by a construct for how sovereignty could be defined in cyberspace. The paper also reviews U.S. civil policy and military doctrine and discusses how these documents offer insights into the U.S. approach to asserting its claims within these domains. It concludes by examining an emerging trend where nations not only seek to establish sovereign claims over the architectural aspects of cyberspace, but also the information that flows over it.
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2. Sovereignty

Sovereignty is a complex concept in political science. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (2010) defines sovereignty as the “supreme authority within a territory.” Generally, a nation has sovereignty when it meets two conditions. First, it must have “formal” or “technical” sovereignty in the sense of formal recognition of sovereignty by other governments. This is known as de jure sovereignty. Second, it must have both practical control and jurisdiction over a territory. This is known as de facto sovereignty. (Colangelo, 2009, p. 626) To claim de facto sovereignty, a nation must be able to control the territory it claims and protect it from outside influence. The point at which a nation can claim de facto sovereignty is also a useful demarcation for delineating the difference between an “environment” and a “domain”. For example, space did not become a domain until nations began to assert their presence within it; prior to that point, space was simply an environment.

Sovereignty’s historical relationship to geographic territory complicates applying sovereignty to both space and cyberspace. The international community generally acknowledges geographic boundaries in the air, land, and maritime domains, but boundaries do not always apply directly to space and cyberspace. Fortunately, laws and customs governing both de jure and de facto sovereignty in space have successfully been developed over the last half century. Understanding the historical development of sovereignty in space is useful as nations attempt to define sovereignty within cyberspace.

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