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Russia – China Pledge Non Aggression in Cyber Warfare: Have They Ushered in an Era of Bilateral Cyber Agreements?

Sanjeev Relia writes: On 9 May 2015, Russia and China signed a pledge of non-aggression in cyber warfare. This is the first ever bilateral treaty on cyber warfare signed between two nations who themselves are known to have undertaken large scale cyberattacks in the past. In the absence of an international law governing the use of cyberspace for waging a war, nations need to work on bilateral treaties to prevent cyberspace from threatening national security.

On 9 May 2015, Chinese President Xi Jinping was in Russia to attend the 70th anniversary parade marking Russia’s defeat of Nazi Germany. On the eve of the parade, the two countries announced 32 separate bilateral agreements, including a non-aggression pledge in cyber warfare. The foundation for this treaty was laid in November 2014 when the Russian President was in Beijing to attend the APEC summit. This is the first ever bilateral treaty on cyber warfare signed between two nations who themselves are known to have undertaken large scale cyberattacks in the past.

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In the absence of an international law governing the use of cyberspace for waging a war, nations need to work on bilateral treaties to prevent cyberspace from threatening national security. A Cyber Non-Attack Agreement could be specifically aimed to prevent Critical Information Infrastructure (CII) of anation from coming under cyber-attacks. Any CII whose disruption or destruction could result in damage or loss to public property or life needs to be covered under such a treaty.

There may still exist the issues of attribution of the cyberattack to its perpetrator being established with certainty and also the aspect of adequate trust between the two nations before any such bilateral treaty is signed. Despite many differences and possible points of contention, Russia and China have set precedence by signing the bilateral Cyber Non Aggression Agreement, setting an example for others to follow. In the present circumstances when even United Nations is unsure about the status of cyber-attacks as a tool to wage a war, a bilateral agreement appears to be a good solution to ensure safety of CII from attacks through the cyberspace.

Can India and China or India and Pakistan too work out similar agreements where they pledge not to attack each other’s CII through the cyberspace? A list of such CII could be exchanged as part of the agreement. This will ensure that even in the eventuality of a war, cyberattacks are not used as a tool to target our critical infrastructure. It is time our leadership gave a serious thought to this.

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