The ever-increasing digitisation of our society, further accelerated by the recent COVID-19 crisis, confronts us with major social, economic and also geopolitical issues. Cyberspace has become a reality that strongly influences our foreign policy and national interests. The management of cyberspace has therefore evolved from a technical matter (communication between networks without a key role for states) to an important geopolitical point of discussion. The same goes for several new technologies that are entering our society. 5G, artificial intelligence, quantum computing, blockchain and others have a significant potential impact on the global power relations and economy. Worldwide, substantial differences can be seen in analyses and opinions concerning the right approach to tech giants, the regulation of the vast digital market, the relationship between citizen and state, the (de)militarisation of cyberspace and the protection of human rights. However, countries have no choice but to engage in the international dialogue and seek cooperation: after all, cyberspace is by definition a cross-border issue. A (pro)active approach is necessary to defend our values and interests in a new and constantly evolving context. Diplomacy, therefore, has an important role to play in numerous organisations and fora.
1. The European Union
Our country is closely involved in the discussions on the digital future of the European Union (https://ec.europa.eu/digital-single-market/en/content/european-digital-strategy). Its importance for the prosperity and the position of Belgium in the world can hardly be overestimated. In this context, new initiatives on 5G, the security of our network infrastructure, artificial intelligence etc. are underway.
Within the framework of the Common Foreign and Security Policy, the EU has in recent years developed a diplomatic toolbox that should allow a powerful response to (possible) attacks. By using the EU’s diplomatic and economic instruments, we aim to prevent and sanction attacks by states, but also to outline what is acceptable behaviour in cyberspace.
2. United Nations
Complex negotiations on responsible behaviour by states in cyberspace are currently conducted within the UN. Whereas several countries believe that a new international treaty is necessary for this purpose, our country, together with the EU member states and others, believes that we should focus first and foremost on implementing what we have already agreed on. This represents the highest short-term added value for our security and prosperity and will allow us to better identify possible deficiencies.
In 2016, NATO recognised cyberspace as an operational domain, just like land, sea and air. Cyber is becoming increasingly important, both at the tactical level during missions and at the strategic level.
The OSCE focuses on the development of confidence-building measures between participating states in this new field. Belgium takes an active part in this.
5. New and alternative fora
Cyberspace, by its very nature, raises important questions regarding the established multilateral fora. For example, how can non-state actors best be involved? After all, they have a central role to play in the management of cyberspace and the development of new technologies. It is therefore not surprising that numerous new initiatives are being launched, each of which must be evaluated in terms of their added value, but which are very important in shaping the international debate.