April 24th marked the UN’s International Day of Multilateralism and Diplomacy for Peace (IDMDP), in acknowledgement of multilateral decision-making and diplomacy’s role in achieving peaceful resolutions to conflicts among nations. Multilateralism, the coming together of multiple countries to achieve a common goal, is critical to achieving the UN’s goals of establishing and protecting human rights, security, and peace. Beyond multilateralism, multistakeholderism—the coming together of global actors, including civil society, private industry, and states—is key to developing sustainable solutions to global problems. When diverse perspectives and expertise are brought together in collaboration to solve the world’s complex problems, nuanced solutions, developed with their social, industrial, and political impact in mind, come to life.
Leading up to this year’s IDMDP, the UN made a major stride on the road to digital peace by coming to a multilateral agreement on expectations for responsible state behavior online. After nearly two years of deliberations, the UN’s Open-Ended Working Group on cybersecurity released its final report. A testament to the escalating tensions and growing rivalry between the cyberpowers, this is the first progress on the UN level in over five years, and an encouraging step closer to a world where digital peace is a reality.
In the spirit of multistakeholderism, all 193 UN Member States as well as organizations outside of government, including civil society, academia, and members of the tech industry were able to contribute. Unfortunately, only one consultation included non-governmental contributors. That’s not enough. A truly multistakeholder approach that fully values the input from an array of experts is key if we want to continue making meaningful progress towards digital peace, as the Digital Peace Now movement actively advocates for. Private organizations largely develop and maintain cyberspace and have critical insight on what it takes to protect it. Human rights are an important part of the cyber governance discussion, and fully engaging civil rights organizations in the conversation helps ensure governments and the private sector are held accountable. As the report stands now, there is little mention of human rights and no reference to international humanitarian law—both of which must be upheld in our on- and offline worlds.
Already, we brace ourselves for the latest announcement of the most damaging and pervasive cyberattack yet. With the recent SolarWinds attack and the targeting of healthcare and critical infrastructure, like water processing plants, we cannot afford to lose any momentum in the work towards multilateral, and especially multistakeholder, solutions to cyberwarfare. In fact, we need to ramp up dialogue and cooperation on global cybersecurity, as suggested by the French government’s proposed Programme of Action (PoA). The PoA as envisioned could potentially consolidate UN cyber deliberations — helping to streamline necessary multilateral participation.
While more needs to be done, the report is ultimately a big step in the right direction—it means multilateral cooperation to tackle global cybersecurity is possible. While we now look to the UN to follow through on its commitments, we will continue raising our voice to demand even more necessary progress towards achieving digital peace.