Geopolitics

Why Russia Is Taking On The West Over Cyber Warfare

With the United States embroiled over the National Security Agency's alleged spying on American and foreign citizens, there are other battles taking shape over the Internet.

QWERTY/Cyrillic computer keyboard
Elena Chernenko

MOSCOW - Just a few months ago, NATO published the first-ever document meant to help establish international norms on cyber warfare. The document has already caught the attention of numerous Russian agencies – and not always in a good way.

The document is called the “Tallinn Manual on the International Law Applicable to Cyber Warfare,” and the appearance of Estonia’s capital in the document’s name is not coincidental. In 2007 there were massive hacker attacks on Estonian sites, and Estonia pointed the finger at Russia, making Estonia the first victim of a state-sponsored cyber attack. Moscow’s guilt was never officially proven, and Tallinn’s losses weren’t serious enough to warrant military defense. NATO’s Cooperative Cyber Defense Center opened in Tallinn a year later.

The 300-page Tallinn Manual describes, for the first time, what actions alliance members should take in the case of a more serious cyber attack. The document argues that there are existing international legal rules that are applicable to cyber warfare. That is in direct conflict with the wishes of Russia and many other countries, which say that new laws are needed.

The document lists 95 existing laws that cover the use of information technology during conflicts. The NATO experts divided cyber attacks into different types and spelled out which rules would apply to each type of attack.

For instance, for attacks carried out during peacetime, the attacked country can respond either by demanding compensation or with “proportional measures.” For example, if Uzbekistan carries out a cyber attack on a dam in Kyrgyzstan so that more water is released into the river, Kyrgyzstan could respond by attacking the Uzbek irrigation system.

The document’s authors stressed that depending on the scale and nature of the attack and the consequences (loss of life, damage or destruction of facilities) a peacetime cyber attack could be equated to “use of force” or an “armed attack,” which can be responded to with military force, including the use of traditional weapons.

The document states that a cyber attack could cause damages similar to attacks with chemical, biological or nuclear weapons. It also states clearly that the government who orders an attack is the one responsible, whether or not the attack is carried out from that country’s territory. If, for instance, North Korea hired Iranian hackers to infect computers in Saudi Arabia that would in turn infect U.S. computers, then the U.S. should respond against North Korea.

Legitimization of cyber warfare

The Tallinn Manual says that there have not been any cyber attacks that rise to the level of an act of war, although experts do point to one incident: the Stuxnet virus used to infect Iranian nuclear facilities in 2010. The document does not mention who might have been behind that incident, but most Russian authorities think it was the U.S. and Israel.

Many of the other stipulations are very similar to other international laws on warfare, such as forbidding attacks on civilians or civilian institutions such as hospitals.

In the west the Tallinn Manual received a warm welcome, and many experts have said that it matches Washington’s position on cyber warfare. Of course, non-NATO members were not part of the negotiations, so the document cannot be internationally binding or necessarily representative.

In Russia, officials are much less excited. Russia’s position is that cyber warfare should not simply be controlled – it should be completely forbidden. For Moscow, the Tallinn Manual marks a step toward the legitimization of cyber warfare.

From Moscow’s point of view, while Russia works to prevent the militarization of cyberspace by urging the international community and the UN to adopt a code of conduct, the U.S. and its allies are already working out the rules for prosecuting cyber warfare.

But many Russian experts also see an upside to the Tallinn Manual. Moscow has long tried to talk about cyber security and run up against an unwillingness to talk in Washington, but now that situation is starting to change, according to Aleksander Bedritsky, an expert at the Russian Institute of Strategic Research. Still, he thinks an agreement is unlikely. “It is much more likely that the U.S. and its allies will try to force its understanding of cyber security on others, and if there is no progress during negotiation they will blame Russia,” says Bedritsky.

In spite of the differences on legal matters, there are signs that Russia and the U.S. are getting closer to agreement on practical matters. Vladimir Putin and Barack Obama are planning to sign a number of bilateral agreements about security in cyberspace during their upcoming June meeting.

It’s also extremely unlikely that even if a large number of people in the U.S. were killed due to, for instance, a virus at a dam and the hackers were tracked to Russia, that the U.S. would immediately start seizing Russian computers. That would be allowed under the Tallinn Manual. According to the prepared agreements, they would at least call and ask for an explanation first.

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Thousands of Tunisians gathered in the capital of Tunis

Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Bertrand Hauger and Anne-Sophie Goninet

👋 Laphi!*

Welcome to Monday, where post-Merkel Germany looks set shift to a center-left coalition, San Marino and Switzerland catch up with the rest of Europe on two key social issues, and a turtle slows things down at a Japan airport. Meanwhile, we take an international look at different ways to handle beloved, yet controversial, comic books and graphic novels characters.

[*Aymara, Bolivia]

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

Social Democrats narrowly win German elections: Germany's center-left party claimed a narrow victory in the federal election, beating the CDU party of outgoing chancellor Angela Merkel by just over 1.5%, according to preliminary results. SPD leader Olaf Scholz has claimed a mandate to form a government with the Greens and Liberals, in what would be Germany's first three-way ruling coalition. Germany's capital city Berlin will also get its first female mayor.

Switzerland says yes to same-sex marriage: Nearly two-thirds of Swiss voters approved the proposal to legalize same-sex marriage in a referendum, making it one of the last countries in Western Europe to do so.

San Marino voters back legal abortion: More than 77% voted in support of legalizing abortion up to 12 weeks of pregnancy in San Marino in a historic referendum for the predominantly Catholic tiny city-state, which was one of the last places in Europe that still criminalized abortion.

COVID update: Australian authorities announced they will gradually reopen lockdowned Sydney, with a system that will give vaccinated citizens more freedom than the unvaccinated. Meanwhile, Thailand will waive its mandatory quarantine requirement in Bangkok and several other regions for vaccinated travellers in November. In Brazil, a fourth member of President Jair Bolsonaro's delegation to the United Nations has tested positive to COVID-19.

Power shortages in China spread: Tight coal supplies and toughening emissions standards have led to power shortages in northeastern China, forcing numerous factories including many supplying Apple and Tesla to halt production.

Strong earthquake hits Crete, at least one killed: An earthquake of magnitude 6 struck the Greek island of Crete, with reports that at least one person was killed and several injured after buildings collapsed.

Turtle causes delays at Tokyo airport: A wandering turtle forced the Tokyo Narita airport to close its runway for twelve minutes, delaying five planes, including an All Nippon Airways plane featuring ... a sea turtle-themed fuselage.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

"Neck and neck," titles German daily Augsburger Allgemeine about the tight results of the federal election, which according to preliminary results, is set to be won by the center-left party SPD led by Olaf Sholz by just over 1.5%. It was the country's tightest race in years, and will likely lead to long, complicated negotiations to form a coalition government.


💬  LEXICON

Magal

On Sunday, hundreds of thousands of Muslim pilgrims from Senegal, but also from elsewhere in Africa, Europe, and the United States, converged to the great Mosque of Touba, as part of the Grand Magal. The annual pilgrimage, a Wolof word meaning celebration, marks the date French colonial authorities exiled spiritual leader and founder of the Senegalese Mouride Brotherhood Sheikh Amadou Bamba.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

Cancel Tintin? Spotting racist imagery in comics around the world

From the anti-Semitic children's books of Nazi Germany to the many racist caricatures of Asian, African or Indigenous people in the 20th century, comics have long contained prejudiced, sexist and xenophobic stereotypes. These publications have been rightfully criticized but some are pushing back, saying that this kind of unwarranted "canceling" threatens freedom of expression. Here are examples from three countries around the world about how people are handling the debate and sketching the future of comics.

🔥📚 The Adventures of Tintin and The Adventures of Asterix both emerged in French-speaking Europe during the 20th century and quickly developed global audiences. But the comic books have also been called out for controversial depictions of certain groups, including North American Indigenous peoples. And as Radio-Canada recently reported, one group of French-speaking schools in Ontario found the texts so offensive that they decided to go ahead and burn the books. The report, not surprisingly, stirred up a pretty fiery debate on the issues of free speech and what some refer to as "cancel culture."

🤠 In a more progressive model for rethinking cartoons with long — and complicated — legacies, Lucky Luke in France is taking a different direction. Telling the story of a cowboy in the Wild West, the series is notably lacking in terms of diversity. But in 2020, well-known French cartoonists Julien Berjeaut (known as Jul) and Hervé Darmenton (known as Achdé) took on the challenge of a more inclusive Lucky Luke. With its 81st album, Un Cow-Boy Dans Le Coton (A Cowboy in High Cotton), they changed the perspective to focus on recently freed Black slaves.

🇯🇵 Outside of France and Belgium, Japan arguably has the largest market for graphic novels, or manga, which first developed in the late 19th century. And like their European counterparts, certain manga titles have been accused of using racist tropes. One example is the character Mr. Popo, a genie from the popular Dragon Ball series who has been cited for having offensive features. In the meantime, more and more mangaka (creators of manga) are expanding beyond these traditional representations, including in their depictions of women, who are over-sexualized in many mangas.


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📣 VERBATIM

"Still now, I am terrified."

— In mid-August, Afghan news anchor Beheshta Arghand interviewed Mawlawi Abdulhaq Hemad, a high-ranking Taliban representative, for TOLOnews. A historic moment for the female presenter, just days after the Islamic fundamentalist group took over Afghanistan. Now exiled in Albania, Arghand tells the BBC in a moving testimony why she had to flee to Albania and how she, like many in her country, has lost everything.

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin, Clémence Guimier & Bertrand Hauger


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