Statement by Permanent Representative Vassily Nebenzia at an open VTC of UNSC members "Maintenance of international peace and security: Cyber security"
We thank Ms.Nakamitsu for her briefing.
A year has passed since the pandemic began. This year was a big challenge that is most remembered by losses and difficulties that it cast upon us. It affected numerous diplomatic efforts and impeded negotiations at many tracks.
Yet there is at least one positive exception – multilateral discussion of international information security (IIS) at the United Nations. This discussion could both retain its dynamic pace and – I dare say – achieve historic results. There are two specialized expert platforms operating under the GA auspices – Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) and Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG). Both of them could endorse final reports by consensus.
Neither of the two groups can say the negotiations were easy. It was a hard-won result that clearly demonstrated that the international community was able to agree on key issues given that the dialogue be pragmatic, depoliticized and constructive. Thanks to those efforts, we are now standing at the door of a new big phase, which kicked off in June 2021 during an organizational meeting of the renewed OEWG for 2021-2025.
We believe this result was a shared achievement of the international community. On our part, we have been working for more than one decade by now to make a meaningful contribution to the establishment of a global system of IIS. It was Russia that back in 1998 first raised this issue at the UN saying that we should combat threats in the area of IIS and proposing a relevant UNGA resolution. In early 2000s, we proposed to create an expert platform to discuss the topic of IIS – GGE. When this topic “overgrew” the narrow format of an expert group, we responded to a request of the international community and, together with like-minded partners, in 2019 we launched an open and democratic negotiations process on IIS within OEWG where all member states took part.
This was a landmark development. It was the first time that the “UN majority” received access to discussions of digital security issues. Our logic is very simple. We stand for equal and mutually respectful dialogue. If everyone is equal in the face of IIS threats, then they must be discussed equally by all UN member states rather than a narrow group of technologically-advanced countries. Those who believe themselves to be more “advanced” must not impose anything on the others.
Not all our proposals were welcomed from the very start. It was the case with both GGE and OEWG. A range of states, including those taking part in this debate, cast their vote against. But then they gradually joined the discussion and started to engage actively and constructively.
Effective multilateral diplomacy on IIS at the United Nations, which supplements bilateral interaction between states in this area sets a good example of how we should address these issues in order to mitigate mutual distrust and lift concerns.
Unfortunately, in parallel to that we witness a dangerous trend. Some stakeholders try to impose on the Security Council unilateral interpretations of GGE and OEWG agreements, offering to support them or, what’s even worse, to revise the results of discussion held at specialized UNGA platforms. We consider such attempts as destructive. They push the international community towards unpredictable and undesirable confrontational scenarios.
In particular, this applies to attempts of some countries to twist the achieved agreements, i.a. those relating to international law aspects of using information and communication technologies (ICTs) in order to justify unilateral pressure and sanctions, and even possible use of force against other member states. We are particularly concerned over the resolve of some technologically-advanced states to militarize information space by promoting the concept of “preventive military cyberstrikes”, i.a. against critical infrastructure. These confrontational doctrines run counter to the goal of preventing conflicts in the ICT area that we committed to on numerous occasions, including this meeting. We perceive it as attempt of some actors to impose their own “rules of the game” in the information space from the position of force.
Let me stress: even though the digital domain cannot be called unregulated, the discussion of how exactly international law can be applied to it is far from being closed. These questions will be further discussed for at least another five years at a specialized platform under UNGA auspices - the renewed OEWG.
Provisions of GGE and OEWG reports in this regard present a thoughtfully calibrated and well-balanced package of arrangements that i.a. cover the need to elaborate new norms of responsible behavior of states in the information space that would reflect its specifics. The initial list of such rules was stipulated by a resolution on IIS that the General Assembly adopted in 2018 upon Russia's initiative. Unfortunately, today we see our Western colleagues try to pick separate, the most convenient provisions, and then, having interpreted them wrongly – as if the international law applied to the digital domain “automatically”, which allowed for the use of force there – present their national views as a global consensus. That is why we will oppose any attempts of the Security Council to revise the well-balanced agreements achieved at specialized UNGA platforms.
As President Putin pointed out at the meeting of the Security Council of the Russian Federation on 26 March 2021, Russian doctrinal approaches to forming a global IIS regime remain open, transparent, and unchanged. They are enshrined in the Basic Principles of Russian State Policy on International Information Security that our President endorsed in April this year. The document is accessible for broader public; I call on all of you to read it.
Our doctrine is based on usage of ICTs for peaceful purposes only, the need to prevent conflicts in information space, and the importance of strengthening multilateral and bilateral cooperation. We believe it crucial to make universal international law-based agreements that would let us effectively meet these goals. As we approach this target, we need to mainstream our joint efforts at elaboration and endorsement of universal, just, comprehensive and time-sensitive rules of behavior of states in the information space, clearly distinguish between what can be considered acceptable and unacceptable there, and make these rules legally binding so that all states strictly adhered to them.
We advocate inviolability of states’ sovereignty in the digital domain. Each country should define parameters of regulating its information space and related infrastructure on its own.
A no less important task is establishment of a peaceful equal and fair IIS system which would take into account interests of all states regardless of their “digital capacity”. We need to comprehensively support capacity-building efforts taken under UN auspices and aimed at bridging the “digital gap”. We expect that the new OEWG will continue detailed consideration of this question within its mandate and elaborate relevant recommendations.
Besides, we need to act collectively to counter the use of ICTs for criminal purposes. We call on member states to contribute meaningfully to the work of Ad Hoc Committee, which is tasked to draft a corresponding convention by 2023.
The General Assembly of the United Nations remains the key platform for consideration of IIS-related issues. For the next five years, it will host an expert discussion of all aspects of this agenda. Let’s focus on supporting this unique process. We need to preserve the constructive spirit of multilateral interaction on IIS under UN auspices in the OEWG format which has proven its efficiency and relevance in practical terms. In this case, the new OEWG will have a real chance to achieve tangible, practical results. As UNSC members, we share the duty to facilitate this in every possible way.