Governing through crisis. Conflict, crises and the politics of cyberspace | Online Conference | 9-11 November 2021
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Panel 5


Cyber Arms Control: Incentives and Challenges

Max Smeets

Max Smeets is a Senior Researcher at the Center for Security Studies (CSS) at ETH Zurich. His current book project focuses on the causes underlying cyber proliferation and restraint. He has also published widely on cyber statecraft, strategy and risk. Next to his scholarly publications, Max is a frequent contributor to policy outlets, including Washington Post, Lawfare, War on the Rocks, Slate, Cipher Brief, and CFR.  Max is co-founder and Director of the European Cyber Conflict Research Initiative (, an organization promoting the interdisciplinary study of cyber conflict and statecraft in Europe and beyond. He was previously a postdoctoral fellow and lecturer at Stanford University CISAC and a College Lecturer at Keble College, University of Oxford. He has also held research and fellowship positions at New America, Columbia University SIPA, Sciences Po CERI, and NATO CCD COE.

Twitter: @Maxwsmeets



Explaining the Diffusion of Military Cyber Organizations

In recent years, a growing number of states have established a military cyber organization to conduct offensive cyber operations. The predominant explanation among scholars and policymakers is a realist one: states are encouraged to establish these military organizations to ensure their security in the 21st century. This study advances an alternative explanation of organizational diffusion, emphasizing the role of socialization state’s identity formation. This article conducts a mixed methods study. I create a new cross-national dataset, and find that a country with friendly states which have launched a military cyber organization is significantly more likely to follow.  I subsequently conduct a case study analysis of the Dutch establishment of their cyber command using primary and secondary sources. The article shows that Dutch decision to develop these capabilities was strongly influenced by a desire to emulate its allies and project the image of a military at the forefront of warfighting. In a time of severe military budget cuts, the Netherlands could still proclaim it is part of a modernizing transatlantic security community for a small price. These findings challenge prevailing conceptions of a 21st century cyber arms race and the future of cyber conflict.