Governing through crisis. Conflict, crises and the politics of cyberspace | Online Conference | 9-11 November 2021
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Panel 2


Great Power Perspectives: Sovereignty, Norms and Attribution

Mischa Hansel

Mischa Hansel leads IFSH’s research on "International Cybersecurity" (ICS) since February 2021. Previously, he spent several years outside academia, as a program and media officer at the Development and Peace Foundation (sef:) and at the German Aerospace Center (DLR). Between 2013 and 2018, he worked as postdoctoral researcher and lecturer in International Relations at RWTH Aachen University and the University of Giessen respectively. Mischa Hansel studied political science, history, and German language and literature at the University of Cologne, where he completed his PhD with a thesis on conflict and cooperation in the field of international cybersecurity.  He also worked as a visiting fellow at George Washington University, the European Space Policy Institute in Vienna, the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, and Leiden University.

Twitter: @MischaHansel


Staff profile:



Great Power Narratives on the Crisis of Cyber Norm Building: Understanding Legitimization Strategies and Dilemmas

States, companies and civil society actors broadly agree on the need to prevent ICT misuse, regardless of actors, through effective international regulation. However, corresponding norm-building processes are repeatedly characterised by setbacks and controversies about interpretations – be it in 2017, after the failure of the fifth UN Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) or in 2021, when geopolitical tensions flared up during a series of severe supply-chain and ransomware attacks against critical infrastructures. In these and other cases, state representatives engaged in intense storytelling, accusing their counterparts of imposing “the law of the jungle” on others or of following hidden agendas at the UN. In other instances, foreign leaders allegedly sacrificed the needs of the international community for personal profit or domestic politics gains.

This paper focusses on the stories through which state representatives address the international audience, seeking to explain the international community’s recurrent failures to secure cyberspace against arms races, crisis escalations and destructive criminal acts. Using narrative concepts and methods, the analysis seeks to explore the dynamics of this emerging transnational public diplomacy, focussing on the narratives of the United States, Russia and China in particular. Beyond comparing main structural elements of each narrative, i.e. their basic settings, responsible actors and key chain of events that led to the failure of stabilizing cyberspace, the goal is to explore plausible influences on narrative construction – ranging from security concerns and domestic politics to international legitimacy. On each of these levels, decisions about withholding or disclosing information play a crucial role. The paper therefore links research on foreign policy narratives with the growing body of literature on secrecy, political attributions and other information disclosures.