Governing through crisis. Conflict, crises and the politics of cyberspace | Online Conference | 9-11 November 2021
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We are pleased to welcome you to our 2021 conference Governing through crisis. Conflict, crises and the politics of cyberspace.

THE HAGUE PROGRAM FOR CYBER NORMS was set up in cooperation with the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs following the Global Conference on Cyber Space (GCCS) in 2015, hosted in the same city that gives our program its name. We support the development and understanding of international norms with regard to the development and use of ICTs and related technologies, applying critical thinking to cyber peace and security issues. The program is part of the Institute of Security and Global Affairs of Leiden University, the oldest university in the Netherlands, having been founded in 1575, and located at the university’s brand new The Hague campus – blending the old with the new in more ways than one.

We aim to be an independent and inclusive platform, welcoming both academic and non-academic partners. Besides this conference, we are planning other conferences and activities over the next few years to connect with international thinkers and practitioners on issues related to cyber norms.

We wish you an inspiring and fruitful conference!

Conference team

Conference theme

The Covid-19 pandemic has both stopped the world in its tracks as well as accelerated its pace digitally. As the world moved its daily life and work online to deal with the crisis, it also opened itself up to new cyber crises. The vulnerable health care sector was exposed to criminal and state attacks, vaccine manufacturers became subject to IP theft and espionage, and disinformation about Covid-19 muddied the national and international debate about the nature of the crisis and how to deal with it. The new digital ‘normal’ kept the world running, but also vastly increased the attack surface for malicious cyber actors. While some were trying to govern themselves through the crisis, others were using the crisis as a governance mechanism. ‘Never waste a good crisis’, comes in benign and in malicious shapes.

In cyberspace, crisis comes in many shapes and forms. Mis- and disinformation has created a crisis of trust in information and authority in many societies. For some states this is a governance problem, while for others it is an instrument of governance. New cyber operations keep shifting the goal posts on what is and is not acceptable behavior in cyberspace. Recent operations such as SolarWinds and the Microsoft Exchange hacks put pressure on the demarcation between cyber espionage and (military) cyber operations. Conceptual clarity is still very much subject to debate, with some analytical categories facing a crisis of their own. The field of UN cyber diplomacy has been governing itself through the crisis of the failure to reach consensus in the 2017 UN GGE by multiplying its processes. There is now an ongoing UN GGE, an OEWG process that reached consensus, a new OEWG round 2021-2025, a committee of experts to review the possibility of a UN cybercrime treaty and a proposal for a cyber Programme of Action (PoA) that is gaining support. All against a background of mounting geopolitical tensions and increased state cyber activity.              

The relation between crisis and governance is inherently double faced. Crisis management is about preparedness, capacity and capacity building, resilience and more generally combining accurate threat and risk assessment with strategy, policy and resources. But crisis is also a method of governance: escalation can be a conscious political strategic choice, disinformation a policy tool and political and diplomatic fragmentation can be a positive outcome depending on where you stand and what your interests are. Crisis can fragment and can unite, can be a centrifugal or a centripetal force.

In 2021, we want to place the conversation about cyber norms in the perspective of crises. How well equipped are the governance mechanisms and diplomatic processes that have been put into place to deal with crisis? What are the effects of a global crisis like Covid-19 on state behaviour(s), diplomatic behaviour and international cooperation in cyberspace? What strategies do states – and other actors – develop to deal with crises? How do states use crisis, or the opportunities shaped by crises, to further their own interests? Why do some states escalate and other de-escalate?

The current global health crisis inspired this theme, but this Call for Papers is not limited to that crisis alone. For the annual academic conference of The Hague Program for Cyber Norms we are interested in all papers that have an interesting take on the theme of international crisis, conflict, and the politics of cyberspace. As before, we aim to bring together scholars from a diverse range of disciplines including – but not limited to – international relations, international law, economics, political economy, security studies, political sociology, philosophy, political science, science and technology studies and engineering. The key to understanding the development of norms in cyberspace lies in bringing together the various disciplines that relate to the theme in a broad sense. This call for papers is therefore open to extended abstracts from a wide range of academic disciplines.

The conference is the fourth in an annual series organised by The Hague Program for Cyber Norms which has become a key multidisciplinary venue for peer-reviewed research in the study of cyber security and international stability. Take a look at the previous editions of this conference in 2018, 2019 and 2020.

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