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Member Publications

Cyberattacks on Russia—the nation with the most nuclear weapons—pose a global threat

Published in Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists | Volume 75, 2019

In July 2018, the Kremlin released the official transcript of a meeting between President Vladimir Putin and the nation’s special-services employees, when he thanked them for ensuring security during the 2018 World Cup in Russia. Putin revealed in his speech that during the preceding weeks, as millions of people watched the world’s best players kick a soccer ball, “almost 25 million cyberattacks and other criminal attempts on Russia’s information infrastructure … were neutralized”

Millions of cyberattacks over a couple of weeks is a frightening revelation, but the attacks are of particular concern because Russia has the world’s largest deployed arsenal of nuclear weapons. The Federation of American Scientists estimates that as of early 2018, Russia’s nuclear arsenal has 4,350 warheads, of which about 800 are deployed on intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) Russian officials have stated that these missiles are ready to be launched within “several dozen seconds” or “a few tens of seconds.” The United States also has hundreds of nuclear weapons in a similar posture. Long-time nuclear policy analysts Bruce Blair, Hal Feiveson and Frank von Hippel worry about the possibility that “one day someone will mistakenly launch nuclear-tipped missiles, either because of a technical failure or a human error – a mistake made, perhaps, in the rush to respond to false indications of an (enemy) attack.”

Continue reading on the BAS/Taylor & Francis website >

Washington sparks a space spat at the United Nations

Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists | published December 11, 2018

At the United Nations, outer space used to be a realm of relative peace and cooperation. Every fall, virtually all the world’s nations are represented at the UN General Assembly’s First Committee meeting, which considers matters related to disarmament and international security, including in outer space. There, many space-related resolutions were typically so uncontroversial as to be adopted without a vote. The high level of cooperation allowed for broad international agreement on space policy, and generated some practical recommendations. For example, in 2013, a UN Group of Governmental Experts agreed on a set of “Transparency and Confidence Building Measures” on outer space, which the General Assembly has encouraged member states to implement. Among other things, the measures promote the exchange of information on space policies and activities, risk reduction efforts (like keeping spacecraft far enough apart to avoid collision), and visits to space launch facilities.

The diplomatic atmosphere, however, was dramatically different at this year’s First Committee session in October. The Committee adopted four resolutions dealing with outer space security—and the United States voted “no” on all four. These resolutions are not legally binding, but do set out policy positions and hence can be viewed as statements of political intent. By rejecting all four, Washington signaled, in effect, that whatever the international community sought to do on space concerns, it opposed. This was in stark contrast to previous years, when the United States did join the consensus on Transparency and Confidence Building Measures, and merely abstained on a resolution seeking to prevent an arms race in outer space.

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Global cyber security norms: a proliferation problem?

Abstract:

At the invitation of the ICT4Peace Foundation, Paul Meyer, Senior Advisor of the Foundation, prepared his analysis of the most recent developments at the United Nations and elsewhere regarding the development and promotion of norms of responsible state behaviour in Cyberspace. He analyses the recent process at the UN (UN GGE, Open-ended Working Group), new instruments such as the Paris Call, Digital Peace Initiative, Digital Geneva Convention, and the recent norms proposal by the The Global Commission on the Stability of Cyberspace.

He concludes that the international community’s effort to develop norms of responsible state behaviour in cyberspace is currently facing a crisis that may also be an opportunity. The crisis is the breakdown of what had been a consensus at the United Nations as to how work on such norms should proceed. The failure of a UN expert group to agree on a report last year and the adoption of parallel and competing processes at this year’s General Assembly has cast a shadow on and much uncertainty as to the future direction of inter-governmental discussions.

This situation has however also presented an opportunity for other cyber security stakeholders in the private sector and civil society to highlight their own proposals for norms to govern state conduct. While there may be a risk of norms proliferation down the road, the near-term challenge will be for these stakeholders to find a way to engage states in a process to adopt and implement such norms of responsible state behaviour which they alone can realize.

Continue reading on the ICT4Peace Foundation website: Global Cyber Security Norms.

Canada and space security diplomacy: getting back into the game

Hill Times | 26 November 2018

Despite the rapid expansion in the use of outer space and a disturbing deterioration in relations among major space powers, the Canadian government lacks a clear foreign policy for space security.

There was a time when Canada was known for its activism on space security issues in the international arena. As an early adopter of satellite technology, Canada appreciated the importance of preserving a safe and secure operating environment in outer space. This acknowledged interest was reflected in Canada’s diplomacy. Among the measures that prime minister Pierre Trudeau advocated during his Peace Initiative of 1983- 84 was a ban on high-altitude anti-satellite weapons recognizing the risk that the debris created by such weapons would pose for all space operations (a risk that has only increased significantly in the interim as use of space has grown exponentially with some 1800 satellites currently active).

In tandem with its diplomatic initiative, the Canadian government invested in a major study of the feasibility of utilizing satellites to verify future outer space arms control agreements. This study, known as PAXSAT, concluded that it would be feasible to provide such verification via space-based technology.

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Visions on the future of cyberspace clash at the UN

First published on OpenCanada, 15 Nov 2018 | A fragile consensus over norms of responsible state behaviour in cyberspace, as Paul Meyer observes, has fallen victim to East–West geopolitical tensions.

If finding common ground on the sensitive issue of state conduct in cyberspace was not already difficult enough, then the results of this fall’s United Nations General Assembly First Committee, which focuses on disarmament and international security, has made it all that more complicated.

After more than a decade of slow but steady progress on identifying norms of responsible state behaviour in cyberspace, the existing consensus has broken down and a bizarre, bifurcated path has been adopted for the future.

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Review: Thomas Piketty, “Capital in the Twenty-First Century”

French economist Thomas Piketty’s bestseller presents a massive empirical analysis of the dynamics and structure of wealth and income in countries with capitalist economies since the late 18th century. His book relies primarily on the historical experience of the rich countries of France, Great Britain, the United States, Japan, and Germany. The result is a discovery of an empirical law that produces an ever-increasing growth in wealth relative to national income in these countries. Ever increasing wealth  leads to extreme concentrations of wealth in the hands of the wealthiest 10% and income earned by the highest 10% of income earners in the population. The concentration of wealth is so great that much of it is passed on to the next generation in inheritances so that eventually economies tend to be dominated by a high proportion of inherited wealth. This outcome violates the “meritoric” value of democracy — that the inequality of income and wealth are just only if they are the result of hard work and skill. Inherited wealth is not the result of hard work and skill of the recipients.

Piketty’s analysis begins with the relationship between wealth and income. Note that wealth and capital are terms that mean the same thing and that they are used interchangeably throughout the book. Capital represents the market value of assets of real estate, stocks and interest bearing assets such as bonds, GICs and savings accounts in banks. These capital assets generate annual incomes in the form of rents, profits, stock dividends, capital gains, royalties and interest  all of which are “income from capital”. Income from capital is then added to “income from labour” (in the form of wages, salaries and self employment income) to produce income. So when Piketty refers to income he means the sum of income from capital and income from labour. The distinction between these two types of income is significant because they are distributed in very different ways among the three broad classes in society: the rich, the middle class and the poor. Income from capital amounts to around 30% of national income in Britain and France and 20% in the United States and Canada.

Increasing inequality is most dramatic in the US where the share of total income earned by the top decile of income earners rose from 33% in 1970 to almost 50% in 2010. Approximately 70% of this increase reflects the share of income earned by the top 1% of income earners which rose from 8% in 1970 to 20% in 2010. The latter set of figures has led to the unrest in the US that was manifested in the Occupy Wall Street movement in 2011. Whether or not this unrest will be destabilizing depends on the future organization and strength of the Occupy movement relative to the effectiveness of other organizations that are engaged in justifying the inequality. Since the 1980s neoconservative groups in the US have aggressively asserted justifications for these inequalities. These include the arguments that inequalities are justified because the increase in wealth represents a reward for hard work, ingenuity, and entrepreneurship or because higher tax rates on high income earners to correct the inequality would reduce incentives to work hard or, alternatively, act as incentives for them to move production activities out of the country to the detriment of all citizens.

Continue reading (PDF download, 13pp): Review: Capital in the Twenty-First Century