The Obama Cyberdoctrine: tweet softly, but carry a big stick

When the Obama administration yesterday issued its cyberspace doctrine, it's big news in terms of how the government of the United States officially intends to treat the issue of cyberspace.

Today, as nations and peoples harness the networks that are all around us, we have a choice. We can either work together to realize their potential for greater prosperity and security, or we can succumb to narrow interests and undue fears that limit progress. Cybersecurity is not an end unto itself; it is instead an obligation that our governments and societies must take on willingly, to ensure that innovation continues to flourish, drive markets, and improve lives. While offline challenges of crime and aggression have made their way to the digital world, we will confront them consistent with the principles we hold dear: free speech and association, privacy, and the free flow of information.

The digital world is no longer a lawless frontier, nor the province of a small elite. It is a place where the norms of responsible, just, and peaceful conduct among states and peoples have begun to take hold. It is one of the finest examples of a community self-organizing, as civil society, academia, the private sector, and governments work together democratically to ensure its effective management. Most important of all, this space continues to grow, develop, and promote prosperity, security, and openness as it has since its invention. This is what sets the Internet apart in the international environment, and why it is so important to protect.

In this spirit, I offer the United States' International Strategy for Cyberspace. This is not the first time my Administration has address the policy challenges surrounding these technologies, but it is the first time that our Nation has laid out an approach that unifies our engagement with international partners on the full range of cyber issues. And so this strategy outlines not only a vision for the future of cyberspace, but an agenda for realizing it. It provides the context for our partners at home and abroad to understand our priorities, and how we can come together to preserve the character of cyberspace and reduce the threats we face.

So begins United States President Barack Obama's introduction to America's formal cyberspace doctrine, published yesterday on the White House Web site at 3:46pm. (See: International Strategy for Cyberspace [pdf] )

The doctrine outlines seven specific policy priorities:

  • Economy: Promoting International Standards and Innovative, Open Markets
  • Protecting Our Networks: Enhancing Security, Reliability, and Resiliency
  • Law Enforcement: Extending Collaboration and the Rule of Law
  • Military: Preparing for 21st Century Security Challenges
  • Internet Governance: Promoting Effective and Inclusive Structures
  • International Development: Building Capacity, Security, and Prosperity
  • Internet Freedom: Supporting Fundamental Freedoms and Privacy

Presidential doctrines provide the definitive guidance to American agencies, officials, and security personnel, essentially laying out the path and priorities for America in the area covered by the doctrine. Doctrines like the Monroe Doctrine (which, in 1823, essentially said that if other countries screw with us, we'll fight back), have lasted decades or even centuries.

So, when the Obama administration yesterday issued its cyberspace doctrine, it's big news in terms of how the government of the United States officially intends to treat the issue of cyberspace.

We saw a hint of a cyberspace doctrine back in September, when United States Deputy Secretary of Defense William J. Lynn III published an article in Foreign Affairs magazine, discussing America's cyberwarfare policy.

See also: Inside look at Pentagon's cyberdefense strategy: The battlefield beyond bad flash drives

But now, we have the full, official doctrine. Rest assured, this one 30-page document will be scoured by foreign affairs officials in almost every country on the planet. Because of America's reach and influence (and because it was almost undoubtedly shared and discussed among our allies), this document will, essentially, become the cyberspace doctrine for most free nations.

Let me caution anyone who might think that a doctrine like this is a political (as in Republican vs. Democratic) document. Presidential foreign policy doctrines have a way of far outlasting their creators and I have no doubt that America's foreign relations strategy, as it pertains to cyberspace, will be measured against this document for years and possibly even decades or centuries to come.

That said, because the Internet is such a rapidly changing beast (I have no doubt that the Obama administration had no expectation of a Wikileaks, for example), I do expect the policy elements and individual items in the United States' International Strategy for Cyberspace to change to meet our changing world.

I haven't had time to fully digest all the implications of this document yet, but stay tuned. I'll have further analysis as I get a better feel for the deeper implications.

In the meantime, I suggest you read the following resources:

See also:

We've recently had some excellent, high-quality discussions, like the one for my post Dear Mrs. Clinton: whether you believe it or not, China is a threat to America. Let's keep up the same quality of discourse here. Please feel free to discuss your impressions of this very important policy document.

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