News reports indicate that the United States and Russia are close to reaching an agreement that would expand a secure communications channel originally established to avert misunderstandings that might lead to nuclear war to the domain of cyberconflicts. Such confidence-building measures are useful tools given all the uncertainties regarding cyberconflicts as well as the poor prospects of negotiating cybersecurity treaties such as those that already exist for nuclear, biological, chemical and conventional weapons.
The Nuclear Risk Reduction Center, created in 1988, has already been extended to exchange information in support of more than a dozen bilateral and multilateral treaties, some with as many as 50 members, as well as other confidence-building measures that limit the nature and scope of military activities. Participating countries can transmit data about missile tests, military exercises, troop movements and other potentially destabilizing activities deemed threatening to a country’s national security. Once the agreement currently being negotiated is finalized, Russia and the United States could also use the center to send messages to one another about seemingly threatening cyber activity that they either plan to undertake or believe the other is engaged in.
The U.S.-Russian agreement, which is the first such confidence-building measure in the cyber domain between the United States and another country, will include ancillary communication and transparency measures. The United States is engaged in similar negotiations on cyber confidence-building measures with other countries, including China.