Published by The Lawfare Institute
in Cooperation With
Published by The Lawfare Institute
As Paul Rosenzweig noted earlier today in Lawfare, the President just signed out an Executive Order that can result in the imposition of financial sanctions on a variety of bad actors that ply their trade through cyber means or against important cyber assets and/or restrictions or bans on travel to the United States on such individuals. Paul also makes the key point that “If access to US markets is of value, the Administration is signalling, strongly, that continued access may be conditioned on good cyber behavior.” I concur with that statement. But it’s only half the equation. The other half is how the bad actor (or the government of jurisdiction over the bad actor) will respond to US sanctions levied against them. Remember, we don’t get the last move in this game unless the other side simply rolls over and plays dead when we do whatever it is that we do. Consider China, for example. U.S. companies have all kinds of active business interests in China right now. Although many of them today chafe under Chinese restrictions or conditions for their doing business in China (e.g., having to surrender certain intellectual property rights to China), the operative question if the United States imposes sanctions on Chinese companies (likely state-owned enterprises) is whether a Chinese counter-response—justified or not—will make life even more miserable for U.S. companies now doing business in China. I think they will—which leads to the point that imposing economic sanctions of this sort on Chinese companies is not likely to be cost-free to U.S. companies. What will be the response of the U.S. companies harmed in a Chinese counter-response? In particular, are they likely to complain to the U.S. government about what is happening to them? And if they do, what will the U.S. government do then? I don’t have any answers here, and I am not saying that imposing sanctions on offending companies or individuals is bad policy. But I worry that no responsible authority has thought through the end game, or even the opening game beyond our first move. I sure would like to be reassured about that.
Dr. Herb Lin is senior research scholar for cyber policy and security at the Center for International Security and Cooperation and Hank J. Holland Fellow in Cyber Policy and Security at the Hoover Institution, both at Stanford University. His research interests relate broadly to policy-related dimensions of cybersecurity and cyberspace, and he is particularly interested in and knowledgeable about the use of offensive operations in cyberspace, especially as instruments of national policy. In addition to his positions at Stanford University, he is Chief Scientist, Emeritus for the Computer Science and Telecommunications Board, National Research Council (NRC) of the National Academies, where he served from 1990 through 2014 as study director of major projects on public policy and information technology, and Adjunct Senior Research Scholar and Senior Fellow in Cybersecurity (not in residence) at the Saltzman Institute for War and Peace Studies in the School for International and Public Affairs at Columbia University. Prior to his NRC service, he was a professional staff member and staff scientist for the House Armed Services Committee (1986-1990), where his portfolio included defense policy and arms control issues. He received his doctorate in physics from MIT.
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