Under the auspices of the UN, the EU and its Member States have consistently reaffirmed
that a universal cyber security framework can only be grounded in existing international law, including the Charter of the United Nations in its entirety, international humanitarian law, and international human rights law.
Addressing issues as to how existing international law and international humanitarian law, including the principles of humanity, necessity, proportionality and distinction, apply to the use ICTs by States is necessary to increase accountability and transparency. International humanitarian law is fully applicable in cyberspace and this should not be misunderstood as legitimising the use of force between states in the cyber domain. The EU has typically opposed calls for the need to adapt existing international law as a means to develop a new legal instrument for cyber issues.
The US believes
that international law is applicable in cyberspace. As part of the ‘like-minded’ coalition, the US recognises a need to acknowledge the full breadth of relevant international law, including international humanitarian law (IHL), human rights law, customary international law on the responsibilities of states for internationally wrongful acts. The general applicability of IHL in cyberspace is not to be misconstrued as a tacit endorsement of aggression in the cyber domain; instead, it only serves to remind states of the responsibility to respect and protect civilians in the event of armed conflict.
In the context of multilateral fora, US diplomats have specifically emphasised
the applicability of the right to self-defence under Art. 51 of the UN Charter, noting that a State may lawfully take cyber-based or non-cyber-based countermeasures in response to internationally wrongful cyber activities attributable to another State, but only subject to the requirements of the doctrine under international law and the principles of necessity and proportionality.
In theory, China accepts
that the principles enshrined within the UN Charter, including sovereign equality, prohibition on the use of force, settlement of disputes by peaceful means, non-intervention in the affairs of other states and fulfilment of international obligations in good faith, apply in cyberspace.
Nevertheless, the Chinese position is generally characterized by a reluctance
to crystallise the precise ways in which existing customary and international treaty law might govern the cyber domain; the exact application of specific aspects of international law, such as laws on self-defence, state responsibility, and international humanitarian law, is claimed to remain unclear in the absence of international consensus.
Chinese delegations have also repeatedly cautioned against the “indiscriminate application of the law of armed conflicts”
, arguing that the undue emphasis on jus ad bellum
undermines stability in cyberspace by presupposing and thus effectively legitimising cyber conflict, consequently turning cyberspace into a “new battlefield”.
China regards proposals on regional exchanges of views and development of common understanding on the application of international law with particular scepticism, stating
that states must work on reaching “universally-accepted consensus” on the application of international law, rather than engage in “self-explanations at regional levels or among a small group of countries”. The Chinese have also consistently favoured
the adoption of new international legal instruments tailored to the attributes of cyberspace (lex specialis