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The Maastricht Diplomat

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[Reuters] NATO members call for common definition of cyberwar terms

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) debated on Thursday whether and how to define cyberwar and related terms, posing potential implications for the alliance’s ability to defend itself against cyber attacks. 

Consensus persisted amongst the members of the organization that a common definition of terms relating to cyberwarfare is needed, as they also discussed the status of lethal automatic weapons.

Countries like Finland, Estonia and the United States called for the use of existing definitions from member states. Many nations mentioned the Tallinn Manual, an academic study over the application of international law to cyber conflicts, France argued it could serve as a basis for defining situations where a cyber attack infringes on a country's sovereignty. 

Finland noted that this definition could lead to an all-encompassing definition that would declare any act of cyber aggression as an act of war, potentially leading to the unintentional involvement of third party states in conflicts. 

Greece was the only member advocating for a third party definition, namely from the International Red Cross, to be the basis of the discussions.

Ambiguity of the definition was a key issue of the debate, with some members presenting the need for deliberate ambiguity. France highlighted the tactical need to keep definitions ambiguous in order to keep a military advantage in possible conflicts. 

The Netherlands recommended creating a confidential definition of cyberwar related terms to keep this tactical advantage. 

Several times, the discussion took to Article 5 of NATO’s statute, which ensures mutual military cooperation in case any of the member states are attacked. 

A few member states called for changes to the article, which was met with strong resistance by members such as Greece, France, Canada, Norway, and Estonia. These nations stressed the importance of leaving the article untouched, instead vowing for a common definition of terms relating to cyber warfare to solve current issues in cyber defense. 

Changes to Article 5 could pose dangerous implications for NATO nations currently threatened by Russia, analysts argued.

EuroMUN Committee: North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO)


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