What is it about?
When are cyber conflicts ripe for negotiation? Analysis of cyber conflict presents a challenge to the prevailing negotiation concept, Zartman’s ripeness theory. Ripeness theory posits that the timing of a negotiation stems from the conflicting parties’ perception of a “mutually hurting stalemate” (MHS) and “a way out” of conflict through dialogue. While this theory has shown merit for negotiations related to conventional warfare or economic disputes, there are gaps in its applicability for resolving cyber conflict. Specifically, the concept of a “hurting stalemate” has little to no presence in cyber disputes, rendering MHS incompatible with pure cyber negotiations. As such, redefining mutually hurting stalemate for cyber conflict is paramount to address this discrepancy. Examining the 2015 bilateral US-China Cybersecurity Agreement provides a context for applying our hypothesis and demonstrates how accepted negotiation theory may be applied to cyber conflict.
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Why is it important?
This analysis attempts to adapt the conflict management theory of ripeness to cyber conflict. Cyber conflict does not possess the same characteristics as conventional warfare, especially with regard to escalation management, thus presenting a barrier for applying standard ripeness theory in determining the timing of negotiation. This research suggests that an adaptation of ripeness theory to include the notion of a "mutually harming standoff" is necessary to adjust actors' approaches to negotiation and mediation in cyber conflict.
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This page is a summary of: Ripeness Theory in the Digital Age: When to Log Off from Cyber Conflict, International Negotiation, January 2022, Brill, DOI: 10.1163/15718069-bja10048.
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Cyber Operations as Imperfect Tools of Escalation
There are important empirical reasons to suspect that the risks of cyber escalation may be exaggerated. If cyberspace is in fact an environment that generates severe escalation risks, why has cyber escalation not yet occurred? We posit that cyber escalation has not occurred because cyber operations are poor tools of escalation. In particular, we argue that this stems from key characteristics of offensive cyber capabilities that limit escalation through four mechanisms. First, retaliatory offensive cyber operations may not exist at the desired time of employment. Second, even under conditions where they may exist, their effects are uncertain and often relatively limited. Third, several attributes of offensive cyber operations generate important tradeoffs for decision-makers that may make them hesitant to employ capabilities in some circumstances. Finally, the alternative of cross-domain escalation—responding to a cyber incident with noncyber, kinetic instruments—is unlikely to be chosen except under rare circumstances, given the limited cost generation potential of offensive cyber operations.
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