Lateral pressure theory views cyberspace as a global domain of human interaction. This domain is (i) created by the interconnections of billions of computers by a global network, today the Interne, and all of its derivatives (ii) built as a layered construct where physical elements enable a logical framework of interconnection; (iii) permits the processing, manipulation exploitation, augmentation of information, and the interaction of people and information; (iv) enabled by institutional intermediation and organization; and (v) characterized by decentralization and interplay among actors, constituencies, and interests.

Until recently cyberspace was considered largely a matter of low politics – the term used to denote background conditions and routine decisions and processes. By contrast high politics is about national security, core institutions, and decision systems that are critical to the state, its interests, and its underlying values. Nationalism, political participation, political contentions, conflict, violence and war are among the most often cited aspects of high politics. But low politics do not always remain such. If the cumulative effects of normal activities shift the established dynamics of interaction, then the seemingly routine becomes increasingly politicized. Cyberspace is now a matter of high politics.

This new domain of interaction is a source of vulnerability, a potential threat to national security, and a disturber of the familiar international order. At this writing, the influence of cyberspace is evident in all aspects of contemporary society, in almost all parts of the world. The result is a powerful disconnect between 20th century international relations and the realities of the 21st century. It goes without saying that all of this forces us to re-assess the conventional perspectives on security, as threats to cyber security become more and more salient.  But this is only one side of the proverbial coin when seen in an international perspective.  The other side of the equally proverbial coin is about cooperation and the challenges associated with international governance, especially governance of cyberspace.

Framed in this broad context, two books exploring the interconnections of cyberspace and world politics provided a solid basis for articulating the lateral pressure perspective on the cyber domain in international relations. The first book, entitled CyberPolitics in International Relations (Choucri, 2012)1, concentrates largely on the impacts of cyberspace at different the levels of analysis in international relations and points to some ways in which traditional theory and practice require reassessments and reframing.

The second, International Relations in the Cyber Age (Choucri and Clark, 2016)2 takes the position that the ubiquity of cyberspace calls for a meta-analysis, an overarching investigation of contours and interconnections of cyberspace and international relations (and international cyber relations) in order to identify the linkages between the international system (and international relations) on the one hand, and technological change (and cyberspace), on the other – in analytical, empirical and observable terms.  Each of these two domains – the cyber and the international – is defined by core principles and characterized by specific features of structure and process; these enable and are enabled by a wide range of actors and activities.

The increasing interconnections between the cyber and the “real” domains is shown by the development of practices surrounding e-Government, for example, as well as evidence state expansion in the cyber arena. Examples such as these create notable challenges for empirical analysis that take center stage in more recent analysis in quantitative international relations.

  1. Choucri, N. (2012). Cyberpolitics in international relations. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.
  2. Choucri, N., and Clark, D. C.(2016)International Relations in the Cyber Age: The Co-Evolution Dilemma. Under review.