If we take into account the salience of cyberspace – especially the dramatic expansion of cyber access in all parts of the world, the growth in “voicing” and cyber participation, or the new opportunities provided by uses of cyber venues – then we can appreciate the fundamental departures from tradition in international structures and processes, and that the world is now much more complex.

A central feature of in relations, jurisdiction in international relations – a corollary of sovereignty – is tied to location-centric rules that depend on the nature of the actors and the issues, and the willingness of sovereign states to accommodate differences in the internal laws for managing the private sector, while conforming with the practice that external activities are governed by the rules of jurisdiction in public international law. The territorial principle dominates, with the attendant distinction between territoriality of country of origin vs. territoriality of country of destination.

Characteristics of Cyberspace
Temporality Introduces near-instantaneity into “high politics”
Physicality Transcends physical constraints
Permeation Penetrates boundaries & jurisdictions
Fluidity Sustains shifts & reconfigurations
Participation Reduces barriers to political expression
Attribution Obscures actor identity & links to action
Accountability Bypasses established mechanisms

Source: Choucri, 2012: 41

Such simple rendering notwithstanding, it is clear to see the potential disconnects between these basic principles and the character and ubiquity of cyberspace. There are inherent tensions that are yet to be addressed.  If there is international law for cyberspace, it is still in the making. One analyst argues that there is a “simple choice”, that is between “[m]ore global law and a less global internet” (Kohl, 2007)2. Especially important here is that characteristic features of cyberspace stand in sharp contrast to our traditional conceptions of social systems, generally, and to the state system in particular.

We now turn to six critical disconnects between essential features of cyberspace and traditional features of social systems, shown in Table above. To be clear, these are properties of cyberspace from a user perspective generally, as seen from the perspective of politics at all levels, from local to global (Choucri 2012)1.

All of this becomes more and more important given that who gets what, when, and how is influenced by cyber access but also by the growth and diversity of actors, each endowed with differential levels and distributions of traditional power and capability.  By definition, all entities generate demands (they seek to meet) and are endowed with capabilities (they chose to deploy). They all are able to participate in one way or another in the international forums and all seek venues for shaping the evolving international political agenda – but only states have the final vote.

Early in the 21st century it was already apparent that the cyber domain shaped new parameters of international relations and new dimensions of international politics. Among the most salient new features is the above-noted creation of new actors—some with formal identities and others without – and their cyber empowerment, which is altering the traditional international decision landscape in potentially significant ways. Concurrently, we see the growing use of cyber venues by non-state groups whose objectives are to undermine the state or to alter its foundations.

  1. Choucri, N. (2012). Cyberpolitics in international relations. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.
  2. Kohl, U. (2007). Jurisdiction and the Internet: A study of regulatory competence over online activity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.