Defending Democracy in the Cybersphere

Alexander SzantoCamille StewartJeff RathkeJohn FrankNad'a KovalcikovaNemanja MalisevicSarah LohmannStefan HeumannTim StuchteyUlrik Trolle SmedVolkmar Lotz

Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Strong Democracies Need Strong Partners: Lessons from a German-American Cyber Dialogue

Foreword by Jeff Rathke

On the day that President Donald Trump met with Chancellor Angela Merkel in Washington in April 2018, this Cybersecurity Roundtable on Public-Private Partnershipsmet in Berlin to discuss one of the most pressing issues for the transatlantic relationship. Never has it been more important for old friends to work together to defend against new threats. New cyber intrusions affecting government networks or critical infrastructure highlight the urgency of this issue, but it is equally crucial for the U.S. and Germany to develop an effective, coordinated cyber strategy to keep our democracies strong and protect the integrity of our public discourse.

Over the course of eight months, this German-American working group met in Berlin, Washington, and Brussels to foster a dialogue on an expanding scope of cyber issues. The conversation varied from strengthening early warning and protection against malicious cyber intrusions, to strengthening cooperation and streamlining the methodology for more accurate attribution of cyberattacks. With the upcoming elections in the European Parliament this May, and the United States presidential cycle already beginning, talks on how to ensure election infrastructure is secure and how to make publics aware of misleading information operations were especially important for the working group.

Because the cybersphere cannot be divided along national boundaries, there is a growing awareness of the need to act in concert with partners as our countries create cyber regulations affecting trade, defense, and intellectual property. This cooperation is not only important between our legislative, military, and trade representatives. It is also imperative for the private sector to be a part of the cybersecurity policy discussion, because they must often both implement government regulations policies and create the innovation that keep our nations safe and economically secure.

Erecting a firewall between policymakers and leaders of social media platforms or tech companies does not streamline or purify the process of creating cyber norms. Rather, each sector has a crucial role to play in developing cyber standards that ensure protection of democratic processes, civilian populations, critical networks, citizens’ privacy, and fair access.

The future of our societies will depend on how we can resolve these challenges of the digital age. Will we counter them with our allies in concert, fostering a vital civil society while building a strong defense? Or will we counter them alone and uncoordinated?

This core group of participants from the Bundestag, the diplomatic and defense communities, industry, and academia were united that it is essential to address these challenges together. We are indebted to each of the members of the core working group for enriching that cooperation. Our special appreciation goes to Microsoft, for partnering with us on this endeavor, and to the U.S. Embassy in Berlin and Germany’s Coordinator of Transatlantic Cooperation, Peter Beyer, MdB, for their participation and support to this German-American dialogue. It is our hope that this is just the beginning of a longer conversation among old friends resolved to defend democracy in the cybersphere.

CybersecurityBonnie Jenkins