20 June 2018

State's New Cyber Reports Miss the Point Entirely

David Fidler

On May 31, the State Department released summaries of reports on deterrence and international engagement in cyberspace. In Executive Order 13800, President Donald J. Trump instructed federal agencies to produce a report on “options for deterring adversaries.” The order also instructed the secretary of state, coordinating with other federal agencies, to submit a report “documenting an engagement strategy for international cooperation in cybersecurity.” With U.S. cyber policy facing serious challenges and questions about the Trump administration's approach to cyber threats rife, these reports provided the administration with an opportunity to formulate strategies to improve cyber engagement and deterrence. However, the summaries suggest the reports fail to acknowledge the crisis that U.S. cyber policy faces and recycle ideas that have been around for years. The administration's behavior also raises doubts that it is willing and able to implement what the reports recommend. 

The summary of the international engagement report speaks of a “new call to action.” The summary of the deterrence report claims it provides a “new U.S. vision” for deterring adversaries. Neither summary includes anything indicating the reports involve novel ideas. The descriptions of the problems in question are generic. The prescribed objectives and means of implementation repeat what appeared in policies of the Bush and Obama administrations. This continuity might mean that the Trump administration's penchant for abandoning conventional approaches for radically different strategies will not define its cyber policy.

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